I was really disgusted by the level of service at the hospital last night--I mean, I know it's free, but when you're in a lot of pain, and all you want is someone to reassure you it's going to be okay, having to put up with people who won't even make eye contact is NOT condusive to healing.
(Should probably start off by saying that it wasn't me who needed to go to the hospital, it was my roommate Alison who is apparently now taking kidney medication, but other than that, fine.)
Alison had been having pain in her side, so we went to the hospital about 10pm to get it checked out--better that than calling an ambulance when her appendix burst. I knew it was going to be a wait (luckily I haven't finished "Years of Victory" yet but I'm not hopeful: Britain has just been expelled from Spain again, and I think that this time Napoleon isn't going to let the Iberian penninsula go lightly.)
where was I? Oh, right, so we got to the hospital, and waited to see a nurse, then waited to see a doctor. Finally after about an hour and a half, Alison goes through the doors to the emergency ward and the waiting room slowly empties. About quarter to two, I finally got tired of waiting and went back to see how she was doing. I asked her, "What's up?" and she turned to the nurse and said "So what's happening?" They had told her they were keeping her overnight for observation, but not why or what they were observing! After the nurse checked her chart and mumbled something about her appendix, they wheeled her out toward the ward. The appendix specialist was coming in the next morning at ten. Surely, I thought, walking behind Alison's wheelchair, surely there is someone here competently enough trained--a nurse even--who can tell her if it's appendicitis or not.
Apparently not. They put Alison in an open, mixed dorm, which was all quiet and mostly dark for the night. My exposure to British hospitals was mostly limited to the opening scene in "28 Days Later" but I was decidedly not impressed by what I saw. The nurse from the emergency room put Alison in a bed, and another nurse from the ward helped him get her bag o' water hooked up. Without saying anything to one another. Not, "This is Alison, she's being observed for appendicitis. Alison, you okay? Have a good night." NOTHING NADA NICHTS NYET. I expected the ward nurse to at least say something--"hi, don't worry, you'll be fine"--but again, nothing, only a mumbled "...gotta taker blud pressure..." Granted, we were in dorm that was full of sleeping people, but a few words of acknowledgement wouldn't have gone amiss. Finally the nurse wheeled away (her only eye contact with me when I finally said, rather sharply, I'm afraid, "Are you done?") and I gave Alison a helpless hug. Her pain was mostly gone by that point, so there was little to do but say good night and leave. I took a taxi back home, barking at the driver a bit louder that I intended when he drove past my house, and was in bed by three.
Alison's fine, she's home now playing Internet, and I'm at work, managing not to fall asleep. (reason number 835 I like this place: free coffffee, tea and COKE!) There are so many horrible stories about the NHS* and jokes about the way it's handled that I thought "surely it can't be that bad?" But it's the same thing as paying tuition for college: Yes, we grumble about the high cost of it, but when it really counts (libraries that are open past five, eye contact) the little things are there when you need it.
*National Health Service: free to British citizens, a publicly owned healthcare system set up after WWII...and badly in need of reform.