Friday, 8 January 2010

Snow in Northernshire some practice points.

Snow is white rain or frozen water that falls from the skies under certain atmospheric conditions. In terms of its impact on United Kingdom there seem, based on our cumulative experience here at ND Central, to be certain patterns that occur each time we get a bit of the white stuff.

The first is when more than a centimetre or in old money about half an inch falls in an hour or so all businesses shut up shop and decide they have to drive home. In doing so all roads become congested and traffic grinds to a halt.

Full surgeries result in no more than 3 patients turning up in 3 hours and local politburos whose function is vital to the smooth running of the NHS shut up shop too and vanish.

We here in GP land wait until the last patient is due to have left and then spend 4 hours in traffic doing the normal half hour commute.

The next 2 days virtually no-one ventures out, local PCTs declare public holidays for all their staff for increased efficiency while GPs open and most staff manage to get in after the first day of disruption. Initially few patients turn up and home visits decline to almost zero as people realize that they can’t get out so their GPs can’t in either as opposed to the normal GP visit request of we can get out but can’t be bothered.

Surgeries experience new hazards.

When one walks into reception it looks like it has been a convention for incontinent geriatrics as in front of each desk is a large, and increasingly larger each hour “wet patch”. The entrances to the building look like a rugby team after 8 pints of lager has decided to let rip in the same spot and there is an even bigger wet patch that squelches under foot and water is visible either side of your boot. And that is with the extra carpet on top of the wet patch to absorb the water deposited by all the patients’ footwear.

Footwear also changes with most now wearing Wellingtons. For those of us that have to do visits a good pair of Italian made mountaineering hiking boots capable of taking crampons combined with Yeti gaiters are essential for visits off the main roads where the hazards of compacted snow and ice and a foot of uncleared snow present the combined hazzards of slippage and very wet trouser legs (well you did ask!). One does not wish to land up in A&E as a GP wearing a pair of normal leathered soled shoes in these winter conditions as we can hear the laughter now.

The interior of the car after a few days develops a new damp odour due to the deposition of snow from boots and the daily commute starts with 10-15 minutes of clearing any new snow off the vehicle and de-icing the windows on the outside and increasing removal of water vapour from the inside before one can safely drive off.

Although the practice has grit bins these empty rapidly and soon grit becomes unobtainable.

As the roads become clearer surgeries start to become full again and visits increase although the hazards do not disappear once one leaves the safety of the main gritted routes. Taxi trips increase as people cannot get their own vehicles out and although a lot of people do walk some fear the risk of falling on iced pavements outweighs the cost of the taxi fare.

Examinations take longer as patients arrive looking like suburban Yetis in increasing numbers of layers and bizarre South American woollen headgear to protect them from the bitter cold of the walk from the house to the car and then the second exposure to the Arctic conditions from the car to the surgery.

In rooms with poor heating electric fires appear in order to prevent the occupants’ hands turning blue during the course of a surgery and the sight of patients in Yeti wear recoiling from the first touch of real cold from a doctor’s, or nurse’ hand which has been in the cold for more than a couple of minutes.

One of us went to a local hospital yesterday and made a very pointed observation that while the local supermarkets. which don’t charge for parking. had managed to grit and clear large areas of their car parking space the hospital had only cleared a small part at the front main entrance and, despite charging for parking, had done nothing to clear the roads or parking areas.

We did note that they were starting to put some grit down using a makeshift hopper on the back of a van but we suspect this will have little effect on the 2-3 inches of compacted snow and ice that had developed after several days of no treatment. The local shopping malls’ car parks were snow free oasis and well gritted by contrast and still they offered free parking and make a profit.

People have been so much nicer too. One of us was helped by a complete stranger to dig a car out after we had to abandon it on the first day of the snow. We were digging away merrily on our own when suddenly a second shovel starting working. Neighbours have been helping people with their cars too. A patient told us that most of the residents of their close on a housing estate, 9 in all, came out to help an ambulance that could not get up onto a main road for 20 minutes.

So here are a few thoughts and observations from the winter wonderland that is Northernshire at present. Hope our readers wherever they are in the world are enjoying their version of our winter wonderland. And some forecasters are predicting up to 2 weeks more of this.

We will cope we have done so before it just makes life a little harder that is all.

Praise be to the Party and all its wise managers who will be coordinating the war on winter with the same efforts used to fight the deadly swine that is the ‘flu. We are in all in such good hands.

Right checklist: boots, gaiters, crampons, ice axe, shovel, window scraper, rope rucksac with emergency kit, snow chains, lashing and lashings of Kendal’s mint cake, flask of warm cocoa and most importantly, for emergency use only, the hip flask and its off back to work we go . .

Something for the weekend sir or madam?

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