Exactly one year ago today I went through possibly the most emotional day of my life. I had to watch as my wife and sister were wheeled, one after the other, into an operating theatre at Hammersmith Hospital, so my sister could give my wife one of her kidneys.
Frankie had gone in the night before. We left her in a bed next to a women who had been speaking on the phone for about two hours when we left, and apparently continued until another two hours until Frankie had to ask her to stop so she could get some sleep. And then she went outside rather than hang up. Whatever that phone call was, it was clearly important.
My family and I were staying at my in-laws. We sat up watching old cartoons from the 1940s on YouTube.
And then in the morning we all headed over the hospital. Emily got prepped and then taken off to the theatre, while I waited with Frankie. At nine o’clock they came to prep her, and we left them to it. We made out way to the High Dependancy Ward, where they would both be brought once they were done, and settled in to wait.
At two in the afternoon Emily was brought in, awake enough to state for the record that she felt like she’d been hit by a bus. A little while later it had reduced to a car. Later still, a bike. I am told that at times like this, drugs are your best friends.
The surgeon came up around four to tell us everything had gone fine, and Frankie was in recovery. Well, fine apart from her having an allergic reaction to the antibiotic they gave her just before surgery, which literally could have ruined the whole thing if it had been worse. But it had died down, the operation had gone perfectly, and she finally came up to us at six thirty.
It’s a hard thing trying to describe how it feels seeing the person you love being brought in after a major operation. Small, helpless, only half aware of their surroundings and clearing in a lot of pain. About a dozen different tubes snaking out of her arm, hand and throat. Yet you’re also aware than everything is technically better than it (a) was, or (b) could have been. We had already been told it had been a textbook operation, and the kidney started working straight away. Almost too well, in fact. They had two bags of saline literally pouring into her, with the kidney producing two litres of urine an hour. Fast enough, in fact, that it flushed all the glucose out of her system and gave her temporary diabetes.
I can’t describe how useless I felt. As her stomach started waking up she started retching, which forced her to have to sit up and strain the massive, fresh wound in her side. And then, when I stood too quickly to grab a bowl to try and help her, all the blood drained from my head and I nearly passed out myself.
It’s been a year now, but this experience is not something you forget. Emily remained in the hospital for a few days before getting released. Frankie stayed a few more, of course. Once she did get out she had to go back in almost daily for check ups. Then weekly. Now monthly. It’s not all been plain sailing, of course. She’d had to deal with BK viral nephropathy, and the two day migraines that followed the treatment for that. Then we learned that she cannot just “power through” a mild discomfort anymore, as that can leads to a three day hospital stay with a bladder infection.
But this has been a part of our lives for far longer than a year. Off the top of my head it’s involved: 3 kidney biopsies; 12 months of testing to determine the level of her kidney damage; 24 hour urine tests for 6 potential donors; MRI, ultrasound and X-Ray examinations on two of those donors (including a follow up MRI and ultrasounds for one of those to check a potential, non-related issue); pre-op appointments; a frickin’ Kidney Transplant; approximately a month of overnight hospital stays altogether, a week of which were in the high dependancy ward; follow up appointments, emergency clinic visits, and enough blood vials taken to keep Dracula satisfied for a year.
And how much were we charged for all this? What was the total on the bill were given at the end? Nothing.
How much did we need to sacrifice in order to go through this necessary operation? Nothing.
How many times did our doctors outline the different levels of service we could get, pushing us towards something that wasn’t what we needed but would earn the hospital the maximum profit? Never.
When have we ever gone into a hospital, whatever day of the week or weekend, to find there were no doctors or nurses working their hardest to help us? Never.
It’s not hyperbole that the NHS is one of the greatest organisations in the world. It is, and has been, a literal lifesaver for countless people. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, there are quite possibly more efficient ways parts of it could be run, but anyone who honestly believes it should be replaced with any other programme is either a terminal idiot or unbelievably selfish. Or likely both.
We are currently stuck with a government determined to use the NHS to score political points. Rather than quietly working with doctors to improve the service, they are at best fighting to make arbitrary changes for idealogical reasons, and at worse seeking nothing more than to forward their own financial interests. And as people fight back, the current Health Secretary does little more than go to the media to wildly blame doctors, using every political trick in the book to try and con people into blaming the people who actually know how the NHS works.
Doctors and nurses are life savers. They do a harder and more important job than I will ever do. And they are also far more over worked and – in many cases – underpaid. I’m not going to say that over the last few years Frankie and I never had to deal with grumpy, unfriendly nurses. Or terse doctors with almost no bedside manor. Because they’re people, just like us. Everyone had bad days at work. Busy people aren’t always the friendliest. And the people they are working to help are not in the best mood themselves. That’s life.
It boils down to the fact that doctors and nurses do are the point of the NHS. Everything else is just a structure to allow them to do it in the most efficient way. And two of the things that makes it efficient is making it free at point of service, and making the people at the point of service happy, awake, and willing to make the necessary sacrifices their job requires.
Don’t let the government fool you into mistaking how important the NHS is, or hide how little they know how to handle it. Or how badly they are handling it. Like any organisation, the NHS needs to continuously develop and grow. Today’s NHS isn’t the same and it was fifty years ago, and it will be different again in another fifty. I’m not going to pretend I know what the next steps for it our, but I’m not in government. The Tories don’t have a plan either, and they are.
But they are politicians, and so believe that have to be doing something. And without any idea or plan they have fallen back on tired, political ideology instead. And once they’ve claimed that they believe something – no matter how vapid or damaging it is demonstrated to be – they can’t go back on it for fear of being branded with the dreaded “U-Turn”. Rather than admit they might have been wrong, they try to force people into believing that their failures in policy, planning, and ability are actually the NHS’s own fault for not agreeing with them.
So let’s ignore the political hyperbole, or the media grandstanding. The NHS doesn’t need saving. It needs running, and it needs to be run by people who know what they’re doing.
And when you need it, you’re going to be so glad the doctors fought back.