I was reading an interesting blog the other day and it started me thinking about life in hospital – from the patient’s perspective. This excellent blog is written by a medical student who details a first encounter with a ‘real’ patient. It was an insightful glimpse into the world of student doctors and clearly demonstrated how they learn from direct contact with patients. While ‘real’ patients are important for medical education, it’s also important to remember that patients are ‘real’ people too.
It has to be said that life in hospital is incredibly boring – the days can be endless and the sleep-disturbed nights are even longer. A hospital environment is alien to most patients – in fact it could even be described as ‘territorial’. From the moment a newcomer arrives on a ward, they become public property and remain on display for the duration of their stay. The boredom factor in hospital is such that a new admission provides a welcome distraction to the other ward occupants. Every detail is observed and scrutinised and before long, the interrogation will begin. “What are you in for? Oh, that’s terrible – my friend had that too!”. The new patient must divulge sufficient information to satisfy everyone’s curiosity and then they will be left in peace to settle into their ‘new home’.
The majority of patients in acute hospitals today are admitted through A&E where they will have been processed for many weary hours and often days, before being transferred to a ward. A small proportion of patients are admitted directly to a hospital bed to undergo elective surgery or thorough investigation and these are what are known as ‘elective admissions’. All patients, no matter how they arrive in hospital, are placed under the care of a specific medical or surgical team. Over the course of their stay, each patient will get to meet many variations of this team ranging from the most senior, the consultant, right down to the most recently qualified, the intern. Those with a complicated medical history may be put under the care of several teams and this inevitably multiplies the number of doctors seen. Medical students are an add-on ‘bonus’ in all teaching hospitals but only patients who are deemed to be a suitable case-study, will be asked to consent to undergo interrogation.
The ritual of ward rounds is another great source of entertainment for bored patients. While usually terrifying for the patient involved, they still provide great entertainment for the rest of the ward. The doctors swarm in and surround the bed of some poor unsuspecting individual who is then subjected to a barrage of questions, all delivered at an audible volume to the rest of the ward. The patient is then used as a ‘demo model’ before decisions are made and a care plan is put in place. The whole team then moves on in search of it’s next victim leaving behind a bewildered and often humiliated, patient. This is when the room mates come into their own. Within minutes, the other patients come to the rescue with reassuring anecdotes and invariably, the doctors will each be analysed in detail. No stone is left unturned! Patients in general are hugely protective of one another – everybody is in the same boat in hospital and it’s a natural instinct to look out for the welfare of others. This is particularly evident in the case of elderly patients who are unable to fend for themselves and who do not always get the respect or the attention they deserve due to short-staffing on the wards. Nurses too, are by no means exempt from a patient’s analytical skills. Favourites are quickly identified while others will be given nicknames appropriate to their behaviour. Humour is a great weapon in hospital – it often succeeds where reality fails.
There can be no doubt that patients will always be indebted to doctors for their in-depth skills and knowledge but doctors should never forget that patients are REAL PEOPLE who possess a unique talent to spot REAL DOCTORS ❗