Seeing a doctor these days is not like it used to be. First, I go on-line to check the phone number of the Medical Practice where I am registered. Before I can think about fixing an appointment I must answer a questionnaire. I am in too much of a hurry and mistype my date of birth. The red comment blocks me, saying You must be 100 years old or younger to have a consultation. Fortunately, I am less than a hundred years of age. But there are some who are not these days. Into the on-line questionnaire. What do you expect to achieve from this consultation? I don’t know. You’re the one who set it up. I’m just doing what I’m told. How much is your complaint bothering you? Well, I wouldn’t be bothering with this nonsense if it weren’t. Or, Quite a bit. Or, on a scale of one to ten, five. Is that really useful information? Next question: Is there any treatment you would like to try now? Just a minute. Who’s the doctor here. Or, Please give me some red tablets that look like jelly beans.
I am getting nowhere with this questionnaire. I go to the spontaneous drop-in option as an appointment would be four weeks away, I am told. It opens at 8 am. I get there at 7.30 and wait in the cold outside. At 7.55 two other people arrive and when the door is opened they run upstairs and get in before me. I get to see a doctor at 8.50. I explain what I can about my back. I am wary of saying what someone told me, that it sounds like a trapped nerve. I know doctors don’t like being told what it might be by the patient. Or do they? Difficult to know with this doctor, who won’t come near me or hardly even look at me. He is mostly on his computer. The doctor sends me off to get an x-ray at St Thomas’ Hospital. I go straight there and have the x-ray done. The results will be sent to my doctor, or rather one of the many doctors in the surgery. After a few days I get an email which says phone the surgery to make an appointment to see the doctor to discuss the x-rays. I phone. They say you must phone at 8 am exactly and the doctor will phone you back once you have phoned. I say, can’t he just phone me without me phoning at 8 am? They say no. I phone next day at 8 am. Nobody answers. I try throughout the morning. No answers. I try later in the day. They tell me the doctor has gone home. I don’t say, but there are seven of them. They can’t all have gone home. The next day I go in to the surgery and say Can’t we just pretend that this visit is the equivalent of a call to the reception at 8 am and the doctor can then ring me back? They are scandalised by the suggestion. It is a game whose rules nobody has told me. I have to take pot luck again next morning at 8 am. Next morning I get through. The receptionist is confused as to why I am calling. In the end she takes my number and says the doctor will call me back after 12. I say when after 12, or, rather, when-ish? They don’t like me making demands on the doctor’s time. But the doctor does ring me. It is a different doctor. She says yes, why did you want to speak to me? I say, you have an x-ray you wanted to talk to me about…? I put one of those Australian semi-questions at the end of the sentence. I am, after all, still feeling my way with the rules of the game. When I say you I mean the collective you of the six or seven doctors who work at that surgery. She says all right and finds it and reads me out the technical interpretation of the x-ray and then is silent. I hesitantly say, and what does that mean? She says, it’s difficult to say exactly. I feel as if I am driving the conversation. There is another big silence as if she just wants me to go away. I say, where do we go from here? She isn’t sure. I suggest an MRI scan. She says no. I suggest physio. She says I could go private. I say what about NHS. She says there’s a long waiting list. I say, how long? She says, 6 to 8 weeks. This is nothing compared to what I’d heard. Put me down for it, I say triumphantly and then remembering my place, if that’s all right. She says, all right. Will there be anything else? I say, can I still run? She says, the main thing is keeping mobile. She has never cast eyes on me. I feel she is speaking to me as if I were a very sedentary, not to say heavy, person. If she saw me she would see I was in pretty good shape. It’s all guesswork. It’s not satisfactory. And people are rubbish dot com, including doctors.