Thursday, January 18, 2007

Free healthcare and the NHS

Sunday night the right side of my neck started hurting, badly enough that I was having a hard time sleeping. I didn't think much of it until the next day when I noticed that my throat had really swelled up (basically it bobbed up and down when I swallowed, and looked really odd). Since I could still breathe and swallow, and although it hurt a bit it didn't hurt very much, I figured it would probably go away in a few days.

Yesterday, I finally gave in and went to see my GP (General Practitioner) at the surgery I'm registered with in London (For those of you not familiar with the UK's arcane and bizarre health care system, to get free health care you have to register at a doctor's office, which is called a surgery. Surgery's can be "full", and some only accept new patients at certain times of year. I am lucky in that mine is only about 10 minutes walk from my flat. Without being registered with a surgery, you have to go to the A&E - which is what the Brits call the ER - and speak to someone there.). At any rate, my surgery has a 1 hour walk in appointment system at 10am every day, mostly because there seem to be quite a few students registered at my surgery. So I took the morning off work yesterday, and dragged myself up the road in the pouring rain to my surgery. I waited for about an hour, and finally got to see the nurse (you will almost never get to see a doctor before a nurse sees you. They're not normal nurses, but a different class called a nurse practitioner, and they usually handle most of the routine and easy stuff). The nurse looked at my neck, poked my neck, called in another nurse to look at and poke my neck, and then told me that they thought that the doctor should look at it.

I marched back to the waiting room, and waited about another hour for the doctor to see me. The doctor looked at and poked my neck, and called in another doctor who looked and poked. They then had a discussion which was about me but not with me, and decided that I needed to go to the Royal Hospital and see a specialist. So I got a letter and was told that I needed to be at the Royal Hospital, Ear, Nose and Throat (RHENT) specialist unit at 2pm. Oh, those two hours waiting at my GP's were well spent.

The RHENT (what a fantastic acronym) is about 20 minutes walk from my flat, so I set off at about 1:30pm. Finding the building was easy enough, and I managed to make my way through the labyrinthine corridors to arrive at what I can only assume was the correct hallway at about 2pm. I filled out the forms, gave them my letter of recommendation, and sat down to wait. A nurse saw me after about 10 minutes, and told me that I needed to wait in a larger waiting room for my name to be called to see the specialist.

At about 4pm, after I'd been sitting in the larger waiting room for over an hour and a half, a nurse came out, said the doctor had been called away on an emergency, and that some of the people waiting should speak to the receptionist about making another appointment as it would take quite a long time. I however, had to stay, as I needed to be seen RIGHT THEN. Oh the joy. I'd finished my book at least half an hour ago, and just wanted to go home.

Finally, at 4:30, I got called into a room. There was a doctor, but he didn't bother to introduce himself, which is always encouraging. He looked at my throat, prodded my throat, said he would be right back, and reappeared with a long thin tube. This tube, apparently, was going to go up my nose and down my throat so that he could look at whatever it was that was in my throat. The tube, I was told, might cause 'some discomfort'. I wasn't really given much of a choice of whether or not the tube was going in my nose, but about half way through when he asked if I was alright I was tempted to slap him and ask if he'd ever had the tube up his nose (I'm guessing the answer was no, because there was considerably more than 'some discomfort'. It hurt. Alot.). After that fun and enlightening experience, he took me into the next room and sat me on a chair. He yelled for the nurse as he couldn't find whatever it was he was looking for, and when he turned back to me he was holding a syringe with a needle about 6 inches long. This, apparently, was going into my neck.

He stabbed the needle in, drew some fluid out after squeezing the lump in my neck hard enough to bruise, and then told me that I needed to get some blood work done as well as being scheduled for an ultrasound.

At no point did anyone explain what they were going to do before I was presented with whatever they were going to do it with. They didn't ask if I wanted a camera down my nose, or a needle stuck in my throat, and barely addressed me as a person the whole time I was there. No one seemed to know what was going on, and I have no idea if I was supposed to schedule my own ultrasound or if there were doing it for me, when I might hear back about what is wrong with me. I was at the RHENT unit for over three hours, but they didn't have any water available in the waiting area, only a vending machine that sold soda.

Free health care is amazing, and the Brits are lucky to have it. At the same time, the NHS doesn't seem to treat people like people. The doctor barely spoke to me, I have no idea what is wrong with me, and my throat hurts today like it hasn't ever during this whole thing. I think I would have been better off going to a voodoo priestess because at least I would have been a person instead of a problem. has not been a good week.


Blogger xmalx said...

Sorry to hear that it was a nasty experience. Hospitals and doctors should act a bit better than that. They should have at least talked to you and explained what was going on and what the problem might be, I hope it all turns out ok. Take care.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Meg said...

Oh God, NHS...don't even get me started. I thought the whole free health care thing was a good idea when I moved there -- and it is, but you damn well better have some kind of system in place so people with money don't just go find private practices, thereby luring most of the good doctors there with visions of lucrative pay and fewer sick people. I have an autoimmune issue and went through bloody hell like I can't even describe trying to get treated when my usual prescription needed adjusting. Augh, augh, augh! Sorry about your agony, but man...I know a few people who've been there. We share your literal and metaphysical pain.

8:49 AM  
Blogger Meg said...


Massive hugs. Whatever it is, they will tell you and it will be fine.

8:51 AM  

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