Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The buzz of being a patient

There’s a little bit of a problem being bedbound in hospital. You can’t get out of bed and do the things everyone else takes for granted. There’s no popping to the fridge for a midnight snack and neither is there the possibility of trotting to the bathroom to increase one’s personal comfort. Instead you must rely on a lifeline otherwise known as ‘the buzzer’.

All hospital beds are fitted with these devices. Often they're festooned with various buttons that are supposed to operate the bedside radio, room lighting and, if you’re really lucky, a television. The truth is that none of these buttons will work properly except for the buzzer. It is a large red button you must press to summon a nurse or health care assistant to tend to your needs.

At the moment there are no league tables showing how quickly a given ward or hospital responds to a patient’s buzzer. This seems a trifle odd since everything else in the health service – from the time it takes an ambulance to get to a patient, to the number of times the phone rings before a clueless twerp from NHS Direct answers – is measured and monitored for efficiency.

Frankly, the buzzer is a bit of an unreliable beast. You could press it and be lucky enough to find a nurse at your elbow in less than a minute. More likely, though, you could be halfway through War and Peace before someone deigns to turn up to find out what you want. This can be problematic, especially if your needs are of an urgent toiletry nature.

I’ve been giving this problem some thought and I think I may have come up with a solution. Instead of buzzers, why not put a telephone next to each patient’s bed with a direct hotline through to the nursing station and an automated answering service? I could see it working something like this…

“Thank you for calling the Clinical Response Automated Patient-line. Your call is important to us and may be recorded for training purposes and for future improvements to the CRAP service.
“Currently all our nurses are busy in the day room eating chocolates and watching EastEnders but please hold the line and you will shortly be transferred to our Special Hotline Inquiry Telephone.
“Welcome to S-H-I-T. Please listen to the following options...
  • If you’re calling to request a bottle please press 1 followed by slash.
  • If you require a bedpan please press Number 2.
  • If you’re in pain and require analgesics please press 3 and scream very loudly.
  • If you're feeling depressed, for goodness’ sake press 4 and pull yourself together.
  • If you wish to complain about the food… don’t! or we’ll spit in your soup.
  • If you feel really unwell press the emergency button and we’ll pop in as soon as EastEnders is over.
    Thank you for calling the SHIT service. Have a nice stay and do call again.”


    1. Have just found your blog via the Daily Mail and we are feeling so sorry for you - but we have a question "what is the white sludge like food that is in your pictures?" All our best wishes for a speedy recovery

    2. Not sure what the food is but if I find out I'll let you know.

    3. This brought back so many memories of my hospital stay a few years back! I had to get people sneaking food in for me or else I'd have starved.
      Hope you make a quick reoovery and can escape soon!

    4. If I lived near your hospital I would bring dinner in every day for you. My neighbour had to do it for me many years ago when I had cancer and the grub in the hospital was more akin to biological warfare than to nutrition. I'm sorry I can't help you but I hope you get better soon.

    5. Very funny. I'd say 'get well soon', but then I wouldn't be able to read your hilarious entries.....

    6. Hilarious ! Keep it up :) and your spirits :)

    7. Very funny--and accurate I'm afraid.
      And oh how I miss EastEnders

    8. I clicked "funny", but it wasn't if you needed help and attention. Much sympathy from me, Gerry. Don't you have any friends or relations who could bring you in nice pies, pasties, sandwiches etc?

    9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    10. Of course getting friends and family to bring food in is a very sensible option. Unfortunately I'm two hours away from my home and family. I think the food might get a bit cold by the time it got here. And if I relied on the post...

    11. John (also a freelance (photo)journalist)16 September 2009 at 16:51

      What a cracking blog.

      I spent much of last Summer visiting a friend who was incarcerated in a hospital not a million miles from the then Health Secretary's constituency. Some of the things we learned:- Don't bother complaining through the PALS system. Much better to dial the hospital main switchboard and ask for the Chief Executive's secretary.

      Our main beef was with the abysmal TV/radio service which was then supplied by Patientline, which repeatedly broke down, and could take days to be repaired. A couple of times, going through the Chief Exec's office, or asking to speak to the manager responsible for dealing with the Patientline contract got rapid results. Likewise, with the naff food, and apparent inability of the caterers to deliver what had actually been ordered.

      Often, my friend arranged with other patients to collectively order a takeaway (Chinese/pizza etc) for delivery to the ward, when their slop-tolerance level was exceeded. The ward staff weren't keen, as it meant extra washing up for them, but they couldn't do anything to stop it.

      Finally, if they do take your single room away, find religion rapidly. When my old Gran was on a ward, she got her own room after a couple of days. She was a devout Catholic, and genuinely thought she was on her last legs, so spent most of her time calling loudly for Jesus to come and take her, as she was good and ready for the afterlife. Apparently, this unsettled the other patients, so she got a private room. Might be worth a try, in extremis.

