If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Going to A&E in the wrong clothes

I was reminded by an article by Pat Nurse of an incident from my own experience in the mid-80s which shook me at the time but which, in retrospect, could have been far worse had it happened recently.

Pat's daughter took her own daughter to A&E at Lincoln County Hospital after a fall on to a hard surface.
It swelled up immediately and my daughter and her partner of seven years were distraught and besides themselves at what had happened. They already felt responsible enough. Within 15 minutes he was at hospital and that is where the real nightmare began.

The doctors and nurses at LCH were more concerned that she was a child abuser who had battered her baby than they were about his health. She was traumatised because of his injury and wracked with fear that this powerful organisation, grilling both parents and trying to confuse them about what happened, would take her children from her as they inferred this was a case for Social Services to investigate.
When my own eldest daughter was about two years old, I had a similar, though far less traumatic, experience. It was a Saturday, and we had been fooling about in the house. The game was for D1 to climb up 3 or 4 stairs, then I would sit on the bottom step and she would climb on my back. I would grip her arms, stand up, and give her a piggy-back round the house, to the tune of much mirth and merriment. The usual dismount method was for me to return and sit on the bottom step, when she would climb off me. On one occasion, however, she asked to be let down in the kitchen. I bent forward and rolled her off my back, while holding her wrists. When her feet touched the ground she started to cry, and I realised that I had twisted her arm in the dismount. Usual offers of a kiss better and a biscuit, but when she was still distressed after 10 minutes I realised that it needed medical attention. I jumped in the car with her and took her to the nearest A&E Department, which was at Scunthorpe Hospital, about 20 miles away.

I was in weekend garb of scruffy jeans and trainers, and before I left the house I flung on an old leather jacket. When we reached the hospital, we were placed in a waiting room, with D1 still screaming the place down. A nurse and doctor approached and, in full view and hearing of the other patients, stared to quiz me about how it happened. I gave the story, and they were clearly not satisfied, and asked me what had really happened, over and over again. I had never experienced anything like it before. I was 32 years old, middle-class and professional (I was a middle-management schoolteacher at the time), and I was not used to having my word questioned, or my accounts of events disbelieved. I was irritated, and mainly concerned to have D1 looked at without unnecessary delay. It was only when I looked at myself and saw what they saw - a big, bearded bloke dressed scruffily, with a skinny, blonde girl-child in tow - and realised what was happening: they thought I had beaten her up. In response, I changed the register of my voice towards RP and cranked up the difficulty rating of my vocabulary. Not quite "do you know who I am?", but at the very least "I am not the scruffy, child-battering oik that I might
appear at first sight".

Eventually, they seemed satisfied, and we were shown in to see the doctor. He was an elderly Indian man of great gentleness and calm, who diagnosed a slightly dislocated elbow and twisted it back in a second. I am not ashamed to say that I wept tears of gratitude and relief as I thanked him. It was a grim and quite sobering experience. When I spoke of it afterwards, I was careful to say that I understood that they have to be careful, and that I didn't resent being mistaken for a child abuser, far from it, oh no, they have to do their jobs, and so on. And I still think that is true.

But I think back to what might have happened if things had turned out differently: if I hadn't been able to persuade them I was a good Dad who just happened to look a bit of a no-good hard case. Or if I had really been a bit of a no-good hard case who just happened to want the best for his daughter. Social services involved, children taken away for interview and examination, decisions made behind closed doors, decisions that you aren't allowed to question, or even know about. There's a nightmare there, and it's only one unlucky step away.

Good luck to Pat's daughter. I wish her well.


  1. Having a grand-daughter with Brittle-Bone Disease she's broken more limbs, more frequently, than all my acquaintences (combined) have ever done.

    The distraught parents are now well-prepared to face the inevitable 'grilling' during their not-infrequent trips to hospital. As you mention - the nurses are trained to be 'suspicious', and it is understandable, particularly in the light of the 'Baby P' case.

    The nurse who attended you case, could perhaps benefit from a little more training along the lines of well-dressed toffs may also abuse kids. [No offence to your sartorial (in)elegance at the time!]

  2. "When I spoke of it afterwards, I was careful to say that I understood that they have to be careful, and that I didn't resent being mistaken for a child abuser, far from it, oh no, they have to do their jobs, and so on. And I still think that is true."

    Oh, I think everyone understands that. But it's their refusal to admit they are wrong that usually starts off the cases you see later in the news.

    Cases like - I suspect - this one will turn out to be.

  3. @Joe - sorry to hear about your GD, and I hope she keeps well. I don't have a problem with nurses being 'suspicious' where there are grounds to be - and in my case, I probably looked like I could do some damage if I wanted to. But I think the opposite is now the case. Baby P was not picked up, despite all the warning bells, because the family were 'difficult', whereas Pat Nurse's account suggests that middle-class, non-threatening parents get the third degree because they won't bite back. The NHS/SS need to be seen to be active on this, and 'nice' parents are an easy target.

    @Julia - totally agree with that. Very worrying story, especially the last line: "A spokesman for Colchester’s hospital trust said: “This is a police matter and we will not comment any further.” " It seems that parental abuse is now the first thing they suspect, rather than the last. And the previous involvement of SS proves nothing, of course, as they same principle will have applied then.

  4. Little Miss P fell down the stairs when she was small. We called the local clinic to see if she needed any attention.

    The medical bit of the discussion went well; according to all the signs and symptoms she was fine and seemed to have suffered no ill effects. The nurse expressed the opinion that we could take her to the childrens' ward if we wanted, but it didn't seem vital.

    Then she started asking how LMP had fallen, who was around at the time, what our address was, and did we have an assigned social worker? The advice stayed basically the same, but suddenly it sounded more like "Well, you can keep her at home if you really think that's a good idea..."

    I took her straight to the hospital. No way was I going to let them accuse me of not getting the proper care for her. 24 hours later she was let out, absolutely fine and with nothing having been wrong with her. I hope no-one else needed those hospital resources.

  5. The opportunity cost of overcaution?


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