My Broken Thumb // Dealing with the NHS
It took forty something years but I’ve broken a bone. Two weeks ago, I slipped on the floor. It was a Sunday afternoon and we had just done some household chores, cumulating with washing all our tiled floors.
Talulah went out to the local shop, I was taking an arty shot for Instagram. I heard her fumble for the keys at the front door so I shouted that I would get it. I walked, I slipped. She hears me hit the ground and shout ‘Shit!’. She opens the door to find me in a crumpled heap.
I had gone down hard on my knees but it was my thumb that hurt like hell.
After the initial shock had worn off, it became apparent that it was more than just a bang. Even though I had it elevated and iced with a trusty bag of peas, my right thumb was battered, bruised, swollen and in a shape I had never seen before.
By the time this realisation set in, it was too late to go to A&E. Some painkillers and a sleep later, I walked the frosty footpaths to our local emergency department at Lewisham University Hospital.
A Trip to Lewisham University Hospital
There was one person in front of me, I sat waiting my turn. Casualties from the icy morning commute started arriving in, broken arms, bashed in faces from falling off bicycles. These were obviously more important than my little (or huge at this stage) thumb.
But after seeing the triage nurse, I did wonder why I wasn’t being called to the next assessment room. My queries were answered when I was called directly to the doctor.
A subtle, ‘this thumb’s gone’ from the radiologist confirmed my fears. The doc then told me I had an intra articulate fracture on the top joint of my thumb. If you’re squeamish, skip to the next paragraph. Basically, I had knocked a piece of bone away from the rest of my thumb at the back of the joint.
My thumb was so swollen, they found it hard to get a splint that would fit properly. But after a long search, they found one that would do the job.
I had to wear this for a week, it was a piece of plastic so I could use in the shower and re-tape it tight each time. The nurses and doctors were brilliant so kind, and even though I felt like a bit of an eejit, reassured me that I wasn’t the only one with this with a break that morning.
So this trip me up and off I went. I had to wear this plastic house for a week until I went to see the hand specialist in Saint Thomas’ hospital.
St Thomas’ Hospital
I’ve never been to Saint Thomas’ before, And I guess this was really my first major encounter with the NHS. I wasn’t sure how long anything would take. I arrived to the cold hand clinic about 30 minutes before my appointment time.
I checked in at reception and sat by the window looking over some train lines leaving Waterloo station. It was 10 floors up so got a decent view of cells London.
After a few minutes the receptionist asked if everyone had been seen by a doctor. I said no but if there were still 20 minutes before my appointment time. The doctor then called me and examined my hand.
The good news was that there doesn’t seem to be any ligament or tendon damage. That would been a bit horrible and I was warned not to google it. He told me that I would have to wear a small splint on my thumb for another couple of weeks. He then apologised profusely as there was no appointment with the physio to make this splint on till 4 o’clock that afternoon.
He double checked with the physio plastics department and again apologised that I would have to wait a couple of hours.
Hand Therapy Clinic
There were is no point in me waiting around so I left for a while coming back later for my appointment. Now, the hand therapy department is busy. When I arrived there were five physios/occupational therapists working with people. I had I had to wait maybe 20 minutes before I was seen.
My therapist called me in and again apologised for me waiting. I had wondered why they call this the plastics department and I soon found out why. Basically the new cast set then make our little pieces of plastic cut out, and heated up and then wrapped around your thumb to fit it exactly. It’s quite impressive how they do it really and and really simple.
Here’s where I was really impressed with how I have been treated. As the physio was was going through everything with me, I was told not to do anything with my hand for least two weeks. Seeing as it’s your hand that’s a bit of A pain. They asked if there is someone at home who could help me with my daily chores. They asked me if I needed help. They asked me if there was someone who would be able to cook and help me dress every day. They asked if there is someone who would be able to help me shower.
This is something I never would’ve even thought a health service would ask if forty something year old with a broken thumb. It’s not the greatest injury in the world but yes, for me at the moment it’s a bit of head wreck.
What do you simple questions have instilled is that although I have had no major reason to use the NHS, they now have my confidence and they treated me like a person not just like another number.
Another Trip to A & E
I had been told not to do anything with my hand for two weeks. I took this seriously. I didn’t use it. However, after two weeks, I tried just typing with three fingers on my right hand. I stopped after 15 minutes. My hand started swelling up again. I did the same for a couple of days following this. It was so bad that my hand was sore to touch.
So I called the clinic and they told me to go to A & E, which I did.
It was afternoon and I was seen fairly quickly. Nice point about when I checked in. There were volunteers at reception who helped me fill in forms to ensure they were eligible, which was good, as I couldn’t hold a pen and the writing on my left hand was at 6 year old standard.
The Doc saw me and told me it was most likely ligament damage and not to overuse my hand. Although, I think they may have thought I had hurt my hand again by hitting/whacking it off something. This came from the original injury.
He told me to stay like that until my next appointment, ten days later.
Freaking Out At A Cancelled Appointment
My appointment was for Friday at 4pm. As I was about to leave work and my phone rang. It was the hospital. My appointment was cancelled due to illness and they told me that the next available appointment was a month away.
I freaked out. There was no way I could wait another 4 weeks before seeing a doctor. While not being rude to the Hand Clinic Receptionist, I made sure that I had to get an earlier appointment. To be honest, I was starting to get worried about what movement I would have if I left my thumb in a splint for another month. That would not be good.
I managed to blag an appointment for March 17th but made it clear that I really needed to be seen ASAP as there was still a broken / no longer broken bone issue going on.
Twenty minutes later the phone rang. I had an appointment for March 7th. Ten days later than the appointment was supposed to be but I was very happy, it was three weeks earlier than their proposed date.
The NHS Needs More Resources
Talulah came with me to this appointment. I was seen by a nice therapist from County Antrim. To put it nicely, I need a lot of physio, probably extra because of the cancelled appointment and because I was told not to use my hand when I went to A&E for the second time.
I don’t blame the staff, they’re awesome at their jobs. What’s wrong with the system is simple. The NHS needs more resources to keep up with the demand.
My physio adventures coming soon.