Way back in the mists of time, when I was still an A&E nurse, the boss of the department asked a colleague and I if we could set up an ‘overflow’ ward. Although they never said so, I think that the boss realised that if I stayed in A&E much longer without a break I’d either be a drug addict (like one of our Sisters was later discovered to be), or I’d just start killing people out of spite. So a break would be good for my mental health, and it would only improve my promotion chances when I returned to A&E work.
So my friend and I ordered the equipment, drew up protocols and policies, picked out some of the few decent agency nurses that were around at the time and settled in to become “ward administrators”. We had a little permanent portacabin to house patients who needed admitting, but that there wasn’t any ‘normal’ beds in the hospital to place them in. We were an emergency overflow unit.
We had 16 patients, and because of the whole portacabin-ness of the place, we couldn’t have any patients that needed specialist care. This meant that we had to deal mainly with abdominal pain, chest pain, urine infection and broken hips – that sort of thing.
We also had more than our fair share of patients suffering from mental illness who also had a medical condition.
One patient caused me more than a few headaches, she was a 40 year old female suffering from a battery of mental illness. She accused staff (including me) of verbally abusing her, she would break the furniture when we weren’t looking and she rarely slept.
Then she got hold of a telephone, and the next thing I knew a swarm of police turned up. She had told them that she had been raped (thankfully not while in the hospital). The police, quite rightly, take complaints of rape seriously, so she was interviewed, and a Forensic Medical Examiner was sent to see her.
The curtains were drawn, and the examination started – half an hour later the examiner came to me with a handful of small needles, “did I know where they came from” I was asked. They looked familiar to me – but also ‘chewed’. The examiner went back and confirmed that the patient had a number of small pin-pricks in the inside of her mouth. It was then I realised what the needles were – they were the little lancets that diabetics use to draw blood for their daily sugar tests.
Somehow the patient had gotten hold of a handful of these – chewed them up and then inserted them into her vagina. The patient claimed that her rapist had inserted these objects when she had been attacked a few days earlier. These were the exact same lancets that we used on the ward. The examiner went back and pulled out part of a lightbulb, we had no idea where she had got that from.
There then followed a busy two days as we filled in paperwork, tip-toed around the patient and waited for the police to ask us for statements.
Then, as quickly as she had made the allegations, she told the police that she had made them up. Cue much relief from me and my staff.
It was only much later that we found out that the patient had a long history of making false allegations to the police and other authorities, and that this was just one reason why she was known to the local psychiatric services. I can look back on it now as yet another amusing story, but at the time I was incredibly stressed by the whole thing.
This porta-cabin ward was in the newspapers not too long ago, because the heating had failed and two patients ended up suffering from hypothermia. Still it’s nice to know that the ward we set up is still up and running…