Making hospitals bearable

12 Sep 2012

Making hospitals bearable

Just a very brief update to start with. I'm still at home and still largely bed-chair bound, and still suffering pain as my poor body tries to get the measure of pain killers, the bloating, constipation and the build up of gas. At one point I'm in so much pain I had agreed to go to the hospice, but at the last moment I decided I'd rather be at home. It's silly but all of this is much more painful then the underlying cancer.

On Friday I was also whisked by ambulance into the Royal Marsden Hospital for a MRI scan. This follwed a very painful attack down my arms and back, and there was fear it might have triggered the cancer getting further into the bones but the scan proved ok. It still took many more hours to make my get away, which we finally did by taxi mini cab. Luckily I had one new diversion, I was loaned a ukulele, so now im trying to master a few chords. Not as easy as I hoped, but worth persevering as I think singing - even singing as bad as mine - will help strengthen the lungs. I have noticed my voice getting very weak recently, so be warned!

Hospital Guide

My second diversion is starting a mini patients' guide for making hospitals bearable - these are just small,  everyday tips that, in my recents stays in 3 different hospitals, made a huge difference. Please do add your thoughts and suggestions this could really improve the quality of patient life at no extra cost.

Postive points:

  •     There should always be a welcome to the ward and a guide to   where the facilities are.
  •     This should include being shown the day room, the toilets and places where visitors can gather.
  •     Never leave the patient without water (this happened surprisingly often).
  •     Nurses: always say your name.
  •     All staff: smile when you bring food or drink you will be rewarded.
  •     Please don't move my bedside table out of reach when I have just lined everything up for the night.
  •     At night when leaving your bay, please close the door.
  •     Please put things back where they were.
  •     It's great when you anticipate my needs, it shows great empathy.
  •     Above all, please explain clearly why you are doing something.

Things that spoil a stay in hospital:

  •     Six bed bays are too large and belong to the Victorian era.
  •     A long walk to the toilet and bathroom.
  •     Completely airless bathrooms.
  •     Bathroom so hot that when you've finished your shower, you are ready to start again!
  •     Tap water so hot you are unable to hold hands under the tap.
  •     Water not hot enough to kill germs.
  •     Rarely cleaned toilets.
  •     Soap dispenser left oempty for days.
  •     Don't rush patients off a ward they have gotten used to.

Above all, it is the human touch, it is the friendliness, the human stories and being treated like a person that makes the difference. When staff have time to do this it is lovely. I have been in hospitals where all the staff - caterers, to cleaners, to nurses - have been friendly and really worked at improving your time there, I have been so greatful to them. At others, usually with a lot of bank staff, they are clearly over worked and under staffed and despite their best intentions they cannot give you the full support you could do with at this vunrable time.

I will think of more comments for this list and I certainly welcome your contributions.

User Comments

Maureen - 16 Sep 2012


That reminds me of when you were learning to play the trombone! The house just wasn't big enough! But I'm sure the ukelele is much better. I look forward to hearing it next weekend.
Love and positive thoughts to you all

Rebecca Hanson - 16 Sep 2012

The really easy Uke book

My two tips for the uke are;
1. This book:
It's great - traditional and popular tunes with ultra simplified chords - each shown in full above the words.

2. An electronic tuner like this one:
It's so easy to use and makes such a positive difference to the whole sound of the instrument.

Remember: Good Cows Eat Anything!

Rebecca Hanson - 16 Sep 2012

Please ignore that first link.

Oops - this is the correct link to The Really Easy Uke Book. That first one couldn't be more wrong. Sorry!

Piers - 16 Sep 2012

Things I wish I'd known

I was in and out of the Marsden and Charing Cross much of last year (thanks to complications with chemo) and I have to say I thought the Marsden was excellent - they did much that's your list naturally. Charing Cross had a number of wonder nurses and doctors - I still find it amazing they manage to - but the size of the place quickly made you feel like a piece of meat. The one overarching thing I wish they'd do is to keep you informed about any progress. Time goes slowly anyway but having to ask for updates about when doctors are coming round and/or if they are is a little soul-destroying. I know they're busy and there are obvious priorities that come up but it's nice to feel they haven't forgotten you.

