My OAP mum gets rushed to Broomfield hospital
With an early start pencilled in for work the next morning, and an alarm set as close to dawn as it has been in months, I’d settled in for an early night.
Knowing that my phone automatically switches to silent at 10 pm, I was snuggled tight under my duvet, listening to the occasional chirrup from the phone as the last few tweets, WhatsApp messages and emails pinged through intermittently.
I was beginning to drift off, safe in the knowledge that soon the phone would develop a hushed respect for my sleeping needs.
So when the phone rang loudly, I jumped from my pre-slumber. Nobody ever calls me on the phone. Certainly not at any time outside of daylight hours.
It was a withheld number, and it was just before 10 pm. A few more minutes and the phone would have rung on silent mode and I’d be none the wiser until the morning.
But it hadn’t. It had rung loudly, and in the couple of seconds it took me to come to, I realised it was one of two possibilities.
A withheld number is either my OAP mum calling, or something nasty like an unexpected call from the police telling me something had happened to someone I love (or do they only knock on doors with that news?). A third, but very remote possibility, was that it could even be a cold caller.
I answered, my hoarse voice betraying my intention of sounding at least half awake.
It was mum. She mumbled something slightly incoherent, her voice stuttering as each breath seemed to cause her pain.
I tried to get her to calm down, to relax and get the words out, but to no avail. She continued to spit words down the phone, a laboured breathing sound being the background to her suddenly frail voice.
She’d been feeling unwell for a few days - something she had attributed to a fall in the woods when she was scrimping for apples, believe it or not.
You’ll have to take my word that given her age and flexibility (ie old and none) she was no more “scrumping” for apples as she was picking the low hanging fruit from the hidden apple trees in the local park.
During this adventure she had stepped back, caught her foot and fallen, landing with a thump and a bruised bum.
The upshot was that she had been housebound as a result, too sore to move too far.
She continued to insist that the fall took place three weeks ago. I could have sworn it was a week or so, and no more. Either way, she had been feeling worse day after day, and the result was the panic-stricken phone call that she had made to me.
I managed to get some words from her, and when it was plain to hear that she was struggling to breathe, she agreed that she should call an ambulance. I told her to do that (more in the hope that the operator would be able to give her some advice on what to do while the ambulance was on the way more than anything else) and I threw some clothes on and raced round to hers.
Ten minutes later I was at her doorstep and letting myself in through her front door.
She met me in the hallway, still gasping slightly for breath but looking relieved to see me. I sat her down and did my best to make sure she was ok. (I even made the mistake of uttering the words “Are you ok?” to which she responded “No I’m bloody not ok!”, which was to be expected.)
After fussing over her for a couple of minutes, during which time I was actively looking out for the ambulance, I muttered something about wondering what was taking them so long.
I turned to mum and asked her if the operator had said anything when she had called 999.
Mum looked sheepish.
“Oh, I forgot to call them…”
Thirty seconds later I was on the phone requesting an ambulance. Although she had calmed down a little, she was still struggling to breathe and looked far from being well.
“The ambulance is on the way,” the operator told me after taking some details.
“Oh no!” I also swore at this juncture, “I’ve just given you my address!”
In my panic, I had given the wrong details. The operator was cool, calm and collected as she amended the details and I hoped that the thirty seconds or so wouldn’t make too much difference.
“Is she hot at all? Or clammy?” she asked me.
“I don’t know…” I replied, putting my hand to mum’s forehead. She was soaked in sweat - something I hadn’t realised until then.
A minute or two later, the ambulance pulled up outside. The operator - who had insisted on staying on the phone until the ambulance had arrived - said goodbye as I let the men in.
They ran various tests including a heart check and asked lots of questions. After thirty minutes or so they admitted that they couldn’t work out what was wrong, but they were concerned as there was some crackling when they listened to her breathing, and they couldn’t account for the sweat which, by now, was pouring down mum’s face.
They said that they wanted to take her to the hospital. I knew mum was ill when she readily agreed. Way back in 2004 she had been unexpectedly admitted to hospital after feeling ill and they ended up forcing her to stay in for six weeks before giving her a quadruple heart bypass. Since then, she has hated having to go into hospital in case they keep her in again.
I locked up the house and followed the ambulance to the hospital. There were no lights and no sirens, so they were obviously happy that she was ok.
I parked up in the car park at Broomfield Hospital and wandered into the A&E area. By now it was 11.15pm. One of the ambulance men was sat chatting to the receptionist as A&E. He saw me and told me to take a seat, and that someone would fetch me once mum was settled in.
