I’m sure this, or a variation on it, has happened…
What a shambolic display of medical mores.
Two days after being admitted with liver pain I went for a scan, returned to the ward, and waited for a doctor to come and tell me the result. I put down my book and saw the (most) junior doctor look something up on the ward computer. I’m sure it was my result. She glanced anxiously in my direction. Bad sign. Then she picked up the phone and called her registrar (I presume). She nodded to whatever she was being told. The decision, I guessed, was wait for the big guns to deliver the bad news bombshell. Then her immediate senior walked onto the ward – I had seen him in the morning, he was an SHO I think. Now he looked at the result, bending forward to look closely at the words or the images, and shook his head slowly! He did not know that I was watching him; I was in a bay diagonally across from the nurses’ station, near a window, and the line of sight was not obvious. Sadly, though, I was watching. What else was there for me to do, apart from immerse myself in the latest Le Carré? Then the registrar joined them. I knew she was ‘on-call’, and as they showed her the scan on the monitor a crash call came through… so she left the ward just as smartly. The other two began to leave, but the SHO couldn’t help glancing in my direction as they passed the end of bay. I got out of bed fairly smartly and hurried after them,
“Have you got the result of the scan?” I asked. Another glance – this time exchanged between the two of them. Natural I know, but so… obvious.
“We’re…” then the SHO paused.
“I really wanted my registrar or consultant to…”
“To tell me?”
“Oh.” What could I say? It was clearly very bad news. But neither the most junior, nor the second most junior member of the team felt able to tell me what was going on.
“When can they come up to the ward?” I asked.
“Our registrar has just been called away on an emergency,” the House Officer explained.
“Yes, I saw that,” I wasn’t giving up now, “And the consultant?”
“He’s doing a ward round tomorrow morning. He’s off-site now.”
“What does off-site mean?”
“Not here. In a clinic in another hospital.”
“So tomorrow then?”
“Yes. Is that alright?”
“I suppose so.” But it wasn’t. I spent the night worrying, not sleeping, turning, anticipating the worst. And when it came, the following day, I was almost grateful to be given the details. I had many questions, and I’m sure the juniors would not have been able to answer them.
Now, over half way through my treatment, I look back and realise that it made no difference, the delay – but it was awful nevertheless. It was awful because they knew something about me but I could not find out what it was. It was secret knowledge, just for those with privileges. I could tell it was bad news, because I am not stupid, I picked up the signals, but they…they were not adequately skilled to tell me straight away. They needed to send it up the hierarchy. You know, I’d rather have been told in an unskilled way than be left worrying about it for twelve hours. I think. Or I’d rather not know the result was back, ready to be delivered. I’d rather have been like my poor, elderly neighbours on the ward, barely alert, lacking perspicacity, passive agents in the medical machine. A machine in which we are supposed to occupy a central position, but which, at the end of the day, works in its own, measured, imperturbable way.