Doing battle with daily dragons

Monday, June 06, 2005

Adventures in Medicine Part the Second

I have been subjected to rather a lot of Health Care recently. Health Care in Britain is significantly different to Health Care in America in that it is Free. In America, people wishing to engage in Health Care must first part with a fairly substantial sum of money and in the case that the fairly substantial sum of money is not available, Health Care professionals might suggest to those people that they might prefer to go away and be ill somewhere else. Quietly.

On our last holiday to the States, The Rock Star developed a heinously sore throat which necessitated a trip to the local drive thru health clinic at 12am. At the reception desk, were we charged $120 for the privilege of seeing the doctor. In the examining room, we were charged $60 for the test to determine whether or not The Rock Star had a case of strep throat. And finally, at the pharmacy, we paid another $70 for the prescription. That’s what $250 bucks gets you in the States. For millions of families without insurance, this is their only option. WE were lucky enough to have purchased travel insurance and managed to recoup the whole amount with relatively little difficulty when we got back.

This is the kind of scenario that the Not Really Free NHS is quite good at coping with. Basic Health Care is what the NHS does best. Sore Throat? No problem. Broken leg? That’s obvious enough. It’s the grey areas of medicine that seem to be a larger problem.

What got me started this morning was this. Our local hospital trust seems to have a small spot of botheration in the keeping- people- alive department. This does not exactly fill me with confidence as I am expected to present myself there from time to time for various Health Care procedures. When the Rock Star and I succeed in spawning, this is the hospital in which our children will be born. Last year, during a visit to the A&E, my confidence was shaken further when The Rock Star happened to look down the opposite side of the trolley on which I was lying.
The Rock Star: Are you leaking anywhere?

Me: Um, no. Why?

The Rock Star: Then I think a categorical “Ew” is in order.

Discovering that you’re lying on a gurney covered in someone else’s blood is certainly a situation that you might expect to find yourself in if you were, perhaps, the title character in a horror film entitled “Doctors of Death III, but not down at your local A&E on a Friday night. (Which, if you ever HAVE been down an A&E on a Friday night, would be more like a movie entitled, “Drunk Guys Who have Hit Things Really Hard And Can’t Feel It Yet II”) The nurse who I informed of this gruesome situation didn’t seem to be particularly concerned about foreign platelets rampaging all over the emergency ward, so by the time I left, the trolley was still completely sanguinated.

Here’s my thing: I’m pretty sure that 80% of basic Health Care is mental. We love to scare the shit out of ourselves sometimes: You have a week long head-ache. Even though you KNOW you have persistent sinus trouble and that its hay fever season, some little traitorous little voice in your brain goes, “You probably have a BRAIN TUMOUR! HA HA HA!” This is why we need doctors. Their function is to take one look at us and say authoritatively, “Don’t be a tool. You have hay fever. See all that stuff dribbling out of your nose and eyes? Go take some Sudafed.” Authority is everything. We believe them because they have an expensive education and we don’t. (Well, maybe we did, but not many of us would be comfortable asking someone else to take down their trousers and cough.) It’s when the belief begins to erode that the problems start; when you find blood on your hospital trolley or leave a surgery feeling like your GP was too tired or fed up to adequately answer your questions. When the reassuring side of Health Care breaks down, when you can’t trust a hospital to be clean, that’s when the whole things becomes less like Health Care and more like Triage; patch you up as fast as possible and boot you back out onto the battle field not being totally sure that you’re not going to get gangrene in that bullet wound. There seems to be little time for reassurance or bedside manner.

I’m not trying to take potshots at a profession that I know is difficult and frustrating, but it just seems like the NHS is getting a little lost in the wilderness. Come home, Lassie, come home. And bring your stethoscope with you.