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The Departure Lounge 

Byline Times regular court reporter James Doleman reflects on his terminal diagnosis and the kafkaesque bed blocking situation many like him find themselves in

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It started with a routine outpatient appointment.

I’ve had a cancer diagnosis since 2013, but it’s always been treatable, but tests showed it had evolved, “transformed” in the parlance and not in a good way. 

My consultant, a bluff Yorkshireman was as direct as ever. There was no more treatment they could do, chemotherapy or radiation would just shorten my life, they were “out of ideas.”

I asked the obvious question “How long?” His answer – two weeks if it spreads to my bone marrow, a couple of months otherwise.

I had a quiet cry that night.

I’d thought of not writing about this – we all have to go sometimes – and it’s personal,  but what I thought was worth sharing was my experience after the diagnosis, and what it tells us about the healthcare system we all cherish.

I’m in a hospital ward. I don’t need to be. I’m not unwell at the moment, can get around on my trusty wheelchair and I’m not getting any treatment, but here I sit “bed blocking,” using up a precious resource someone else might desperately need.

All I need is some sort of supported accommodation that’s wheelchair accessible, and someone available on call to help out in case of a sudden deterioration. I also don’t want to end my days here, I’d rather have a place I could invite my friends to, where we could perhaps have a drink or a smoke (it’s a bit late to give up now)  and reflect on our relationships and tell each other how we feel.

But there is nothing, no place like that for someone like me, no hospice wants me, I’m not sick enough. No care home will take me as I’m not old enough, so I sit in the departure lounge, waiting for the end.

Kafkaesque is a lazy metaphor, but it’s hard to think of another for the latest plan.

An enthusiastic Social Worker told me about a property in Glasgow, wheelchair access, 24-hour concierge, my own front door everything I could want. She even sent me the application form.

I asked if I could visit first, or see some photographs of the flat before committing to it.

Her response: “The only information I have is that they are building them.”

My only hope, a flat that doesn’t exist yet.

The Government aren’t killing the NHS openly, they know what the reaction to that would be, instead they are cutting the fringes, the sectors such as local authority funding and social care, that don’t make the headlines, but lead to a lack of space in the hospitals for people who need them while people who don’t are just stuck there.

In our ward, we have a poor woman who suffers from dementia. She screams out every night, “Help me, help me, I shouldn’t be here.”

I often feel like joining in.

UPDATE: Frank James Doleman died peacefully on the Sunday 29 October 2023 at the age of 57. He was provided with the accommodation he needed a few days after this article was published, and he spent the Friday night before he died drinking red wine with his dearest friends. Byline Times and others plan a fund in his memory to support court reporters.

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