Why I love the NHS

I'm not keen on blogs about ailments, especially those that define the author as a victim of something or other. I'd hate to be defined by what ails me. However, sometimes it helps the newly diagnosed and the interested but ignorant to find out about a condition from someone who lives with it.

If I lived in America, I'd probably be dead by now, as I've never had much money and couldn't afford the insurance.

So, here's the list...
  • I had pneumonia after a bout of bronchitis, aged four, soon after the NHS was founded. The X-rays terrified me - the machines looked like instruments of torture in the late 1940s. Thank goodness for antibiotics.
  • I have a duplex kidney on my right side, which means I'm more susceptible to urinary infections than most. I had pyelitis (infection of the kidney) in my twenties, which is how it was discovered. Duplex means that some parts of the kidney are duplicated. In my case, one kidney is bigger than the other and has two ureters, or tubes, connecting it to the bladder. I suspect that the invasive methods used to diagnose the kidney problem might have infected me with....
  • Hepatitis made me very ill for a long time in my early twenties. I lost a lot of weight. Jaundice doesn't look good on lavender bed sheets, by the way.
  • I've had severe depression, also in my twenties, which led to hospital admission and the use of prescription drugs that weren't at all helpful - just the opposite.
  • I've miscarried in the eighteenth week of pregnancy - very upsetting. Later had a healthy baby boy after the use of a Shirodkar suture, or purse-string suture, to prevent another miscarriage or premature birth.
  • I had a hysterectomy in my forties and a sacrocolpopexy in my sixties, when my internal organs were jiggled about and everything held together with plastic mesh attached to the base of my spine.
  • I've got osteoarthritis, mainly in my spine, which started when I was about thirty. The pain is managed by avoiding staying upright for more than five or ten minutes, taking pain-killers, sleeping semi-upright in an electric bed, and distraction.
  • Scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, was diagnosed more recently. My paternal grandmother suffered from it, so maybe it's hereditary. It makes the arthritis even more painful and I'm a bit lop-sided.
  • ME, or myalgic encephalomyelitis, started in 1986, when I was teaching. I believe that there's more than one sort of ME, as everyone who has it seems to have different symptoms. My main problems are muscular weakness and fatigue. I rely on aids like a mobility scooter, wheelchair and stairlift.
  • I've had Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, for years. It's often associated with ME, probably because of muscle weakness in the gut. When I first had it, about 35+ years ago, I was in agony with severe colic several times, reduced to crawling around on my hands and knees.
  • I've had cancer four times; breast cancer that started in 1986 (bit of a shit year, really) and was treated with a lumpectomy and radiotherapy, then again (on the same side) a couple of years later, when I had a mastectomy. I took Tamoxifen, a drug that blocks the body's production of oestrogen, for five years, with no side effects. More recently, I had small skin cancers removed from my face and my nose.
  • As a result of the cancer surgery, I have lymphoedema in one arm. The removal of lymph glands causes permanent swelling, due to a build-up of fluid, and the arm is susceptible to infection from minor injuries, such as a scratch. A compression sleeve keeps the swelling under control. I've had cellulitis, an infection of the deeper layers of the skin and tissue, which is a risk with lymphoedema. I keep antibiotics in the medicine cabinet at all times, as untreated cellulitis can quickly turn into septicaemia. Gardening and visits to the vet are best done with gloves.
  • A few years ago I passed out under the kitchen table when I got out of bed to get a drink, after being ill with some sort of gastric infection for days. I woke up with a broken ankle that had to be pinned. Took weeks to get back on my feet, because of the ME, and the paintwork in my hall still bears the scars from bumping around in a wheelchair indoors.
  • Due to the ME, it takes me a long time to recover from a general anaesthetic. They tried to operate using a spinal anaesthetic when I had a sacrocolpopexy, but had to change to a general anaesthetic halfway through because I became uncomfortable. I don't remember anything about it, including the conversation I had with the anaesthetist about opera, a subject I know little about. He thought it was very funny. They tried a spinal anaesthetic when they repaired my fractured ankle, but couldn't find a space for the needle, thanks to my arthritis. A silly physiotherapist, who couldn't have read my notes, said I couldn't go home until I could manage stairs. I told her I hadn't managed stairs for years, but used a stairlift. She also expected me to use elbow crutches, but I don't have enough upper body strength and almost fell over, so she had to give up that idea.
  • My sight is deteriorating. I've got macular degeneration, the dry sort, in both eyes, but the left one is worse. I gave up the car and have met lots of lovely taxi drivers who help me with my small mobility scooter; it comes apart and goes in the back of a car. I can still read, but need to hold the page quite close to my nose. I eat lots of spinach, which is good for MD. I'm also developing cataracts but they're not bad enough to need surgery yet.
  • NHS dentists have looked after my teeth (I still have most of them), including an apicetomy to clear out a root canal infection; a hole is cut through the gum and bone to get at the bottom of the tooth.
  • I've developed a multinodular goitre, a bunch of nodules or lumps on my thyroid gland so there's a swelling in my neck. The thyroid's still working OK but I may have to have surgery if it gets so big that it interferes with my swallowing or breathing.
  • I have angina (more pills), asthma (inhalers), and a hiatus hernia, which means I have to be careful what I eat, and how much. I take about nine pills a day.
  • December 2014, I had a hearing test. I now have a hearing aid for one ear. My family used to complain that the telly was too loud. Now they don't. I can hear the birds much better.
  • At the end of 2015 I noticed a swelling along my mastectomy scar that was tender to the touch, and feared more cancer. I was referred to a new hospital clinic where they investigate possible breast cancers within two weeks. After an examination by a consultant, a mammogram and an ultrasound, I was diagnosed with costochondritis - inflammation of the cartilage that joins the ribs to the breastbone, or sternum. A doctor said, "It's quite common with ladies like you". In other words, women who've had breast surgery. It's possible that it was caused by all the coughing I did during a recent chest infection. The good news is that it'll clear up within weeks.
  • At the end of 2016 I started experiencing a dull pain under my sternum and persistent nausea. A gastroscopy, a rather unpleasant procedure involving a camera being sent down from the back of my nose through the alimentary canal as far as the duodenum, revealed that my hiatus hernia had grown and I had gastritis, or inflammation of the stomach lining. The pain was due to stomach acid. After treatment with a drug that reduces the acid, another gastroscopy will determine if everything has healed.
If you want to know more about any of these conditions, Google them. If you want to know about my experiences of any of them, ask. Well-meaning people have offered helpful suggestions, but I don't use quack medicines, including homoeopathy, thank you. Advice is generally unwelcome.

