Wednesday, 26 March 2014

“If you have any of these symptoms, consult a doctor” - well, that certainly sounds easy!

I’m trying to get my health sorted out. Actually, I wouldn’t go that far: right now I’m trying to find somebody to tell me what's wrong with me. To that end, I spent most of yesterday online eagerly browsing lists of symptoms on a host of websites. As a result, I’m convinced I have every known disease and medical condition identified up to this point in history. If I make it through to the end of this article, it’ll be a minor miracle. (It wasn't easy, but I managed to resist the temptation to spend my son’s inheritance on a host of testing programmes and herbal wonder-cures, any of which would no doubt have had me back on my feet and laughing like a drain in no time.)

Practically every online artlcle offering medical information ends with something along the lines of “If you have any of these symptoms, consult a registered doctor” or “Do not alter your diet/lifestyle without consulting a doctor”.

Are they joking?

First of all, you have to get an appointment, which, unless you have a raging infection, is practically impossible. Seeing a GP isn’t any guarantee that anything will actually happen: I’ve been trying to get doctors to take my regular bouts of extreme exhaustion seriously for nearly twenty years, and only now when I’ve been practically comatose for six months on the trot (with the odd good day here and there) am I starting to get anywhere. Because my symptoms don’t fall into any immediately identifiable category (apart from “Bone Idle, Depressive, Self-Obsessed, Time-Wasting, Fantasist Scrimshanker”) and because they don’t seem to fit the standard pancreatitis/Type II diabetes template, I’ve generally been fobbed off with shrugs and winsomely sympathetic smiles and the suggestion that I should try taking multivits (yeah, that’ll sort it out, for sure).

So you finally get to see your GP and you actually manage to persuade them that when you say you’re utterly exhausted you don’t actually mean that you’re feeling a weensie bit tired (I’ve worked hard most of my life, including 16-hour days and night-shifts and 20-days-in-a-row stints and I can sort of tell the difference), and they kindly set up an appointment with a hospital specialist, for which you have to wait precisely TWELVE WEEKS. For that appointment, you’re allotted a full ten minutes (gee, thanks), and, because you’ve written down all your symptoms and a brief medical history, and because you explain that you are not in the least depressed, and that you’re not just feeling, you know, a bit lacklustre, they decide to arrange a scan (in six weeks' time) and to set you up with another specialist – only they have to ask your GP to arrange that appointment rather than doing it themselves because the rules have changed, sorry about that, and so two weeks later you’re still sitting around waiting to hear about the appointment with the next consultant, and still feeling crap… and so, in desperation, and to pass the time, you start hunting the web for clues, and at the bottom of practically every article you encounter the advice to see a registered medical practicioner…


I could go private, I know – and if I was still working, I’d have no choice – but now that the gears of the vast, bureaucratic NHS behemoth have finally ground into action of my behalf, I’m terrified of doing anything that might cause them to grind to a halt again.

I’m smart, I’m educated, I speak the lingo pretty well and I have a fairly forceful personality. I even have a GP friend advising me on how to get the best out of the NHS. What do all the people suffering from non-urgent, hard-to-diagnose, yet distinctly debilitating medical conditions do who don’t enjoy any of these advantages? Suffer, I suppose.

I know there are people reading this who are medically far, far worse off than I am. Believe it or not, I’ve been fairly sanguine about my various health difficulties over the years (mainly because I’m rather pleased to still be alive, and because I was able to retire before my health could seriously affect my ability to work). Having worked for the BBC for twenty years, I know how sclerotic vast bureaucratic organisations can become, especially when dealing with non-urgent matters. And I do understand that there have to be checks in place to weed out people with vivid imaginations and too much time on their hands claiming to be at death's door when there's actually sod-all wrong with them. And, of course, a retired man feeling exhausted isn’t exactly as urgent a problem as a child with cancer, a car accident victim, or a woman with a heart attack (or acute pacreatitis). I get all that. Nevertheless, I’m surprised that a genuinely unwell person has to fight so hard to get our health system to accept that there’s something wrong with them, and that it then takes so long to even begin to figure out what that something is.

I suppose my problem is that I watched every episode of the television series House, and have therefore become used to the idea that all hospitals are equipped with crack teams of emotionally-damaged but utterly brilliant diagnosticians ready to swoop on any patient with seemingly inexplicable symptoms. (Mind you, as all the patients in House had to almost die at least three times before their medical problem was identified, perhaps it’s just as well I didn't find myself being afforded that sort of treatment. Of course, I'd love all the attention, but not so much the almost dying bit.)

