Waitakere Hospital

I am no expert in the New Zealand national health service. Since 2000 I’ve been admitted to one hospital or another, seven times, for a variety of problems. The table below shows my hospital visits.

Year Hospital Length of Stay Problem
2000 Hawkes Bay 3 weeks Blood pressure
2014 Waitakere 1 week Blood pressure
2015 Waitakere 2 weeks Infected foot
2015 North Shore 4 days Skin cancer graft
2017 Waitakere  3 days Kidney infection
2018 North Shore 1 week Kidney infection
2018 Waitakere 1 week Nausea
Total 3 hospitals 9 weeks -

That is not as much experience as some. However it is probably long enough to form an opinion on the service and care. And I’m a fan. The care I received has been first class. When you take into account that the attention cost me nothing and I was cured, the whole thing is beyond remarkable. And it hasn’t just been the basic care. The follow up, the genuine concern, the professional caution and the attention to detail have been above and beyond reproach.

But this post is called Waitakere Hospital for a reason. Waitakere is the jewel in the health service crown. It is so good that I don’t call it a hospital anymore; it is my West Auckland Waitakere Spa.

So why does it stand out?

Well, although it is a hospital located in the busy, growing and occasionally tough west side of Auckland it has preserved a wonderful country hospital feel; warm, rural and friendly. To do that successfully and at the same time observe rigid standards of professionalism cannot be easy. Somehow or another Waitakere has achieved that balance and has maintained the standard for the four years I’ve had contact with the place.

The relaxed country feel of the hospital appears to affect the staff as well. Or perhaps it is the relaxed country feel of the staff that affects the hospital. I don’t know. But it is great when your cardiac specialist takes a minute out of his hospital round to ask how your swim coaching is getting on. Or the Egyptian renal doctor seems happy to spend some time swapping stories about Saudi Arabia. Or a senior clinician asks if you would be a trial patient for three medical students. They make it feel like you are part of a shared experience rather than an item being processed by the health machine.

During one visit I had a Picc Line put into a vein in my arm and guided through to a main vein near my heart. The purpose was to administer antibiotics more directly in an effort to save a badly infected toe. I was naturally a little nervous at the prospect of a plastic tube being lodged close to my heart. I was soon put at ease. Through the entire procedure the surgeon asked me for tips on how to improve his swimming. He had just joined a local fitness group and when he heard I was about to be a patient thought he’d get some coaching advice. It turned out to be a fun and successful hour.

Before they decided to bomb my infected toe with antibiotics there was some discussion about whether the toe should be amputated. The infection was beginning to spread along the sole of my foot and put the foot at risk. I will forever be grateful that the surgeon and the podiatrist decided to give the antibiotics a chance. As the podiatrist said, her job was to save soles (souls). She’d probably used that line a million times but it put me at ease. Oh, and my sole and toe were saved.

Swimming came up on another occasion. I needed a scan on my kidneys. A quietly well-spoken chap began the procedure and asked if I was David Wright, the swim coach. I confirmed that was probably me and we began an interesting conversation about swimming. The radiographer seemed to know quite a bit about the subject. His questions were knowledgeable and relevant. I remember answering one by explaining that for years Lauren Boyle had kept Swimming New Zealand financially afloat. I thought she was being used terribly.

“All right,” said my radiographer, “I’d better come clean. I’m actually Lauren’s partner.” I don’t know whether they are still together but, for what it’s worth, he seemed like a really nice guy and he approved of my kidneys.

I must have been warned about hospital food a thousand times. Let me tell you there is nothing to complain about at the Waitakere Spa. There is a good menu. Tea and coffee are available throughout the day and night and if you get an occasional insulin hypo, like me, you’re rewarded with four delicious cookies and a cup of very nice, sweet tea.

Spending weeks in a hospital brings you into contact with many of the staff; from highly trained specialists, to well-educated doctors, to receptionists, to nurses, to cleaners and food and drink delivery staff. And at Waitakere I have never come across a bad one. The attention of everyone is as good as I’ve had in some pretty expensive hotels. And a bloody sight better than I’ve had in a lot of other hotels around the world. And amazingly they cure you as well.

I had two porters take me for an x-ray today. One had been pushing people, like me, around the hospital for 11 years and the other was a novice of only 7 years. That sort of staff stability, in that sort of job, says a lot about the quality of the Waitakere experience. The 11 year veteran told me he walks about 20,000 steps a day. In 11 years that’s over 25,000 miles or about one circuit of the world. And he was still happy to be there.

I am writing this story and am going to post it on Swimwatch. But if you read it, don’t spread it around too much. The Spa only has 82 beds. I don’t want it overbooked the next time I am fortunate enough to require a visit.

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