Health

Friday 29 August 2014

Signs of the times

Why can't hospitals be easier to navigate, asks Maurice Gueret, and the department names simpler for patients to understand?

Hospitals would benefit from a functional lay-out says Maurice Gueret. Photo: Getty Images.
Hospitals would benefit from a functional lay-out says Maurice Gueret. Photo: Getty Images.

I had to drop something out to RTE in Donnybrook recently. Being media-shy, it's not a place I visit too often, but I have observed that it's quite an easy place to navigate. First, there's the TV Centre, and then there's the Radio Centre and, in between is the giant canteen where the two glitzy worlds collide and recruit each other for the nation's showbiz entertainment.

It struck me that hospitals could learn a lot from this kind of functional layout. I get dizzy in the vast concourses of therapeutic establishments these days, and I'm supposed to know where I am going. The signage is a particular problem, and I have to say that it's not very patient-friendly. I felt so sorry for the poor lady who once presented herself to the Internal Medicine Department when what she really wanted was Gynaecology.

A man going for an X-ray or scan would like to see a big arrow pointing to "X-ray" or "Scans". But, instead, the people who do this camera work have abandoned the word "X-ray" and have now assumed a rather grandiose-sounding title of Diagnostic Imaging Department. Even radiology isn't cutting the mustard any more and looks like it's being abandoned. A lot of people simply do not know that phlebotomy means blood tests, or that oncology implies cancer. And I'd rather see a big sign saying "Tummy Tube Tests" than Endoscopy. I'll be writing about this issue from time to time, so, if you have any areas of confusion or signs that you feel are in need of change, do get in touch by letter to PO Box 5049, Dublin 6W, or by email to mgueret@imd.ie

Fine dining at Mayo General hospital

A good news story. A "weekly" reader, as opposed to a "weakly" one, has been in touch from the west to rave about her local hospital. She had read a piece about hospital food and its blandness, and she suggested that I need to spend a week as a guest of Mayo General in Castlebar. She says it's a lovely place, and, whether you have private health insurance or not, there is always fine dining on the menu, service with a smile and sheets changed several times a day. She goes on to say that you could easily fall for the nurses, particularly in one named department. I'll withhold the name to avert a rush of admissions. She goes on to name one particular doctor at the hospital who wouldn't look out of place in Grey's Anatomy. (I assume she means the TV series and not the atlas of dead human anatomy). There are so many dark stories about scandals in today's media, real and manufactured, that it's nice to hear of a satisfied customer in what sounds like a mighty friendly place. She thinks Mayo is deserving of a Michelin star.

Excessive farting

After last week's fit of belching, I promised you another unpleasant Ailment of the Week, so here it is – excessive farting, or, as patients put it, windy down below. The clinical word, flatus, is of Latin origin, signifying a blowing. Though less socially acceptable than burping, flatus, or flatulence, is, in the main, quite a normal phenomenon. Lucky scientists who trap and measure gaseous emissions in their laboratories tell us that it is perfectly conventional to pass 500mls every day. A single flatus probably averages at about 50ml a pop, so I will leave you to do the mathematics yourself. If you live up in the mountains, you produce more, and your windows should, perhaps, be left open for a little longer. Whilst belching is primarily the release of swallowed air, gas emissions at the other end are mainly produced by bacterial fermentation in the large bowel. Most of the gases produced are odourless, but it's the small concentration of sulphurous vapours that fragrance flatus with a certain je ne sais quoi. As junior surgeons, we were trained to welcome the presence on the ward of farting patients at the old Adelaide Hospital. It was a sure sign in post-operative abdominal patients that their bowel function was returning to normal. Problems of too much gas, gas that is uber smelly all the time, an inability to control the outflow of gas, or associated pain and bloating should be mentioned to your doctor. Simple dietary advice might be all that is required. A problem shared and all that.

Medical malapropisms

Since my book landed on the shelves, I have been inundated with medical malapropisms, and am most grateful for same, even if it takes me some months to getting around to sharing all of them. Brendan, in Kildare, was in his local pharmacy recently and observed an elderly lady coming in and asking for Flexisex! In fact, her exact request was, "Howya, love. Will ya give me a tube of that auld Flexisex stuff please?" It transpired that the rheumatic rub she was looking for was Flexiseq, and her only crime was to request it in the plural.

Heart bow

Fiona writes to tell me of a visit she made to a patient in what was once known as the James Connolly Memorial Hospital at Blanchardstown. Conversation turned, as it often does on hospital visits, to what was wrong with the other inmates in the ward. It turns out that the lady in the next bed had a heart problem and was being treated, aptly, by a Dr Harte, the cardiologist. This provided some amusement. The lady being visited then went on to give my correspondent details of her own interpretation of the treatment the heart patient was having. She said the lady was having a bow made for her heart as her heartstrings were loose and had to be tied! Fiona also tells me that she overheard a friend of her daughter saying that her mother was in hospital to have her "kidneys attendant" seen to. Transpired it was her Achilles tendon! Until next week . . .

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