Sunday 18 February 2018

'There is no point being angry - you just have to try and be patient'

Forget '24 Hours in A&E' - for one elderly woman at Dublin's Beaumont Hospital yesterday, it was 62 hours, and counting

Patient James Coyle waits on a chair in Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital
Patient James Coyle waits on a chair in Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital

Deirdre Reynolds and Conor Feehan Beaumont Hospital

Forget '24 Hours in A&E' - for one elderly woman at Dublin's Beaumont Hospital yesterday, it was 62 hours, and counting

As the struggling emergency department urged members of the public to stay away, by lunchtime, the frail patient had already been waiting more than two-and-a-half days for treatment.

With dozens of trolleys and chairs parked bumper to bumper just inside the double doors beyond reception, she wasn't the only one living the nightmare of Ireland's A&E crisis. Escaping outside to the smoking area, Reggie Wurstova described the stifling heat as the worst part. The 40-year-old, who's awaiting a heart bypass, was rushed to A&E at around midday on Tuesday after the toes on his left foot turned blue.

Despite wearing mismatched bed socks, he didn't have a bed, or even a trolley, as he tried to steal some sleep in the brightly lit triage area - with only two chairs pushed together, a tiny yellow pillow and a bottle of water he brought himself.

"Today is my second day waiting on a chair," said Reggie, who is originally from the Czech Republic. "It's a problem for me because [I have] no circulation to my toes.

Read more: Trolley misery as beds lie idle due to lack of staff

The emergency department in Beaumont Hospital yesterday.
The emergency department in Beaumont Hospital yesterday.

"Yesterday, they told me that 100 people were waiting for a bed. It's crazy. But some people are in a worse situation than me. I'm sleeping, at least."

Packed as tightly as sardines, indeed there was little sign of shut-eye among those lucky enough to be able to stretch out beneath a blue ambulance blanket.

Personal space, too, has become a long-forgotten luxury for the strangers who've been lying virtually side by side for hours and even days on end.

Some had changed into cosy pyjamas and slippers, in it for the long haul. Others remained fully dressed in jeans and jumpers, perhaps hopeful still of making a relatively quick exit.

All were quick to back the nurses and doctors battling on beneath the weight of a broken system.

Meanwhile Dublin pensioner James Coyle (72) was forced to sleep in a chair as he waited in the hospital's overcrowded emergency department overnight.

The Dublin man went to the hospital with breathing difficulties at around 10am on Tuesday, and his treatment in the triage unit began in a chair.

Read more: 'I slept in this chair last night - but it's not the fault of the nurses and staff'

Mr Coyle slept in the same chair on Tuesday night, and he was still being treated in it at lunchtime yesterday.

"I have breathing problems," he said - speaking from behind a mask strapped to his face with a thin clear plastic tube that connects it to a tank behind him.

"I slept in this chair last night, but the nurses and staff are being really good. It's not their fault," he added.

As Mr Coyle spoke, a nurse came along with a cheery "hello" and took a plastic capsule from James's lap, twisted the top off it and poured it into a small cylinder inside the mask to help him breathe.

She was kind, courteous and warm to James - but then she had to dash off to another patient.

"I think a lot of the problem is people with cuts and bruises and minor things coming in instead of serious cases," James said.

"That causes a lot of backlog, but I don't know how the Government will solve it."

He added: "Something needs to be done to help the staff and make sure the waiting times are reduced. In the meantime, I suppose I have to be a patient patient."

"It's nothing to do with staff," insisted local man Harry Murray (56), who was heading home with his right arm in a sling around 18 hours after arriving at the emergency department with a broken shoulder. "The staff are fantastic. I went in, had a look around the patients and there was a seat down the back," he said.

Read more: Varadkar and Coveney fail to see their job is to manage policy during a crisis

"So I pulled up my hood and waited. About half-an-hour later, my name was called and they brought me up in a lift to the main X-ray area because the X-ray in the A&E wasn't open. I couldn't fault the nurses, but there isn't enough doctors."

Earlier in the week, as 463 patients languished on trolleys in emergency units across the country, management at the overstretched Dublin hospital implored people not to attend its emergency department unless absolutely necessary.

When the Irish Independent went undercover yesterday, however, dozens of men and women, young and old, continued to arrive by car, taxi and ambulance.

Just before visiting time at 3pm, up to 30 people were ensconced in hard plastic chairs in the reception area, waiting either to be seen by someone or to see someone.

With row after row of slightly more comfortable armchairs stretching out of sight to the back of the unit however, many patients resorted to visiting their visitors, rather than the other way around.

Still punctured by a cannula held in place by a white plaster, Dublin woman Charlene Gunnery came to the main entrance to meet her partner and young daughter as she held on for the results of an MRI scan.

"It's mayhem in there," she said. "People are sitting around everywhere waiting, everyone on chairs.

"I got a bed, but I'm still inside the double doors - not in a ward or anything. There's loads sitting on chairs beside me."

The 27 year-old - who was taken to Beaumont by her sister about 26 hours previously - added: "I'm after getting an MRI now, so they're waiting on the results of that to come back. They're doing their best."

Outside the emergency unit, a uniformed security guard was doing his rounds.

Read more: Hospitals cannot always share the heavy patient load

At the coalface of the chaos though, it was the unexpected calmness that stood out. Amid the combined body heat of medics, patients and family members, only the hushed tones of concerned relatives and the hypnotic sound of heart monitors and breathing machines punctuated the silence.

Back in reception, a little girl remained glued to 'Hotel Transylvania' on her dad's smartphone as a cheerful young nurse finally called her mum's name. As minutes ticked into hours and hours became days, others passed the time by reading books or scrolling the screens of their smartphones while they still had battery power.

Playing the waiting game like so many others, Reggie Wurstova concluded: "Getting angry isn't going to change anything - you just have to be patient."

(Additional reporting by Conor Feehan)

Irish Independent

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