When waiting in A&E
I know the procedure well. Mobile phones, power pack, kindle and contigo insulated mugs with fresh coffee; this time, just in case, wheelchair. Over the years I have had innumerable trips to various A&E departments. For several years, in fact, Jacqui and I were directly responsible for five elderly relatives. Hardly a month went by when one of them needed to be taken to A&E. In fact, over Christmas 2006 we had three of them in Aintree University Hospital at the same time. And then there’s the rest of the family, which has entailed various trips to a whole variety of A&E departments. In three different countries, in fact. From experience I always make a point of going to an A&E at a teaching hospital – even if it means a longer journey. Here it means Aintree; in the Algarve, it meant Faro. But this time it was Jacqui, having tripped in church and damaged her back. And I don’t mess about – I’ve learned that from parish ministry. So we set off for A&E, knowing – at best – we’ll be returning in the early hours. In fact, I recall one occasion when one morning I received a hurried phone call from my sister. She was about to take our mother to A&E. Could I take over as soon as possible? She with her husband was about to fly off to Spain for a well-deserved holiday. I dropped everything and complete with War and Peace (both volumes), I turned up at Aintree A&E to sit with my Mum. It was a long wait and eventually the doctors decided to admit her. As soon as a bed became available, I phoned my sister, by then at her hotel on the Costa del Sol. So we arrived (yet again) at Aintree. It was a Sunday afternoon but still very busy. You will be aware that currently many A&E departments are at full stretch. However, she was triaged fairly quickly and we settled down for a long wait. I don’t mind waiting, not least because you are waiting in the right place. And of course, it’s not first come, first served. You don’t know what is happening behind those doors. Right away you need to come to terms with the fact that you are not going to get home until the early hours. It’s saying the obvious but what counts is not how long you have to wait but how well your condition is treated.
Strangely, waiting is commended in the Bible – usually waiting for God to act in his time, not ours. “Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31). There’s something about waiting which does something to us. Over the years the A&E department at Aintree has been completely reorganised and refigured. And of course, smarter technology. There’s some very impressive kit but most importantly they now have an excellent Expresso and Cappuccino machine, properly staffed in the small café in the waiting area. And decent public WIFI. Eventually Jacqui was seen by the doctor, who introduced himself by his Christian/given name . He seemed very competent and over the next few hours oversaw a thorough examination – two X-rays and two MRI scans, one of which was assessed by a radiologist at the Walton (neuro) Centre next door. The outcome? One, possibly two, fractures to the vertebrae. Painful, but it could have been worse. So we returned home in the early hours. Thankfully we have a downstairs bedroom and toilet, so Jacqui begins her slow recovery with some powerful pain relief. Once again we thank God for the NHS – which has received a few knocks over the last few weeks. And especially we thank him for those dedicated staff who work in A&E, especially through the night. It can’t be good for their own health, psychological as well as physical. I’ve blogged on this before but A&E at night is a different, even dangerous, world. You often see police officers in attendance. On one occasion we witnessed a successful prison escape as the patient legged it through the back door. However, what is fundamental is that everyone is treated equally. You can’t buy your way to the front of the queue. And here in the UK (unlike Jacqui’s relatives in Ohio) we don’t have to worry about paying for her care. Goodness knows, for example, how much each MRI scan costs. So often in ministry I have come across people like actor Sacha Dhawan who reflects: “I took for granted that we have free healthcare. But I have realised what the NHS does, and the people within it who keep it moving, the number of hours they are doing.” And of course, an organisation like the NHS is hugely complex. Every 24 hours it sees one million patients, and with 1.7 million staff it is the fifth biggest employer in the world, as well as the largest non-military public organisation in the world. It must be a nightmare to manage while its failures, as in Shrewsbury, can so easily grab the headlines. Clearly some areas – like mental health – appear neglected. And its very successes are causing the NHS even more problems as we live longer and so many more health conditions become treatable, even at great expense. But at its very heart, within its DNA, is a totally Christian ethos. Each one of us is made in the image of God, uniquely special, extravagantly loved. As it happens, each night we pray for those in Aintree A&E. For it is there we see God’s compassion in action.