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What I'm Missing Most as a Young Person in the Hospital

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To the U.K. National Health Service (NHS),

Your motto is “Everyone Counts.” As a young adult with a heart condition, I don’t always feel that way.

At 16 years old, I was transitioned from pediatric to adult care. I went from being surrounded by bright murals, toys and a slide to sitting on a ward with plain white walls, where the majority of patients are old enough to be my grandmother. When I had my pacemaker surgery in 2012, I came out of surgery at around 5:30 p.m., and by 8:00 p.m. my parents were asked to leave because visiting hours were over. I was 16 years old, in a delicate state, and told my parents couldn’t stay to look after me. I was still a baby in my parents’ eyes. I’ve grown up my whole life with one of my parents sleeping by my side in the hospital, so why should that suddenly change? My mother refused to leave and spent the night on the hospital floor.

The next morning, my mom left to go to work and I was on my own. I don’t mind being in the hospital by myself — surely there’s someone I can make friends with. This turned out to be wrong; the 90-year-old lady next to me spent her day crying out to “let her die.” Not very reassuring for a young girl who’s just had heart surgery.

I don’t have anything against older people. At times it’s nice to sit and speak to them; we might be the only company they will have in the hospital. However, I find it difficult to relate to a patient of that age. There is only so much we can talk about. We just want to connect or be with someone our own age, who is going through the same experiences. Most times, I just want to sit in my hospital bed and chat with someone about the latest episode of “Made in Chelsea.” In my experience, you don’t cater to young people, which means I haven’t had access to those in the same position as me.

I feel that the NHS is missing out on a whole generation. Your “everyone counts” seems to leave us out. It seems you provide a space for babies and children, but then jump straight to adults. What about the teenagers? You move many of us to these adult wards at the age of 16, yet by law we aren’t even “legal” adults at that age. I was told all about your hospital transition process, yet it seemed there was no strategy and patients like me were just dumped into the system. As young adults, we may already be going through various changes in our lives — physical and emotional changes, changes in the home or school environment, etc. To add to our worries, our hospital journey can also take a turn and become a stressful place.

You may be able to provide us with great medical experts, but in my experience, the majority of nurses and doctors don’t seem to have been trained in “young adult” care. Our needs can be different from your older patients. We may have the same medical needs as one of your older patients, but the way you look after us could be different.

Please stop turning your back on the young. I am always well looked after, in a medical sense, but I find nothing special or reassuring about being in the hospital anymore. I understand that you may not be able to provide us with our own hospital or young adult-based ward, however, I think you could improve your efforts to make us feel part of your “everyone counts” values. So I ask, next time you plan your budget, keep us young patients in mind. We don’t need an awful lot, we just need to exist.

Follow this journey on Hannah’s Heart Beat and the Hannah’s Heart Beat Facebook page.

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Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: March 17, 2016
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