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After spending a day in A&E with my child, I have something I would like to say about the NHS

Seeing your tiny child go under general anaesthetic is daunting. You are faced with reality of what you did when you had a child – you created a universe to lose

Shaparak Khorsandi
Friday 22 September 2017 15:33 BST
There is a calmness to waiting in A&E, after the initial panicked rush to get there
There is a calmness to waiting in A&E, after the initial panicked rush to get there (Getty)

Going into A&E might easily take up a massive chunk of your day. Friday night drunks, cack-handed DIYers and those who seem fine on the outside so you wonder if it’s one of the fabled “I was painting the ceiling naked, tumbled off the ladder and fell on a Rubik’s cube” situations, all sit waiting to be fixed.

Waiting around is a pain in the bum, which may or may not be why you’re in there. If you have a busy day ahead of you and accidentally hack your arm off buttering your toast, you may well think “oh bloody hell, Is it really serious enough to endure A&E? Perhaps I can just sort it with some antiseptic and a bit of Blu Tack.”

On Thursday morning, I was looking forward to dropping the kids off at school and starting a French class. I was good at French. Tragically, an ill-judged Slush Puppy before my GCSE exam meant I threw up on my paper. I got a B instead of an A. They wouldn’t allow me to retake as I’d “left the room”. A more diligent student would have worked around the pool of blue Slush Puppy and cornflakes. I, however, just sulked for thirty years. I’m over it now and excitedly enrolled in a class.

As I buzzed about preparing the kids for school, my four-year-old appeared looking tearful.

I know my daughter. These were “you’re not gonna like this so looking sad might soften you” tears.

“What’s the matter?” I grumped.

“Well” she whimpered “I accidentally swallowed a coin.”

Not a penny or a five pence piece, she’d swallowed a big, chunky pound coin. That’s one hundred gobstoppers in old money. The only reason she told me about it was that it had stuck and was hurting her. I wonder how much more of my money she’s eaten.

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She was breathing so 999 seemed dramatic. I called NHS 111, they asked all the usual questions, did she have allergies? Suffer from angina? Use class A drugs? Who knows what they get up to in nursery? I gave her the benefit of the doubt and said “no”. They told me to take her to A&E straight away.

“This is very serious!” I scolded my child as I bundled her into the car. “Mummy is going to have to miss her French class!” Shock affects people in different ways. It turned me temporarily into a Francophile Miss Trunchbull.

The rush to A&E is where the drama lies. When you actually get there, things are very still. You wait. And wait. There are signs up warning you not to hit or abuse the staff. I was putting my child’s life into the hands of these people. It’s hard to understand the mindset of those who think swearing and thumping them is, under any circumstances, the best course of action.

There was a sign in the paediatrics waiting room saying “we urgently need books!”

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I couldn’t agree more. The Peppa Pig book we tried to read had so many pages missing that the story sounded quite avant garde.

My offspring is X-rayed. The pound coin was lodged firmly in her oesophagus so she is taken off by ambulance to a different hospital. To the operating theatre she must go.

The disappointment of missing a French class is one thing, seeing your tiny child go under general anaesthetic is quite another. You can’t cry or panic because that is not what is required or what anyone needs. You are faced with the reality of what you did when you had a child; you created a universe to lose. Alone with my coffee, the reality of how this day could have turned out begins to wail. I ponder the unfathomable strength of parents whose life this is, a child in and out of hospital, of an operating theatre. And, of course, I want to sink to my knees in gratitude that we have the most excellent care for these children with no invoice at the end.

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I recently read This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay. He is a comedian but for six years he was a junior doctor and these are his painfully funny, very moving diaries. I urge anyone who is made of flesh and blood to read it. It’s a Cathy Come Home for the NHS. The insight into how brutally hard they work makes waiting times easier to endure. It definitely makes you feel less like hitting the staff and more like kissing their hands.

My girl has bounced off to school, not even noticing that her mother has aged 20 years. This morning we made a big pile of books from her shelf with all the pages intact, which I will, of course drop off at the hospital. And to avoid future situations like this, later today I’m buying a piggybank.

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