7am, Monday morning, on the paediatric ward

After a surprisingly OK shower, I head towards the parents’ kitchen which proudly bears the sign “free tea and coffee” on the door. I need to defrost; I do not need powdered coffee with no milk. Note to self – find café. I go to see how my girl is getting on, still fast asleep in bed, so I return to my room to tidy up. It is only now I appreciate the true beauty of my temporary accommodation. What more could an anxious parent need than Monet’s “Waterloo – Gray Day” painting on the wall to cheer them up? Surely the picture they left down the back of the plastic armchairs was better than this?

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8am – despite being told that breakfast starts at 7am and the ward round would start at 8:30, cold toast and rice crispies are just arriving now. This is followed by the water jug game. This hasn’t changed in the 10 years since I spent a few nights in with my eldest son, and it’s a hoot, you’ll love it. In the searing heat of the wards, water is pretty essential, some might say, as essential as the medical care given here. So, with my love of process shining bright, it is always curious to me that every morning all the water jugs are removed from the ward as these could be a source of infection and are therefore a health risk to be removed. However, it is not the job of the person who removes the water jugs to replace them. Oh no. This happens later, much later, much much later when dehydration has set in, particularly for nursing mothers. So the water jug game involves smiling sweetly (a lot) and walking around the floor trying to find the rare beasty that is a jug and two cups, or even better, a nurse who can find these for you. Eventually we find water and dad arrives to take over at 9:30. I have an appointment on the other side of town in half an hour, persuading predominantly female life science researchers to become entrepreneurs.

It strikes me that on balance, being a female, techy entrepreneur is considerably less stressful than being a parent. Many, many women leave well paid jobs armed with little more than breasts to take up the mantle of childcare single handed, whilst dad tries to keep his eyes open at the desk job. The woman is left on her own at home with an incredibly valuable, challenging, essentially unpaid job, 24/7 with no training. Not getting it right first time is really risky. If you sit and listen to Margaret Heffernan (http://www.mheffernan.com/index2.php) and I am lucky to have done so on more than one occasion, starting and running a company is remarkably similar to having children. So how is it that when asked, many women would not start their own company, citing the challenges of fitting this round children as one of many imagined barriers? If you’ve even considered having children or actually managed it without the intervention of social services I cannot think of anything more invigorating and suited to your skills base than starting a company.

I digress. Whilst I am persuading a fabulous scientist to pursue her dream, my husband is watching my daughter’s internal organs being examined by ultrasound. I return to the ward at 3pm, for the changing of the guard (dad does actually have a job to go to) and to hear my girl declare herself as “losing the will to live”. In practice this means it’s time to eat a KitKat (other forms of dental decay inducing, chocolate based life forms are available). Having eaten baked beans for lunch I can’t help thinking once again that my daughter’s diet since entering hospital and sitting in bed all day has not exactly been ideal for intestinal disorders. My daughter spends much of the day having 1:1 art tuition with an amazing woman and has already amassed a sizeable collection of plaster of paris artifacts that need painting. An educational assistant keeps walking round and remarking on our daughter’s maths skills. I wonder if she is officially employed by the hospital for frequent flyers/long stay car parkers; simply volunteering, or whether the nursing staff have just given up on trying to get her to leave the building.

5pm, and a mere 7 hours after the ultrasound has been performed, all internal organs are declared fit for purpose (in words of one syllable of course), if not swimming in a little more fluid than is normal, by another surgical registrar. They’d still like to keep an eye on her for another night. Smiling, the doctor leaves. Staying, my girl bursts into tears. I text my husband and warn him we’re going to need warm bedclothes and another spare change of clothes. My girl has supper – a jacket potato with a side order of potato wedges. They have no soup, and the ice cream is “the same as school’s, I’m not eating that”. *sigh*

7pm that evening, dad turns up with a second overnight bag to do a swap for the nightshift. The bag contains no change of underwear for our daughter and no change of clothes for me at all. He has brought the film Maze Runner on a USB stick, chocolate brownies and our daughter’s duvet. He holds up our eldest son’s sleeping bag for the arctic parents’ room and offers to stay the night. I let him; at least as far as his knees, he’ll be warm. Youngest son wants to stay and watch the DVD. There are many problems with this, not least the fact that this is not going to fit into the free 20 minutes parking allowed. Despite looking like the mutant lovechild of Metal Mickey and a Nintendo Wii, there is no remote control for the “Starlight” system. As a result, it’s almost impossible to hear the film from two foot in front of the screen, and my daughter has already watched the first half hour twice as a result of hitting the stop button on the front of the player, but without being able to hit fast forward on the remote. This lack of remote control is slightly dampening its promise of “brightening the lives of seriously ill children” emblazoned on the side.

