The big day dawned at last. After an agonising four-month wait for my appointment with the ear, nose and throat consultant, I was on my way to the hospital. I’ve never been so nervous. Also, I don’t think I could have lasted one more day of uncertainty. Even on my mini-break in the Lake District, I’d been terrified in case I woke up and the room was tilting. How would I manage away from home with the constant vomiting or being unable to stand?
One afternoon, following my friend in her car, she led me down a road to a ferry. Oh no. I can’t go on water. But there was no way to turn round. I started to sweat. On the ferry after a two-hour wait, I couldn’t understand why the trees on the other side of the lake were walking towards me. I started to panic. Only as we docked did I realise it was the ferry that was moving. That’s how scared I always am. I followed my friend to a pub, and she bought me a Coke. My hands were shaking so much, I knocked the Coke all over Mini Puppy, who looked shocked and embarrassed.
At the hospital, I was led into a consulting room. An audiologist gave me a hearing test. I have no idea why. I know I’m deaf. I was then led by a stony-faced nurse into the presence of the consultant. He was wearing a thick mask, which meant I couldn’t hear a word he said. Odd, as he must deal with deaf people every day. Why not wear a transparent visor? I complained, but he refused to remove his mask. ‘Are you here for your hearing loss or the vertigo?’ he asked incongruously.
‘Well, of course, for the vertigo. I throw up violently for weeks on end.’
He looked in my ears, said nothing. ‘What about the result of my brain scan?’ I asked him.
‘I wasn’t aware you’d had one,’ he said. ‘Why did you have a scan?’
‘To find out if I’ve had a stroke or have a brain tumour.’ He then said I need some balance tests to find out why I’m dizzy. ‘I know that,’ I said. ‘That’s why I’m here.’
He said I would have to book a separate appointment for the tests. ‘So what was the point of today?’ I asked him. ‘You’ve done nothing to help me. I wasted four months, terrified every day of an attack.’
He seemed to care little for my condition, he didn’t ask me any questions. He didn’t even tell me he was done, he just went back to his computer. I left in a daze, no further ahead. The next day, I received a letter giving me the date of my next appointment with him: November.
Couldn’t the nurse have had a warm smile? Why was the sequence of treatment not explained to me and, more importantly, to him? Why was the consultant unaware of my scan, of the need for balance tests before he could make a diagnosis? Why didn’t he invest in a visor? Why become a doctor if you don’t care about the suffering of your patients? I’d been so scared of the results of my brain scan. I’d been imagining experts poring over the details, while all the while the scan was lost, forgotten. Nobody cares.
I called my GP, who’d referred me. I told the receptionist I want to email him to let him know what happened. ‘I can’t give out his email,’ she said. ‘You will have to send him a letter.’
‘But you are supposed to make things easier for patients,’ I said. ‘The surgery is wallpapered with happy-clappy posters, saying you’re doing your best.’
‘I’m just the receptionist,’ she said.
I’ve emailed an ear, nose and throat specialist on Harley Street for an appointment. I explained how I have waited nearly a year for a diagnosis from the NHS, with no end in sight. The initial consultation alone is £350, not to mention the train fare and hotel. During an attack one night, I was vomiting for so long, Nic called an ambulance. The paramedics were nice, if harsh: they put on a bright overhead light and made me open my eyes. They refused to take me to hospital, as ‘there is nothing anyone can do’.
I told the consultant before he dismissed me that ‘I can’t live like this.’ He didn’t even respond. He didn’t reassure me. He didn’t apologise for the mix-ups. He never removed his mask. I won’t be clapping for him or his stonyfaced assistant any time soon.