I guess that some might take the view – given the Rust’s brief and readership (age) profile – that one day this was bound to happen, but today I follow my colleague Arthur Nelson’s tale of his brushes with the medical profession by posting about my own hospital appointment yesterday at which I met the surgeon who is slated to perform my impending hip operation.
Britain’s NHS tends to take a mighty pounding in the media and indeed folklore – some of it no doubt justified and perhaps some of it less so – but in recent times I have been consistently impressed by my encounters with it.
Armed with sound advice from a pal whom I visited socially in the morning, I didn’t even bother to try and park in what he predicted would be an outrageously expensive (albeit simultaneously over-crowded) hospital car park, but instead sought out a particular side street nearby that he had recommended which allegedly allowed parking for a fraction of the price. I felt the omens for the afternoon were promising when, although all the spaces there were taken as I arrived, after I’d driven to the bottom of said street and turned around, I was both surprised and delighted as a car drew away from the last slot just as I reached it and I was able to sneak in and take its place. The price of a ticket there (at £1 per hour) was one-third of what it would have cost me in the hospital car park … even had I been able to find a free space in it (which is doubtful).
The only downside of this tactic was that I had a 300 metre hike to the hospital entrance but this was small beer in the scheme of things compared to the pain of coping with the hospital’s own car park arrangements.
Once inside I made the bold decision – only because of my poor record with technology – to try and register myself via one of the bank of ‘standing’ computers set aside in the foyer for the purpose. Having tapped in my gender, month and then date and year of birth the computer asked if I was who I am, so I pressed the ‘Yes’ button and was told in writing on the screen “Welcome – we know you are here and will you please go to the Orange Outpatients waiting area”. Having no idea where that was, I leaned over to one of the reception desk ladies and asked. She smiled and pointed across the room to an orange door. I acknowledged my innocence (or ineptitude?) – it was my first-ever visit to the hospital – with a shrug and a wave of my arm and set off towards it.
Inside there was a long corridor with five consulting rooms along it and a row of seats opposite. I found a vacant one and sat down. This being Orthopaedics Outpatients, most of my fellow ‘waiters’ were sporting injured or broken arms, wrists, feet or legs. All was calm. I hadn’t noticed a newsagent shop en route from the hospital entrance so I asked my neighbour (a man not unadjacent to my own age with a leg issue and crutches) if he knew if there was one in the vicinity. He didn’t – they never do whenever I ask someone – but then a much younger Asian guy sitting in the next group of seats along the wall hailed me and asked if I would like to have his copy of the freebie Metro magazine because he’d finished with it. I accepted.
In my experience, one thing that airports and hospitals have in common is that, from the moment you walk in, the concept of ‘time’ goes straight out the window and things just take however long they do.
I’d arrived fifteen minutes early for my appointment and wasn’t in the least surprised when I wasn’t called until twenty minutes past it, especially after – amidst all the toing-and-froing – at one point a senior nurse had emerged into the corridor and announced “I’m sorry about this but, because all our earlier patients have now begun arriving back from their x-rays, we’re going to be running up to half an hour late – we’ll do our best and in fact we’re now going to allocate two more rooms to clearing the back-log.”
My consultation with the surgeon, when it occurred, took fifteen minutes in total. First a nurse ushered me in and asked me to drop my trousers and get on the examination table (“the surgeon will see you in a minute or two”). Five minutes later, he walked in and introduced himself. He seemed like a good guy. I told him that my GP had reported that some who had reached my stage of arthritic deterioration in the hip had already had replacements … on the other hand, many others had not: was I being a wimp? We chatted, he examined me on the table, asked me to walk across the room and back, and then gave his verdict.
I had significant hip inflexibility and muscle wastage. There was no doubt about it, I should have the op. He’d put me on the list – the lead-time was three to four months. He then explained the form the op would take and that the next time I’d see him was the day before. I’d have roughly three post-op days in hospital, three weeks of enforced relative immobility, three months of intense physiotherapy and then, if all went well, for someone of my vintage it would take about six months before I reached the happy stage of ‘forgetting that I’d ever even had a hip problem’.
It all sounded very reasonable. Having taken the booklet he had proffered giving full details of what the op would entail, I was pitched out into the corridor and thereafter, having walked back to where I’d parked my car, drove home.
Listening to the radio as I did so, it just so happened that hip replacements came up in a medical item that was featured. It seemed that things could be worse – I could be living in Wales. Apparently, according to a scandal erupting in the Principality, whereas the average waiting time for hip ops in England is about three months, some are having to wait up to eighteen months if they live on the wrong side of the Severn Bridge.