Thursday, 4 October 2012
A while ago, I wrote a post about a bad nurse I had to contend with while I was in hospital last October. It got quite a lot of attention, and a few people wanted to know if I’d ever had a bad doctor. In terms of causing me physical harm, the answer would have to be no, but in other terms … well, there’s this:
For a short while, when my Crohn’s was behaving quite well, I thought that going to a hospital nearer to where I live in north London might be quite a good idea. It’s not that driving for 45 minutes to west London is a terrible ordeal or anything; it’s not, of course, though parking when you get there, knowing you’re gradually getting later and later for your appointment as you drive around and around the hospital, desperately seeking somewhere to put your car where it has a good chance of not getting either a ticket or towed away, can lead to a mild panic disorder. And yes, it would be easier in many ways to go by public transport, but in those days I didn’t have a bag and the possibility of my bowels deciding to evacuate without giving me any notice, let alone asking permission, was huge. The hideous embarrassment of that happening on a tube or bus, in front of an array of disgusted strangers, was a pretty regular subject of nightmares for me, and I wasn’t about to put myself in a position where it might actually happen. As it was, there were more occasions than I care to relate when I had to dash from my finally parked car into a hospital toilet and change all the clothes I had on below the waist. I’d fill myself up with codeine before every trip, obviously, but sometimes my bowel wouldn’t care. It would override all manner of bunging up precautions and just blow – I think it was begging me for an alternative route; trying to force me into agreeing to allowing it to come out through my stomach, to convince me I should have a bag, but I was in no mood to listen to it back then. Not for years and years, in fact.
Anyway, the brief sojourn at the north London hospital came to an end when they put me through a colonoscopy without any sedation. It was horrible, and I still have the hideous sense memory of a nurse snatching the gas and air mask (the only relief I was offered) from my hand and snapping at me that I’d had quite enough of that.
Soon after, I wrote a nice letter to the surgeon who’d looked after me for years at my original hospital, asking if I could go back and he quickly set me up with a GI Consultant there, who I happily went to see. The happily bit didn’t last long.
At my first appointment, this new Consultant was fairly brusque; he asked me how I was, I told him, he suggested I have a bag, I declined, he clearly thought I was an idiot. He didn’t tell me how well I was doing, considering the extent of my disease, as doctors usually did; rather, he sneered at me and told me I had to have a serious think about how ill I was. I held my own during the appointment, but left shaken and a bit upset, hoping that next time would be different.
There were a couple more appointments in a similar vein, during which time I started writing on a show that meant I had to spend a fair bit of time in Manchester. I felt quite well enough to do the work, and I was proud of how I was managing the schlep.
Then came the appointment with the pills. I hadn’t yet told him about my Manchester trips, sensing he wouldn’t approve. At this particular appointment, he did his usual lecturing, then pushed a bottle of pills across the desk at me and told me to ‘take these’. I asked what they were, and he answered – and I swear on everything that matters to me that this is true – ‘they’ll make you better.’ I told him that if there was a pill that could do that, I rather thought I’d have been offered it before that moment. He asked me if I was going to take them or not, and I said not if he wasn’t going to tell me what they were, what they’d do, and why I’d never had them before. He didn’t seem keen on doing any of that, so I looked at the label and saw they were Metronidazole – an antibiotic that has been known to help Crohn’s sufferers in some cases. I’d tried it before and it had made me throw up. I always felt constant diarrhoea was quite enough without throwing vomit into the mix, and anyway, they hadn’t done anything positive alongside the puking they caused, so there was no way I was going to take them again. He told me I had quite an arrogant attitude (with no sense of irony) and I left. This time I was shaking with fury and impotence. I called husband and told him what had happened, then cried all over the steering wheel, eventually pulling myself together enough to make the drive home.
You’d think I’d have stopped seeing him after that, but I didn’t. I don’t like to admit defeat; I determined that I would charm him on our next meeting, and make him see that I’m an intelligent person, well used to managing my own disease, and happy to work with any doctor. I wouldn’t mention that all the GI docs I’d seen in the past had been quite open about the fact that they didn’t know enough about Crohn’s to make any definitive statements; that they liked to listen to the patient’s experience and work with us to find relief. I’d dazzle him with how marvellous a patient I could be. That was my plan.
