Now here’s a story that will resonate with older readers and serve as a warning of what’s to come for younger readers. Last Saturday, my wife Carol developed a medical problem that necessitated us going to the Minor Injuries Unit (MIU) at a local hospital. Carol’s problem wasn’t an injury but the MIU was the nearest place available where we could see a doctor. When we got there, we were informed that because she didn’t have an injury, she couldn’t see the doctor without an appointment. The receptionist advised Carol to ring the NHS 111 Emergency and Unit Care Service to secure an appointment. After several phone calls, mostly done back at home, she received her appointment and we returned to the MIU three hours later for an assessment and, eventually, a prescription for a 5-day course of pills. In itself, this experience is a long story but I’ll save that for another day.
Carol finished the course of pills yesterday afternoon but the medical problem had not been fully resolved. I advised she obtain an emergency appointment with our own doctor today just to see if she needed more pills, or whatever. She agreed. Obtaining an emergency appointment at our surgery is not easy. You must call at 08:30 on the dot to find out if any slots are available and, as you might imagine, in a village mostly populated with elderly people it’s a job to get through, and when you do it’s highly likely that all the emergency slots have been filled. We are aware of this so here’s what I suggested.
“Here’s the plan,” I said. “We need a few bits and bobs today so I will walk down to the village, buy the bread and stuff, and then call you on my mobile at 08:35 to see if you’ve arranged the appointment. If you haven’t, I will walk round to the surgery and see what I can set up with the receptionist.”
Carol agreed with the plan so off I went down to the village and bought the groceries on my list. At 08:35 precisely, I walked out of the shop and reached for my mobile phone. It wasn’t there. “Oh dear,” I said to myself (maybe I said something stronger!) “I must have forgotten to pick up the phone. But, no problem. I’ll walk round to the surgery and see if Carol has arranged an appointment.”
And this is what I did, entering the surgery with no thought as to what was about to happen—it was a simple question with a simple answer. The conversation with the receptionist, a nice lady by the way, went like this.
“Good morning. It’s a little chilly today, but no rain,” I said. (It always pays to open with a comment on the weather.) “My name is Bennetts and I would like to check if my wife, Carol, has called and arranged an emergency appointment.” I explained the background to the question, including the fact that I had forgotten to pick up my mobile telephone and thus couldn’t call her. Tap, tap, tap the nice receptionist went on her keyboard. Then she looked up at me.
“I cannot answer your question,” she said. “Patient confidentiality,” she added.
“Of course,” I murmured. Patient confidentiality. How could I have forgotten this? But, I kept my thoughts to myself.
“But, you can call her and ask her to call me and give me permission to speak to you about her,” the receptionist continued obviously sympathetic to my situation and not realising that if I could call her I wouldn’t be in need of the answer from the receptionist.
“Yes, but I’ve forgotten my mobile phone,” I repeated.
“Ah, yes. You can use our landline phone here on the desk,” she said, pushing the phone towards me.
“I can try,” I said, “but I am hard of hearing and have difficulty with low volume landline phones.”
“Try it,” she said. I called our home number and, glory be and alleluia, Carol answered and I could just hear her “Hello” response but I knew it would be no good asking if she had got through. The volume on the phone was too low for me to have a sensible conversation.
“I’ve forgotten my mobile and I’m at the surgery enquiring about your emergency appointment but the receptionist needs your permission to answer me. I’ll pass you over,” I said, and passed the phone back to the nice lady. After a short exchange, it was agreed the receptionist could reveal all to me and I duly found out that Carol had got through and a doctor’s telephone call-back had been scheduled.
“Thanks,” I said, and made my way home disgusted at myself for forgetting my mobile phone and contemplating the intricacy of the situation I had found myself in at the surgery.
When I reached home and after a stiff double espresso coffee, I went upstairs and unloaded my pockets of cash, keys, wallet and… my mobile phone which I found in another pocket. I’d had the phone on me all the time. I always place it in the right-hand pocket of my trousers. Today, for reasons unknown but clearly linked to the fact that I am now 76 (as of two days ago), I had placed it in the left-hand pocket of my trousers.
I muttered another rude word and then started typing this blog before the details faded into obscurity.
Footnote. Carol has now spoken with a doctor and she has prescribed another 5-day course of pills, same as before but stronger. Let’s hope they do the trick this time. We’re spending way to much time at surgeries, hospitals and chemists these days!