According to a leaflet I picked up the other day entitled “Know your hospital rights,” I’m no longer a patient, but a Healthcare Consumer.
I think ‘patient’ is more honest. Medicine is after all, mostly about waiting. This week has been an endless succession of busy receptions and crowded waiting rooms. Hours of boredom and inactivity, punctuated with occasional busts of usually unpleasant activity. Today we are back at Auckland’s North Shore Hospital Gastro-Intestinal Unit for yet another attempt at an Ultrasound Gastroscopy. This will be number three, not that I’m counting or anything.
North Shore hospital has acquired an unenviable reputation for accidentally snuffing out it’s patients in recent years. There have been numerous high profile cases brought by the understandably irate families of unfortunates who accidentally had the wrong bit removed, or were turned into a gibbering idiots by having been given someone else’s drugs by mistake, or just abandoned in a corridor and forgotten about for months at a time. More recently there have been a series of outbreaks of so-called “SuperBugs.” Apparently, these giant mutant bugs roam the hallways and wards swallowing entire patients in a single gulp, leaving nothing but a trail of green mucus and a smell of boiled cabbage.
It’s fair to say I’m a little on edge.
Actually as waiting rooms go, this one is really not not at all bad. Carpet, fresh paintwork ( teal and oatmeal) and mostly matching upholstered chairs, some of which don’t even wobble. A couple of coffee tables of the flat-pack variety support the usual range of well thumbed and out of date magazines. Today’s highlights include June 1998’s National Geographic, last February’s “New Idea” containing some truly alarming reevaluations about Posh and Beck’s marriage, and inexplicably, a copy of that perennial page-turner NZ Navy Today (Being the Best in Everything We Do!).
In spite of the nurse who weighs me in and does my obs, telling me they are rushed off their little rubber feet today, Jo and I are alone in the waiting room, which is a novelty. Having exhausted the cheep thrills of the woman’s mags and military journals, I amuse myself by studying the various posters and leaflets the decorate the walls. Disturbingly, they are mostly on the topic of domestic violence, anger management and something called Elder Abuse. (I guess that’s one less thing I need to worry about.)
There is also a small hand made sign on pink card titled ATTENTION ALL KNITTERS, which invites me to pass my waiting-room time more constructively by knitting a blanket square for for an underprivileged baby to go home wrapped in. “Wool & knitting needles available from Reception. Please Ask.”
Next to the obligatory wall clock a sign says “PLEASE BE REMINDED OF POSSIBLE PROLONGED WAITING TIMES WE APPRECIATE YOUR PATIENCE.” On the other walls are a couple of framed prints of bucolic river scenes, that are truly ghastly even by the dismal standards of hospital art.
I ask nurse a question that has been troubling me. “For a general anesthetic, I’ll have one of those breathing masks over my face won’t I?” “Yes” she says, like it was a rather stupid question. “So, I was just wondering how they’re going to put all those tubes and wot-not down my throat with the mask on?” I wondered out loud. She thought about this for quite a long time. “Do you know, I have no idea.”
I really hope they’ve thought this one through…
I’m shown to bed No.10 in the pre-op and recovery room. I know the drill now. Kitt off. Ridiculous, back-to-front unisex gown thing on. Clothes and belongings in large brown paper bag labeled Patient Property in basket under the bed. Across the corridor I can see the surgeon and various other bods in caps, masks and green scrubs milling around in the Procedure Room.
One of them wanders over pulls his face-mask down and introduces himself as Darcey. “I’ll be your Anesthetist today.” Darcey is tall and lean, with an easy, lop-sided grin and well worn looking leather stockman’s boots but no socks. We go through the usual questionnaires and paperwork and I sign the consent form. I ask him about the anesthetic. He tells me that he’s going to be using Prophonol today, which is the stuff that finally saw off Whacko Jacko. “Not really suitable for recreational home use” he chuckles.
Darcy expertly fixes an I.V. line into the back of my hand while making small talk about the rugby, pats me on the shoulder and says “Catch you on the other side,” before sauntering back towards the O.R. I like Darcey. I like to think I’m a fairly good judge of character and I’m pretty sure he’s never killed anyone, accidentally or otherwise.
I feel calm and relaxed.
A few minutes later I’m wheeled through by two male nurses, say a cheery “hi” to Micheal the surgeon and my new best friend Darcey, and… well that’s about all I can remember.
I woke up a couple of hours later with a rather sore throat and pupils the size of saucers, but otherwise feeling remarkably chipper. The elusive cell samples were apparently winging their way to the Pathology lab, and after a once over by the nurse I’m free to go.
We catch a cab back to the hotel and I celebrate by watching Jo drink a Gin & Tonic.