This afternoon I was treated to a truly wonderous display of the way the NHS works when it really does work. As a dance of various components of our medical system, it wasn't a fine ballet, but there was a rythm and a beat and I wouldn't mind watching it again.
3:30: I go in to see my general practitioner. I explain that I am in pain, all the time, that my body doesn't do what it should, that my bits don't stay where they are put. I tell him I'm exhausted, all the time. After an initial confusion wherein he thinks I've already seen a specialist for this problem (no, I had an x-ray for a suspected broken foot in April) he makes an appointment for me with a rheumatologist for a day and time that suits me, as soon as the waiting list allows. When asked about pain, he asks how I've been treating it, then prescribes me stronger painkillers. When asked about the exhaustion, he says he doesnt think it's connected, and gives me an 'order form' for blood tests. I leave his office with a half-smile, clutching three very precious bits of paper. I don't pay a thing.
3:50: I enter the pharmacy, and hand over the prescription. I ask if I'm still entitled to free prescriptions on the grounds that I'm on benefits and low income. I'm told yes, I am. Ten minutes later, I leave with 60 co-dydramol tablets, enough for between 7 and 30 days, depending on how much pain I'm in. I don't pay a thing.
4:10: I walk into my local hospital's phlebotomy department.
4:25: I am called through into a room where a polite man in a clean uniform smiles at me, takes my order form, and within a minute, has gently inserted a needle into my arm, extracted enough vials of blood for the tests, applied a cotton swab and taped me up. I thank him, and he wishes me a good day. I don't pay a thing.
By 4:35 I am back in my car headed home, having experienced one of the most iffecient interactions I've ever had with our medical service. The most wonderful thing, for me? All of this, the initial appointment, the blood tests, the referral, an the appointment with the specialist, when it comes, as well as my rescription, was completely 'fre', in that no one asked me for any money, and I didn't have a moment of sitting there debating with my doctor as to whether I could afford the care I needed. That's not a factor. Whether or not I can afford to live pain-free existance doesn't come into it. Yes, I will 'pay' or these services in taxes, in the £200 a month the government skims off my husbands paycheck, but when I need them, I don't have to check my bank account before heading into the pharmacy or the hospital. My major worries as they're drawing my blood? Fainting, not my overdraft.
There is the small matter that the wait to see a rheumatologist is a frankly shocking 58 days in my local hospital, and a not much better 32 days at a further hospital which is the soonest we could get an appointment. But the thing is, I'll be able to see someone, and I'll be able to do it for free, and I'll be able to get answers that if I had to pay for my care I may not be able to afford.
In the mean-time? I have painkillers. The painkillers do, admittedly, kill the pain. I got to be pain-free for the first time in months tonight and it was exciting. When they wore off, a little shiver of panic and a whimper of grief scuttled through my body. However, they also make me dizzy, and extremely nauseated. I had to lie down for four hours until they wore off, because sitting up, standing, walking, everything made me want to vomit or fall over. That was on a 2-pill dose, though. I've now taken a 1-pill dose in the hope that that will kill the pain without killing my nervous system.
In other news, I looked up 'rheumatologist' in an effort to understand what I was getting myself into, and subsequently convinced myself I have Lupus. Yeah. Maybe I should rename this blog 'The Hypochondria Star'.