By the time 1 am came around, I was fed up of waiting. I wandered over the receptionist, whose eye line I had been sitting in since arrival and asked for an update. She looked a little shocked and raced off, appearing a few seconds later at another door to tell me to follow her and that she’d take me to see mum.
I arrived at a room to see mum in bed. Mum passed a comment about wondering what had taken me so long and I genuinely don’t think she believed I had been sitting waiting for the best part of two hours.
The important thing was that her breathing had stabilised, and though she would wince in pain, clutching her right side whenever she took a deep breath, she was looking far better than she had before.
After speaking to the nurse, I’m told that they want to do an x-ray of her chest to check for something and then they will decide whether to keep her in from there.
I note that a note on their whiteboard says that she needs to be out by 3.07 am, which I assume was the end of a four-hour window that meets some target set somewhere.
Soon enough mum got swept away for an x-ray before being brought back. By now she was talking about how ridiculous the length of the wait was. A sure sign that she was feeling better, if nothing else.
By 2.20am, she was getting fidgety. She asked for help getting dressed. I help as best I can and she manoeuvres herself off the bed, discarding the thin hospital gowns and putting her own dressing gown back on.
She gathered up her bag and headed for the door.
“They’ve not said you can go, have they?” I asked partly rhetorically and partly wondering if I’d missed it.
“Oh, I’ll tell them on the way out.” she said, matter-of-factly.
“No you bloody won’t! Get back in that bed!”
Naturally, she ignored me, choosing not to fight to hold on to the bag that I’d now taken from her hand. She meandered to the desk where a nurse was sat. This nurse - an angel in disguise - told her with a smile that she needed to stay longer to get the results. It seemed to work and mum slunk back in herself slightly.
“Not only do we need the x-ray results, we also need a wee sample if you fancy that”
I think that mum was prepared to do anything in order to leave and get home, so she readily agreed and slipped off to the loo with only a cardboard pee pot and hopes of a good aim. She reappeared a few minutes later having been unable to provide the sample they’d requested.
A further chat with the nurse revealed that she’d be allowed home assuming that everything was ok on the x-ray. Given that mum was still feeling the sharp pain by her ribs if she took in a large intake of breath, we both predicted that she had injured a rib, and we both knew that the only cure was rest.
I mentioned that she’d be out by just gone 3 am after what I had seen on the white board, and sure enough at 3.05 am someone came in to collect her.
Unfortunately for mum she was merely being wheeled off to another ward.
I ended up leaving the hospital at just gone 6 am. Mum had, by this stage, been told that the X-rays had shown a blood clot on the lung and they wanted to keep her in overnight with a view to doing a cat scan (I think?) the next day.
Mum had argued against it, saying that she would go home and come back in the morning and that they could do the scan then.
If you’ve ever tried to argue with a 72-year-old who is adamant about something, you’ll know that I approached my argument gingerly. I explained that if we went home, she would get a couple of hours sleep at home, if that, before having to come back to the hospital.
I also explained that although they couldn’t force her to stay in, the doctor had been fairly insistent that it was for the best. In fact, we had gotten to the stage where I had asked the doctor to go and get a waiver form for mum to sign so that we could leave. The reality was that I didn’t want mum to go home just yet as I felt she’d be better off staying in, but I also knew that there was little chance of her acquiescing in front of the doctor.
“If you stay in, you’ll get seen quicker tomorrow which means you have more chance of getting home quicker. If you go home and come back, the staff here won’t do you any favours and you’ll probably find you’ll be here longer.”
Eventually, mum agreed to stay in on the proviso that she got a cup of tea. I guess any victory, no matter what size, is a victory.
I’d been up for 24 hours by this stage and was due to go to work in an hour. I was shattered and had already planned on calling in to the office and taking the day off. I just needed sleep.
I started to say goodbye to mum, promising to go and see her dogs and make sure that they were ok, and that I’d feed the cat and bring mum back some clothes.
“Are you going now?” she asked.
“You’ve got time for a cup of tea, though?”
And she wasn’t kidding. I left after drinking the tea and was back there a few hours later.
Mum was in the hospital for 40 hours in total, but it felt like much longer. She was diagnosed as having blood clots on both lungs and has been given a six-month course of medicine to cure it, with blood tests every few days.
It was a scary time, but I can look back and laugh at some of it now. Mum forgetting to call the ambulance. Me not realising that she was sweating so much. Even the cheek of her asking me to stay for a cuppa after it all.
Thank God for the NHS.