      Get well soon.

    12. Hilarious, your dilemma makes for a brillient comedy sketch fit for TV. If you get offers you can tell the DWP to get stuffed.

      All the best from Ness..( I can`t figure out the damn "select profile"to use my name..!!! comp thickie .

    13. Im cracking up laughing, although very sympathetic - I had Osteo when I was a kid, and remember spending months in hospital. Still be grateful; 2nd cousin also had it, and unfortunately her lower leg was amputated.

      If you're in SW London, let me know and I'll try and cook you an (edible) meal


    14. Sorry to hear about it, I read it on a news at NineMSN :)
      But may I just say ONE thing, you are not the only patient who needs the nurse. Not sure how your system works, but I know over here in Australia, if we buzz, we have to wait for them to come. They have to be with other patients too. And they do have lunch breaks so then the shortage of staff means you just have to wait mate. I'm a nurse, we try to come asap, but when there are just so many others buzzing, documents to fill, meds/ivs to double check, give us a few minutes.

      Otherwise, interesting blog :) Everyone else is so sweet willing to send you home cooked meals, I'll too if I was anywhere in the UK. The food is horrid. I think that is a standard in all hospitals.

    15. What a bitter whinging prick u are. Calling the staff "twerps" ISNT cool. They are doing their best to attend to everyone. If u dont like the service then go home and see if your friends (i imagine u have millions) will come and wipe your shitty fat arse

    16. Gosh you have a way with words. Why not discuss the blog with your friends... if you have any!

    17. Traction Man we love you! Whilst I wish you a speedy recovery and an end to your torment at the hands of the NHS, I want to keep reading. Best wishes from Sydney

    18. Here's a good game to play in hospital. It's called "Be with you in a minute" which is what you're told when you buzz your buzzer. Then you time that person. The shortest "minute" I experienced when I was in hospital recently was 45.

    19. I understand you are in complete discomfort however it is a hospital and not a 5* dinning restaurant!! Having been a patient also i admire my nurses attention, yes i understand there is a delay in seeing you as they are normally saving other more dire patients needs, the fact you can breath and write is a clear indication you are not that dependant on a nurse or health care worker! It seems to me that boredom has taken over your life thus hence the blog, but i have one idea/thought for you... if your that fed up with the food/service etc then maybe why don't you give up your bed for a more worthy patient and go and join BUPA! i dont think i'd be the only one thinking this m8 after reading your blog! However, do have a speedy recovery and hopefully you won't have to endure the pain (and not in the physical way) too much longer! :)

    20. Having recently come out of St Peters hospital (see my blog at where the food I might add was superb, I have to agree with the Nurse Call Lottery.

      At one point I was left hanging on the side of my bed with my leg frame caught on the bed frame and in considerable pain but it took a nurse 5mins to respond to my pleas.

      The issue is it's used for everything from everything from the banal to the emergency. As you say, when you really need help it doesn't come because someone next to you presses it every few minutes to summon a nurse to plump up their pillow or fetch a phone or whatever!

    21. It's supposed to be fun and satire. Please try not to take it too seriously. As for BUPA , their treatment wouldn't be half as good! Ok?

    22. You're more right about Eastenders than you think. Of course the exception could also be extended for Hollyoaks, Neighbors, Coronation Street, Big Brother, Strictly Come Dancing... I figure they're got round the clock coverage.

      To the anonymous user who called him a whinging prick: as much as I can side with the overworked and underpaid staff of the NHS, I also know how unprofessional, bitchy, and incompetent they can be. There's being too busy, and then there's turning a blind eye.

      With a little luck I won't be back in hospital any time soon. Maybe I should bring a cattle prod next time, might make things more interesting.

    23. Yes buzzer lottery. I remember from one of my stays that a elderly lady was pressing hers like mad and crying for help for 30 mins. I eventually got up (was mobile by now) and went and moaned at the nurses, who were all at the station nattering.

      They looked at me and went and yes. I replied to them why the buzzer was going off and three magically discovered what feet and legs were for. Shame really it took so long and woke up the entire ward.

      Oh and the majority of the staff are great, just some can be really annoying can't they?


    24. Ref the photos of hospital food, I can vouch for the slop given to patients having seen it for myself when my Husband was last in hospital he was served inedible cold food. He has suffered nearly 5 years of pain due to a bowel biopsy going septic causing him to have to be fitted with a colostomy bag to avoid contamination and causing more absesses, poor man has had a total of 50 plus to date.
      My marraige has lasted the course but how many dont? we are paying for this level of arrogance and incompetence.

    25. You poor bugger. I have tweeted your blog on twitter, so you should get even more followers now. Do you twitter? It's a fun way to pass the time ...might take your food off the slop they keep expecting you to eat!

