An experience of the NHS

A year ago this weekend, I was called by a consultant at the Ophthalmology Clinic in Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge. I had been undertaking a process of diagnosis for what turned out to be an auto-immune condition called Sarcoidosis. This affects about 1% of the population in the UK. It was later exposed to be manifesting itself in my lungs, as well as my eyes, where the initial symptoms had been making themselves known.

My consultant, Dr Meyer called me, following a set of blood tests the previous day. Some of these tests take a while to process, but something had ‘changed’ in me, by his reckoning and this had driven Dr Meyer to log into the hospital system from home, at midnight, to pick up the results. This doctor had seen me perhaps three or four times in the preceding months and before that, had never met me. Quite how Paul spotted this, when I myself had little awareness of any such change, I don’t know. My phone had unusually been switched off that night, so he only got through to me the following day.

We were on our way to the Midlands when the doctor managed to get hold of me. The plan was go to a family birthday party, from which we were then planning to continue on to Cardiff, to visit my parents. His essential message to me was “Drink something now and get to hospital as soon as you can”. It turns out that I had a dangerously high level of Calcium in my blood. You see, one of the many ways Sarcoidosis can affect the human body is by interfering with the release of this substance from the bone marrow which, of course, then meddles with the balance of this element in the blood. A ‘normal’ level is 2.1 to 2.8 mmol/L. Having a reading of 3.74, it turns out that I was at imminent risk of a heart attack.

We dropped the children off at the party (first things first) and Claire took me to Good Hope Hospital, being the nearest to where we were. By coincidence it is where my dear wife was born. I moved swiftly through the triage system, citing the blood result figures and quoting my consultant’s words. The hospital admitted me and prescribed a course of saline, administered through a drip. Three days and 10 litres of saline later, the balance of Calcium was restored to safe levels. I was allowed to return to my family and set on a prescription regime of the corticosteroid Prednisolone, taking a high dose of 30mg every day.

My hospital stay was pretty boring, in the main, but there were several characters that I observed or met that will remain in my memory, so there was a little entertainment. However, the seemingly customary Saturday Night Chinese Takeaway amongst the nursing staff on the night shift was frustrating to be observed from a distance. That said, the food served to me was pretty decent.

We came back to Cambridge and soon after, I visited Dr Meyer and a ‘Brompton’ regime of steroid reduction was recommended, whereby the dose of this incredible invention is reduced on an alternate day basis. I believe the rationale behind this is to ‘kick-start’ the immune system with the initial high dose, but then give it an opportunity to behave as it should by reducing in this way, providing a ‘nudge’ with the greater dose every other day. A month at a time, the dose moved from 15mg/15mg 15/12.5 15/10, down to 15/0mg, then 12.5/0, 10/0 etc.

Anyway, 12 months later, I am on a dose of 5mg every other day, soon moving to 2.5mg and so far, so good. I am certainly not ‘counting my chickens’ and will be under observation for some time yet, but I felt it an opportune time to say thank you to the NHS. Thank you for the dedication and care that its staff show to patients every day. Thank you in particular to Dr Meyer, whose remarkable perception and attention to detail, disregard for ridiculous expectations on waiting times and focus on providing the best care for his patients is saving peoples’ sight and indeed, in some cases, their lives.

Many places in the world have systems of care that are fortunate enough to have the expertise we enjoy in the United Kingdom, but of course, many don’t. Of those who do, it is often within a funding framework that requires on-demand payment. This is out of reach to vast swathes of the local populations. Having such marvelous services, free at the point of use and therefore open to all who are in need, when they need it, is a very special thing.

We get frustrated at successive governments meddling with the system and quite rightly so. We get frustrated with systems of administration that seem inefficient, but when it comes down to it, the NHS is something that must be cherished, supported and safeguarded, because it seems to me that the service we currently enjoy is very unlikely to be reinstated in this form if it were to be dismantled. I invite you to thank the nurse, doctor, care worker, midwife, administrator or even manager that you next encounter for the work that they do. Perhaps even write to your MP. We are very fortunate indeed to have them.

Thanks for reading.


Posted under: Personal Reflections on the World

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