12 February 2009

A patient patient

Does your sense of identity change whenever you are feeling unwell? Do people label you in terms of a perceived disability? Has an injury ever made you think differently about yourself?

A recent incident

On Monday, I had my first experience as a patient in a public hospital. Being a generally healthy person, it felt strange to find myself in an emergency department, registering myself at triage with a fortunately empty waiting room behind me.

There was a huge television screen in the waiting room, blasting out the latest news on the bushfire situation. The angel one assisted me as I tried, with a very weak voice and feeling disorientated, to give my personal details to the nurse, who was sitting at a desk behind the glass screen just in front of my nose.

Becoming a patient

I am usually interested in having new experiences that do not involve being in a crowd, as long as such experiences promise to be fairly healthy. I was fortunate that the angel one phoned the emergency department before we left home at 5am. He had been told that it was quiet there.

The reason for my visit was that I had been vomiting all night. Not a very pleasant thing to write about, I admit, but one that is even more unpleasant to experience. I could not even keep down a sip of water. This could have been quite a problem if the weather was hotter.

Avoiding risks

We are expecting the heat to return this weekend so I thought I had better have my health checked out by the experts. A nurse came over as I sat in the waiting room. I had my temperature taken, blood pressure taken and pulse rate, and then a paper bracelet was strapped around my wrist. My identity to the medical staff had been placed on the bracelet's label.

My blood pressure, pulse and temperature were normal, but even so, I soon found myself on a bed in what was supposed to be a ward. It seemed more like a major junction between several corridors. There were contract cleaners and contract orderlies wandering about, seemingly oblivious to the presence of people in beds.

As far as I could see, there was only one other person in a bed in the ward. Half of the curtain around me was closed for privacy. The angel one sat on a chair at my side and we waited to be seen.

An impatient patient

We waited and waited. Then after an hour or so, a different nurse came to see me and asked how I was. I said I felt cold. I was given an extra warm blanket. It felt lovely as the blanket was already heated.

Then the nurse immediately checked my temperature and said it was 38.5 so the lovely blanket was removed. My blood pressure had gone up, too. The angel one and I had not slept all night. All we really wanted to do was sleep.


It took about three hours before I saw a doctor. She asked me a lot of questions, including many very personal ones. By then, there were two other patients in the ward, motor accident victims who appeared to have fairly minor injuries.

Then I had a drip put into my arm. There is a huge bruise there now but I am getting better. After five hours in the hospital I was on my way home.

Have your say

Being ill can make us feel very uncertain about ourselves, and about time. While we are ill or injured, or taking a medication that makes us drowsy, we do not know how long it will take before our old identity returns, if ever. What are your views?

Dependency, independence and interdependence are very important aspects of our identities. Would you agree?

I look forward to receiving your comments.

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