The Hospital Patient

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 ❗

6 Responses to The Hospital Patient

  1. Grannymar says:

    Another wonderful post subject.

    With all the forms we now have to sign allowing this or allowing that, we are not asked to sign one relinquishing our right to be a Real Person, yet crossing the threshold of a hospital we lose it and become a name or bed number.

    Sad, sad, sad….

  2. Steph says:

    We also run the risk of becoming the “gall bladder in bed no.5” or “Consultant Mr. X’s ruptured Achilles tendon”!

    I think things are improving in that regard though, Grannymar as today’s medical students are encouraged to look beyond the disease and to focus more on the ‘illness’ i.e. how the patient copes with the disease and how it affects their life.

  3. Harry says:

    Thanks again for linking to me Steph!

    I’ve been thinking about the patient a fair bit this week, after all it was a first experience and he will unforuntaly have a serious disability for life. The other medical students all seemed to enjoy meeting patients, but as you said they had been selected carefully, so as not to scare us I suppose.

    A very well written post, and a good read (far more interesting than the PBL reading I am supposed to be doing right now…)

    Harry

  4. nonny says:

    I could never deal with the whole team thing especially when I was small but even now I still have to say “Listen up people I have a fear of hospitals and doctor, I can just about manage one ” they usually just laugh and shuffle off. In saying that I would never stay in hospital again. I never really shared a room with anyone though. Everybody should have their own room or at least be consulted with in a private room. I know they do their best but it is bad enough having to be in hospital without feeling humiliated doctors or nurses.

  5. You know, on my first ever surgical rotation in Hospital, whenever I spoke to patients then presented them to seniors I used their name. On more than one occasion, the doctor had no idea who I was talking about, they only knew the patients by bed number. I hope i’m never like that.

  6. Steph says:

    Welcome Little Medic and thanks for visiting!

    It’s a bit shocking to hear your comment but you needn’t worry – most patients don’t put up with that sort of treatment any more and refuse to be intimidated by doctors who think they are Gods. Patients generally want to be included in decisions made re their care.

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