Visit to the NHS Drama-Free!

K-man has had sciatica for over a year.  Initially we thought it was the after-effects of lugging 20kg across Asia, and then sleeping for a month on a bed that had been pulled from a skip*.  But it didn’t go away: it bit harder and harder, until he was begging the doctor to refer him for physio and increase the pain medication to something worryingly powerful.

A specialist eventually assessed whether he really did need a cortisone injection into his spine, and the answer was yes.  Then a specialist anaesthetist confirmed that the other specialist was correct.  Three months passed, and then another two months.  Tumbleweed blew across suburbia.

Today was Injection Day, and I have spent the preceding week out of my tree with worry that a needle-bearer would slip and my husband would be paralysed.  I’m excellent at remaining calm in medical situations.  I was so calm that I didn’t have any trouble staying awake for the last two nights.  Outwardly, of course, I ‘didn’t know’ why I was having trouble sleeping.  I had no desire to plant the seeds of panic in someone else and watch them grow.

No NHS tale would be complete without comment on the bizarre bureaucracy accompanying any NHS interaction.  It’s like conversing with a monster made entirely of paper, who speaks by vomiting red tape.

  1. No you can’t be treated at the hospital nearest your home: there is only one specialist capable of giving the injection in the entire Capital area and so you can choose from these two unacceptable options: make the one-hour trip on public transport to St. Bart’s, or to a hospital you’ve never even heard of somewhere in the Arse End of East London.
  2. No we cannot post a DVD of your MRI scan from hospital A to hospital B.  You must drive the 20 mins to hospital A on the same day you move house, collect the DVD and keep it for a month before delivering it safely into the Consultant’s hands at hospital B.  It is your responsibility.  If you lose it?  Start again by making an appointment with your General Practitioner.
  3. Yes this hospital was built a million years ago and is made up of higgledy-piggledy Dickensian narrow roads, archways, and court-yards.  No, it would not have killed us to provide a map to the tiny ward in the confusing interior so that you could find it without wandering repeatedly in circles stymied by the notion that the Day Surgery would logically be in the same locale as the Outpatient’s Department.  Neither would it have killed us to signpost the Day Surgery from the street, particularly as there were signposts for other departments in abundance.  But it would have required both a patient-centred focus and cost tax-payer money, and have you seen the news lately?
  4. No we cannot tell you what time your operation will take place.  You must arrive at 7am having not eaten since 2am or drunk since 6am.  Your operation will definitely happen at some point between 8.30am and 5.30pm but that is the best we can tell you.  Bring a stack of books and try not to think about food.

I love the NHS.  It’s kafkaesque in operation but without exception the standard of care dispensed to multiple family members requiring its services has been very good.  K-man was finished by midday, and I tried to seem like the ‘responsible adult’ required to escort him home after sedation, even though he was so calm he apparently didn’t need sedation after all.  I’d been looking forward to teasing him about being all glooped up on meds but he was quite lucid.   More lucid than I, after I’d spent half an hour in the waiting room suffering auditory assault by the Perpetual Property Channel on a TV turned up too loud.

I did get to see him in a hospital gown, spongy disposable slippers, and paper underpants, which was worthy of a few stifled guffaws.  What is it about hospital attire that makes everyone look 20 years older, exponentially more vulnerable, and simultaneously foolishly hilarious?

The day also meant I needed to go to the City of London, a square mile where expensively-besuited upstarts ponce around thinking they are super-cool and braying about their place in Monaco.  I hate it: I am used to socks, sandals, and lego-hair in the academic quarter, or the housing estates of South London.  I was so distracted awarding ponce-points on a scale of 1-10 that I spent half an hour getting lost between the train station and the hospital.  Well, my ratings-preoccupation combined with discovering that the mapping software on my iPhone is ridiculously unsuitable for the City of London.  Shit is so close together that my iPhone can put me three streets away and walking in the wrong direction, and before I know it I’m passing the church where I got married and wondering what I will do if my husband ends up paralysed.

I think both of us will sleep better tonight.

*I am all for recycling.  But when someone leaves a bed in a skip, there’s usually a reason.  It’s a reason to which I wish my siblings-in-law had paid more attention.

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1 Response to “Visit to the NHS Drama-Free!”


  1. 1 Bella Rum August 4, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    It’s always interesting to read about health care in other countries. We’re about to see some changes here in the U.S. I’m glad everything ended well for K-man. Two members of my family have suffered with this same issue, and I know it isn’t a walk in the park. By the way, I’ve enjoyed reading about your “adventures” for a while now and I was glad to find you here.


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