So regular readers will know several things about me; I have endless charm, I’m utterly modest, I had cancer several years ago and drama seems to follow me around like a Shakespearean lapdog. I’m delighted to tell you that all those features came out to play today at the West Middlesex Hospital, scene of all my great medical theatricals.
Some background. I have a special relationship with my oncologist who, without wishing to sound melodramatic, helped save my life on at least two occasions. Even though we no longer live in the London area, she agrees to see me for my annual review which I love her for. To assist the review I have to take a blood test a few days beforehand to measure my markers for likely signs that the cancer has returned. It’s a slightly unnerving few days for me. My review’s next week and today I headed down to West Midd’x for the blood test. It’s the last day I could do it to ensure the test can be completed before the review. And it was fixed 12 months ago and pretty immovable.
Now twice in the past I’ve traipsed down there (and it’s a 5 hour round trip) to be greeted by a Bulgarian bitch in the Phlebotomy – blood test – dept who declined to test me as I wasn’t on the system. I overcame her issues but it taught me to double check that I was fully registered on the booking system beforehand. So last week I checked with my oncologist’s secretary and she confirmed I was definitely booked in for a test. Not hopefully, definitely. So I dropped Carol off at work at Horton Hospital in Banbury at 8.30am then headed down to London. I was at the West M hospital by 10.15. I walked into the Phlebotomy clinic and rather than the usual crowd of 30 odd patients in there, I was delighted to see just one person ahead of me. The clinic employs a ticketing system so I took my ticket and before I could sit down my number 73 was being called. Wey hey.
I met T who was very welcoming. He asked about my hospital number and brought up my details. ‘Sorry Paul’ he said ‘you’re not on the system so I can’t give you a test’. ‘What? That’s impossible’ I said ‘I double checked with my oncologist’s secretary just last week and she said I was definitely registered’. Computer says no came the reply. I showed T my latest phone message which was from the hospital confirming the review meeting. ‘Look Paul I can see you are booked in for the review but nobody has requested a blood test for you’. Oh FFS. He advised me that I’d have to get a registrar to sign me into the system. So he told me I would need to head down to OPD 8 – the Haematology dept – at the back of the hospital in the basement area to secure a sign in. He gave me a note. I toddled off disgruntled. I found the place eventually, it’s a rather depressing ward where they dole out chemo treatment. Of course it is. The receptionist was cold-hearted – I guess it comes with the subject area. I explained I needed a blood test and had been re-directed by Phlebotomy for a referral onto the system. ‘Oh they don’t know what they’re doing’ was her less than reassuring response. ‘You need to go to OPD4 – colonoscopy – back on ground level east wing’. Oh FFS. ‘Are you sure?’ I asked. ‘Of course, I work here don’t I?’
So off I trundled to OPD 4 with my gander rising. I knew the area – it’s where I used to meet my oncologist for the annual review before covid hit and telephone consultations became the norm. The receptionist asked who I had an appointment with. I said nobody, I was trying to get a blood test because I had an upcoming oncologist review and had been referred here by OPD 8. ‘Why would they do that?’ she asked. I was sorely tempted to say ‘I have no fucking idea but can you please get me a blood test?’ I said the same thing without one of those words. Please. I joke. She told me all the doctors were about to get together for a consultative meeting so she suggested I come back next week. Duurrr. ‘Look I live hours away and there’s no more time to get the test done before my consultation other than today. You have to get me registered on the system for a test. Please. If you can’t do that can you please give me my oncologist’s PA number?’ That’s the charm bit. She told me she was just covering somebody’s absence and had no access to the the wider directory. Really? Anyway to be fair she went and asked somebody what to do. Some time later she came back and handed me a telephone number to call in the Appointments section. Not her – I had to do it. ‘This happens a lot’ she says. I didn’t feel reassured.
I made contact with a very nice lady Jo who, when I explained the problem. advised me that I was definitely logged onto the system for a blood test. ‘Well not according to Phlebotomy’ I said. She agreed to call the department and fill them in and call me back. 20 minutes passed. Eventually she called back to say Phlebotomy weren’t picking up calls. Argghh. She advised me not to despair ( I was trying not to but was also close to exploding) and said she’d send an email to my oncologist who would hopefully pass it to her secretary who’d then send an email back to Phlebotomy to re-register me. She advised me to sit tight and wait for her to call back to confirm that the chain of events happened as she described. ‘OK I’ll just wait for your call Jo’ I said more in hope than expectation.
20 minutes later and no call. So I headed off to the bathroom. Down the corridor I got a call from a new dentist interested in a dental issue affecting my daughter B. If you think this story is exhausting you’ll be amazed by B’s sad painful tooth saga. It was a long conversation. So I popped then into the bathroom and walked out into the public area and called Jo back. I apologised for being engaged on the line. She said that she’d had no confirmation back from the secretary but was sure, but not certain, I’d be now on the system. I thanked Jo and thought fuck it and headed back to Phlebotomy. I went in and was dismayed to see 30 odd people ahead of me. Aw shit. I took a ticket – dozens ahead of me mostly hacking and coughing arggh – so I thought I’d just poke my head into the testing bay where T had been. Another clinician was in there. Oh FFS.
I’d been at the hospital two hours by this stage. Despondent I went and sat down to do my crossword then, hello, T appeared from a rear door. He’d been out for lunch. I sloped up and told him I’d (hopefully) been added to the list now. He explained that he wasn’t scheduled to re-start for a while but he’d try and sneak me in as soon as he could. Charm working again. Within a few minutes a very lovely Chinese nurse called out someone’s name… Poor Reynard. For a second I missed it, but after she said it 3 times I realised it was me she wanted. I jumped up and she took my hospital number, then quickly disappeared, checked my credentials and reappeared with a ‘Hey Poor! You are on the system!’ I nearly sobbed. She showed me in to T and I had my blood test. Hallefuckinglujah. Ok I jumped a few in the queue but I’d been there two frigging hours beforehand waiting for this. No guilt.
T said to me, ‘Sorry Paul but this sort of thing happens. It’s been a year since your appointment was made and with all the cancellations and re-appointments because of covid, our systems are struggling to cope’. I get that. But when it all looked good a week ago you have to wonder about the efficacy of the appointment systems. And to keep getting asked by each department ‘but why are you here?’ when you’d been specifically directed to head there was just incredibly frustrating. As if I’d turned up on a bloody whim. I’m tempted the next time somebody asks me where Boots is and for devilment I might just say it’s first on the right, first left and then 100 yds down there on the left hand side. Knowing it’s complete bollix. But I won’t.
Why does this drama always seem to happen to me? Did I unknowingly knock over somebody saintly in the past? I just seem to attract this craziness. I’m sure my wife thinks I make it up but I honestly don’t. This consultation etc is important stuff for me but it gets reduced down to farce. I guess I should just face reality and turn my experiences into a bloody sit com called Appauling Behaviour or something equally corny.
Why me Burt?