I think almost regardless of the hospital, though, there's much the patient can do to make the stay more bearable. When I first went in it was A&E and I took nothing with me. I lucked out having a very funny wardmate called Nigel.

By my last visit, I had a bag ready packed with:
- books, kindle, magazines, crossword puzzles.
- my own washbag
- my own pyjamas
- flipflops/slippers
- ipod/headphones/laptop/charger
- DVDs (e.g. box set of Westwing)
- pen and paper
- cordial (you get very sick of water)
- numbers of some takeout services (ordering in a Thai is a) allowed and b) very good for the soul.
- earplugs, sleeping goggles (or whatever you call those things you get on flights) - made for a much better night's sleep.

It probably seems a little excessive but all these things were gleaned from other patients and made for a far more comfortable stay.

Anyway, very best of luck with the treatment.

Adrian Everitt - 16 Sep 2012

cleaning windders

Just the thought of you stuck in your bed chair, twanging away on the ukele, and giving a hushed George Formby impersonation is entertainment by itself!

Good to hear from you. Stay bright.

Alison Banham - 16 Sep 2012


Great to hear from you again. Thoughts of learning the ukulele made me think of school. About a year or so ago, my whole class, me included, endeavoured to learn to play. I was dreadful!! I couldn't strum to a rhythm, play chords and sing - I was hopeless, having previously considered that I was fairly musical. The children were brilliant! If you have a chance to track down the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain on youtube or similar, I'm sure you'll be inspired to carry on practising.
Lots of good wishes and positive thoughts to you.

Edward Gamble - 16 Sep 2012

mini patients' guide for making hospitals bearable

Mike - good to read the post. Really like the list - I'll start Tweeting about it on the Policy Review twitter account now.

We're reading every word of your posts and thinking about you and your family.

Marc Rowland - 16 Sep 2012


Hi Mike

Amazing but unsurprising that you are thinking of others in all you are going through. Roy B would love the idea of a hospital ward 'Blink'.

Looking forward to hearing you on the Uke!

Best wishes as ever.


Aled - 17 Sep 2012

Hi Mike

I have a few things I would add to your list which are specific to the treatment of the aged - but still comes under your draft title as it makes their stay bearable for family and friends.

Don't ditch the prescriptions that have been carefully compiled by a caring GP and start the process all over again when the patient is admitted.

Dumping a meal at your bedside and then removing it 30 minutes later because it hasn't been touched doesn't make for good care.

Please consider the butterfly sign at the head of the bed and think before asking the patient if the answer you will receive is likely to be of any value. Try asking a family member or friend instead. (The butterfly is a symbol used to signify that the patient suffers from a degree of dementia)

I encouraged our daughters to play musical instruments but pleaded with them not to take up the violin as I was under the impression that it was the only one that was difficult to play tunefully at the early stages. Perhaps I should have added the ukelele too.

I wish you well


David Price - 17 Sep 2012

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Good to hear that you're keeping diverted. I bought my first uke in May, and bout my second uke in June! Completely hooked, and having played guitar didn't find it too much of a challenge, thankfully . Top tip: the tenor ukes are so much easier to get your fingers around than the soprano ones.

I'm looking forward to some uke duets when you get through this horrible phase. Get practising!

penny - 17 Sep 2012

the beginner's ukelele guide to humane hospital care in the UK

Hello Mike
I agree with all your points for a positive hospital stay. My additional points are.... to the nurses and cleaning/support team..
however well meaning, please make the effort to find the patient's name (it should be able to be seen clearly as you approach the bed)and don't use 'sweetheart, love, pet or any other endearment that further disempwers.

Laughter and fun is very good. Visitors never need to speak very quietly or speak reverently around the bed.

Doctors, take 2 minutes to let the student doctors introduce themselves on morning rounds. It feels very strange to be looked at by an anonymous group of students.

Nursing support staff.. in addition to making sure there is water at the side of everyone's bed, please make sure it is changed as often as possible... warm, smelly water isn't brilliant.