I walked into his office and sat down. I told him how well I was doing; that I was regularly taking the train to and from Manchester, going to day long meetings and getting scripts written. How I was balancing it all out with full days of rest every time I came back to London, and sat back awaiting his warm response to my honesty and pride in how I was coping. Ok, I didn’t expect a warm response from this cold fish of a man, but I did expect some respect; some acknowledgement of my attempt to live a relatively normal life despite having such a chronic condition. I didn’t get any of that. Instead, he told me I was ridiculous. ‘You’re a very sick young woman’, he said, ‘Why are you pretending not to be? I don’t think you can be doing all this travelling to and from the north like you say you are.’ Apart from taking a brief millisecond to recognise that it was nice to be called ‘young’ when I was in my 30s, I was gobsmacked. I didn’t answer. I just stared at him, which he took as his cue to continue berating me for … well, I’m not sure for what. For not taking to my bed and lying there with a hand on my forehead whimpering for the rest of my days, perhaps. For not bowing and scraping to him whenever I saw him, maybe. I had no real idea, but I left soon after for what I swore to myself would be the last time. Back in the car I kicked the doors, shouted in fury, not caring what I must look like to anyone passing by, and finally threw myself across the passenger seat, sobbing. I couldn’t and wouldn’t go and see that man again. I’d rather not see anyone, ever.
Back at home, I composed a very long letter to my aforementioned surgeon describing in detail how this doctor had treated me, stating that out of respect and gratitude to him for saving my life so many times, I was writing to him rather than complaining directly to the hospital, and asking what he thought I should do next. If he could perhaps arrange for me to see a different consultant, or if I should in fact write to the hospital. He wrote back a very apologetic and flattering letter, enclosing an appointment with a new GI Consultant for two weeks later.
I went to that appointment with not a little trepidation. I’d never feared meeting a new doctor before; I like meeting new people, hearing new thoughts, and until that last unpleasant experience, I’d never met a doctor I hadn’t got on well with. But that last guy had me shaken and unsure and so I was a bit of a wimp of a person when I walked into the new Consultant’s office. He stood up to say hello, took my hand, and smiled warmly. I glanced at his desk – the letter I’d written to my surgeon was sitting there in all its glory; with all my furious and disgusted comments about a man who must surely be his colleague. I was mortified. I had to say something. ‘I didn’t realise you’d be seeing that.’ I said, quietly. He laughed. ‘It’s fine,’ he assured me. ‘What’s not fine is the four volumes of notes you’ve got..’ He indicated the teetering pile. ‘Can you give me a brief rundown of what’s happened so far?’ I sat down, feeling comfortable; I liked this guy already. I told him how many surgeries I’d had, pointing out that he might have to check with my surgeon to make sure I hadn’t missed any – there were a few years that were a bit of a blur. ‘I had my last op in 1990,’ I told him, fairly sure I was right about that, ‘Then, against all the odds and quite a bit of advice, I had a healthy son in 1992,’ I paused, feeling quite proud of myself as I realised the enormity of that statement and he smiled back. ‘Name?’ he asked. I was confused; he’d forgotten my name? Really? He could see I was struggling, ‘Your son’s name..’ he said. And I felt a warm glow. Instead of a Consultant who thought I was some kind of stupid fantasist, I was now sitting with one who cared about what I’d named my child.
As I left his office feeling relieved, happy, slightly adoring, I said, ‘Thank you so much; you’re way better than ..’ and I named the other – evil – Consultant. He laughed as he shushed me, saying, ‘He’s in the next room.’ I didn’t care.
11 years later, I still see this lovely Consultant and sometimes, when I’m sitting in the waiting room, I watch people go in to see the evil Consultant and marvel when they don’t come out of his office in tears. I suppose they’re behaving unwell and self-pityingly and therefore pleasing him. I like it my way better.