Monday, 2 March 2015

Cows at the NHS

A typical hospital outpatients reception area.  The woman at the back of the queue, the one who looks like a doll dressed in bits and pieces of clothing from other dolls, that’s me here to be assessed for a dental procedure.

I’m one of a dying breed of patients who grew up when dental medicine was heartless, children lied about their pain and were dealt with by putting a large, hairy hand over their mouth, only removing said hand for the drill to be applied.  By the time I reached adulthood and a kinder, gentler dentist explained why my teeth were difficult to numb, the emotional damage had been done.

Don’t worry.  No more tales of dental horror.

So there I am, in a place I’ve never been before, a cow waiting to be assessed for slaughter.  Or at least a wisdom tooth extraction.  I give my name and am told to sit down amongst the other livestock.  It seems all potential victims, except for myself, have brought the entire seed and breed of their families with them.  

My name is called with three others, which means about 15 people move forward.  Unimpeded by mobility aids or a passel of chillen, I get to the desk first where a clipboard and pen are thrust at me with an outpouring of gibberish that I assume, based on the flipping of pages and vague gestures, are important instructions.  I do understand when she points, that I'm to go to the waiting room at the end.  There’s no time for questions.  She’s onto the next cow.

Clipboard in hand, I wander in the direction she indicated, come to another, larger waiting area and sit down.  There’s a 4 page form attached to the clipboard.  I get through my basic details, then struggle with a list of medical questions.  Am I extremely over or under weight?  Hmmm . . . I’m fat, but in the extreme?  I’m not sure, but I’ll say that I’m not.  For the alcohol question, I know I’m supposed to put in units, but not much of a drinker myself, I’ve never figured out what a unit was, so I fudge that question and assume the medical people won’t believe me anyway.

Then there it is, across the entire bottom of the page, a rating from 0 to 10, recording my cooperation.  When I rang to make this appointment, the woman on the phone wouldn’t tell me whom I’d be seeing or give me a phone number in case I had to cancel – all that information would be sent in a letter.  Sitting now with my cooperation in question, I was glad I hadn’t cracked a joke about guarding state secrets.  Smart asses tend not to score high on cooperation.

This smart ass is tempted to demonstrate my own cooperativeness by rating my cooperativeness for them, but got control of myself.  However, I do wonder if I should’ve filled out the medical questions, or just put in my details.  And what’s the other part of the form the gibberish lady had gestured to?  I flip through pages and find a second request for my details, so fill it in and hope I’ve been cooperative.

Hope I’m in the right place, too.  At the end of my row of seats, is the man in the wheelchair, called forward with me at Reception.  The man without anyone to push his chair so propels himself with his feet.  Across from us, a family of several females cluster around an older man.  As a nurse rushes by, one of the women waves at her but the nurse is too busy, has to attend . . . A bit of chatter among the women about the nurse’s rudeness, why couldn’t she stop, but the wheelchair man gets called into the corridor to our left, and an impeccably dressed but frail, elderly woman comes in, led by a younger version of herself.  I wonder if she’s a time traveller come to give herself comfort.

The busy nurse comes back to the family across from me.  One of the women explains that their appointment was for twenty minutes earlier.  The busy nurse says that they haven’t reached their 30 minutes yet and sometimes 30 minutes is reached and that’s when they can be concerned but (leaving as she says this) not until they reach that sacred threshold.  The family discusses various medical facilities they’d attended with various long waiting times.  The man with them tries to follow the conversation but is confused and disoriented, his seat among these women, the only thing that grounds him.

The wheelchair man returns and walks himself into the corridor behind us.  The old woman and her younger self are taken into a side room.  An equally ancient man comes out the left corridor with a young woman who sits him behind the family across from me, then stands herself in the aisle, folding his many layers of clothing needed to face a trip to outpatients.

The walking wheelchair man is back, embarrassed because he’s lost.  He flags down a passing nurse who grabs the handles of his wheelchair and pushes him up the corridor to the right, the man apologising for getting himself lost and the nurse telling him to pick up his feet so she can push him faster.  The old woman returns with a nurse who's explaining in a lacklustre apology that the woman’s been taken to the wrong place.  The family across from me is called into the right corridor and the ancient man stares at nothing, his eyes lined with tears, his carer nowhere to be seen.

My name is called and I go into the corridor behind us where the wheelchair man got lost.  The clipboard is confiscated, never to be addressed.  I’m weighed and measured while fully dressed with my winter coat and shoes still on.  Just approximate, the nurse says.  I wonder if the contents of my pockets make me extremely overweight and hope that the heels of my boots compensate for the excess.  I say nothing because I want to score 10 out of 10 in cooperation. 

The dentist uses her first name when she greets me but grimaces when I use it in my response.  (8 out of 10 in cooperation.)  Before my extremely overweight ass hits the seat, the dentist asks how I’m paying for this.  The nurse hooks me up to a blood pressure cuff at the same time the dentist lowers the back of the chair and I’m trying to cooperate with having my arm torn off while opening wide.  The dentist’s hands are in my mouth when she asks several questions about why I’m having this tooth extracted as an outpatient instead of by my dentist who, from her tone of voice, is probably a blacksmith on the side.  I remember I’ve forgotten to brush my teeth in the dash out of the house.  (Five out of ten.)

They tell me I need to be accompanied by someone who can stay at the hospital through the whole procedure, then tell me the date.  I explain that I need to confirm the Butler can be there.  (Three out of ten.)  The dentist tells me to do this immediately because this type procedure can't be scheduled at short notice.  Time to pay and I put the card in backwards (1 out of 10) and then I'm shoo-ed down the ramp, past the ancient man, his mouth dropped open in horror.



  1. Your post is really amusing! Hahaha! Those changes in dental treatments can be such shifts, both culturally and socially. Thankfully, those have been supported by advancing medical technology to augment and improve their quality. Thanks for sharing that! All the best!

    Benny Murray @ Dental Care of South Jersey

  2. The little girl must’ve had her most depressing moment that day, that when she grew up, she decided to go back in time to comfort herself. Haha! Anyway, that was a pretty jam-packed visit you had, and everyone you saw seem to be very interesting. Nonetheless, I hope you were able to go through the surgery, and that things turned out to be just fine. Thanks for sharing this with us, Lora. Have a great day!

    Freddie Gray @ Ballantyne Center For Dentistry