The Lockdown Diaries 11: Chemo-Lad VS Fear
As the ultimate nerdy child who could end up in A&E after tripping off a kerb with a book in one hand, I sensed I would enjoy a lifetime peppered with doctors’ visits. The annual vaccines were a staple, of course; polio, dypyheria and others that left giant permanent scorch patterns on the upper arm. There was a permanent awareness of tuberculosis, whooping cough, chicken pox, measles and mumps, all of which ‘could go the wrong way’. Balancing this was the better British diet (locally sourced fresher food, free milk and juice) and healthier, more active lifestyles. Who drove their kids to school?
When I step into hospital every morning at 9:30am, I’m always surprised by just how shell-shocked many of the patients are. Some, like my brother, have never been inside one in their life. For decades the NHS needed a radical overhaul. Instead, in came layers of middle-managers and outsourced private units, and the unworkable and now abandoned NHS patient record system which has so far cost the taxpayer nearly £10 billion, with the final bill likely to be several hundreds of millions higher.
The resulting Frankenstein’s monster of a health service became a Kafkaesque system of endless meetings, projections, targets and holistic refinements that could not work for the simple reason that illness cannot be so easily labelled, rated and ratified. Hospitals have to think on their feet because nobody ever plans to get sick. As the population ages departments are added on which are no longer organic to structure. Hospitals became physical and mental mazes.
A patient suddenly admitted into hospital for the first time faces a comprehension test that’s not been revised for; you’re being dropped into grid of obscure rules with one way of doing things, the details to which you are not privy. At least nobody makes you try to pay up front – or pay at all. When I ran out of options at the start of Lockdown I tried to have one of my tests handled privately and was told by the doctor, ‘You’re better off going to the NHS, they have more expertise.’
And it’s true. The frontline staff draw on their reasons for choosing this career, and are extraordinary. Getting sick is a double shock. 1. You feel terrible! 2. You’re sitting in a corridor full of really sick people and have no real idea what’s going on! But once you’re over that you can start to reassess your feelings.
It’s working. You’re being seen. The slowest wait times occur when you’re outside the system trying to get in. The pandemic is changing the system fast. The NHS has a long history of lateral thinking to get around government cuts so it can turn on a penny and refresh the way it works. Triage is the key. Admittance counters are computerised so everyone on your case instantly knows where you are. Instructions seem chaotic and off-the-cuff but work if you follow them.
I’m not especially brave, but I have some form in this area, and fear is 4/5ths of the problem. Illness, like dreams and photos of dogs, is intrinsically boring. Worse, it can come to define you to the point where people dread asking how you are. There’s a sort of treatment one-upmanship with other patients that occurs too. ‘How long’s your chemo?’ ‘Six weeks.’ ‘Oh. Mine’s only four.’ ‘And I’m having radiotherapy.’ ‘Oh, as well? That’s serious. Bad luck.’
Which is the point where I get out my book and bury my nose in the pages again.