Monday, April 24, 2006

The joys of NHS

In theory, universal health coverage is a great idea. In pratice, it's actually not bad -- but there are some perks to HMOs (I know, an oxymoron) that I find myself missing.

Last week, my back decided it had tolerated enough bad beds, sorry excuses for desk chairs, constant walking, chronic stress and assorted preexisting structural problems. The result? I've discovered the joys of lower back spasms. Of all the issues I've had lately, this may be the one that has me the most upset (and, consequently, leads to *more* back spasms). I'm a voraciously active person. If I'm not biking, I'm walking. If I'm not walking, I'm jogging. Favorite things to do? Hike. Bike everywhere. Kayak ineptly. Horseback ride. Walk the length and breadth of a city to get the feel. Things I'm suddenly afraid will be curtailed? All of the above. What that would mean for my life? Really, truly, can't think about it yet. But stuff hurts A LOT that never used to hurt. I'm desperately hoping that it will improve after school ends and that somehow I'll figure out whether this is all related to a short leg, a screwed-up sacrum or a torqued pelvis and get it sorted for good...the alternative is too depressing.

So, I managed to see my GP today (general practitioner), per the suggestion of the college nurse. I brought a hefty load of reading material to the appointment; it is an established fact that surgery appointments here (not "knock you out" surgery) are always behind schedule. Today, for example, I had enough time to plow through an incredibly dry article on issue linkage and water resources management, even though I arrived about five minutes before my appointment. During the 20 minute delay, a host of patients filed in and out, spending about three quarters of their time in the waiting room and no more than a quarter in an actual doctor's office. I felt particularly bad for the middle-aged man to my right, who'd been sitting grumpily in a chair when I entered, who became even more disgruntled when I was called before him, and who was downright surly when I left the building.

I'm fortunate to have an incredibly nice GP, but doctor's appointments here are different than the ones back home. You don't really get to chat, or even to bring up questions about other health issues that suddenly occur to you. They are efficient to the point of making you feel sort of like you're on a medical assembly line: introduce, diagnose, prescribe. Next! If you're lucky, you'll get ten minutes with the doctor -- I seem to average somewhere in the neighborhood of five. This causes you to become incredibly skilled at spitting out your medical history and current problem in 30 seconds or less. For example, today's conversation went something like this:

"Well, how do I sum this up quickly? Um, the thing is..." Oh crap, she's already giving me that impatient, "get to the point" look. "Lower back pain. Knife-edge spasms. Two weeks. Couple months stiffness prior. Could be short leg. Might be ilio-sacral. Don't know. Acupuncture. Chiropractic. Massage. Ideas?"

Before I knew it, I was plopped onto the examining table for a 12-second exam that consisted of bending my legs in various positions, noting that my glut was tight (no, really??), and referring me to a physical therapist for "evaluation, advice and exercises."

Great. Sounded good. The problem? Oh, I have to wait for six months or more to see this therapist. At which point I will no longer reside in Cambridge and will have the delightful choice of either a) taking a frigging three and a half-hour bus ride to see some guy about back pain, which will have increased considerably after the roadtrip; or b) trying to transfer my place on the waitlist to the therapist in Oxford, with no guarantee that it will actually happen. I tried repeating the NHS mantra, "It's free, it's free, it's free," but my back knew better and tightened up another notch.

So, I asked, feeling a bit deflated, what should I do in the meantime? The answer? Keep moving.

I reiterated the whole problem with the knife-edge pain and the discomfort moving. "Yep," she said brightly, "Motion is very important."

Maybe if I go bang my head against the wall hard enough for the next six months, the pain in my skull will distract me from my aching back.


Anonymous said...

That experience definitely makes me appreciate Stanford's health insurance program (even though we have to pay). A narrow window of appointment availability (seems like they only have appointments between 10am and noon and 2 and 3 pm) is certainly much, much better than a 6 month waiting period.

I'm willing some back-relaxing thoughts (and access to heavy-duty painkillers for that plane ride)in your general direction...

backcare said...

very good blogger site!.

Do you know BBC News (14/09/2006) Acupuncture for low back pain is cost-effective and works, according to medical researchers. Two studies on suggest a short course of acupuncture would benefit patients and healthcare providersThe cost is well below the threshold used by officials to decide whether the NHS can afford to fund a set treatment, they said. Up to 80% of UK residents experience back pain at some point in their lives, costing the NHS £480m a year.—(BBC News 14/09/2006)

And, What do you think about it? Something as follow:

Chinese acupuncture practitioner had almost been accused for website’s ads in Bristol

Dr Zhentong Han is a Chinese registered acupuncturist with twenty years of clinical experience. He is very popular among the patients in the area with outstanding technique. The appointments for him in the clinic in Bradford were always full, however, at Bristol, another place where he set up his business; there were troubles from the competitions in the same field.

It started at the acupunctural website of Dr Han(, which occupied the NO.1 place in a international websites about acupuncture ( Because of the large number of patients attracted by this website which introduced traditional Chinese acupuncture for backache therapy,and top position in yahoo and google. it caught great attention of other businesses in the same field in a very short time. Some practitioner even registered company names using key words about acupuncture , and notified Dr Han and other practitioners to stop using the some key words for advertising the website. Or else they would probably be charged by the law.

Dr Han claimed that he regretted deeply for the matter, but he didn’t want to get involved in this legal dispute, for the purpose of having a website is not to score high on the network, but to have more patients understand the most veracious Chinese traditional acupunctural techniques through his website, so to help more patients get rid of the pain.

Bristol Chinese Pain relief Acupuncture