"Where am I?" a croaky voice calls out from across the room.
"You're in hospital," another responds.
"Where am I?"
The nurse looks at me, holding a needle ready to insert an IV drip into my arm. It's about 2am, and I can see her assess: which patient is more important?
"I wet myself," the voice says. He wins.
I had been at the hospital for three nights and four days at this point, receiving treatment for a surprise minor ailment.
I don't know the names of my wardmates or what brought them here. But I know what they look like naked from behind while wearing just a hospital gown; and how they sound when they snore, retch and cry. I even know how much bile and vomit one managed to produce in just 24 hours (quite a lot).
One patient ate a jelly cup only hours before his operation was due to be held. When told it was to be postponed, he asked whether he could have some more jelly. He couldn't.
Another insisted he was at level "10" pain throughout his entire stay. Ten is the most severe, extreme pain, a nurse explained. Yep, still a 10. His lovely partner stayed by his side as much as possible. A nurse explained to her she could hit a big green button to call for help. Ding. Ding. No, not now, the nurse said, a slight edge to her otherwise very bubbly voice.
I've spent quite a bit of time in hospitals, but I'm usually too sick or drugged to fully comprehend my surroundings. This is a blessing, I now realise.
Having seen - and smelled - what a nurse has to deal with, I pledge to compliment the outfit of every nurse I met. Or hair. And if their outfit is terrible and they are bald, I will just scan down the body until I find something.
Despite appearing exhausted, healthcare workers on my ward manage small kindnesses. I hear nurses chirp and gurgle; doctors console and explain. Small compassions abound. Gentle caresses of the hand. A cheesy joke.
It's particularly admirable considering the reputation Canberra hospitals have of "toxic" workplace cultures. Some senior workers seem to have forgotten the goal of medicine is patient care, not hazing young doctors.
There were 104 investigations made against staff members for bullying or harassment in the 2019-20 financial year, a 60 per cent increase from the period before. A 2020 report found junior Canberra doctors were the most likely in the country to be bullied, with 41 per cent saying they had witnessed or experienced it. Junior doctors in the ACT worked longer hours than any in the country, and a report from November this year said bullying had not stopped.
The system doesn't have the best reputation among patients, either.
In 2020, a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found the ACT had a longer emergency wait time than any other jurisdiction. It said 48 per cent of Canberra patients were seen on time in 2019-20, compared to a national average of 74 per cent.
Walking past windows overlooking the construction work outside, it struck me how cramped it felt compared to other hospitals I've been in. Nurses kept tripping over chairs in tiny rooms; blurry-eyed doctors buzz about, looking distracted and stressed.
My own discharge was bungled as a doctor forgot to notify nurses I was to go home, and another register decided to keep me in - before realising they were reading the wrong patient's notes. When I was finally given the go-ahead, I snipped off my hospital bracelet and hightailed out of there lest someone should change their mind.
As I fled through the corridors, I noticed Respect Our Staff posters.
One headshot of a photogenic blonde said something like: "I am more than just a radiologist. I am also a ... Snowboarder. Volunteer. Aunty."
This lady works in healthcare and still has time to snowboard and volunteer? I hope she's referring to her unpaid overtime.
For reference, I am more than just a reporter. I am also a ... Chocolate lover. Netflix watcher. Sleeper-in-er-er. Readers, please remember this next time you email me "feedback".
We shouldn't need to remind patients to show kindness to the people trying to save their lives and ease their pain. Yes, the system is frustrating. But from birth to death, doctors and nurses mark the milestones in our lives.
The least we can do is keep our hands off hospital jelly when we're told to. And if need be, point a foot out. Everyone loves a compliment.
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