The National Health Service: My Daughter’s Keeper

It’s Monday, just gone, the day after New Year’s Day, and a Bank Holiday here in the UK. The Faulkner family is relaxing and preparing for the visit of friends from Sussex. All our other Christmas season get-togethers have failed to happen due to family illness, but this one will happen.

So Debbie is upstairs sorting out some household matters, Mark is in the conservatory playing, Rebekah is writing her thank-you letters for her Christmas presents in the dining room and I am in the study, catching up on news of friends via Facebook.

That’s when we hear the scream. A scream like nothing we have heard before. A scream so loud it reverberates around the house, such that I can’t tell where it’s coming from. I rush to the front door. I double back. There is Rebekah, on the laminate floor of the dining room, in terror and agony. She is screaming. Mark is with her, screaming too at what has happened. I scream, too.
Debbie rushes down the stairs like an Olympic steeplechase champion. She sees the scene, and she – the practical one – screams as well. Something awful has happened to Rebekah’s left elbow.

“She’s fractured it!” shouts Debbie. “Ring for an ambulance!”

“It might be a dislocation,” I observe, as I press 9, followed by 9, then another 9, and the green ‘call’ button.

While I’m on the phone to the emergency services, Debbie changes her mind. Her practical mind is kicking in. “It’ll be quicker to drive her to the hospital,” she says, so I say we don’t want the ambulance at all and we scramble as quickly and as delicately as we can into my small car. O that Debbie’s people carrier wasn’t off the road with an indicator fault.

I drive as fast and as safely as I can the seven miles to the nearest A and E unit. I don’t speed and I don’t take chances, but I am frustrated by the two cars ahead of me doing only 40 in a 60 limit for three of those miles.

At the hospital, I drop Debbie and Rebekah off outside A and E, while Mark stays with me as I find a car parking space. By the time we walk back to A and E, the girls are nowhere to be seen inside.

“Are you looking for Rebekah?” asks a woman sitting with her crutches, just inside the door. She points to double doors underneath a sign that reads, ‘Paediatric A and E’. “She’s in there.”

It turns out that the clerk had entered Rebekah’s details on the computer, instantly forwarded them to Paediatric A and E, where they would be waiting for her immediately.

A nurse administers diamorphine nasally. We are near the nurses’ station and we can hear them ringing Radiography to get Rebekah’s X-rays prioritised. We don’t wait long. In X-Ray, a senior radiographer dons a lead jacket and helps hold Becky in position for a difficult second picture.
I was behind the screen, and saw the first picture come up on the monitor. I am  no medic, but my untutored eyes saw two detached bones, neither apparently broken.

Back at A and E, the nurses are now phoning the orthopaedic surgeon to get him down quickly. He soon tells us that yes, it is a dislocation, not a fracture. Whatever we had seen of sportsmen having dislocations put in quickly and painfully, a child would have the bones relocated under general anaesthetic. We would have to wait until Becky’s breakfast was sufficiently out of her system for her to receive an anaesthetic safely, but that would be the course of action.

The nurses keep the phones hot. Now they are nagging the anaesthetist to come sooner than expected, so that a little girl not be kept waiting any longer than necessary. He confirms the surgeon’s proposed course of action. It was only a case of the waiting time to anaesthetise.

By 3 pm Becky is being wheeled into theatre for the relocation and a plaster cast. The accident had happened around 11:15 am.

Half an hour later, I help collect her from the recovery room. All has gone well, no fracture occurred when the bones were relocated, and she can consider starting the new term at school. She will wear the cast for a fortnight until it is reviewed at the Fracture Clinic.

We take Becky to a children’s ward where she is monitored regularly by a staff nurse for the after-effects of the anaesthetic. Although we are told around 5 pm that it will be another four to six hours before she can be discharged, at 7 pm the nurse pronounces herself satisfied that she is ready to go home.

And the nurse tells Rebekah, “You have made my day.” We think that was a reference to the teenage girl in another bed on the same bay, whose every adjective begins with ‘F’ and whose family is equally delightful.

Does anybody wonder why I love the National Health Service? It is an institutional way of putting into practice the mandate to be my brother’s keeper (or my daughter’s keeper, in this case). Quote the horror stories if you must, but the fundamental principle is sound and important. Think of those who work in it under great stress and who only hear feedback when something has gone wrong. I for one am glad we have it, and I cannot understand those Christians in certain other countries who seem to think the State should not provide these services.

FOOTNOTE: Please note the top picture above is not our Rebekah, nor is the second photo her x-ray. These have been used for illustrative purposes only.


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