A story of ten women and the NHS

I might turn this blog into a journal because, God knows, I feel like it sometimes. Yesterday was tough.

At 6am I attend hospital for a minor operation. In the UK we have a once-beautiful thing called the NHS (free healthcare for all) which is still beautiful but now woefully underfunded.

My “urgent” (ish) op has been postponed once due to staff shortages so I’m glad to be going in. After a friendly welcome by the staff, I join seven other women on two surgery lists in the waiting room. We share histories and make each other smile. After a couple of hours the duty nurse says, “You’re lucky to be on that list; the other one’s just been cancelled.”A stressed-looking younger nurse is talking about lack of beds.

I’m lucky: I’m called. I turn to the other women in the waiting room and we all share best wishes and words of encouragement. It’s a routine op so in twenty minutes, I’ll be out of here. In my grim hospital gown, I trundle down to theatre, relieved that weeks of pain will be over soon.

I wake up. No pain. My body buzzes lightly with happy-pharma waves (thank you, fentanyl) and relief: it’s over, I’m fixed! A moment of joy. Except I’m not. I find out a couple of minutes later that it all went horribly (“not seen this once in twenty-five years”) wrong. I need scans and another, bigger operation. And the stakes are higher. It’s not so routine now.

This is my lost-test-results-cancelled-dates-nil-by-mouth-get-up-at-dawn-arse-flapping-gown-failed-op face

They wheel me back to the ward where I stand, dress, decline lunch (in case there’s the remotest chance of further operation), hear a few details about what kind of mess might be residing inside me, and the potential for sorting me at some indeterminate point in the future. It’s not urgent like cancer so it might be a month or two?

My consultant is a kind, skilled man who once saved my life and my child’s; he’s a hero and I’m glad he’s here. Neither of us looks happy right now, though. He’ll talk to colleagues and call me.

In the background, a ward nurse feeds two struggling elderly patients. His kindness and gentleness soothe me.

I swallow a coffee and leave.

My OH can’t manage school pick-up so I rock up at the school gate with a faceful of opiates, stinking of anaesthetic-breath, blood, and bad coffee. It’s been nearly 24 hours since I ate and I’m so drugged and hungry, I can only leer owlishly at people, who give me funny looks.

“I just had an op.”

“Are you OK?”

I nod and wish they’d put their arms around me. I cry behind my sunglasses. They look at me even funnier and I can’t process what they’re saying so I wobble home with a load of school bags over one shoulder and a cute little boy telling me about his day that I’m really struggling to concentrate on, even though it’s the best bit of today.

I can’t have a bath because my house is a building site so I make sweet tea for the builder and me instead, and he laughs at me being all dizzy and he makes me laugh too.

I wonder how the women are getting on, whose ops were cancelled today. I wonder what will happen next for me, and them. I know some had bigger ops. I hope they went OK. I saw one looking relieved. I wonder what our NHS will look like in 2 years’ time?

Where was this week’s 350 million pounds?

I think of the heroes working there and wonder why we don’t fund them to the hilt, when we spend so much on other things.

I’m lucky. I’m strong. Injured but not in immediate danger. I have to run the appointment-cancellation-operation gauntlet again and I don’t want to and it’s hideous, but I might be able to pay for scans and speed it up — to make this better for me. That’s a privilege not open to everyone. The only way we can make this OK for everyone is to look after our NHS.

It’s real. We’re becoming numbed to the headlines about “the NHS” – so let’s stop calling it that – let’s call it “necessary medical treatment”, or “our health and well-being”. It’s health vs. sickness, comfort vs. pain. It’s our bodies. It’s us.

And we’re letting it collapse around us. Like fools.

Image attribution.

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