I spent my Saturday evening in A&E. It wasn't me that needed mending, before you worry, but it was me they asked to come along for the ride in the ambulance. And this was definitely not how I was expecting my Saturday night to turn out, although it was an awful lot cheaper and I still got to roll home at the same time in the early hours as if I'd gone out properly.
I've only ever had to call 999 once before (and that was to tell the fire brigade that the phone box I was making the call from was on fire). On this occasion it probably took me about five minutes too long to realise that now was the time for my second 999 call, but thankfully that didn't matter in the end. The 'incident' involved unconsciousness, a flight of stairs and a lot of shivering, but with the added bonus that the patient had also managed to lock themselves out of their flat without any keys. A paramedic was on the scene within minutes, and soon I was sitting in the back of a laboratory on wheels heading towards University College Hospital. There were no sirens and there were no bleeps, just a couple of really professional paramedics with a great sense of humour who really helped our journey along. Three cheers for our wonderful ambulance workers.
A&E wasn't like you see on the television. There were no photogenic actors recuperating whilst reaching some crucial life decision all nicely wrapped up within 50 minutes. Instead there was a ragbag of patients from all strata of society being wheeled around looking rather folorn. A slow dripfeed of casualties was stretchered into the building ready to be processed. I only saw one person suffering from Saturday night excess, the remainder were merely dazed, grazed or crazed. One particularly mad old woman swore repeatedly at the staff, then insisted that she had to be listened to because her father ran the hospital, and so was promptly thrown out.
We were shunted into a cubicle immediately opposite the main admin desk, which at least meant that we could watch the workings of the department inbetween waiting for the nurses and doctors to come back and do yet another test. Bits of apparatus were wheeled in and out, none of the gleaming 21st century gizmos that you might have expected but utilitarian beige equipment that was merely adequately functional. Hot sweet tea was available (as was a large plastic bottle for getting rid of it again). Again the staff's bedside manner was impeccable, and helped us through a long evening of hanging around waiting to feel better. Three cheers for our wonderful hospital staff.
We resisted buying a souvenir t-shirt or bookmark on the way out. Of more importance was solving the problem of keylessness, which eventually meant persuading the night security bloke at a central London office block to permit the extraction of a spare set of front door keys from a desk on an upper floor. In this case there was a happy ending and everybody did live happily ever after. I'm not at all convinced that everyone who was admitted into that A&E department this evening will have been so lucky. But I am glad to know that the NHS is always there for us when we need it most, because we never do quite know just when that might be.