999 and typetalk

What a weekend.

I was supposed to travel to my cousin’s wedding with my mother early on Saturday morning, and it promised to be one of THE events of the year, so long as we could make the mad dash across London for our connecting trains. We had 50 minutes to get from Paddington to Kings Cross on a Saturday lunchtime, but Mum had it all worked out, she had assistance booked at both stations, and we were going to get a taxi. I haven’t seen my extended family for a long time (our last gathering in January got snowed off), and this would be a great chance to see them and catch up, and have a jolly good knees-up – or in my case, a jolly good sit-down while I recruited people to fetch drinks from the bar. And of course, the chance to see my eldest cousin get hitched and possibly sniffle into my hanky (and then deny doing so). Big evening party, and hotel all booked, and a more sedate pace back to Bristol on Sunday, with a whole two hours between connecting trains.

Instead, I ended up making a 999 call for Mum on Friday night, and finally going to bed at around 7.30am on Saturday morning. Before I go further, I will just say that it turned out not to be extremely serious, just very unpleasant, but in our defence the sudden onset of severe labyrinthitis (inner ear infection) can be very dramatic. I’ll spare the gory details; suffice to say that it was violent and spectacular. After watching Mum go downhill for two hours, I called Frendoc, which is an out-of-hours patient line for North Bristol, who said a GP would call us back, but after some waiting, Mum slumped on the sofa and though the episode only lasted a second, both Dad and I decided to call 999.

Dad was occupied with Mum so I made the call. I wasn’t sure what to do, but had read somewhere that it’s possible to dial 999 via minicoms without a prefix, so I tried that first. Didn’t get anywhere fast, it seemed to be taking an age, though in hindsight it was probably only a couple of minutes. Figuring that maybe that was wrong, I changed tack and dialled 18001 999 instead. That was picked up almost immediately, and to give the 999 operator credit, they didn’t say a word about typetalk or lecture me on verbal consent. They just hit me with questions, which I answered, but during the call, Mum decided she wanted to try moving. I turned to tell her what a bad idea I thought it was, and when I turned back, I hit a button and accidentally did something to the call. I don’t know minicoms very well, since I rarely bother with phone calls, and couldn’t figure out how to fix it, but the screen had gone blank and swearing profusely, I hung up and called 999 back, hoping that we could pick up where we left off. Just as a point of interest, if one accidentally hits the ‘ctrl’ and ‘memo’ button and ‘type memo’ comes up on the screen, how do you make it fuck off?

Again, the call was picked up instantly, but as it was a fresh call, we had to start again from the beginning. I literally rattled off all the information and the answers to the questions I knew were coming, and the operator(s) was able to handle that and simply moved on down the list when I finished – another plus point, I realise it’s probably a requirement of the job, but they were very switched on. They told me an ambulance was on the way and to stay on the line, which I duly did, but I will say they had a tendency to go on a bit without pause or letting you get a word in with a GA, meaning that while they were still telling me it was important I stay on the line until the ambulance arrived, the ambulance arrived. I’m still impressed with the response time, and the funny thing was, the ambulance beat the fast-response vehicle by about two minutes. Maybe I was getting to a stage where silly things were amusing, but that amused me. Maybe it’s one of those things you laugh at in hindsight.

Long story short, they got Mum in the ambulance, did some checks and said they were taking her to hospital; that she was probably going to be fine but was clearly ill and we needed to find out why. That sounded reasonable, so off I went with her, for what turned out to be a long night in A & E. There were tests, there was an ECG, there were cardboard bowls, and after a while, they were kind enough to wheel Mum’s trolley into a quiet room just off A & E, but what there was a lot of, in large quantities, was waiting. I got the sense it was a typical Friday night; as well as being busy with a fairly typical looking cross-section of the general public, the place was crawling with police. Mum and I speculated on whether there had been a punch-up or a nasty car accident, but aside from their presence, there were no clues. And at that point, I did feel a tiny bit of irritation that people getting trashed on a Friday night, getting so wrecked they ended up in hospital, escorted by coppers, were potentially taking up time and resources that could be devoted to people who were genuinely sick – like Mum. Ooh, get me, next I’ll be reading the Daily Mail.

The final verdict, delivered at around the crack of dawn? As mentioned, severe Labyrinthitis, an inner ear infection, hence the extreme vertigo, the dizziness, the sweating, the temperature, the throwing up, the swaying and swooning. Oh sorry, I said I’d spare the gory details didn’t I? Well, I’d hate for anyone to think I called 999 on a whim, just to see how they’d react to typetalk. But in the end, they reacted very well, and the operators I spoke to acted like the fact they were talking to me via relay wasn’t even an issue. They just asked me questions in what was clearly a set order in a professional manner, and I did feel as if I was being treated as if they would anybody else. And the ambulance was there, as per what I understand are current targets, in under 8 minutes. Furthermore, the nurses and doctors in A & E were very patient and understanding towards our deafness, and seemed happy to repeat things, happy to have me relay things to her, and make sure Mum was up to speed with what was happening around her at all times, even if it wasn’t very much. Overall, I have to give top marks.

As I’ve heard so many horror stories about deaf people and the NHS, I just wanted to put this relatively positive experience – of the NHS, not seeing my mother throw up in a bowl – out there.

And the relatively happy ending, is that the ‘acute effects’ of the onset of labyrinthitis started to wear off during the wee hours of the morning, and by 5am she was looking much better. Not cured, by any stretch, but better. The doctor delivered the diagnosis, recommended some medication, and cut her loose. We still had to wait for a nurse to come get the cannula out again, but we finally fled the hospital at about 5.40, and got home not long after. Too keyed up still to sleep, we all ended up watching some daft show until 7am, and we staggered, exhausted, off to bed. It’s taken two days to get our schedule back to normal, and Mum is recovering. She still has the vertigo and dizziness, but nowhere near the same extreme, apparently it’s more like “seasickness without the boat” which sounds unpleasant but not as bad as Friday night. Apparently, she has up to six weeks of that to look forward to, as the infection gradually subsides. She’s not happy about that, and who can blame her? For my part, I’m just happy it wasn’t anything more serious and that the brush with NHS emergency services went so well.

To 999, typetalk, and A & E, thanks guys.

And a big congratulations to my cousin Louisa, whose wedding went off without a hitch, and I look forward to seeing her and hubby and everyone else at Christmas, health and weather permitting. Think I’m starting to forget what they look like…

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