An Open Letter to the West Midlands Ambulance Service and Worcestershire Acute NHS Trust
Dear West Midlands Ambulance Service and Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust,
Many of us have watched the recent “Ambulance” series on BBC 1 and “999: What’s Your Emergency” on Channel 4. We know how hard you all work, and we know that you get abuse and treated badly by many people who ring 999 daily. We know you deal with all manner of things day in and day out, and that you have all seen things you wish you had never seen, and yet you are all unflappable and stay calm even in the most critical of situations. We know that people ring 999 and for an ambulance unnecessarily, sometimes even multiple times – I do remember Leon from the BBC 1 “Ambulance” series and the fact you had a board up on the wall with stickers on for every time he called 999, and that you couldn’t go to him without a police escort because he had previously stabbed one of his carers. I also well remember the episode where kids called 999 for an ambulance as a joke and because they were having a laugh – even the Air Ambulance was dispatched but it turned out that the call was a hoax one. If I was their parents I would have severely punished them for that!
Many of us watching these two shows watch with disbelief from the sidelines and we think we will never need you and that nothing will happen to us, but inevitably it does. On the afternoon of Thursday 19 October my mother had cause to call 999 when my Dad suffered a severe seizure. The events of that afternoon will live with me forever.
For three months leading up to that date my Dad had been going back and forth to his doctors complaining of a light headed feeling and of a “pressure” feeling in his head. Nothing they gave him at his doctors to try worked, and they decided to stop his blood pressure tablets and put him on a blood pressure monitor for 24 hours. The day before he had his first severe seizure he complained of feeling sick but said it was like a “rising” sickness and not something he had ever experienced before.
On the day it happened he had been out and about as normal, he had driven his car into town and back (it doesn’t bear thinking about what could have happened if he had had the seizure while driving) and had just had his lunch. It was just after 3.00pm, and my Mum was in the kitchen preparing some leeks for their dinner (it is amazing what you can remember) when she heard my Dad let out an awful cry and a “thud” as he fell backwards on the floor. He started being violently sick and was twitching and jerking like mad, and her first thought was he’d had a heart attack. Worse still, when he stopped twitching my Mum couldn’t see him breathing and thought he had died right there in front of her.
My Mum managed to get the landline and call 999, and the dispatcher on the phone was amazing, told her everything she needed to do and to get him into the recovery position, to check he was still breathing, which thankfully he was, and to make sure that his head was in a position to allow him to get everything out so he didn’t choke because he was still being violently sick. Somehow, and goodness knows how, my Mum managed grab her mobile and call me on my mobile, and all I overheard was “I think he’s had a heart attack” and “ambulance” as she was talking to the ambulance dispatcher on her landline, so I dropped what I was doing and rushed over immediately with my husband. Two minutes after we got there, and we only live 5 minutes away, the ambulance and crew arrived.
The two ambulance crew members who came to see to my Dad were incredible, and I can’t thank them enough or thank the dispatch team member who spoke to my Mum on the phone, who calmed her down and told her what to do to make sure my Dad didn’t choke as he was being so sick. Chances are we would have lost my Dad if it wasn’t for them helping my Mum and telling her what to do until the ambulance crew members arrived to take over, because with the way he fell when the seizure happened, he could have very easily choked on his own vomit. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
Initial observation tests and an ECG done by the ambulance crew members didn’t show any evidence of a heart attack, but he had been unresponsive for a good 15 minutes. When he finally started making some noises, my Dad said he didn’t know who my Mum was, and I don’t think he knew I was there. Room had to be made to bring a trolley in to put my Dad on, so my husband moved all the furniture and the trolley was brought in via the back door and dining room.
My Dad was taken to the Worcestershire Royal Hospital in the ambulance and I sat in the front of it while my Mum stayed with my Dad in the back, where he was still being very sick. Once we reached Carrington Bridge the traffic was at a complete standstill, so my Dad was blue lighted up to the hospital from that point through the traffic. I couldn’t believe how many cars failed to move over when they had plenty of room to do so to let the ambulance through – what if it was your family member in that ambulance? Vital seconds, never mind minutes, could be critical if cars and other vehicles fail to pull over where they have room to do so and not doing it. Someone’s life could quite literally be in the balance in that ambulance, and it could be your relative, so please think about that folks!
Once we arrived at the hospital my Dad was wheeled in via A&E and he was still being sick at this point. He had been out of it with his eyes closed on and off and he was only awake when he was being sick. He did however open his eyes enough to see I was there with him, he recognised me thank god so I held his hand, told him I loved him and that everything will be alright.
Trolley after trolley after trolley was in the corridor, it was packed to the rafters with them. This story that ran in our local paper the Worcester News by James Connell a few days after my Dad was in hospital backs this up perfectly – http://www.worcesternews.co.uk/news/15634261.Picture_shows_patients_already_crammed_onto_A_E_trolleys_with_worst_of_winter_still_to_come/.
Despite this I cannot fault how quickly my Dad was seen by a doctor, within half an hour he had been assessed and within a couple of hours after that he was moved to the Medical Assessment Unit (MAU) ward. Once there a CT scan was ordered, so he was taken off for this at around 7.30pm. Unfortunately, he suffered another severe seizure just as he came out of the CT scanner (thank goodness they were able to get the scan done before it happened) so he was given a sedative, a large dose of anti-seizure medication on a drip and moved to the high dependency ward.
