Surely it can be no coincidence that the road by which one enters St George’s Hospital, Tooting, is called Effort Street. The taxi trundled along this road, pulling up at the drop-off point in front of the Lanesborough Wing, home to the specialist I have been assigned.
It has taken the best part of two years of effort to get to Effort Street, badgering my GP until both she and I were so tired of my ‘change of life’ symptoms that I got the feeling the NHS agreed to let me see a gynaecologist just to stop me making doctors appointments.
The Lanesborough, unlike Effort Street, is very badly named because it is nothing like the Lanesborough hotel. Inside, there is no one to welcome you, never mind afternoon tea.
I wandered around looking for a sign and then decided to walk through a random double door on the basis that it was open. I found myself in a huge waiting area with a lot of sad-looking people sitting in chairs nailed to the ground. Every now and then a computerised voice would say: ‘Will ticket number 31 please go to cashier five.’
Fine, so the voice said, ‘Will ticket number 31 please go to position five,’ but you get the picture. Everyone was now a number and had ceased to exist as a human being in the spiritual sense.
I approached what looked like a reception desk but then again, it can’t have been, because the woman looked up at me quite furiously and said nothing. So I said nothing. Then she said: ‘Well?’ So maybe it was a reception desk. Or not so much a reception desk as a rejection desk. I handed her my paperwork from the healthcare trust with the all-important number I had been assigned and she tapped her computer and told me to sit down in a corridor round the corner.
So I did as I was told and walked through the main area with the nailed-to-the-floor queuers and sat myself down in the corridor.
‘Will ticket number 32 please go to position five,’ said the computer.
I stared at the paperwork bearing the map of the hospital and noticed that just down from Effort Street was something called Ronald McDonald House. I suppose this is because the burger chain put up the money for an accommodation unit for relatives of sick children, which is nice, but it still made me feel like I was in a sci-fi movie where any minute now James Caan was going to roller-skate past me in body armour, chased by agents of the corporations.
I always swore I wouldn’t return to St George’s after a surgeon there diagnosed three burst cysts which, she made clear, she had absolutely no intention of doing anything about. I went to a private hospital days later where a surgeon promptly declared them urgently horrible and took them out.
But times is hard, as we know, and I have a £500 excess on my health insurance. I decided that if I was to go somewhere for HRT it would be somewhere I had already paid for with years of National Insurance contributions.
And so it was that I sat in the corridor next to a cheese-counter queueing area staring at a map of Ronald McDonald House waiting for James Caan to skate by the sign on the wall saying ‘Listening To Our Staff’ (as opposed to our patients).
I was in this reverie when a nurse called my number and beckoned me to her station. There she put me on a scales and made me stand against the wall while she measured my height, which made me feel as though I was being measured up for my coffin.
As she strapped a blood pressure monitor to my arm I must have looked depressed because she said, crossly: ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Yes!’ I smiled, trying to look cheerful. I once looked upset at St George’s. I had raging eczema and because they didn’t have a dermatologist I burst into tears. That led to them threatening me with a ‘psych assessment’. As this one took my blood pressure, therefore, I forced my mouth into a desperate smile.
A few minutes later, I was called into the specialist’s room to find the tiniest little girl of about 12 sitting in a white coat behind the desk. Bless her, she really was just out of school. What could I do? I had to be nice.
Twenty minutes later, I was back out on Effort Street with no prescription for HRT in my hands that I could find. But among the huge wad of paperwork I did have two appointment cards for blood tests and a bone density scan, which may happen in about six months’ time, if I put in the effort.
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