My grateful thanks to all the lovely people who've looked after me for most of my life; the doctors, surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses, midwives, radiographers, paramedics, ambulance staff, oncologists, gynaecologists, pathologists, haematologists, all the other 'ologists, dentists, admin staff, porters and cleaners, and behind the scenes staff too numerous to mention. I wish politicians, of all parties, would stop messing about with the NHS, and let them get on with their jobs. Don't fine A & E departments or hospitals for failing to meet stupid targets - that makes no sense at all. I follow The Medical Registrar on Facebook, pseudonym of more than one NHS hospital doctor. He or she posted the following:
I wonder if Mrs Daily Mail reader and her Daily Mail reading family would appreciate the irony that tonight, her life was saved by a team consisting of an Indian SHO; a Chinese radiologist; a Pakistani medical registrar; a Welsh consultant physician; Spanish, Filipino and Irish nurses; a Romanian and an Australian anaesthetist; an English surgeon; Bulgarian, Scottish and Polish porters; using equipment made in China, Britain, Germany, Japan, France and Italy; drugs made in Britain, America, India and Greece; and all working together as team. Oh and by the way, several of these people are gay.
PS: I've worked in the NHS. As a student, I worked part-time as a cleaner on a men's surgical ward at the Royal Devon & Exeter and later I was employed to collect information for a patient care study in the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford. Can report that gangrene smells really bad, some people take an interminable length of time to die, during which they appear to be dead already, dropping peas in your bed and then lying on them can create a sort of poxed effect on a shrivelled old bum, and an ex-army head of housekeeping can be terrifying.

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