A Time to Say Goodbye
This blog is not what you think. I have worked at Royal Perth Hospital since 1983, and apart from two lots of maternity leave, and a couple of breaks of service to go overseas I have been here all that time. Phew!!! It seems a long time. For most of the last 20 years I have been down at the Shenton Park Campus, a hodge podge of buildings that houses both an elective orthopaedics and a rehabilitation service, including those patients with spinal injuries or brain trauma. I have been involved in research all that time, firstly in Rehabilitation Engineering, and then with the Joint Replacement Assessment Clinic. I have to give credit to all the patients I have dealt with, who have voluntarily been exercised to near death, photographed, made to stand, walk, bend and basically do any number of things for the sake of improving the lot of others. And if they were lucky, even themselves!
Over this time I have seen plenty of things change, but the thing that hasn’t changed is the commitment of the staff to the care and health of the patients. I have worked with occupational therapists, physiotherapists, social workers, surgeons, nurses, all those in theatre, plus all the ancillary staff and they all have demonstrated this attribute. So let me share some of my memories…
I have seen members of the staff distraught over the sudden loss of a patient, down from the Kimberley for an extended period. This patient had a brain injury and used video conferencing to speak to her son once a week. I know this because the video conferencing was in our department and we would hear her squeals of delight when she could see and hear her son. She was cared for and loved by the staff during her long and difficult stay, separated from her family but supported by those around her. Her death was a tragedy that touched everyone.
I have seen doctors strive to overcome complications from surgery, whether it be a spinal or brain injury or a joint replacement, strive to improve the outcome of surgery using newer, better techniques, and I have seen engineers use their talents to develop and improve wheelchair accessibility, communication and mobility aids for those with severe injuries.
I have seen a patient suffering from Guillain Barre disease stay within the hospital for many years, until at last he succumbed to a lung inflection. I have had the person who looked after him, providing the technology so that he could communicate with his family using the blink of an eye, come to my office and be heart broken, shedding tears of grief over his loss.
I have seen programs designed to allow high level quadriplegics leave the hospital and go home to their families, even while still on a ventilator, and supported all the time by amazing nurses. I have seen older surgeons teach younger ones, and younger ones teach one another. I have seen the place totally flooded, totally decorated for christmas, and totally flat out as more and more patients need care, or a joint replacement, or rehab for a spinal or brain injury.
And I met and worked albeit briefly with Sir George Bedbrook, an orthopaedic surgeon who revolutionized the care of spinal patients and who made the Shenton Park campus possible. I remember doing a project when I was at school on multiple sclerosis. As a naïve youngster I wrote Sir George a letter enquiring about the treatment of the disease, and surprisingly received a reply. Little did I realize I would get the opportunity to work with him later on. He was gracious and enthusiastic then and he continued to be in the years that followed. Without him and many others, the hospital would have remained just a dream.
So why do I write this. As the Shenton Park Campus of RPH is about to close, or the Royal Perth Rehabilitation Hospital as it was known when I started or the Infectious Disease Hospital when it was first built, it is a good time to reflect. The hospital represents so much more than just a set of buildings. It represents a community of people striving to make a difference, striving to improve the life of others in some small way, through their caring work. It is a community where people support and commit to one another, both patients and staff alike, and everyone sees the results, sometimes joyous and sometimes tragic and deeply distressing.
We who have worked at the hospital are reminded of this every day. For around the campus I have seen parents, husbands, and wives push their loved one in a wheelchair around the campus, a loved one who is so brain injured they hardly know their surroundings. But they sit in the sun, surrounded by trees and birds, helping the best way they can. Even with the poor state of the buildings it can be a peaceful place. Often the only thing required is to be present somewhere outside. …
In our world where every thing is about money, about what we deserve and what we get in return, I am thankful I have worked in such a place.
And I will really miss it. I think ultimately Western Australia will really miss it.
For places like this take time to build up but are quick to pull down.