Sunday photoblogging: hospital

by Chris Bertram on August 7, 2016

Outside the Children's Hospital

This week’s picture is quite an old one, of the sculpture outside the then-new Bristol Children’s Hospital which is directly adjacent to the Bristol Royal Infirmary, where I spent a good past of the last week following an acute gallstone attack (with associated pancreatitis) last weekend. On the Thursday I had my gall bladder removed (which turned out to be slightly more complicated than anticipated) and by Friday I was home. I’m now resting and recuperating, but basically feeling fine. Some reflections on the experience below the fold.

As everyone knows, the UK’s National Health Service, our “single-payer” system, is in crisis, with its constituent trusts running large deficits and no plan to fix things. But I have to say, these people are pretty good at keeping up appearances and my own experience was excellent. I came in on a Saturday night, just before the pubs emptied (having stupidly delayed getting attention in the belief that the pain would pass). Though the drunks did arrive in Accident and Emergency eventually, it wasn’t too bad, and I was swiftly assessed and seen and then moved to a ward with several other patients for observation. 48-hours of “nil-by-mouth” isn’t much fun, but the lovely people who work in the BRI, from all over the world (showing what a nonsense immigration policy is) made things tolerable. And my fellow patients were good company too, particularly a young Somali guy who had broken his arm playing football. He was visited by a large number of relatives and team-mates who talked to one another in an impressive number of languages (Somali, English, French and Dutch) with quite a lot of seemingly random code-switching. Eventually I was moved to a single room with en-suite bathroom and then allowed home briefly before being readmitted for the operation after a couple of days (and back into a single room again). Not everyone gets this single-room/cubicles, but they are at least as comfortable as several cheap hotels I’ve stayed in, and definitely beat the student accommodation at Queen’s Belfast I lodged in recently. I also got the benefit on an MRI scan (not cheap) and the service of a specialist surgeon who also works in the private sector, and all more or less immediately. Cost to me, nothing (unless you count the taxes I’ve paid over they years, which are looking great value to me right now).

I’d not stayed a night in a hospital since 1958, though I had hung around Lennox Hill Hospital in New York in 2000 where my youngest had an appendectomy, and I have to say it was interesting to watch this society in miniature (and working system) in action. Yes, it is an efficient system for the management of bodies, and you get a clear sense of that. But it is also a system composed of people who are extremely dedicated and caring and who make you feel that your individual well-being matters to them (and this goes for doctors and nurses, but also for porters and caterers). I’m extremely grateful. It is also, to some extent, a mirror of wider British society with a fairly clearly delineated racial and class hierarchy. Doctors are very posh and incredibly well-dressed, mostly, though far from exclusively, white. Of these, the men favour stripy shirts or a sort that’s a rather recognized marker. Nurses are mainly English, Irish, EU (Polish, Romanian, Portuguese etc) and Filipino. Cleaners and people delivering food are black, and seem mainly West Indian. Porters are working-class white Bristolians or Somali. There are lots of exceptions to these generalisations of course, but they do make you wonder about the processes that sort people into jobs, with some of the broad patterns being the obvious ones of social advantage and disadvantage, but others involving elements of choice and self-selection.

Lots to think about, and maybe to write about it the future, but for now I’m glad to be home.



Maria 08.07.16 at 11:50 am

Welcome home, Chris, and good luck with the rest of your recovery.


Emma in Sydney 08.07.16 at 12:35 pm

Best wishes for an uncomplicated recovery, Chris. Having lost my gallbladder to a similar course of events, I can say it is no great loss. The Australian health service works differently but has a similar reliance on Irish nurses, bless them. Along with ambulance paramedics, nurses seem to gain in stature as one gets older.


Dr. Hilarius 08.07.16 at 4:55 pm

Arthroscopic removal I hope? Much shorter recovery time.


Chris Bertram 08.07.16 at 5:06 pm

Laparoscopic. Is that what you meant?


Dr. Hilarius 08.07.16 at 5:37 pm

Yes, thank you, not enough coffee this morning.


Donald A. Coffin 08.07.16 at 6:01 pm

Sounds like your experience was fine and that the surgery was also without complication. My wife recently had her gall bladder removed (also laparoscopically)–on an out-patient basis, which sort of amazed us both.

Also, a fine foto.


Alan White 08.07.16 at 6:29 pm

So glad you’re doing well–a friend of mine died from complications of pancreatitis, and so I know how serious that can be.

Perfectly picked photo for the week, BTW. Best luck on recovery.


Sasha Clarkson 08.07.16 at 7:28 pm

Best wishes for your recovery Chris. Your piece reminded me of Denis Skinner’s speech in the Commons about his ‘United Nations’ heart operation. :)


js. 08.07.16 at 11:25 pm

Best wishes, CB.

Really like this photo in general (note to self: angle camera *up* more often), but also the first thing I thought about when I looked at it was Olympic Rings. So, somewhat topical, even. Anyone else seeing this?


Alan White 08.08.16 at 3:20 am

js–see my remark @7.


Ingrid Robeyns 08.08.16 at 5:34 pm

Glad you’re back home and recovering, and that you will treat us to your Sunday pictures again, Chris.

I hope the British Politicians take note of your grateful endorsement of the NHS. For the last ten years the Netherlands had some form of market-based health care system (with regulated insurers who are supposed to “compete” for customers who whoever drastically lack information), and the list of complaints regarding this system is long. Some things are better not be given to the market – regulated or not.


Lynne 08.08.16 at 9:05 pm

Chris, I hope your recovery proceeds swiftly and uneventfully. I’m in recovery-mode, too, having had a total knee replacement on July 28. It’s a long, hard recovery, I’m told, and so far this has been true. So I’m scarce here, but taking in far more Olympics than usual. I, too, hadn’t been hospitalized in a long time (since my second child was born in 1991) but this hospital is really old, the rooms small and inconvenient for the nurses, who simply ran their whole shifts. Boy, they worked hard. Almost everyone was great but since you deal with dozens of people even in a four-day stay, even one person who isn’t gung-ho about your welfare has a regrettably strong effect. Still, supposing I have the guts to do this all again this winter, I will feel that most of the staff are in my corner. I hope you feel better soon.


Chris Bertram 08.10.16 at 7:47 am

Thanks to everyone for their kind words. Lynne, I hope your recovery goes as smoothly as mine is going.

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