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28th December 2011
  

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Breathtaking     

News and Comment from Roy Lilley
PPA 'Columnist of the Year' - Finalist
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Sitting is his study, making last minute arrangements for the Boxing Day celebrations; he knew he didn't feel right.  A tightening then a crushing pain in the centre of the chest.  An indescribable heaviness.  It's never a good sign and in a man turned ninety, definitely a bad sign.  It wasn't long before the helicopter was scrambled and he was in one of the best heart hospitals in the world.

 

At the other end of the country an older man, well into his nineties, was walking back from Tesco's, making last minute arrangements to join a family Christmas.  Overcome with a pain in the centre of his chest, he sat on a low wall.  He felt heavy.  A passer-by asked if he was alright and kindly took his shopping bag and walked him slowly back, up one flight of stairs into his spotless apartment, where he lives alone.

 

He didn't like to make a fuss.  "No, the ambulances'll be too busy to bother with me"....... eventually, late afternoon, a relative was alerted and negotiated that they go to A&E, by car.

 

By the time the helicopter had landed the on-call cardiologist was ready to meet him.  The chief executive was on his way, a startled press officer was already cranking up the press machine.  Within hours he had been diagnosed and treated with a stent.  Routine, standard practice.

 

His visitors were met, greeted and taken to the side room to see their grandfather.  No, they didn't want any tea, thank you.  They didn't want a fuss.   Four days later a procession of Land Rovers swept him out of the hospital, smiling and waving. 

 

A&E was quiet but it was 1am before the man found sitting on the wall had been seen by a triage nurse, a doctor and admitted to the Cardiac Unit.  Amongst the machines and monitors two nurses were busy but attentive.  One wore a Santa hat.

 

Visiting the Cardiac Unit took determination.  A blizzard of signs, union strike notices, press cuttings, posters, health and safety advertisements, clean your hands campaigns and League of Friends activities made it tricky to see what was where.  Reception was in darkness.  Past the cleaning and delivery carts, through the well worn corridors and past a room with the lagoon of water on the floor.  Past the coffee shop; locked and abandoned for the festivities; eventually the lift. 

 

On the ward, among the monitors, no sign of a cardiologist.  "They won't be in 'till Tuesday" said the nurse in the Santa hat.  And, no, she didn't know about the man's two outpatient appointments in the next few days; haematology and renal clinics.  It would appear Christmas has an electromagnetic pulse effect, rendering parts of the NHS dysfunctional.   

 

He was stoic.  Didn't want a fuss.  There were no chairs for the visitors.  They stood around his bed for an hour.  His clothes were bundled into a plastic bag, abandoned on the floor, under the bed.  Covering him a beige blanket.  No TV, no news papers, no distractions.  The Friends' shop locked and dark.  It's at times like this you find out who your friends really are.

 

The hospital is pushing a �30+m bow wave of debt in front of it.  It looks like it.  Worn, exhausted with the effort of staying afloat and helping to save �20bn to keep the Big Beast in a job. 

 

The man in the helicopter was the Queen's husband, treated at Papworth.  The man on the wall is my Uncle Les, Wednesday morning and still waiting to see a cardiologist at St Helier's Hospital, Sutton.  

 

Breathtaking.

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