A traffic accident this weekend – don't ask, nothing broken – brought us into contact with the emergency services. In the space of a couple of hours up to twenty professionals were inserted, with due urgency, into our lives. All of them were polite and helpful but I couldn't help being confused by what they were or were not wearing.
No problem with the police and the ambulance services who are all uniformed and clearly wear the insignia of their rank. But when you get to A&E you're thrown into an environment whose occupants' habiliments range from uniform through half-hearted uniform to no kind of uniform at all. You're prodded and ministered to by nurses wearing different outfits, examined by a young doctor with his shirt outside his trousers, then another doctor who is presumably more senior because he's slightly older and finally injections and other elements of treatment are administered by people wearing the "scrubs" that are familiar to all lovers of "M.A.S.H.". And then there are the people you don't deal with directly. I was eyeballing a huge, overweight, unshaven, extensively tattooed man with some nervousness until he looked at the board at the end of the bed and I realised he was an orderly. Looking around you weren't entirely sure who worked there and who was just visiting. This may work in a fashionable hotel but I don't know how appropriate it is in this environment.
I'm sure that the treatment was entirely professional and correct but I can't help but think that it looked slovenly. And when things look slovenly, they can often be slovenly. When you're thrown into this kind of environment, usually in some distress, surely it has to help if you can immediately work out who the people are, what role they fulfil and, also, who's in charge. Obviously, I'm old fashioned. The first family doctor I remember checked my pulse against a pocket watch produced from his waistcoat pocket. I don't expect him to come back. Nonetheless I believe that at times of distress there's an enormous amount to be said for formality.