the joys of British life


No, I won’t start ranting about weather again, I promise (but just because today is finally sunny. And, Italian readers, before you start with your lithany “it’s so hot here, it’s awful, che caldo, che sudore…” SHUT UP! I won’t feel sorry for your 32 degrees in May, in fact I ENVY you from the bottom of my heart, I’d swap the cold rainy week we’ve just had with a Milanese boiling day ANYTIME. Live 12 years in a country that has no real summer and you’ll also start appreciating O sole mio…)
Ok, I did rant about the weather after all. But this is not what I wanted to talk about today.

Today I’m mute. Not metaphorically, out of sheer surprise in front of life’s wonders, but literally, since no sounds comes out of my mouth. My throat hurts so badly I can’t swallow and the only things I can eat are yogurt and ice cream (which is fine when you’re 5 years old but at my age is a little frustrating).
Now, for those who don’t know, I make money by speaking. My first source of income has always been voice over work. If I don’t regain my voice quickly, I’m in trouble. In fact, I already had to cancel a job. And I can’t afford cancelling jobs! Therefore, as it’s only natural, I call my GP (English for “medico della mutua”) to ask for an emergency appointment. Now, in Italy if you want to see your doctor you have to arm yourself with lots of patience and wait for a couple of hours in a reception full of old ladies talking about dead people and food (not in the same sentence. As a general rule.) If you don’t strangle one the ladies while you wait and get taken away by the police, you eventually manage to see the doctor and get a prescription.
But in Britain, GPs have a complex system that basically allows you never to be able to see them. You have to book an appointment weeks in advance, which is fine if you just need a routine check, or if you’re an old lady whose greatest entertainment in life is to visit a doctor (old ladies in doctors’ reception rooms are the same everywhere in the world). But most people, like me, only go to the doctor’s when they’re sick. And since it’s impossible to predict when you’re next going to be sick, it’s also impossible to book an appointment with your GP.
Because of such flawed system, most surgeries offer the opportunity to get “emergency appointments”. Basically you call first thing in the morning and moan and grunt and spit inside the phone until you convince the receptionist you’re ill enough to be seen. Great acting abilities are necessary, because unless they think you might die and sue them (from Hell, full of great lawyers there), the receptionists will always say the doctor is too busy. But I’m an actress, and I woke up truly mute today, so there was no way I was getting no for an answer.
But I hadn’t taken into consideration the perverse NHS system and its passion for letter writing…
8am. After a sleepless night, I call my surgery with such a coarse voice I sound like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I beg to be given an appointment.
“What’s wrong with you?” the receptionist asks
“I have no voice,” I say with no voice. “And I can’t swallow, it’s too painful. I need to see a doctor.”
“Mhhh,” she replies suspiciously. “Can I have your date of birth and name, please?”
I give her my details and after a few minutes she returns to the phone.
“I’m sorry, you’re not registered with us anymore.”
“What? Why? Since when?”
“Have you moved recently? You’re not in Sandstone place anymore, are you?”
“No, I’m not. But I moved over 4 years ago.”
“You should have given us your address.”
“I gave it to you 4 years ago.”
“It’s not in our system.”
“That’s your problem, I need to see a doctor please.”
“I can’t book you in, if you’re not in our system.”
“But I was in your system for 8 years, I was there only 6 months ago…”
Pause
“My system says you weren’t here 6 months ago, you were here last summer.”
I want to kill this bitch.
“Please, the doctor knows me, I’m sure she’ll see me.”
“The lady doctor isn’t here today.”
“I’ll see the male doctor.” (the GPs in my surgery are a married couple so they’re both called Dr Sinha.)
“I’m not allowed to book you in, if you’re not in the system.”
Blood starts raising to my temples. I feel too poorly to keep calm so I start shouting, but I have no voice so it’s just breath coming out.
“You had my details last time, I gave them to you!”
“Then perhaps the NHS noticed that you’re now living outside our catchment area and has decided to cancel you from our system. You should have looked for a new doctor in your area.”
“And how was I to know? Nobody told me.”
“They wrote to you. But the letters came back because you moved.”
Now I feel like I’ve landed on a planet where people live according to different logic that I can’t grasp.
“You’re telling me the NHS wrote to me. By post.”
“Yes.”
“They wrote that because I had moved I couldn’t be your patient anymore.”
“Yes.”
“If they knew I had moved why the hell did they write to me at my old address????!!!”
“You didn’t give us the new one.”
“I did! 3 times!!! How could they know I had moved in the first place????”
“I’m just trying to help you here,” the receptionist is losing her patience, she must think I’m truly unreasonable.
“If you want to help me, book me an appointment today.”
“I’m not allowed. You must find a new doctor.”
“I WILL find a new doctor, but I can’t do it unless I get better. How can I go out with a fever, with no voice, no strength, feeling faint… and look for a new doctor on a Friday before bank holiday?” I’m going Norma Desmond here, very dramatic. I have tears in my voice and I start coughing louder than Violetta in Traviata’s death scene.
The receptionist is worried. She softens up.
“Well… perhaps I can book you as a temporary patient. But you’ll have to find a new doctor next week.”
I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Temporary patient. Couldn’t she have offered it from the start?
“I’m fine with temporary.” everything in life is temporary I want to add, but this awful woman doesn’t seem keen on philosophy.
“Come at 11.30.”
“Good.”
I hang up without even saying thanks or goodbye.
I’m exhausted. Now I’ll have to start rehearsing again to persuade the doctor I need something stronger than Paracetamol, which in this country is considered the only medicine for every sort of desease. Head ache? Paracetamol. Back pain? Paracetamol. Chest infection? Paracetamol. Crooked teeth? Paracetamol. You can even add it to your soup to make it tastier or use it to clean the furniture, it’s a magic potion…. All this because the so renowned NHS has a monthly budget, a cap that each GP has to avoid touching, so basically before prescribing anything more expensive than 16 pence a box they must be really sure you have a lethal disease. No wonders Britain has the highest number of cancer-related deaths. Prevention is an unknown word in this land…
But stop talking… hm… sorry… stop writing. It’s time to go. I won’t bother putting on make up in case I don’t look sick enough…
Wish me luck!!!

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6 thoughts on “the joys of British life

  1. You made me smile, Lara. I mean, I liked your post, it was fun reading it if it hadn’t really happened to you it would have sounded a funny joke! What was the end of it then? Did you get just paracetamol as you foresaw?
    Good luck with your voice. I know it is precious to you. Indispensable.
    Take care.
    Maria Grazia

  2. I’m going to pop round your GP and have a chat with the receptionist there maybe some violence involved. I really can’t be more detailed, the less you know the better in the event of prosecutions. In political terms I think it’s called plausible deniability

  3. That’s just genius…I have a lot of sinus/allergy issues that affect my ears and voice and when I tried to talk to my GP about it, I was told to “put a bowl of water in your lounge at night while you’re watching telly” to change the moisture in the air. Suffice to say, I do not have a telly. And I still have the sinus problems. Hope they sorted you out!

  4. How come that? I studied everything about the NHS for my interview: fast access, choice, person-centered care, quality and not quantity of the service…Involving the service user in their care. Maybe that’s the key: they wanted to make you feel you were playing an active, fundamental role in accessing the service????
    gosh!!!!

  5. I moved over here 20 years ago – back then things here were pretty ‘unbelieveable’ but despite all the politicl cra we have to deal with in one way or the other the health service/system seems to work so much better – when I divorced 8 years ago I was tempted to move back but unfortunately the schools and the NHS made my mind up for me!!! – but I still love London!!!!

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