Mum finally was given a bed after waiting all day and most of the night (Picture: Louise Walters)

On Monday, my mum collapsed before her lips began to lose colour and her face turned chalk white.

I was terrified.

Mum, who is 77 had suddenly lost consciousness – luckily she was staying at my house so I could look after her. 

But nothing could have prepared either of us for the 18-hour wait for treatment in an ambulance we had to endure. 

She had been sent home from hospital just a day earlier with doctors saying the bad cough she had been suffering from for a week was the result of a chest infection and that she would be fine, having waited in an ambulance for five hours on that occasion.

After her collapse, I rang 999 and told them my mum couldn’t breathe and within 10 minutes an ambulance arrived. 

Paramedics immediately put her on oxygen and after examining her told me they believed she had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – a group of lung conditions that can cause breathing difficulties.

As the impact of her symptoms ravaged her body, I could see my poor mum turn deathly white – it is an image that will haunt me forever. 

The paramedics were visibly concerned but tried to reassure me she was going to be OK.

When we arrived at the hospital I could see the situation outside was awful. 

Until last week my mum was happy and healthy (Picture: Louise Walters)

Lines and lines of ambulances were backed up near the entrance, unable to go inside with their patients.

My mum was in a very bad way, confused and distressed as she tried to get a grip on what was happening, making strange noises as she desperately tried to catch her breath. 

Being disabled, I tend to rely on a wheelchair a lot but I had to sit on a plastic seat next to her in the ambulance as we waited. The paramedics told me it would be a minimum six hour wait when we joined the queue of ambulances outside the hospital, but I found out patients at the front had been there for 14 hours. 

I was upset hearing this, but seeing the chaotic scenes that were unfolding around us, it was reassuring to know she was at least getting qualified care from paramedics.

After two hours with my mum in the ambulance, I had to use the hospital toilets. 

What I saw inside was like a scene from a war-torn country. 

There was none of the noise, the bustle and the conversation you hear normally in hospitals. 

This was just hordes and hordes of people so poorly they could only moan in pain. 

To me, it began to sound like a collective wailing – with children so unwell and scared they appeared totally shell shocked. Their eyes were wide in fear.

My heart sank but If I’m honest, having seen the scenes of carnage inside the A&E department, I was almost relieved by the one-on-one care my mum was receiving in the ambulance. 

But she still was in a lot of discomfort and seeing her lying on the ambulance trolley, rather than a proper bed, was awful.

As I was tired, my husband took me home and then did the night shift with Mum in the ambulance. By then I had been with her in the ambulance for over five hours.

I moved in with my mum to care for her (Picture: Supplied)

As a sign of how long our wait was, during our time in the queue there were three shift changes of paramedics but I have to say each of them was amazing.

Even though I was shocked and appalled by what was happening, I never felt anger towards the staff. I do not blame the NHS for the current situation. 

Instead, I blame the government for not getting a grip on this crisis, underfunding the NHS and not paying staff enough.

Doctors and nurses were having to brave the cold to come and administer medication in the ambulance and perform blood tests. It felt like how I imagine soldiers are treated by medics in a war situation.

Towards the last shift of the third round of paramedics my mother was finally taken into hospital, having spent all day and most of the night in an ambulance. 

A total of 18 hours. 

I could see nurses crying, and heard them saying they were running out of food to feed all the patients. It seemed they were as distressed by the situation as we were.

Despite no longer being in the ambulance queue, my mum’s waiting wasn’t over. 

After she was taken into the hospital, Mum then had to endure a five hour delay in A&E, before being admitted to a ward where she is currently in bed suffering with potential COPD or emphysema. 

She is on IV antibiotics and we are taking it minute by minute, always grateful for the care and attention shown by staff. 

Although it was a nightmare being in the ambulance for so long, the treatment mum received was amazing.

I feel so sorry for these incredible paramedics who train for so many years, only to end up as glorified babysitters because our hospitals are stretched to breaking point. 

Every time the phone rings I am terrified it is the hospital telling me she is going to die. 

It’s a fear I felt all through our 18-hour wait. Thankfully Mum survived her time in the ambulance, but after what I saw inside and outside the hospital, I worry others might not be so lucky.

As told to Suzanne Baum.

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