I was discharged this week from the Plastic Surgery team at Mount Vernon Hospital. Almost 5 months to the day after the baked bean tin incident, they were delighted with the healing, apologised for the pain they put me through and admitted that, by treating me, they had learnt more about treating trauma wounds in patients with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. Their work with me is done – and by the sounds of it, my work with them as made an impact too. Apart from some deep scar tissue that needs mobilising and the need to re-educate the nerves in my fingers that touching something does not require a pain response, every time, with the quality of care that they have provided, my finger has healed remarkably well – even having had the surgery on the same arm just 6 weeks later.
As I treated myself to a mini-bag of Jelly Babies on the way out (35p – I know how to live!) I found myself (again) getting rather emotional. In some odd way I was sad to leave this team. Compared to many other departments I visit regularly, 5 months at Mount Vernon was a fleeting visit but it was enough for the Receptionists to be able to greet me by name. It was enough for the nursing staff to greet me with a sympathetic smile and not have to scour my notes to find out what I’d actually done and their care and attention was enough for me, at my initial appointment, to have let my guard down and cried on them. I was not merely “another baked bean tin” with rolled eyes and a sigh – I was Mrs Smith – human being – with feelings, a family and an experience of being in a huge amount of pain. Equally, I was someone they could learn from too – we talked blogging, we talked EDS and we talked scarring and pain management.
I had always been aware that the quality of care I had received at Mount Vernon was, in my experience, excellent – outstanding even. It may not be the most glamorous of units but the attitude and dedication of the staff made up for the chipped paintwork and tired desks. Being discharged after 5 months for a non-Ehlers Danlos Syndrome patient may feel like an eternity – but for me (us?) it is really good going. Really good. As I drove on around the M25 I pondered further – has the quality of care that I’ve received improved my recovery time?
Obviously, just looking at my experience is about as unscientific as it gets – I can’t duplicate myself and try having the same injury treated by a different team to see what happens. Overall though – there must be a link between the level to which you feel confident and cared for by health professionals and how long it takes for you to recover from an injury or operation? If you feel secure in their care, believing that they are working for your best interests and that they understand that although a frequent sight for them, your experience of that injury or surgery is unique for you, do you have a more positive mindset and therefore heal quicker?
For those of us with medical conditions that will be with us for life, there is no ‘completely better’. Our syndromes, diseases or illnesses (whatever you wish to call them) will be with us forever – often invisible, varying in severity and often seeming to have no logic in what happens next.
However, I genuinely believe that the way we are treated by health professionals does affect the way that we manage our conditions and how long our symptoms last for. To be believed (and there are so many people with EDS and other conditions that aren’t), acknowledged, referred appropriately and treated with care, dignity and compassion does make our complicated, painful and often frightening lives easier. That little bit ‘easier’ can improve independence, mental health, socialising, education and general well-being – which in turn reduces worry and stress and therefore gives our battered bodies more of a chance.
Then you think on – why am I having to think through this process and even ask the question? Surely everyone is entitled to high quality, compassionate health care that is based on individual needs and not just form filling and box ticking exercises? You would hope so, but from the many stories I read, hear and am asked for my opinion on, this just isn’t happening at the moment – for lots of reasons. I do think that most health professionals do have the interests of their patients at heart – too many though get caught up in the political, financial and management battles and lose this focus – certainly here in the NHS in the UK.
If this focus is lost, I would suggest they go and meet Denise, Reg, Nicky and the rest of the team at Mount Vernon – and their colleagues at the Royal Free Hospital plastic surgery unit. In my experience (other experiences may be available) they’ve got it right – and for that I thank them, very, very much.