    26. I was in hospital a while back for major surgery, after the op the nurse put the buzzer on the little table for me to use during the night if I needed it. As she left she pushed the table away from the bed and didn't hear me call after her. My only cup of luke warm water with questionable bits floating in it was on the table too. I had to wait til the morning to have a drink. I could of shouted for a nurse but I had consideration for the other patients in the ward. I was so dehydrated my lips looked like pork crackling.
      I'm on your side!
      Good luck and get well soon x

    27. Ah the buzzer - I fell off a roof once and broke both arms. One arm was plasterd up and the other left overnight for an operation the next day. I remeber the nurse coming round with my meds and putting the buzzer in my hand - then I fell asleep. In the night I woke up with a full bladder (oh I forgot to say I has hooked up to drains and fluids so could not get out of bed) and someone had kindly put the buzzer on the bedside table.
      I shouted and shouted and shouted - in the end I wet myself. A nurse comes and pulls me upright by pulling on my arm - I scream, I say my arm is broken, she says I can see that, I say both.
      Nurse changes sheet, I ask what about a wipe, or a clean up, she says wait for the day nurse.
      In morning arm now swelled up, bone displayed, saw lower half from piss.

      Yes the buzzer - you have got to love the buzzer.

    28. Thats so funny, you have been the cause of inspiration to the editor of a spoof juornal written in an Oil base in the middle of the desert, can I borrow the idea of Food Bingo please, thats just a stroke of genious.

      On a serious side, I was stuck in hospital for months with a broken back once, dear god, what a fantastic way to loose weight, since then whenver I have an illness that appears it may equire a visit to a hospital I do anything I can to avoid it.

      Stay safe and if you cant, order beer and pizza takeouts it gets you into loads of trouble with the nursing staff but thats as much fun :-)

    29. find out where the "crash" buzzer is and pull that instead if you're in great need. they won't like it but you may get attention.

    30. Too funny !! If it's any consolation, the Health Care system in Canada isn't much better..and I work as a Nurse ! Hospital I work in, serves a rather brick-like shepherds pie....yummy !!

    31. "trotting to the bathroom to increase one’s personal comfort"

      So many good lines I've only just caught up with that one... hahaha

      Posted you on my FB page mate and suggested they send you a little love too...

      Difficult earning when you're freelance and laid've gone viral now mate...good job you're already in the ozzy eh :-)

    32. "Anonymous said...

      I understand you are in complete discomfort however it is a hospital and not a 5* dinning restaurant!! Having been a patient also i admire my nurses attention, yes i understand there is a delay in seeing you as they are normally saving other more dire patients needs, the fact you can breath and write is a clear indication you are not that dependant on a nurse or health care worker! It seems to me that boredom has taken over your life thus hence the blog, but i have one idea/thought for you... if your that fed up with the food/service etc then maybe why don't you give up your bed for a more worthy patient and go and join BUPA! i dont think i'd be the only one thinking this m8 after reading your blog! However, do have a speedy recovery and hopefully you won't have to endure the pain (and not in the physical way) too much longer! :)
      17 September 2009 15:59"

      I'm sorry to repeat this but what a cock...miss the point much aimless tosser

    33. Agree with Jim. Some people totally miss the point! Lighten up for goodness sake. Theres no need to go all ape....BUPA and shit. It seems boredom has taken over YOUR life you prick.

    34. As a nurse I should take exception to some of that but sadly it can be true!! When I was a patient and hooked up to drips I still tried to do as much for myself as I could but the dirty looks when I asked for help! I'm diabetic and was put on nil by mouth from 3 in the morning till had a scan at 5 in the evening and had to ask the nurses to test my blood sugar - they didnt move very fast till realised my blood sugar was getting close to coma low! Though working with the elderly sometimes the ones that can buzz have to wait till the three staff for 32 residents have dealt with someone that can't buzz - I walked into a side room to do the 2am check and swear to god thought aliens had taken the patient as he had managed to manoevre himself off the bed, overturned two chairs, pulled both the mattress and bedding off the bed and over the chairs and left a large bowel deposit in the the middle of the floor! Found him under the bed asleep wrapped in his quilt with the pillows under his head - not bad for a 90 year old who couldn't walk. couple of buzzers had to wait while we sorted that one out!! Though do try to at least tlet them know we haven't forgotten them. One particularly unpleasant patient didn't take kindly to being told I would be with her as soon as I could but was dealing with someone that was very ill (dying basically and had vomited everywhere and the family were in at 3 in the morning to see it all and only 2 staff that night for 23 patients) she said - oh well, you'll just have to clear up after me then and before I had left the room had peed the bed and was straining to try and get something out her bowels! For every horror story from the patient side (I have a few of my own) there's one from the nurses perspective!
      But get well soon and bupa staff are trained by exactly the same people as NHS staff so don't get too excited at the prospect whatever the adverts say!