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Narrative-based anti-medicine

Author: joe

Friday, 25 July, 2008 - 02:52

I had almost forgotten about it. Friends had more or less stopped asking after my sinus pain. My daily medication had reached efficacy to the point of barely noticeable routine. The symptoms were ongoing but receding into forgettable habit. I had few expectations from my appointment with the sinus consultant today, but in the back of my mind I hoped that he would move decisively and more treatment - maybe an operation? - would arrive in the foreseeable future such that I could finally move on with my life. My hopes were not high - my hopes were modest and manageable.

Everything went out of whack as soon as I entered the consultant's office. There, in the room, was not the doctor I had seen before, and was expecting to see now, but someone I had never met before. Almost immediately I involuntarily hit a wall of stupor when she asked me why I had come all the way to Andover - such a long way from where I lived - for my appointment. I stared at the wall, utterly unable to answer: "it's not my choice," I said. She looked over my notes. "Well, Dr N- is one of the country's leading sinus doctor, so your specialist has refered you to him," she said. I know this. She knows this. Why are you asking me? The nurse came in and shortly asked the same question. The doctor repeats the Dr-N-leading-country-sinus mantra. I have come all this way, and it is a waste of my time. I know this too.

She says she will examine me with a rigid scope. The nurse enters the next room, but it transpires the doctor intends to examine me here now, not next door. "I thought you were going to make him walk!" the nurse says. Just then, the doctor inserts a spray tube into my nose and I get a hit of cocaine-like dullness. The liquid drips out of my nose and onto my T-shirt. She notices and asks the nurse to pass me a tissue. The anaesthetic liquid has already dripped onto my T-shirt, and she is wielding the scope. It is a metal rod, cut at an angle at the end, with a light shining from it. She inserts it into one of my nostrils, and I excruciate for a few seconds as she twists it through my sinus. I can barely breathe - I am dying for her to remove this intrusion into my head. My eye muscles crush around it as I sense it nearing my interior being; my eye is closed, but the light illuminates my head and my eye sees a redness from within itself. She swaps to the other nostril.

"Aaargh!!!", I recoil as the scope scrapes the tender insides of my nose and my head jerks back. She is displeased - the over-sensitive insides of my inflamed sinuses are a fault, and I feel bad for feeling the pain. She complains that when I scrunch up my nose and eyes, she can't move the scope. I am a defect patient, whose pain will not allow her to examine me. I don't even know her name. She finishes as I wipe my tears onto a gauze tissue already damp with anaesthetic spray and snot. I really don't even know who this woman is. "You mustn't eat or drink for two hours". Of course she can't have known that I skipped lunch in order to get here on time, because she has not even asked me for my permission to enter my head with a shining metal rod in the very places where I have intense pain.

In the closing exchanges of the appointment, between the doctor and the nurse and me, I gather myself and command my polite composed voice to ask about timescales and locations. She says I must see Dr N - of course, I thought I had come today to see Dr N. I don't care where the appointment is, as long as it is soon... "Dr N has some annual leave coming up, so it may be a few weeks." Why am I even here? "Okay," I say. I leave the room, walk into the sunshine, go back to the car, and am not quite overwhelmed by the urge to cry. Instead I drive for an hour-and-a-half feeling frustrated, and somehow manage to get home without crashing, while the cocaine numbness thaws in my throat.

Worst of all, of course, I constantly tell myself that there are people worse off than myself, and that I shouldn't complain, because doctors and nurses deal with very sick people who are very ill and dying and I'm lucky that all I have is constant but manageable pain in the front of my head where my being is. Anything short of life-threatening peril is, in the over-stretched world of public health care, irrelevant.

So, in short, today's brief experience of care in the NHS left me feeling angry, bitter, and frustrated, but also guilty for my self-indulgence in thinking I might expect anything more.

Categories: medicine, NHS, treatment, sinusitis, guilt,
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