What goes through your mind when you have time to kill?

Obviously, not I am not actually trying to extinguish the actual time, I may have many talents or perhaps not that is for others to judge, but being able to cease the time continuum is a little beyond me, but with this unexpected time on my hands, maybe if I concentrate really hard, then that may come within my brain capacity. But it remains unlikely.

What I mean is the ability to amuse yourself to while away time when you cannot do anything except wait.

So here I sit in the waiting area of the Accident and Emergency department of a hospital. I should correct that because according to the signage it is the Emergency Department. When did that change? So far an hour in, I have seen a lovely lady on reception, and an equally lovely nurse who has triaged me. All that within 40 minutes, so all good so far. But, now the wait begins waiting for the doctor to see me; hence, the time to kill.

I came organised and have tried listening to audiobooks, but I struggled to concentrate on that as I was busy people watching, seeing the staff moving hither and dither with great purpose, but their purpose unknown to observers. Nurses moving between rooms, striding with purpose, but at other times stepping wearily, having seen enough for one day, perhaps jaded by the issues they have dealt with, or maybe physically tired after a long day on their feet. From room to room they go, punctuated by standing in the main concourse and calling out the next patients name, their eyes scanning the waiting room for the person they are due to help. Their facial expressions sometimes unchanging, but mostly a flicker of emotion positive and negative as they judge their next charge, a totally natural reaction.

Whilst this is played out the patients sit like battery hens on plastic chairs, some alone, some with friends, some with family. It is hard to establish which are the happier ones. Seeing people alone and in pain is always so difficult to watch, ones compassion is always challenged, as you know nothing about them, you don’t have a back story that you see on television with reality shows. There is no-one to fill in the gaps for us. Seeing the dynamics between family members is both entertaining and upsetting at the same time. It is so true that we are at are most exposed, raw even when in pain or ill, it is hard to hide the true depth of feelings. For the family members there to support and care for their loved ones it is perhaps harder still. They are there, feeling helpless as they are unable to do anything to really help, and they cannot understand the emotions and pain of the patient. They might think they do, but they cant, no-one can. This dynamic is even more obvious when the patient is a child, and the family is a parent, as a parent will want to do anything to take the pain away from the child, but again cannot. So maybe the most fortunate patient is the one there with a friend. First, the patient is not alone, so they have support, more than the person on their own. They also do not have to take into consideration the feelings of their family or parents who are caring for the, but have the friendship and support without the emotional ties.

Across the concourse, suddenly appear three police officers escorting a prisoner. I am not being judgmental in calling him that, he is in handcuffs, so his liberty has been restricted, a fair definition of prisoner. As I came into the Accident and Emergency department (sorry Emergency Department) I noticed two police cars and a police van outside. Three officers detained with one offender. I can understand the need to ensure the hospital staff are safe as well as the public, but the fact that we have had the army on the streets recently due to a lack of police, and then three officers are not out on duty on the streets for 2 hours that I know of. They will still have to take him to custody and process him, so even if they left now that would take another two hours, so the lost time is staggering.

A Lady appears next to me on the seats with a doctor who is talking to her about a taxi, where it is and then another doctor wheels out her luggage. This lady is struggling to understand them.

9pm ticks by, daylight has turned to dusk, and in less than an hour darkness will have descended, and new patients continue to arrive. It is interesting that all have walked in, to some degree or another, some are limping, some are holding their arms or heads, but everyone has arrived on foot and no blood to be seen so far. To be fair the ambulance entrance is not here, so that would make a difference. It seems at this location on the concourse patients only come out of the Emergency Department on beds, not go in one. The time is so noticeable by the increase in security personnel from 1 to 3, obviously a time when troubles begin.

On the main wall there are two large television screens with rolling news from both BBC news and Sky news, all on silent but with subtitles. There is only one story on both channels tonight, as there has been all day, the tragic events in West London and the fire in the tower block. The emergency services have once again been outstanding, the police stretched again but delivering, the ambulance service and hospitals coping with a large number of casualties, but in my opinion the remarkable men and women of the fire service. All to often we forget about how they work, we all think of them spraying water onto flames from the ground, or from platforms and cherry pickers, never thinking of them entering buildings where the heat is intense, the danger of falling structures a very real possibility and doing all that in heat retardant suits and breathing apparatus, which is remarkably hot to wear normally, let along on a very warm day and in an inferno of heat. They risk their lives to save and rescue others, they are a very special breed, and I want to take this opportunity to thank them.

It is unlike the portrayal of Emergency Departments on the BBC in Casualty. In that programme there always seems a sense of urgency, of moving patients through the system. Four hour waiting times don’t fit the excitement of a 50 minute soap opera. The reality is a more relaxed pace, everyone accepting the waiting, the patience is staggering. Of course, you can see in peoples faces the frustration of the waiting, the shared experience of the communal frustration, yet stoically resilient and uncomplaining outwardly at least. I saw no Charlie Fairhead character, the sort of person who has seen it all before and nothing shocks or a demanding and ruthless head of Emergency Department Connie Beecham in sight. Another way in which this reality differed from Casualty was the way that there was no sign of the Medical Director, or Nursing Director, which is often portrayed in Casualty.

So to kill time I am listening to the fabulous Alistair Cooke reciting his amazing Letters from America. I have not listened to these for too long, they are timeless as they are as descriptive and picture painting today as they ever were. Wordsmiths such as he, were rare, and even harder to find these days, as everyone writes and thinks they are Shakespeare, or reads and thinks they are Churchill. The truth is they are more likely to write like Churchill and speak like Shakespeare.