Our nightmare wait for help after son's seizure: ‘I called 999 but was put on hold... I wanted help, not concert tickets’
As talks continue to restore Stormont, Belfast Telegraph journalist Jonathan Bell pens a moving letter to leaders about why we urgently need our Executive back
Dear Arlene and Michelle, have you ever seen a just-turned two-year-old have a seizure? It is a frightening experience, but when it's your own child, it is the scariest day of your life.
His pale little face, his arms outreached desperately in need of his mother but unable to grasp her as the convulsions take hold. The incomprehension in his eyes before they roll back and his eyelids half descend. He lolls, he does a sort-of retch - trying to breathe or be sick.
It's your worst nightmare.
All kinds of thoughts go through your head. He's a tough little so-and-so - he's Conan, he's our barbarian - you don't want to call an ambulance, it would be an imposition, sure he'll be grand. Plus dinner is nearly ready.
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Those thoughts race through your head. It must have been seconds before my wife said to call 999 as I fumbled for the phone, hammering in wrong codes. You get an operator who asks what service you want.
"Ambulance," my cry. Then ringing ... and then a recorded message, "we know you're waiting," it may have said. Disbelief is tough to come by for me, but that evening, that time, I was stunned. The operator came back: "Do you want to continue holding?" she asked. Of course I did, thinking back I'd love to know what other option there was.
The message continued to play, three maybe four or five times. I didn't count. I needed urgent care for the son I love so dear, not tickets for some concert. Then finally the operator answered. And then there was no ambulance and no idea how long the next would be.
We decided to drive to hospital and just as we went to leave we got a call to say rapid response was on its way. And then there was a four-hour wait at the children's A&E. We'd been seen by a paramedic and after the triage nurse, we were told we'd have about an hour to wait.
He was not the most sick child in A&E that night, but not the least either, though he was coming round to his normal self, of sorts. Febrile convulsions was the diagnosis - tougher on the parents than the child we are told, and not likely to return after he's five.
Our Conan, though, bumped his head on the way down -a sound in our house usually followed by a wail, but frighteningly not this time.
So after hours in the children's A&E, a night of observation followed in the adjoining ward.
It's par for the course in these stories to laud the health workers - I've written those sentiments many times in retelling the experiences of others. And in our case it's no different.
The 999 phone operator was cool, calm and all-knowing. This after, no doubt, answering call after call after call. I just hope I wasn't rude.
The paramedic was first-class and had a great way at trying to soothe our son. At the Children's A&E, again you can't fault them, so too all the staff in the ward.
They are doing their best, they care but they operate in a system many say, and have done so for years, is not fit for purpose.
There have been multiple major reviews of the health care system in Northern Ireland recently.
It's not money the experts say is needed but overhaul, radical reform, transformation and leadership. We've no one to take the tough decisions required.
Instead, we've a recorded message telling us that while our health care may be important to us (and also them), there aren't the people that will help.
Yours, Jonathan (recovering dad to two little boys)