At Figure it Out we are always trying to find new ways in which our lives are impacted by numbers. So one of the team volunteered to go undercover in hospital to find some of the numbers involved in medical treatment.

The importance of numbers becomes clear as soon as you enter the ward. I was assigned a bay and bed number, and then given a hospital number.  This last number, along with your date of birth, is then printed on a wrist bands you have with you at all times.

These numbers are important to ensure that the right patient gets the right service, whether it is dinner or drugs. Technology can also be used to automatically read bar codes on your wrist bands to tie blood tests to the right patient as well. Although numbers are used extensively to identify patients, nurses and doctors are always careful to use names when talking to you.

The next thing that happened was that the surgeon came in. I had to sign a consent form, which meant I had to understand the benefits and risks of the operation.

Basically the risk was a 95% survival rate. This may seem fairly high, but it does mean that 1 in 20 die from the operation. Look around the room you are in. Imagine 1 in every 20 people no longer being around, and all of a sudden 95% does not seem so high. On top of this, I would feel like I had been hit by a freight train for a number of weeks after the operation, and I may be on some nasty drugs for the rest of my life. So what were the benefits? Well basically I get to live for more than a year or two.

After reviewing the partly numerical information provided, I decided to sign the papers. 

During and after the operation, I was given drugs to help improve your condition. These drugs have all been tested in clinical trials which involve a large amount of statistics to determine whether or not the drugs will be effective, and if so, what doses are required. The drugs are all monitored on a chart, so that they can be compared with any changes to your observations.

After an operation numbers are vital in determining the patients’ progress towards stability and recovery. There are a range of indicators that are used from % of O2 in the blood to blood pressure and heart rate. Each of these indicators is important as it shows the doctors things that they cannot otherwise see visibly. They can compare the numbers that are produced from each patient, with the numbers that came from other patients to determine whether or not you are successfully recovering, or whether further treatment is required.

As I recovered I naturally started to think about coming home. However for this to happen, I had to ensure that the tests showed I was not at risk. One of the numbers was key in deciding when this would happen. This was shown in a blood test that I had every day for CRP or C-reactive protein. Basically this is an indicator of inflammation or infection. It is naturally high after an operation, but needs to reduce to show that no infection risk remains.

The registrar stated that my CRP level needed to be below 50 (mg/L). On Monday it was 150 – clearly too high. On Tuesday it was 90 – a drop of 60 which made me think home was around the corner. Unfortunately on Wednesday it was only 70 – not great, but at least we are getting there – surely one more day. Sadly it was not to be. On Thursday it was 70 as well – oh no will I never get home!!!

On Friday it thankfully dropped again to 60 – however this created a problem. It was close to the 50 expectation, but was it close enough? The registrar and the consultant consulted, and eventually decided that it was, and I could go home the next day – phew.

After the expertise of the surgeons and the superb care of the nurses (thanks to all at the Royal Brompton Hospital), I realised that the most important thing to a successful hospital visit was the numbers…