Whatever the case, we were whizzed through the system, Owl and I.
Arriving early at the scanning rooms because the preceding blood test had been so swift (courtesy of the magic Golden Ticket that allows queue jumping), I was approached every five minutes.
Eye-reen Tuffrey? Too early, you say? Never mind, come in, come in. Within 15 minutes, I'd had my radioactive injection. Tick.
"You will need to wait two hours now before the bone scan. Come back at midday," they explained. (I knew I'd have to wait for the injection to work its way into my bones. I came prepared, book and everything).
"What, you’ve got a CT scan at that time? No worries, I’ll go and speak to them, they may be able to do you now. Follow me."
I followed, and they did slot me in 45 minutes ahead of my appointment. A ten minute scan of my liver and lungs. Tick.
|Owl in the CT scanner|
The thing is, if you're told exactly how long the extra wait will be (and particularly if it comes with added apologies) it doesn't matter so much. I went out to sit in the sun again. Back in the waiting room at 12.30, someone came specially to tell me that I had to wait another five minutes. And she was as good as her word. At 12.35, I was called in. I almost felt cheated out of my book reading.
A 40 minute session in the gamma scanner. Tick.
(No, I didn’t know what a gamma scanner was either. I do now. The radioactive stuff lights up the busiest cells, including cancer cells.)
They even let me choose the music - although their interpretation of “anything classical” was panpipes and guitars.
|Owl in the Gamma Scanner|
When it was Owl's turn, one of the staff pressed the button on the CT scanner so that his bed moved right in. The gamma radiographer will probably soon discover that Owl has no backbone (or any other bone).
All these kind members of staff, acknowledging me as soon as I entered any waiting room, keeping me informed about what was happening and when, actually talking to colleagues in other scanning rooms and coordinating my appointments to make it work for me (rather than stick to red tape)... it has made all the difference. It turned a potentially stressful day of tests into quite a pleasant experience.
It made me feel like a person, not a number. Not even a patient. (But perhaps that's because I'm now getting used to wearing hospital gowns, and can see that I'm still the same person underneath.)
I even managed to relax and rest in the scanning machines, the panpipe/guitar combo notwithstanding.
Today's happy run with the NHS doesn’t end there.
During the allotted waiting time, I rang my breast care nurse to find out when exactly I need to come in for my first chemotherapy session on Wednesday.
“Ah,” she said, “you don’t show up on the system yet. Let me find out and ring you back.”
She did, ten minutes later. “No space on Wednesday I’m afraid. They need more time with you because it’s your first time. They have fitted you in on Tuesday afternoon instead.”
Not a delay, but a speeding-up. Amazing.
I'm pleased that chemotherapy is now booked for the 5th. I will meet my oncologist and nurse on Monday, to talk through the outcome of today's tests and have a look round the chemo room. After that, I might as well get going with it, rather than wait (nervously, I expect) for another two days.
I am now back at the seaside. I will make the most of the remaining holiday.
I am utterly daunted by the prospect of chemotherapy, but also immensely grateful.
All those staff, all those machines, all that medicine, all the time and resources to try and rid me of my cancer. Free of charge. No questions asked.
I think about of some comments I read on American websites.
My insurers wouldn’t pay for an MRI scan and I couldn’t afford it, wrote one woman who was instead given a “wait-and-see” approach – she waited, and saw, many months later, that the cancer had advanced to the next level.
However much I may moan about my hospital experiences, let me just make this clear.
The NHS is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
It has many flaws. I know it has. (I spent the last few years looking at why things go wrong for people with intellectual disabilities in NHS hospitals.)
But fundamentally, it is doing the right thing: offering everyone, regardless of income or background or status, healthcare that is free at the point of delivery.
Today, I can only cheer and be thankful that the NHS is busy saving my life.