Guest post: Carol Brown explains how Lewisham Hospital’s accident and emergency ward, under threat of closure, saved her life earlier this year.

It is a miracle I am here at all.

In January this year, unbeknown to myself and my partner, I was very sick indeed, in fact dangerously so – only hours away from death.

I had a perforated duodenal ulcer, diagnosed by Lewisham A&E. This was swiftly followed by an emergency operation performed by Mr Steger and his team.

My partner, Barry, spent hours in a side room at Lewisham hospital thinking about his eulogy for my funeral. I was to be buried in a woodland grave in Shropshire and Bridge Over Troubled Water would be played. Mr Steger told Barry later that day I was “knocking at death’s door”. Statistically, my chances were not good. But I’m alive!

Carol and Barry

I cannot put into words just how very grateful I am. Thanks to the excellent surgery and about 6 weeks of brilliant critical care nursing, where everything was done for me, including for quite some time even breathing. Thanks also to the daily visits to my bedside and amendments to my treatment by the surgical team, and also to the interventions of the dialysis doctors – I am not six feet under, pushing up the wildflowers in a Shropshire meadow. I am here!

The ICU (intensive care unit) nurses are brilliant at their jobs. They would patiently and calmly explain what they were doing, and answer any questions posed by my anxious visitors, at a time when I was completely unaware and later conscious but unable to speak.

I would also like to thank the ICU physiotherapists who offered to brush my hair from early on – I shook my head at first until I felt certain that I would survive. Later, they helped me to leave my bed.

And thank you also to the therapists who monitored my initial drinking, and then eating very carefully, when I stopped being “nil by mouth”. I am utterly certain that without the experience, skills, patience, ability, time and dedication of the whole emergency team at Lewisham, I would not be here.

I would not have seen the sea, a full moon or a rainbow. I would not have happily woken up to a cat sharing my pillow – I understand that hospital staff would frown on such things!

My daughter would not have a mother. I have since discovered that the mortality rate of the critical care unit is low – I directly benefitted from that.

And seeing as, thank God I am here; I’m able to tell you exactly what I think of The TSA’s plans. The critical care unit, which comprises the ICU and the High Dependency Unit (HDU), is filled to capacity (95% use).

The Kershaw plan is not only for closure and relocation to Queen Elizabeth Hospital Woolwich, but for the number of critical care beds to be cut from 21 to 7. This is a devastating cut and inevitably will result in more people dying.

My impression, from a recent consultation and also to the reaction to the ICU consultants’ letter, is that TSA doesn’t want to be known and remembered as the person who closed (and failed to replace) critical care beds, though this is the reality.

There is no way this can be dressed up as anything but a loss.

I am extremely determined. One ICU nurse told me she had never seen anyone fight for their life as hard as I did. I wish to use my campaigning skills and that determination to keep Lewisham Hospital, its A&E department, its critical care unit and its maternity ward fully open, and its paediatric services as they are now.

I am still on the road to recovery. My memory is variable and I have some physical scars. Frankly, it is a very small price to pay for being alive. It is a privilege to try to save Lewisham as they saved me.

I understand I’m an atypical former patient of the critical care unit, in that I will go to great lengths to publicise my experience and the work of this wonderful unit. The majority are silent, but I am not!

As a celebration of my survival Barry and I recently got married, after 26 years together and the birth of our daughter, who is now 22 and who made a wonderful bridesmaid. Our wedding was blessed at the chaplaincy in Lewisham Hospital. And at our wedding reception, what did we play? Bridge over Troubled Water.

For more on the consultation, which ends on 13 December, see the TSA website. For more on the campaign to protect Lewisham’s hospital services, see Save Lewisham Hospital. Shannon Hawthorne has a great summary that’s worth reading, too.

5 replies on “Save Lewisham A&E: Carol’s story”

  1. Lewisham is not my local hospital – I live near Kings – but all I can say is that reading about the TSA’s irresponsible plans and contrasting it with patient experience at Lewisham I have just filled in the consultation questionnaire to do my bit to try and stop these proposals from getting any further. All power to the protest – nothing is inevitable if people are prepared to keep fighting.

  2. This mess is caused by the banks and their shareholders (namely Barclays, Taylor Woodrow and Inisfree) whose greed overrides concience. Why not use their greed against them?

    If each of the 15,000 people who marched in Lewisham last year were Barclays customers, and they removed £200 from their acounts on the Same Day, in protest, Barclays would be severly put out (£300,000 suddenly withdrawn). Likewise, if honest shareholders of the other two companies sold a number of their shares on the Same Day, share prices would drop (and a small profit could be made when buying them back). The one thing bankers hate is losing money. Those with accounts or shares with these organisations should think on this possibility.

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