Strangers at Benenden Hospital. And a top NHS experience.

1 May

My tours of the medical sites of the South East of England continue…This time I have been referred to the lovely Benenden Hospital, ten minutes drive from me and set in the rural weald between Cranbrook and Tenterden, just on the edge of Hemsted Forest. How lovely! If this is what GP commissioning can do, I’m all for it. Three weeks after an MRI scan in a dodgy car park in Maidstone my GP, the charming Mauritian Dr Kurundan Coonjebeeharry – brought up in Stratford in the east end of London, rather less exotic than his roots but a GP on the ball. He proved this by referring me to orthopaedic consultant Matt Oliver, another man with an estuary twang but charm and expertise in abundance.

A fortnight ago I wandered in to the foyer of the hospital, already having clocked that the parking was free. The receptionist asked me to do the alcohol handwash before anything else – I was later to learn that there hadn’t been a case of MRSA since the term was first coined. I met the delightful Mr Oliver two minutes after schedule – he had already read my scan and decided on surgery, which he explained clearly and carefully. More impressive was his subsequent letter to Dr Harry in which he described me as ‘very pleasant’ and ‘slim’. He’s on my party list in perpetuity.While I was listening to his professional analysis, my eyes wandered to the fields and hills rolling into the distance behind him. All hospitals should have this vista. The sick would be healed in a trice.

I digress –  having left the consulting room I dropped down a level to the plush admissions office to book in for the op. I was expecting 3, 4, 5, 6 months hence. ‘Can you come in in two weeks’ time?’ I reeled from the question.

‘What for?’ I stumbled.

‘The operation, dear,’ a woman with Sue on her lapel said.

‘This is the NHS?’

‘Yes, ‘she smiled,’We have a gap on Mr Oliver’s list and it’s made for you!’

And so it came to pass that I found myself with a group of similarly aged gentlemen awaiting the knife on Tuesday last. Two knees, two shoulders, a Viking claw and a groin complaint that a quiet gentleman didn’t want to talk about. Fair enough.

Victor of the Viking claw was a charming fellow. He had Dupuytren’s Contracture – a northern European complaint where the fingers claw up and look devastatingly arthritic but, in fact, a slitting of tendons releases them back to a former straight state. Victor had had the job done before and was pretty chirpy about the whole thing. His little fingers were clawed into his palms but he brushed the malaise aside with a There are worse things that can happen. Our pre and post op carers were Julia (chatty) and Debbie (scatty). Both very pleasant and, appropriately, caring. We were all told to undress and put those surgical smocks on which make you feel vulnerable, emasculated. Then the self-shaving of the knee. Debbie provided me with a rumbling Remington and I was dispatched to the patients’ loo to reduce my hirsute manly patella to a bald, plucked chicken leg. Easy job. Then the wait.

Mr Oliver popped in to check us over and explain in his clear, calm fashion what he was about to do. He crouched down on his haunches and invited questions. When will I be able to do that again?, I asked. Smiles all round. I was second on the list and there was a delay because the morning session in theatre had overrun. No matter, we had the view over the countryside and, after Victor had entertained me for a while I returned to reading the autobiography of the 13th Duke of Bedford, a surprisingly brilliant read!

Mid afternoon, after a two-hour wait I was called. Michael, the porter took me down to theatre. I asked him how long he’d been working at Benenden. Ten years he said (he didn’t look old enough). I wanted to know what he liked about his job and the place. In the time it took to wheel me into the arms of the anaesthetist, I discovered, once again, what makes organisations tick. Michael has a short pleasant drive through the countryside from Tenterden to work. Tea and biscuits are free. The people – from consultants to porters are pleasant to work with. The Christmas party is free. Parking is free. Michael likes coming to work.

I have only had two general anaesthetics but I love the moment when the knock-out serum seeps into the vein on the back of your hand and you know you’re about to go….And then the wake up..already back where I started in pre-op. Victor had just gone down and I was not to seem his unclawed hand. Pity. Debbie brought tea and a sandwich. Ken, who had had his shoulder pinned was going home. 7.30pm. And here came Mr Oliver with pictures of the inside of my knee and explanations of what he had done. ‘Go home and have a glass of wine,’ I said.

‘I’m on my way, just need to check on Victor.’




One Response to “Strangers at Benenden Hospital. And a top NHS experience.”

  1. Diana Riddick May 2, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

    The list of why we love to live in Cranbrook/Hawkhurst goes on – best fishmonger, butchers, doctor, bank manager, deli and now hospital! Hope you made a full and complete recovery Paul. x

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