So my sister and I drove to Broadstairs to pick up our dad from a nursing home. He’s had a small stroke, leaving him with short term memory loss and confusion, and we wanted to see if back home, into his normal routine, his memory might kick in again. At 2am his nose began pouring blood. And I mean ‘pouring.’ Great gobbets of crimson black splashed again and again into the toilet. When it became clear the bleed was not slowing down, my sister dialled 999. The woman at the emergency services was understandably reluctant to divert an ambulance as dad was conscious and not squirting blood from an artery but when he still hadn’t stopped bleeding after two more hours they finally sent an ambulance from Sittingbourne. I thought of a headline I’d recently read about A&E being in meltdown. By then we had moved dad into the bathroom where he could sit down over a bowl. The paramedics, Jeff and Elaine pushed some wadding up poor dad’s nose and helped him into the ambulance while Emma and I followed by car, just as the sun was starting to rise.
As we both shivered our way into the hospital car park we looked up into the bruised purple grey sky to hear the low rumble of an air ambulance. ‘Spinal’ or ‘car accident’ muttered Emma. There was a woman curled up asleep on the plastic chairs in A&E. We were led through to the inner sanctum. Dad’s nose began to pour again, soaking through the wadding and we hunted for a bowl and tissues. Across from us was a young woman with a heavily bandaged finger who smiled at us ruefully. A young thin woman with scratch marks down her bare legs was wailing at a nurse: ‘I need it! Gotta fuckin’ have it!’ A puce faced man sat cross legged on a bed wobbling slightly while a policeman sat with folded arms on a chair by his bed. The man’s wife was slumped wearily on a plastic chair saying: ‘Nothing’s solved with alcohol love. When are you going to learn?’ Emma nudged me. To our right was a man handcuffed and face down on a gurney. Dad sat over a bowl while I fruitlessly pinched his nose and he tried not to swallow his own blood.
A nurse, her face set and tired handed us wads of tissues and a cardboard bowl. We asked how long we might have to wait – polite, careful. ‘Five hours’ she said, adding ‘it looks worse than it is. When we panic, you panic.’ By this stage dad had lost about three pints of blood. ‘You need to lose about 40% before you pass out,’ said the nurse.
‘How much longer do I have to wait?!’ bellowed dad, three or four hours later. He wandered about splashing blood everywhere. ‘Keep washing your hands’ muttered Emma who has an admirable degree of stoicism. I was already rolling my eyes at dad’s inability to see that a spinal injury was medically a higher priority than a nosebleed. Dad began to wail, his nose poured blood again. I went to calm him down. ‘Don’t’ muttered Emma. ‘It might get us some attention.’ It did. A few minutes later, two nurses were helping him onto a bed and calling for extra wadding to pad his nose. He swallowed a sedative. The sun was coming up and I rubbed my sore, gritty eyes.
After two more hours, his arm was strapped to a machine that thickened his blood slightly. He was to be transferred to Ashford hospital which had an Ear, Nose and Throat department. Dad was taken in an ambulance. Emma and I drove blearily back to the house to clean up the mess in the bathroom and get some sleep.
It could have been so much worse. Dad was alive. He had been treated. I’ve heard of ambulances queuing up in the parking lot while staff try to carry out triage and work out who are the most urgent cases. If you need to go to A&E, Friday night is about the worst time. But I only counted one doctor and about three nurses, one of whom was constantly hassled by an addict. What a job they do and why are nurses paid so badly when city boys in their throwaway shirts who spunk our taxpaying money up the wall are paid megabucks? The sheer insanity of this only really hits you when you need an ambulance on a Friday night.