Having seen the effects of brilliant professional artists working on wards with patients, lobby everyone for the rights of patients to have some access to art, music, whatever...whilst in hospital. Imagine Mike if every time you went into hospital you had the choice of having a ukelele lesson! This really is a tiny NHS investment for an incredible improvement in quality of life during hospital stays, trust me, I've seen the effects in Glasgow hospitals and could provide at least 6 senior consultants who would back me up.

That's just my first few.

The sun is rising over the sea and we have another beautiful Autumnal day on the Yorkshire coast. I'm sure Mr Hockney will be out painting. I see from my window that his studio window is wide open!
Reka, Lisa and I all met yesterday Mike. Reka and Lisa had done a long ride, I simply joined them for dinner in a fantastic caravan on a farm near an Orthodox Coptic monastery that Lisa's father owns. We all send you love and our thoughts. xxxx

penny - 17 Sep 2012


I also forgot to say Mike that Carl's son Hugo has just finished a song writing degree at Bristol and his first instrument is.... the ukelele. His first big concert was at the Bristol Folk House in June. It went down very well. Carl tried discreetly to photograph but 'proud father' got in the way of true professionalism and he bobbed up at several points on the front row; luckily he restrained himself from climbing onto the stage. Phew! x

penny - 17 Sep 2012

Coptic monastery ownership!

As I read my last missives, incase of confusion, Lisa's Dad owns the caravan rather than the Monastery!As you know Lisa a little, I'm sure you realise that actually it could have been either, but is infact the caravan! x

Steve Taylor - 17 Sep 2012

Play on!

I'll bet you would have got a ukulele at the flea market in Moscow too!! We are thinking of you all the time, so encouraged by your strength. Our love to you and all your family, Steve

James Clarke - 17 Sep 2012

Hospitals ....

Mike - my mother died yesterday - she battled 12 long years against Multiple myeloma, cancer of the blood. This morning I woke with an enormous sense of peace and calm. No tears – how could I? Because she is no longer suffering.
So we've had our fair share of hospitals, and more recently hospices. And my two over-riding impressions are as follows:
Firstly, many, if not most people who work in hospitals have become institutionalised; they know how these microcosms work and they assume you do too. They forget to explain - to simply say sorry that the last appointment over-ran (or there was a medical emergency) and as such you've been left in the waiting room for two hours. Or to tell you what they're doing and why. I found that my parents, both of whom were in their eighties, simply accepted what they were told because the person telling them was in a uniform, yet went home bewildered and confused. That sat fussing for days - weeks even - because they hadn't felt able to ask. They deferred to what they perceived as authority, although those who worked in hospitals weren’t perceptive enough to recognise this. I accept that there are many good people who work in hospitals, and can almost feel their surge of anger at me stepping out of line in criticising them. But that also comes from my second impression which is:
Whether or not you pay for something has little to do with the quality of what you receive. I believe I pay for the NHS as the numbers at the bottom of my pay slip confirm. Yet I know with absolute surety that the charitable hospice in which my mother spent the last week of her life and who’s community nurses cared for her before her admission there, gave the very best care (not only to her, but to my father, brother and sister as well) you could wish for. I will forever be indebted to St Margaret’s in Taunton for their sensitivity and expertise. And achieving this from charitable donations is simply mindblowing.
Look after yourself.

Pam Reynolds - 17 Sep 2012


So delighted to hear about your musical enterprise, Mike. We'll look forward to having you in the Clayhidon choir!
I'll have to get out my guitar and start practising if there's going to be a rival.
All our love and very best wishes. Pam and Mike. xxx

Allison - 17 Sep 2012

Uke and guide

So lovely to hear from you again Mike. We have my late father in law's two Ukes - husband sometimes plays, but not a patch on his Dad - guitars aren't quite the same! Good luck with yours.
The guide is such a good idea - I's add; if food is untouched, ask if the patient needs help - ditto with drink. Stale water is awful - cordial and even decent fizzy is better. Wipes are great for hands, face etc if the patient can't get to the bathroom, but do get a fresh scent. For alzheimers folk, handcream gently rubbed in works magic for a soothing response.
Anbove all, treat the patient as a person and never pre-judge what they can/can't understand - even though drugs might put some in a 'happy place' and conversation takes unusual turns.

Fiona and Maurice - 17 Sep 2012

welcome and registration!

