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Absolute angels! The day the NHS really did save my bacon

Sabrina Dougall pays tribute to the Royal Free and staff who saved her life after she was recently taken in with suspected food poisoning

24 May, 2017 — By Sabrina Dougall

Sabrina Dougall

I AM a healthy woman in my twenties, but when I suffered a sudden medical emergency the NHS saved my life. The trouble began began a few weeks ago when I was woken up in the middle of the night by a severe pain in my abdomen.

After lying there in the dark for several hours, I found I could not roll over and go back to sleep. I remembered I had eaten bacon earlier and, not trusting my cooking skills, thought I should get medical help.

At 6am, I phoned 111 (formerly “NHS Direct” and replaced by “NHS 24 helpline” in 2014), and was connected to an advisor within seconds. A reassuring voice asked me a series of questions about my symptoms. At the end of the phone assessment, the NHS rep told me to go to an “urgent care centre”.

Minutes later I was in a cab on my way to the Royal Free Hospital. I hobbled to the entrance of the A&E and gave my details to the receptionist. The first thing I noticed was the large, clean waiting area. I was shown to cushioned seating outside the triage nurse’s door.

It was 7.30am now but the A&E nurse was upbeat – joking about me eating raw bacon. Clutching my stomach, I then waited just over an hour before I was taken to a curtained bay with a bed. A caring young doctor examined me and others took my blood, urine and heart rhythm. I lay on the bed for a few hours as results were checked and discussed.

I was soon given an IV drip with paracetamol to ease the pain and stay hydrated. My doctor told me she was concerned about my appendix, which was inflamed, and a surgeon was called down for a second opinion. I was later told that if I did not have emergency surgery, the appendix could have ruptured and killed me.

A burst appendix causes peritonitis, a potentially serious infection of the inner lining of the abdomen. I started crying when I heard “surgery” but my doctor was very sensitive and answered all my questions.

Friendly nurses took me up to a ward and I was given a bed by a window on a ward with four patients. Still in last night’s pyjamas, I met a series of experts who went through every detail with me. I learned I would have keyhole surgery the next morning.

Thanks to the fantastic teamwork and professionalism of NHS staff, my appendix was removed without any problems. Throughout my three days in hospital, the nurses were absolute angels and brought me a new toothbrush, a change of clothes every day and night, and pain medication whenever I was allowed.

I watched the nurses work with dedication and care through long shifts without ever complaining. Yet I couldn’t help but think the team could do with more nurses on staff.

The NHS was there for me at my most vulnerable time in life. I couldn’t walk or use the loo without help.

When I was finally allowed to bathe after a week of healing scars, which were tiny compared to what I expected, all I could think of was how glad I was that I would not face a bill of thousands of pounds for my world-class medical treatment.

I sent a thank-you card to my nurses yesterday – and I still have the toothbrush they gave me.


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