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To be honest, it’s a blessing in disguise as Maze Runner is not entirely appropriate for the 6 year old girl in the bed next door (or our youngest son for that matter) and we’ve killed another half hour of time with the DVD repeat. I manage to tear our youngest son away from playing with the bed controls and take him home in time to avoid a parking fine and to pick up the eldest son from cubs.

9:30am Day 3 and I’m back on the ward as soon as the school run is done. This was a slightly prolonged affair as it involved 1) a lot of parents asking after our daughter (lovely); 2) the receptionist remarking on the fact that the educational assistant up at the hospital had already called and informed them that our daughter had been discharged (inaccurate, slightly creepy and in breach of confidentiality somewhere I’m sure) and 3) a friend asking if I can watch her son for 15 minutes later that day (a walk in the park after the last couple of days especially given the laid back nature of their son compared to ours). Back at the hospital and again, in the magic 20 minutes allowed by the ruler of free parking, I hand my slowly defrosting husband a cup of tea and he leaves for work. In reality this involves telling him that I have left the tea on the desk at reception as you’re not allowed hot drinks on the ward. Hot food is barely allowed in, it’s only fair.

A few minutes later, just as I am preparing myself for a long haul DVD watching/bird drawing/heart painting session and texting the parenting classes’ teacher to let her know I can’t make week 2 of 11, the surgical consultant shows up with a whole clutch of green student medics flurrying in his wake. They all remain silent while he barks at one blue clothed doctor for the blood test results. Armed with data, the anomalous, raised results are read out to a reception of total apathy. A little bit of excess peritoneal fluid is also unimpressive if you’re female, apparently. So, with that, we are free to go. They are happy to keep her in for longer but if I am confident to keep an eye on her at home, she is officially discharged. My daughter is already putting her shoes on and hobbling, bent over in slight pain, for the door. I reassure the consultant that despite not being medically qualified, I have a suspicion I might be just fine. He smiles, calls me a proper Dr, and provides cursory details on what circumstances would warrant returning. I walk half way round the hospital to pay the additional £12 parking fee, with coins, no cards accepted, no change possible. If anyone in the family is seriously ill now they are in grave trouble as I have just blown my job seekers allowance at the same rate it was accrued solely on parking one car.

What did we learn:

  • My daughter, when asked, “how are you?” now answers with a number on a 0-10 pain score scale as she has been accustomed to doing at two hourly intervals for the last 43 hours to generate a lot of completed forms for nurses.
  • There are a LOT of things that your body can do that will baffle the most senior of medics and for which an army of tests will be inconclusive. You will be absolutely fine.
  • It will have cost the NHS several hundreds of pounds to complete 1 and 2 for which I am eternally grateful, but also feel could have been better spent somewhere else. Perhaps on some training on managing customers’ expectations; subtitled “how not to lie about how long all NHS processes take and report past events as a false guide to future ones”.
  • Don’t google your symptoms, simply follow the scheme below:

Do you need to attend A&E? (Follow these instructions at your own peril)

Have you had an accident that has caused your limb to be seriously bent at an awkward angle, NOT where it normally bends?  If yes – go to A&E.

If no, have you had an accident that caused your parent to go white as a sheet, as though they are very scared and/or sick and they are trying not to cry? If yes, lie them down, reassure them everything will be fine, administer tea and wait for a bit. If you were able to do this without hitting a 10 on the pain scale, i.e. the worst pain imaginable, take paracetamol, neurofen and savlon as necessary and stay at home with a DVD player with a working remote control.

If you have not had an accident, but are in pain; as they say in Big Hero 6, “woman up”, at home. Take paracetamol and neurofen as necessary and watch your temperature. If your pain reduces, even slightly, after 30-40 minutes and your temperature remains normal, the drugs are, on this occasion, working. Rest, perhaps with a DVD player with a working remote control.

Do you have a high temperature, vomiting, pain and diarrhoea? If yes, you probably do need to go to A&E and there will probably be a sign on the door saying that anyone with a sickness bug is not allowed on the ward. Pack a decent overnight bag with you, using an ascent on Mt Everest after a long haul flight with airport parking paid in cash as the guide for the quality and quantity for the contents.

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