"Would you like to say this in front of the camera?"
"No, I'd like to go to bed."
Stalking the corridors of Birmingham's City hospital isn't everyone's idea of a fun way to see in the New Year, whether you've got a microphone or a stethoscope in your hand. This was my first attempt at live TV so I got the microphone, but I felt a lot sorrier for the stethoscopes.
I'd met most of the junior doctors before, when I taught them communication skills at Birmingham medical school. We'd used mock consultations with "professional" patients and, although Birmingham does it as well as anywhere in the UK, I've still got nagging doubts as to how well classroom simulation prepares you for war zone NHS. I was tempted to ask, "so how useful is your communication skills training now?" But, of course, I didn't.
Dr C was a great student, and particularly good at simulated consultations. I've no doubt she's a great doctor, too, but the second question I shied from was whether she'd stick with it. A lot of research, particularly about women in medicine, has demonstrated that the more compassionate the doctor, the more introspective they are about their work and the harder they find it to do a psychologically mutilating job with less than ideal resources. It takes an odd personality and a robust liver to make it to the top in medicine, and it's often the well-adjusted carers who decide to drop out or work part time. That's my excuse, anyway*.
I'm not sure what the hospital's excuse was for letting the cameras in, but, as the chairman put it: "Why should Jimmy's get all the exposure?" The theory - get a hospital firmly ingrained in the public psyche and you can't close it down - seems sound enough, but Jimmy's is all pre-recorded, tastefully edited and a million miles away from letting Channel 4 roam live on one of the busiest days of the year. The show itself was an AIH - that's As It Happens if you work in the media, and Artificial Insemination by Husband if you work in the NHS. The two aren't mutually exclusive, provided you get informed consent all round. Not an easy task.
As it happened, informed consent proved a trifle elusive all evening. For some strange reason, only a handful of those whose New Year celebrations had gone badly wrong wanted to be filmed live in casualty. There was a young woman who'd hurt her wrist attempting a new dance, an old man whose ankle had turned over while he was shovelling snow, some parents with a chesty child who'd been sent up by their GP and four blokes who'd escaped from a night-club with minor injuries. They were all a pleasure to talk to, but none of them would have made it past round one of a Casualty script meeting. ("How about if the young woman is having an affair with the old man and had a secret love child with a bad chest who'd been adopted by the parents in cubicle three who are on the run from the four blokes who've brought a live grenade into the reception area?") Fiction, as they say, is much stranger than truth.
My co-presenter Dr Tony fared much better on maternity. Having skilfully negotiated the first hurdle (building a rapport with the midwives), he had a relaxed evening of Caesarean sections, baby cuddling and trying to figure out what the sieve in the birthing pool was for. (Clue: What unwanted pool partner might result from "pushing through your bottom"?)
Back in casualty, Sue the receptionist saved the day by bringing some sweets in for the staff to suck. This might not have been the most riveting television, but I was surprised how much coverage you can get out of a barley sugar.
Half-way into my fifth sweetie, we got wind of a "blue light". Strictly speaking, this should mean a fast moving ambulance with a very sick patient on board. The film crew lined the corridors hoping to record the arrival, get informed consent and then screen it a bit later. We waited. And waited. Finally in came "one of the regulars", a bit tired and emotional, but his heart was ticking and all his bones were intact. Did he want to be on live television explaining why he uses emergency ambulances as a taxi service? Alas, no.
The paramedics have to answer every 999 call, whatever the circumstances. "Last week, someone phoned 999 for period pain." "Don't you get angry?" "There's no point. Patients find it hard to judge how serious their symptoms are, and every now and then a cry-wolfer turns out to need urgent treatment."
Dr Tony and I brought in the New Year in accordance with BMA guidelines (in the sluice room with a can of lager and a cardboard bed-pan), and by the time we emerged things were starting to hot up in casualty. Someone had punched a radiographer. Another had taken exception to the sound man. At times like these, you're glad you've got a sturdy receptionist to shelter behind. And then I bumped into Dr C again. "How are you?" "Fine. Thanks to your communication skills training I find dealing with very aggressive men when I've got the flu an absolute doddle." "Could you say that to the camera with a little more conviction?" "No."
Happy New Yearn
* although I do have a robust liverReuse content