Kerre McIvor: A merciful journey on the good ship Auckland City Hospital

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Kerre McIvor cannot put on her headphones but  can manage to do up her bra with one hand. Photo / Dean Purcell
Kerre McIvor cannot put on her headphones but can manage to do up her bra with one hand. Photo / Dean Purcell

There have been plenty of occasions when I should have broken a bone. Dancing on restaurant tables in the early hours of the morning. Falling off horses I was too inexperienced to ride.

Tumbling down two flights of rickety stairs in a 19th century New York bar.

But to come a cropper in flat shoes doing something as mundane as crossing the road is very disappointing.

To end up in an operating theatre and in a cast for eight weeks, surely there should be an improbable drama to explain the mishap.

But there wasn't and there isn't.

Being short, big-boned and strong, I assumed that I didn't break. So I dismissed my throbbing wrist as being dislocated at worst last Friday night.

However, on Saturday morning when my arm had swollen to twice its size and my fingers looked like five of the Mad Butcher's finest sausages, the husband and I decided I needed to see a professional.

White Cross looked at the x-ray of my broken wrist and sent us straight to Auckland City Hospital.

I'd only had a fleeting experience of hospitals before last weekend. But this time I got to experience the public health system from start to finish.

From the time you board the good ship Auckland City Hospital the medical staff, like the crew, are in charge. The patients, like passengers, just have to sit back, let the trained professionals do their thing and try not to get in the way.

There is a camaraderie among the patients, as there is with fellow passengers.

While my husband was parking the car, one of the women waiting in the emergency department offered to help me fill in my admission form as I couldn't hold the pen.

Others shared their stories of how they ended up in hospital and wanted to know mine. How I wish I could have given them more.

One by one our names were called and we disappeared into different departments. Hayley was my doctor and Mike my senior nurse and they were competent, kind and wanting to do the very best for me.

My wrist was going to have to be reset but they weren't going to do that without pain relief so more competent (and extraordinarily youthful and good-looking) men and women arrived to administer drugs.

And what drugs they were! I took a deep breath and the next thing I was galloping on a pale pink unicorn across the sands towards a golden setting sun.

The wind was in my hair, I was laughing joyously - and the next thing I wasn't.

I was in my hospital bed with a heavy plaster cast and the unicorns were back in their paddock.

Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday, though.

The next day the consultant decided an operation to insert a plate and screw would probably result in a better outcome, so I went on the day's operating list.

I was sent up to a ward and it was there the hospital experience became even more like a long-haul economy flight.

We were complete strangers thrown together learning way too much about each other's personal habits while being cared for by highly trained professionals.

As I was nil by mouth I can't comment on the food but what was served to my neighbours looked like most airline meals I have seen.

I didn't mind the fasting, being a proponent of the 5-2 diet, but the slender waif opposite me looked like she was going to fade away.

I felt a bit guilty when I was called up before her - perhaps they should let the skinny ones go first on the list and put those of us with a bit more in reserve to the bottom.

But the workings of the "list" are a mystery and all I know is that last Sunday when I went into theatre, three crews had been working solidly all day.

There was no time-wasting, no long lunches. They were putting through as many patients as they safely could, at the same time as dealing with emergencies.

We taxpayers certainly get our pound of flesh from these hard-working health professionals.

At no time, however, did I feel like a number or just another fracture. The theatre staff took time to explain exactly what would happen and to listen to my concerns.

When the anaesthetist asked if I had any worries, I told him I wasn't anxious about the operation, so much. It was just that I hated feeling so vulnerable.

He replied that it wasn't just their job to fix me up, it was to make me feel safe at all times.

And that's exactly how I felt. Protected, nurtured and in the best possible hands.

I was discharged on Monday, back at work on Tuesday and although I can't put on my headphones, I can do up my bra with one hand, which I figure has to be a useful skill.

And everyone has been tremendous. The husband who's typing this as I speak, my workmates, my friends and family have all been so kind in helpful and practical ways.

The inconvenience of a broken wrist has actually been a privilege, an amazing way to experience first-hand the brilliant skills of the people working in our public health system. I feel very, very lucky.

Kerre McIvor is on Newstalk ZB, weekdays, noon-4pm

- Herald on Sunday

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