The good thing about all this is that the two doctors currently dealing with me - GP and consultant - seem to be fully on board. The problem, I suspect, is largely systemic (whatever that means).

Anyway, I reckon I’ve narrowed the cause of my current malaise down to three potential suspects, and I shall be interested to see - sometime in the far distant future - whether I’m right or not (I'm hoping it turns out to be the one that's easily curable with a few pills.)

End of self-pitying moan. I promise not to bring up the subject of my health again for a while: just needed to get it out of my system. (You can post rude comments about my galloping self-absorption and general lack of moral fibre - but nothing sympathetic, please!)


  1. This has pissed me off...for you and because the State is trying to force this nonsense on us.

    Martha has a chronic condition. She thought her new glasses were defective. She went back to HER eye doctor and they checked the glasses. They were fine. As Martha was getting into her car HER specific eye doctor that we chose and who we pay...ran her down and explained that the problem with her eye could be x. Within days she had been seen, scanned diagnosed and was on a treatment. This was not a minor thing and she will deal with it for the rest of her life but because if a sharp and caring doctor she is being treated and she's in good wouldn't know anything was wrong. She has her own neurologist...that she chose and who she can make an appointment with as needed because she is his customer.

    For how long? God only knows thanks our enemies in DC.

    One thing that she has to deal with is fatigue and it is really hard to explain how it's not just a matter of being tired.

    Good luck man. And stay off the Internet symptom sites.

  2. No, no, Erik - we know all about the US health system here, because the BBC keeps telling us about it. It's a VERY BAD system where only the super-rich get proper treatment, the middle classes have to bankrupt themselves if anything goes wrong, and as for anyone earning less than $100,000 a year, they get thrown out of hospital as soon as they admit they don't have an Amex Goldcard and are then left to die in ditches. Obamacare is designed to change all that, and - remember - Obama promised that you can stick with your current health insurance policy if you're happy with it. Are you implying that the BBC has been ever so slightly misrepresenting the reality of turning a largely successful private healthcare system into a serously flawed socialist version? I find that hard to believe!

    Delighted that Martha's private doctor recognised her problem and that it was diagnosed so swiftly. Impressive. When it comes to fatigue, she has all my sympathy - I'm lucky my problem has worsened at a stage in my life when I can decide whether to be busy or not: not a lot of fun when you're raising a young family and working hard. Please give her my best.

    1. I hate to pile lies on top lies but we recently discovered I had dental insurance through work ( I love these people but they are not the most organized). Anyway, because I had some oral surgery done on Martha's insurance it effected her deductible. She called our dentist, again the one we hired, and explained what happened. They said they would look into to and see what they could do.

      A $1,000 check arrived in the mail this week.

      Again, all coming to an end soon (were already paying higher rates because of it) because of an element that is as completely foreign to the people who are supposed to empower it as it is powerful. Completely illegitimate phony construct run by lawless pinheads and thugs.


      get better man

    2. Because our "health insurance" is paid directly to the government, hell would have to freeze over before we got any of it back. As always, when you divorce the payment for a service from the service you receive, there's rarely a happy ending (e.g. state education, the police etc).

  3. "And stay off the Internet symptom sites." Heed your friend. A very sound piece of advice.

    A few years ago I had to have surgery. I hit the internet and then gave my surgeon the benefits of my research. He gave me a steely look and said something like: " Stay away from the internet. The anxiety will send you to an early grave. That's my job." Mind you, he was a Scotsman. Morbid race.

    I wish I could do something to make you feel better. Or, at least, speed up this process which seems interminable.

    1. Pleasingly, the consultant just sent a letter to my GP in which he claimed that my written notes had been helpful. I may have to emply this tactic again.

  4. Earlier advice about steering clear of self-diagnosis by encyclopaedia and interweb is to be applauded. I think it was Spike Milligan who commented that after trawling through a handbook of human disease and illness the only ailment he thought he didn't have was housemaid's knee but he was going to ask for a second opinion, just in case.
    Steer clear of quacks, mountebanks, those odd balls with whispy beards who follow the more obscure forms of alternative medicine and those with patented snake oil and axes to grind.
    I have a splendid GP who doesn't take life too seriously - that in itself makes me feel better - seek out such a being. Bon chance.

    1. Thank you, Riley - I will heed your advice. But I have to admit that I took myself off to a homeopathic doctor about 30 years ago after the NHS had spent most of a year failing to clear up a particularly unpleasant infection (including an operation, tons of hospital visits and masses of pills) - six weeks of the homeopathist's silly little white pills and powders and it had gone away, never to return. On the other hand, I've already tried homeopathy for my present predicament and that was a total waste of time: perhaps I've lost the ability to suspend disbelief.