Spare a thought for our frontline health heroes

Voices | Published:

By Gary Burgess


IT was an unexpected trip to the Emergency Department at the General Hospital.

We’d just moved house and I was attempting to open the bedroom window for the first time. It was a tightly locked sash window that didn’t want to budge. Anyhow, it eventually did, but the top window just dropped at full force. I leaned in to stop it crashing down but it landed on one of my fingers.

I may have sworn out loud.

Hours later it was still throbbing sore, but was also swelling. I knew if I visited A&E it would turn out to be nothing, and that if I didn’t it would be broken. So, I took my chances and rocked up at the Hospital at around 7 pm.

If you want to see the best of humanity, and the strange quirks of people generally, three hours in A&E on a Tuesday night is the place to be.

First, my fellow casualties sitting in the waiting area. There was the teenage girl who came in with her friends. ‘My eye’s a bit sore, so I thought I’d pop in,’ she giggled. They huddled in a corner with their mobile phones.

There was the elderly holidaymaker who arrived in his pyjamas and dressing gown, accompanied by his two granddaughters. His blood pressure had dropped and he didn’t feel well. They sat in quiet bemusement at how small the waiting area was.

A very old man with advanced dementia, pushed in a wheelchair by a care home assistant, and followed by his doting wife, waited next to me for an X-ray. He didn’t really follow what was going on, but the love in the eyes of his wife, who told me he was now existing rather than living, was tinged with such a deep sadness. The care assistant shared stories from the time she was involved in a car crash.


And then there was the mother of a child who’d cut his head. She was there with, I assumed, her boyfriend. She loudly told him how she thought most of us shouldn’t be there and that her son should be the top priority. She then proceeded to snog the face off her partner – a full tongue sandwich of an encounter – while we all, including her blood-soaked son, watched on.

While this soap opera played out, medics behind the scenes were run ragged. We could hear ambulances arriving. We could see paramedics running in and out of the reception area to hand over paperwork. There was the triage nurse assessing every walk-in arrival to work out who needed help most urgently. The scrolling display sign in the waiting area, which had said ‘one-hour wait’ changed to ‘three-hour wait’.

And then an A&E doctor in his bright-pink garb emerged from the coal face to deliver what I can only describe as a brilliant piece of oratory to the rest of us sitting out front.

In a nutshell, it went like this: ‘We’re incredibly busy. There is not a single available bed in the Hospital right now. There are some very serious cases arriving by ambulance. If you’ve been ill with whatever you’ve come here with for more than 24 hours it is not an emergency. And, you should know, you are all the least ill people in this hospital right now.’


It was powerful stuff. My throbbing finger and me, along with everybody else, got a healthy dose of perspective. The girl with the eye, along with about half a dozen others, decided they didn’t need treatment after all, and went home.

I sat there feeling guilty for, possibly, wasting their time. But I hung on as I’d been X-rayed and simply needed to know whether or not my finger was broken. It wasn’t. So I went home, took as many painkillers as I was allowed in one go, and went to bed. It was 10 pm.

The pages of this newspaper and debate elsewhere are so often dominated by the rights and wrongs of plans to build a new hospital next to the existing one. I revel, as a reporter, in digging into the political machinations which operate behind the headlines of these stories. And people, understandably, have strong views about where the new building should go.

But it’s worth reminding ourselves, amid this drawn-out farce of a drama, that there are hundreds of people slogging their guts out, day in, day out, to keep dying people alive, to make sick people well. They do it without expectation of praise and plaudits; they do it because it’s their vocation.

To the doctors, nurses and support staff I saw in action last Tuesday night, you have my absolute admiration. And if politicians could speak even half as inspiringly as the doctor who delivered that speech in the waiting room, I think we’d be all the better for it.


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