A Healthy Experience

Some personal observations. I offer this merely to share this single experience. This, my friends, is a photo of part of a large British National Health Service (NHS) hospital’s day surgery waiting area in a specialized ward on a Sunday afternoon – meaning yesterday:

[Photo by me, Lister Hospital, Stevenage, England, May 12, 2019.]

My wife had to have a minor (we hope) procedure and *chose* to have it yesterday rather than a weekday. She was offered the option of the Sunday appointment and we had supposed the hospital would be quieter and so it might all be a bit less stressful. “Quieter” turned out to be, well, an understatement.

The best comparison I could make to the atmosphere was it felt like a US university campus during a July weekend summer session. (“Where the heck is everybody?”) The car park was half-empty, so parking was a breeze. As we walked into the building where her procedure was to be done (the hospital has various buildings and entrances), its reception desk was closed for the weekend, and a sign advised us to await a nurse. An admitting nurse appeared suddenly and promptly before my wife’s scheduled admitting time; we had not even had a chance to sit down; the nurse said they were waiting for my wife (and we were early).

Having left my wife a few minutes later with the nurse at a consulting room as she walked off to have the procedure, nervously I returned to that waiting area above and tried to forget what she was about to go through. For nearly 10 minutes I sat alone in that large room (that had about 30 or so chairs in total). “The Simpsons” were on the wall TV; I skimmed my coming book’s latest draft on my iPhone; and I scrolled Instagram… until – I was surprised! – a couple of other people actually appeared for appointments. They were within minutes also ushered inside by the admitting nurse as my wife had been, and a couple of other people waiting for them took seats around the room and also dug out and stared at and tapped away at their phones.

You see in that photo as well the endless line in which sick people hoping for life-saving treatment are waiting for hours on gurnies, unable to get even a drink of water out of insensitive, bureaucratic staffers?

Nope, neither did I.

I have never seen that either any day of the week in all of my years here. Quite the opposite: the NHS is overwhelmingly supported by most British. It is funded out of general taxation, making care “free” for all at the point of delivery; a patient fills out not a single insurance form; you simply need to be legally resident in the United Kingdom to use it. Years ago, I noticed this too: unlike in the US, you rarely see people here with visibly debilitating and likely treatable health conditions who appear not to have been to a doctor in years because they could not afford it. (One example: unlike in the US, no diabetic in the U.K. pays for their insulin.)

The procedure took about an hour and a half. She emerged full of praise for all of the staff – from the nurses to the consultant doctor – as we walked to our car and said the surgical area I had not seen was immaculate. “It was equal and even better in some ways than going private,” she gushed.

She is also, hopefully, fine. We shall learn for sure within a few weeks. Fingers crossed. The doctor who worked on her told her he is optimistic.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like what I often also see: the virtual worship of the NHS as if it is akin to a religion. That said, I have lived in this country now almost twenty years and the NHS I see referred to in much US media is often unrecognizable. Yesterday was of course not a normal weekday, but neither I, nor anyone I know here, has had anything like the horror story experiences regularly cited by certain American politicians and online s-it stirrers as commonplace and representative of the treatment patients routinely receive.

Have a good Monday, wherever you are in the world. 🙂