It killed me to see my Dad hooked up to machines with lots of tubes coming out of him and on oxygen, but again I can’t fault how well he was treated and how well he was looked after. Everyone was so lovely, caring and compassionate – one of the nurses who was looking after him even gave me a big hug when I burst into tears, made me and my Mum a cup of coffee and said, “he is in the best place.” It is amazing just how much us Brits think that a cup of tea or coffee will solve everything.
The nurse was so comforting and I saw first-hand how hard everyone works at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital, how stretched they are and how tired they all looked. It is worse there than than I ever imagined, and yet everyone still had smiles on their faces and did their jobs to the very best of their abilities.
By 3.30am my Dad’s vital signs were all stable, so he was moved back onto the normal A&E ward. In the morning he was awake and even ate a bit of toast and a tiny bit of coffee. A doctor came to see him who said that he had suffered two severe seizures but they didn’t know why, and that the CT scan they did did not show anything wrong, but they were able to see that it was definitely seizures because of what happened to him when he had his CT scan. The doctor said that as they know he definitely had seizures he would be discharged to go home instead of being admitted and given anti seizure medication to take pending him returning as an outpatient for an MRI scan, a more detailed heart trace with cardiology and to see a neurologist to hopefully get to the bottom of why my Dad has suddenly started having seizures.
I went to see my good friend Rev’d David Southall, the Chaplain at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital, and asked David to keep my Dad in his thoughts and prayers. I had been up all night by this time with no sleep so I am sure I was slurring my words from no sleep at all and not making much sense when talking to David. I don’t know what I would have done without him at that moment.
Again my Dad was back in the A&E corridor on a trolley to be discharged and chaos isn’t the word for what it was like there, I have never seen anything like it. It is so clear that the resources at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital are stretched to the absolute limits, yet everyone there remained calm under pressure and carried on doing their jobs. Oh, and to the woman on a trolley in front of my Dad who was nasty, rude and abusive to the nurse when she came round to check on you, shame on you for being so rude to her. She and everyone else there is doing an amazing job in the most challenging of circumstances and she did not deserve you being nasty and rude to her at all. Please stop and think of everyone in the hospital looking after you as they are probably at breaking point, absolutely shattered and doing the very best they can. It isn’t their fault that the NHS budget has been cut to the bone and they are operating on very limited resources and in such a challenging environment.
Finally my Dad is discharged and we are told we can take him home, so my husband came up to the hospital to pick us all up once I had got his anti-seizure medication from the hospital pharmacy which he has to take twice a day without fail exactly 12 hours apart to hopefully prevent him having any more seizures and until they can investigate and get to the bottom of why he has started having them.
My Dad has now had notification of his appointments with cardiology for a heart trace test and a neurologist for a an EEG as an outpatient. He went to see his GP the week after his first seizure and asked how long it was likely to be until he was called for an MRI scan. The doctor didn’t know, but gave him and my Mum a phone number at the hospital to ring to find out. My Mum rang them and was told an urgent scan had been requested for my Dad, but it would be six weeks until he got notification of an appointment for it, and that had it been non-urgent he would have had to wait 18 weeks. My husband sprang into action and did lots of research on how he could get his MRI scan done sooner privately, which he did at Droitwich Hospital. His GP had to do a referral and once that was done we got a call from Droitwich Hospital saying could he come in at 4.30pm that very same day, so my husband and Mum took him for his MRI scan.
The report has been sent back to the doctors and thankfully the MRI scans are all normal – there is no evidence of anything suspect or nasty that is causing the seizures, such as the C-word. We are not out of the woods yet though and are counting down to my Dad having his next round of tests. The private MRI scan cost him just under £250, but for him and for us to a certain extent it was worth every penny as cancer, tumours or anything nasty has now been ruled out.
Now that the dust has settled a bit I want to send my heartfelt thanks to everyone involved in my Dad’s treatment and care – right down to the ambulance dispatcher who helped my Mum on the phone when my Dad had the first seizure, to the ambulance crew who attended to my Dad and took him into hospital and to all the nurses, doctors and staff who looked after my Dad while he was in hospital. To any of you who think we would be better off without the NHS and that it is rubbish, I urge you all to think again. Sure it isn’t perfect, and there is a lot about the NHS that could be changed or improved, but without it we would be like a ship without a rudder. Health is the most important thing, without it we have nothing.
We hear so much negative publicity in the papers and media about the NHS, which must be really demoralising for all who work in it, and not enough about the positive work and contribution you all make to the everyday lives of those you come into contact with – like my Dad, my Mum and me. You all make a huge difference with what you do and with all that you do, and you have no idea how comforting it is just to have someone say to you “he is in the best place” and make you a cup of coffee. It might seem only a little thing, but at that moment it was just what me and my Mum needed.
If it wasn’t for the ambulance dispatcher on the phone, the ambulance crew who attended to my Dad and took him into hospital or the doctors, nurses and staff who looked after him there is a very good chance he would not be here today, especially with the way he fell when he had the seizure and the fact he was so violently sick – he could have easily choked to death and it doesn’t bear thinking about. I am so grateful and thankful to each and every one of you who I came into contact with and who helped and treated my Dad. You are all stars and a credit to your profession – thank you all so much being there for my Dad when he needed you. You all helped to save his life and thanks to you all me and my Dad were able to have our usual Costa coffee outing this weekend together which he loves doing. So thank you all – each and every one of you.
Lisa Ventura – daughter of Francesco Ventura, Worcester, who you attended to from 3pm onwards on Thursday 19 October to Friday 20 October 2017