First ED experience a most heartening affair

Christmas came early this year for Calvin Oaten - in the form of an unscheduled but timely visit to Dunedin Hospital.

Like everyone else, I followed with interest the neurosurgery imbroglio earlier this year, even putting my name to the petition.

It seems that the matter of health is never far from the news, budgets, centralising, decentralising, radiographers unhappy, even fraud.

All this seemed to pretty much pass me by as one having had the extreme good fortune to move into the second half of my eighth decade without ever having been in any hospital other than to visit others less fortunate than me.

That was until earlier this year.

It was in the evening and I was relaxed, watching television, when I started to feel uncomfortable.

My first thought was indigestion, a pain in the centre of my chest which quietly worsened and spread under my ribs and under my shoulder.

By then it was about 11pm, and I began to think perhaps I needed to do something.

Should I wait till the morning and go to my doctor? What if it was more urgent? Living alone, it is difficult to ask these questions and to get a sane response.

In fact, the response was of no use at all.

So I did what seemed best.

I dialled 111.

Two dials and a voice said "what service do you want, fire, ambulance or police?" I said "ambulance".

"One minute, sir," said the voice.

Two more dials and a voice asked "how can I help?" I said "I think I am having a heart attack."

"Can you give me your name, address and telephone number?"

I did, and the voice said "the ambulance will be there as soon as possible."

I said "I live alone so I will put a key in the front door and put the outside light on."

"That will be fine," said the voice.

In less than five minutes, two uniformed ladies and a man walked into my living room.

One lady immediately began taking my blood pressure, pulse and temperature.

The man fixed pads all over me and wired them up to an ECG machine.

A few minutes later he said that they would be taking me to the hospital.

I turned out the lights, grabbed my keys, locked the door and off we went.

On the way we diverted to pick up another unfortunate person, and minutes later were at Dunedin Hospital's ED.

There I was delivered into the hands of two nurses, bundled into a bed and wheeled into an area where I was interrogated, wired up, assessed and given an injection of who knows what.

All the time these girls were efficient, precise and busy.

But at the same time they were kind, reassuring and fun, exuding confidence about all that they were doing.

Between the injection and their administrations I was relaxed and comfortable with the manner and humour of the moment.

Around 4am a doctor sat down and talked me through my predicament.

He said I was having a heart attack as we spoke, but that it was being controlled.

I asked "did I do the right thing by ringing the ambulance?"

He said yes, and that timing was important.

After a period I was wheeled into the X-ray room and had a couple of pictures taken before I was taken up to the ward.

Later that morning, I had a visit from a doctor who told me that later that day they would be doing an angiogram.

Huh? What's an angiogram? Early that afternoon I found out.

I was wheeled in my bed to the theatre, where I was immediately set upon by a number of very competent people, prepared, sedated and left to watch proceedings on a couple of screens.

Surreal - I had to keep reminding myself that it was me on the screens.

Not a half-hour later, I was the proud owner of a brand-new stainless steel stent, popped in through an artery in my forearm, pushed up and into position on my heart by what magic I couldn't begin to understand.

Back to the ward, and I was wired up to a small remote unit similar to a TV remote.

This recorded my essentials somewhere for observation.

I relaxed, dozed a bit and, before I knew it, it was tea time.

The meals in that place are really something.

Brought around in a big hot box, presented nicely, heated, on a tray at your bed.

There is even a three-choice menu which you can fill in with your request for the next meal.

I was happy to have what was given, as it was all what my late Dad would have called "good wholesome tucker".

Very impressive, and the servers were happy people, too.

I was now alone in a four-bed ward and settled for the night.

Lights out and sleep, sort of.

As time went by I dwelt on my situation and felt sore and apprehensive.

In the dead of the night torch light flickered down the corridor and into my room.

It was carried by a Polynesian nurse, who kindly asked me if I was OK.

I said I was worried and sore, and she fussed over me and took my blood pressure, temperature and pulse rate.

She reassured me that it was bruising as a result of the intervention.

It sort of reminded me of when I was little and she comforted me just like my late Mum would have.

I probably will never see her again, and wouldn't recognise her if I did.

A very lovely lady.

Morning, day two.

A new nurse appeared, a bubbly happy lady, full of business.

Two men appeared, disappeared behind screens, undressed and got into bed.

They were in for operations, one from Gore to have the same as me.

The nurse busied herself doing the details and checks for them both, joking all the while.

You could see the apprehension melting from them as she kidded to them.

A real gem.

Next they were wheeled away and I was left alone again.

A doctor arrived and checked me out, saying he thought I should stay another day.

Damn, I thought, I want to go home.

A couple of hours later, the happy nurse popped her head around the door and said "how would you like to go home?"

"Would the Pope like early absolution?" I said.

So I got dressed, went down to the foyer, rang a taxi and went home.

I left with a number of follow-up appointments and more pills than you could poke a stick at and was placed in an ongoing research programme.


I know that my experience was of very minor import compared with those of lots of others, but I believe my treatment was as impressive as all.

I don't understand the bureaucracy of the place, and I am very sceptical of the politics, but at the work face that place is timely, efficient and the people exude empathy.

The 111 service, the ambulance, ED, surgeons and ward staff, together with the support people, was a very impressive experience, even though I wouldn't want a repeat.

Calvin Oaten lives in Dunedin.


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