Mike, I was so happy to see your blog!. Here is an observation - put Maurice on every ward`s reception :) Smile, Name, recognise, listen, explain, settle, check up.....look after your patients, exactly as you would want yourself or your family looked after. Good luck with the guide....would be happy to help out :) Take good care, and looking forward to your album on the Ukulele!! xxx

Maddie McGowan - 17 Sep 2012

Odds and sods

I sent my sister a ukelele earlier this year following her horrid divorce. Thought she could at least learn a new skill and if that proved too tricky, she could irritate the neighbours or at the very least, have a laugh. Thank heavens for a sense of the absurd.

And hospitals....

Supervisors, don't tell off the nursing staff when they stop to straighten beds or pass the time of day - its nursing 'care' we're after

Please don't send male orderlies to take ladies into the bath or shower - nice as they are it's not appropriate

Please don't raise your voice when speaking to children or foreigners - it really doesn't do anything to aid communication

And thank you to all the lovely folks I've met in hospitals - the ones who have raised eyebrows fondly when I have arrived in a&e yet again with my small boy; the ones who have kindly made me a cup of tea or popped out to tell me how long the wait for the consultant might be.

So great to hear from you Mike - don't forget to notice the little moments that make your day. Take care


Kate - 18 Sep 2012

Your list

Top of your list should be random acts of kindness. When my mum was very poorly in hospital she mentioned to one of the nurses that she was a big fan of the Leicester Tigers. The next time a match was on the nurse brought in a radio from home so mum could sit and listen to it. It really made Mum feel like a person again and it was also very comforting for the family that she was being treated with such kindness. Sadly this was not always the case.

Carol Rubra - 18 Sep 2012

Hospital Guide

Hi Mike,
Your Hospital Guide really made me laugh. I'm going to show it to my dad, who as an ex "Time and Motion" Engineer spent his prolonged stay in hospital last year, privately redesigning the nurses' rota and work pattern to work more smoothly. What a great team you and he would make!
I'm really enjoying your blog and often find myself recommending it to friends and to colleagues here in the BBC.
Very best wishes and keep up the singing!
Carol x

Emily Buchanan - 19 Sep 2012

Many greetings from TV Centre

Mike Wooldridge and myself and others in the World Affairs Unit send you very best wishes. We can imagine things are so tough but your ability to find amidst it all an important issue to discuss (such as surviving hospitals) is just typical of your natural journalistic nose! Keep writing...and we are all thinking of you. Love Emily

Rebecca Hanson - 19 Sep 2012

for James Clarke

I could have written your post - nearly. Your post about the nature of hospitals and nurses is spot on.

It's more than 12 years since mum died and I've always been fine with it. There've been times to cry but not many and my only regret is that she never met my children. I feel she's in me - she's here making me a strong woman.

5 years after I lost her I celebrated her by a solo trip wild swimming in the North Sea. Perfect.

There's a new angel watching over you tonight James. xxx

James Clarke - 20 Sep 2012

Thank you

I'm counting the days until that wild swimming trip, Rebecca. Thank you

Wendy Jones - 20 Sep 2012

Hello Mike

Your hospital guide really chimed with me - though I have much less experience than you do. I like that point about student medics being introduced - believe me, theres little worse than having a gaggle of anonymous people gathered down the business end during a gynae/obstetric examination.
And you haven't even started on hospital food. There's a book in here somewhere I reckon.
Wishing you all the best, Mike.

DJ - 22 Sep 2012

RIP Mike

Just read the news. Condolences to all.

az - 22 Sep 2012


Very sad news. So sorry. All the best to family and friends.

Hugh Parker - 22 Sep 2012

RIP and condolences.

I've just read the news. I've got a lot from Mike's blog since I first found out about it, and I'll really miss his comments and insight. My thoughts are with his family and friends.

Lesley Killin - 22 Sep 2012


So very, very sorry to hear the news but glad that Mike is now out of pain. He will be sorely missed. Love to Chrissy and girls.

Lesley, James and Ed xxx

Ian Edwards - 22 Sep 2012

So, so sorry

Heard the 6:00 news this evening - at 7:00 here in France. So sad, but what a wonderful piece of work was Mike's blog.
Thinking of all the family.

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