Thursday, December 2, 2010

National Health What?

Warning:  this post is an overshare.  If you're one of those people who gets a little grossed out when an expectant friend puts their sonogram up on Facebook, stop reading now.

No, before you jump to conclusions, I am not posting my sonogram.  I am not pregnant.  In fact, I had sushi for lunch and am drinking a glass of wine at this very moment.  I repeat, I am not pregnant.

However, I am having a medical issue.  See, two weekends ago I started having severe pain in my mouth.  I won't go into the details, but trust me - the pain was off-the-charts.  It was so bad that I went to an out-of-hours clinic in Tooting, but they said that my mouth looked fine and I didn't have a temperature and so it was probably nothing serious and to just take over-the-counter painkillers.

Fast-forward to last Wednesday: I had my annual dentist's appointment scheduled (in DC), where they took some basic x-rays of my mouth and promptly sent me to the oral surgeon.  Wanna see what they saw?

I know you do.

Can you spot what's not supposed to be there?  Yep, that's right - the piece of metal on the right side in my gum next to my molars.  That's not supposed to be there.

It seems that when I had my wisdom teeth out three years ago, a bit of the drill they used broke off and decided to hang around in my mouth.  For three years.  A piece of drill.  In my mouth.  WHAT.

The oral surgeon in DC said that it must have shifted suddenly for some unknown reason - otherwise I might have never known it was there.  He couldn't take it out right then, though, because I had to go on antibiotics first, and so upon my return I visited my GP here in London to get a referral to someone who could.

Now, in the States getting a referral to a specialist would go like this: I would call up my doctor, ask whom they preferred for whatever treatment I needed, and then call that doctor myself.  Here in the UK it works differently.

I had to actually make an appointment to see a doctor in my practice to get a referral.  When I sat down with him, he asked if I wanted to see a private doctor or an NHS doctor.  "What the hell," I thought, "I might as well take advantage of the free healthcare!"  I picked the NHS, only to learn that I couldn't just make an appointment with an NHS doctor; the doctor at my GP had to write the NHS a referral letter and then the NHS would get back to me - within eighteen weeks.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Eighteen weeks.

[Expletive] no.  I am not waiting eighteen weeks to have an intruding piece of metal taken out of my mouth.  Are you kidding me?  Eighteen weeks.  For shame.

Private it is - though I still have to wait five business days to get the referral letter, will then have to book a consultation with the specialist, and will probably not have the extraction for another two weeks at least.

But still!  Eighteen [expletive] weeks!


  1. And this is the side of the NHS that people don't often share! We found this out a few times as well and ended up going private as well.

    Oh, and ouch, I am so sorry!

  2. Insane (although over-sharing is defining our generation and I love it!)

  3. Betsy, more oversharing follows here as this is a hot-button topic for me!

    You were bound to come up against such things one day: it's inevitable. The NHS is constrained by severe limitations, in large part because undiscriminating types have overburdened the system. And also the National Health was never designed to cover 'cosmetic' interventions which have only been made possible by 'errors of progress': to wit, leaving a piece of drill behind where a wisdom tooth once was.

    Unfortunately, broadly defined, your painful problem is considered by a lot of NHS old-timers to be borderline cosmetic. Hence the comfortable eighteen weeks. Believe it!

    Your blogger colleague the lovely Michelloui is sorely mistaken when she calls the NHS 'free'. Firstly, nothing in life is free: the national health contributions which come out of your and everyone's else's salary are (quite obviously) keeping the NHS alive. Some might argue that they're propping its rickety self up. Furthermore, the NHS is brilliant and fee-free when it comes to life-threatening emergencies (my partner Adam's kidney stones of several years back). But nothing, say, mental health-ish – therapists etc, which I required – is available unless you put your name on a yearlong waitlist, and UCL's counseling centre can be useless and even hostile. So anyone getting therapy in the UK is almost guaranteed paying out of pocket.

    I'll make only one more point about the NHS for now (women in childbirth emergencies and poorly-trained 'imported' GPs are my other, related bugbears): its innate conservatism, which is understandable. If you need plastic surgery on a formerly infected finger and wonky fingernail, as I did, you will by definition pay for it privately, and the options you are offered will be much more conservative. Here in New York I have had the intervention at a more sophisticated level: tissue has been removed from the inflamed finger and the nail has been saved, not ablated. In Norfolk I would have paid 3500 quid (roughly the same as the 'charity' amount I was charged in New York) for a great deal less work. And NHS dentists are famed for the poor quality of their basic work, proving that unfortunately, these days you get what you pay for on the various reasonably-priced 'bands' of treatment.

    Once final point: notoriously, the NHS's wealth is unequally distributed, as you have surely read: lousy GPs in one county or corner of a county, good ones elsewhere. Free rounds of IVF before the age of forty in one county, and an interminable waitlist for the same in another. I'll stop there for now.

    But all that is germane – the very nature of modern, overtaxed nationalised health care!

    So to call your predicament 'insane', with apologies to your friend Adam, is a gross oversimplification.

    Apologies for being so impassioned, but experience is as experience does.


  4. Poor thing!! Looks awful. If you went to the same out-of-hours centre in Tooting as I did, I feel for you even more.

  5. Thanks for all the sympathy, guys! It looks like I will be going private... rargh.

  6. 2 things:

    1. this is like that episode of Grey's where Burke leaves the towel in that woman's abdomen. except this is real life, which leads me to point 2...
    2. i hope you are effing SUING YOUR ORIGINAL ORAL SURGEON. or at the very least a strongly worded letter

  7. Jenny. Yes. That is exactly what it is like. If only McDreamy would come to my rescue...

    But also, YES. We're going to write a letter to the oral surgeon saying, "This happened, what do you suggest we do about it?" And hopefully they'll just give us lots of money so that we don't sue.


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