‘Hallo! You was callin’ us about appoint…MENT!’ said the lady at the scanning unit of my local hospital in broken English.
Nothing wrong with that. It’s just that when I received a letter bearing the logo of a private company informing me of the details of my forthcoming MRI, I got all excited, anticipating efficiency.
Although I was having it done on the NHS, the appointment came through swiftly with no mention of the health service on the paperwork, which raised my expectations.
I rang to confirm, but after holding for a while I was told to leave a message and someone would ring me back.
A few hours later came the cheery ‘Hallo!’ The tone was reminiscent of a holiday booking rep or a call centre for a home furnishing company as she took me through a list of medically urgent questions:
‘Do you wear hearing… AID?’ No. ‘Do you have any im… PLANT? Could you be pregNANT? Do you have any gunshot wound or shrapNEL?’ No.
‘Do you have a picture of it?’
‘I’m sorry, what?’
‘Do you have a picture of it?’
‘A picture of what?
‘No picture! Do you have a pic-TURE? In earrrr?’
‘No, I don’t have a picture in my ear.’
‘No picture! Pic-TURE of it!’
This went on for some time until finally I said: ‘I’m really sorry, but no matter how many times you say that I’m not going to understand it. Can you spell it?’
And she spelt the words ‘cochlear implant’. I swear that was not what she said before. But anyway: ‘Do you have met-tal fragMENT in yurrr eyes?’ No. ‘Could you be pregNANT?’ We had that already.
‘Do you have any cleeps, peens, join replaceMENT or emboleeeesation coys?’ Er… No? ‘Do you have a sten-t?’ No? ‘Do you have a shun-t?’ No? I’m going with no.
I just said no to everything because let’s face it, she could have been asking: ‘Have you ever while in combat been kidnapped by your own side and had a chip implanted in your brain so the establishment can feed you false thoughts?’
And I wanted to get this appointment confirmed because I had paid to see a specialist privately to get this far.
The state’s diagnostic response had been that it would all go away if I took painkillers.
I ducked under a fence last summer and twisted my shoulders one way and my head the other. Something went ping in the base of my skull, my vision blacked out and I saw stars. My head swam with pins and needles, then came the worst headache I have ever experienced.
I crawled out of the field and told the builder boyfriend I’d suffered an aneurysm. He drove me to the doctor’s surgery where the GP took my blood pressure and told me I probably had a virus and should take paracetamol.
I was so relieved I went home and did exactly that. For days. After a couple of packs of paracetamol I had to go back and this time a different GP told me I had twisted something in my neck and should take ibuprofen. I was so relieved I went home and did exactly that. For a year.
Just before lockdown, I made an appointment at a private hospital to see about the pain in my head and neck and when lockdown lifted I was relieved to find myself sitting in front of a dishevelled looking chap who was obviously a genius.
‘I think there are two things going on here,’ he said, after prodding me about.
Oh no, I thought. I need this to be one thing, not two things.
But as well as a pinched nerve, he suspected arthritis.
‘Arthritis?’ I gasped. ‘Well,’ said the consultant, leaning back in his chair, ‘as we get old these things happen.’
‘Old!’ I exclaimed. He pulled a big leather bag on to his desk and started rummaging through it, throwing out all manner of odds and sods — a train ticket, a comb, a flashlight — before finding his glasses.
Ah, the private sector. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy.
He said he would email me a letter for my GP recommending an MRI. Then he wrote me a script for something clever so I could stop taking the diazepam I had lately resorted to because, and here his eyes veered off into the middle distance: ‘It’s a nasty, dirty drug…’
A few days later, I took a copy of his letter to the closed GP surgery where I pushed it into a box stuffed full of prescription requests. They offered me a ‘phone consultation’, which by some fluke was with the doctor who diagnosed a virus. I was worried she might take offence at someone challenging her opinion. But she didn’t remember, or sound at all interested, luckily.
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