For the last week my Mum has been resident in a 4th floor penthouse apartment. She has full board, waitress service, numerous house guests, a fully adjustable recliner and panoramic views of the Norfolk countryside. She also has a new hip, 23 get well cards, an interesting scar and a positive prognosis. It's the first time she's been in hospital since giving birth to me four decades ago, and not surprisingly she'd rather be almost anywhere else at the moment. But sometimes you just have to put up with that strange smell, the mind-numbing boredom and feeling like you've gone nine rounds with Mike Tyson, just for the chance to feel better and to lead a healthier life.
One of the hardest things about staying in hospital is the unfamiliar environment. Normally you get to eat, sleep, relax, wash and, er, other things, in the privacy of your own home. In hospital you get to do all of this in the company of randomly selected members of the public, most of whom are lovely but not all. That swishy curtain around your bed may block out your view of the mad staring geriatrics around you but it can't block out their wheezing, coughing or bedpan aroma, nor the artificial light shining from their bedspace throughout the night. However well you maintain your dignity during your lowest ebb, alas you have very little control over your privacy.
Above and beyond visiting time, you'll be glad to hear that the modern NHS affords its patients full connection to the outside world. Unfortunately that connection is called Patientline, and it costs. Gone are the days of coin operated payphones and the shared TV set - each bed has now a giant white pod that dispenses audiovisual entertainment on demand. Telephone calls cost £6 an hour 'out' (but up to £30 an hour 'in'), emails cost 4p (but infinitely more than the usual 0p), the television is free (but only for an hour over breakfast - otherwise it costs £3.60 a day) and the radio is also free (but you only get 'up to 6' channels). There are far more adverts for Patientline across the hospital than there are public health messages (of which there are none), and somehow it all feels very very wrong.
Most disturbing of all was the discovery that the higher tiers of the health service appear to close down at weekends. My Mum met her consultant last Tuesday, had her operation on Wednesday, recovered slowly on Thursday, took her first walk down the ward on Friday... and then bugger all happened on Saturday or Sunday. No doctors were in evidence, no specialists popped by to check up on her progress, neither were any serious attempts made to take her for another walk down the ward. Then on Monday morning everyone was back again, restarting treatment where they'd left off three days earlier, as if the entire weekend had never happened. I know that all medical staff need regular time off, but surely a sensible shift system could have prevented this unnecessary hiatus - and two wasted sleepless nights spent staring at the walls listening to hospital clatter. There is a limit to being patient.
My Mum's just heard that she escapes the ward tomorrow. It's a long road to full recovery, which may still be months away, but she's looking forward to being able to do the simple things in life again like gardening, shopping and going out for a walk. And, in the more immediate future, sleeping in privacy. Thank you nurses, you do a wonderful job, but I do hope that (after tonight) my Mum never spends another night in your company.