The NHS is an amazing institution. It's far from perfect, of course, but even as I sat waiting for my appointment some two-and-a-half hours past my allotted time at the MS clinic this morning, I couldn't help but marvel at the fact that I have access to some of this country's (and the world's) most eminent specialists in this field and I am going to be receiving some very expensive treatment, and no one is asking me to pay a penny. I've not once been asked to prove who I am, either, and have simply been confirming my name, address and date of birth before being ushered through. If I lived in the USA, the chances are that I would have the necessary medical insurance (after all, I have private cover here already), but I can't help but think of other people who might not be in such a fortunate position and who might thus be denied access to a treatment that, now I've been diagnosed, I can pretty much take for granted as my right.
As I waited to be seen, my attention was drawn from Richard Dawkins by a member of staff at the little coffee shop at the corner of the clinic. She was stood on a stool and was trying to insert a new pricelist into a frame. It clearly wouldn't fit, so after a few minutes of struggle, she went and found a pair of scissors and started trimming the price list until she got it to a point where she could squeeze it under the corners of the frame but would still have enough left to grip it in place. This took a good ten minutes. She then proceeded to try and put the plastic cover back in place. Clearly, this was the same size as the paper had been prior to its trimming, so it was no surprise (to me anyway) that it would not fit. The lady tried several different approaches: from the top; from the bottom; from either side; trying to creep it in by stealth. All her efforts failed. Finally, she resorted to brute force, trying to ram the thing under the edge of the frame and over the top of the new price list. No joy. A colleague came out from behind the counter to offer another pair of hands to the problem, but even then the simple fact of the matter was that the piece of plastic was not going to fit. No way.
At this point, a lady waiting in the clinic noticed that C and I were having quiet hysterics as we watched this uneven struggle.
"Are you watching that lady?" She gestured towards the coffee shop.
"Is it just me, or do the edges of those frames lift up?"
We nodded again and went back to watching the unfolding drama.
We all looked on as the two ladies in the coffee shop became increasingly frantic in their efforts to get the new price list up properly. After another five minutes, the other lady watching them stood up.
"I can't watch this any longer".
She walked over to the ladies at the coffee shop, and she showed the by now rather red-faced and flustered lady how the frame worked. She flipped open the four sides of the frame, inserted the price list and the plastic sheet and then flipped the edges back into place. Job done. The two ladies stared in amazement and wonder at this magic, and then thanked the lady for her help.
As the coffee shop closed for lunch (yes, I know), I couldn't help but reflect that if it took two members of staff about 30 minutes to carry out a ten second job, it was probably staff costs that had necessitated the price increases in the first place. That and being shut during peak hours, obviously. It was a nice thing that the helpful lady in the clinic did, and she might well be going to heaven, but as I picked up my book, I did think that she had certainly put a stop to our enjoyment.
Eventually I was ushered through from the waiting room, only to discover that I was being put into a second waiting room (with the nurse grumbling mildly that they always tell the consultants that they have booked too many people into a clinic, and that the consultants always, without fail, wonder why they're running so late every week). Some time after that, I was finally seen by the neurologist. We went through the usual set of mildly unsatisfactory tests: walking heel to toe across the room; touching the tip of my nose and then the tip of his finger a few times with each hand; shutting my eyes and telling him if the piece of metal he held on either cheek felt cold or hot.... that kind of thing. I then chose my drug of choice and was passed across to the (very nice) MS Nurse to do a bit of practicing with the syringe and the sniper's gunsight-like device that will shoot the 3-inch long needle into my thigh muscle. Now I have to wait for around 4-6 weeks for the drugs to arrive, and then we'll be on our way. Hurray.
I still haven't had a conclusive, black-and-white statement from the doctors that I have multiple sclerosis. It's a moot point, given that I've been de-facto diagnosed and I'm about to start injecting myself, but I want to be told once and for all, not least because I am obliged to declare this fact to people like the DVLA (so they can revoke my driving licence and issue me with a temporary one that will need regular review to see that I'm still physically capable of driving) and so that I can make a claim on my Life and Critical Illness insurance. I mentioned this, and the doctor is now sending me off for a lumbar puncture and an evoked potential test. This is not, he told me, because there is much doubt about my diagnosis, or even that these tests really prove anything much, but rather they will be done because my insurance company would be certain to want to know that they had been done. Brilliant. Still, needs must, and to be honest I'd quite like to know too.
Amusingly, when I got back to work, I had a meeting with some suppliers who commented how relaxed looking I was compared to the flustered and stressed looking technical architect who also attended the meeting. It must come to something when three hours in a Disease Modifying Drugs clinic at the local hospital is less stressful than a day in the office, but there you go.
Onwards and upwards, Rodney.
[no earworms today, I don't think.... back as usual next week. Any volunteers?]
4 days ago