Sunday, April 06, 2008

NHS 24 and Other Hotlines

I have become addicted to phoning NHS 24. Much like my addiction to phoning 1-800-I-FEEL-OK back in the early 90's. (Does anyone else remember OK Soda?) I used to phone OK Soda's hotlines all the time and leave fake 'coincidences' related to drinking OK. Anyway, it was a bit of an obsession there for a little while, much like NHS 24 is becoming.

The difference is, I don't call NHS 24 for the sheer pleasure of it, but for the sheer convenience of it. See, I don't like going to see the doctor. I'm not afraid of doctors or anything, I just don't like them. I don't trust them. My distrust of allopathic medicine in general began when I was pregnant with Fifi and discovered just how backwards women's medical practice is. From unsafe and outdated labour and delivery routine practices to wildly incorrect breastfeeding and other post-natal advice, I've just stopped believing doctors. I hate deciding that 'it's better safe than sorry' and making the effort to take myself or my child to the doctor, just to wait in a smelly and germ-infested waiting room for half an hour, then see a doctor for five minutes who barely looks you in the eye while he writes a prescription halfway through your discussion of your medical concerns. I hate it. I've taken myself/Fi in about three times in total, and each time I've left angry and disappointed.

The first time (and thus continues my rant on doctors) it was because I had mastitis. If you've had mastitis yourself (that's an infection and inflammation of the breast tissue due to inadequate milk duct drainage), you'll know what a traumatic experience it is. For me, I came down with it in what felt like seconds. Suddenly, I was hot/cold, had flu-like symptoms, my breasts were red, sore and inflamed, and I couldn't stand the sight of my baby. I was yelling at her for crying. That's when I knew something had snapped. I called my midwife, and she told me to get to a doctor. It was about 4 days after my c-section, so she suggested requesting a doctor to come out to my house, as I wasn't fit for getting out and about yet. However, the doctor's surgery said that was impossible and had me come in. I explained over the phone that I had mastitis, but the nurse told me it was just 'the flu'. When I saw the doctor, he said, 'A touch of the flu, huh?' No! Mastitis, you nincompoop! He looked at me dubiously, shook his head and wrote me out a prescription for antibiotics.

The next time was when I took Fifi in because she'd started having a lot of reflux. As a new mum, I wanted to make sure she was okay. The doctor carelessly wrote out a prescription for Infant Gaviscon and Daktarin for her 'thrush'. Thrush? What thrush? He said her tongue was white and that was thrush. I told him she'd just been feeding a minute ago and that's why her tongue was white. He told me I was wrong. So I asked for a prescription for myself, since I was breastfeeding and thrush could be passed back and forth. 'Oh, no,' he said. 'Thrush can't be passed from baby to mother. You'll be fine.' I was astounded.

The final time was when she broke out in a rash all over her body. I thought it looked like an allergic rash, so I took her in. A different doctor didn't so much as lift her shirt to look at her skin before he assured me it was only a teething rash and at least it wasn't German measles, and then began grilling me on her immunisation status and telling me that 'measles is one of the most deadliest childhood diseases' known to man. I commented that the MMR wasn't even given until after their first birthday (she was about 8 months old), and he looked a bit embarrassed and said, 'Well, she needs to be up-to-date on the rest just in case.' Just in case? In case she encounters someone with measles and her diphtheria shot can protect her?

Rant over.

So, enter NHS 24. The reason I started this post. Someone told me about it over a weekend when I was wondering about something but obviously couldn't go see a doctor. It changed my life. All you do is call this number. The operator asks you questions about your concerns and forwards you to a nurse who specialises in that area. The nurse takes ALL your details, relevant or not, because obviously, they can't see you so they need to know exactly what is wrong to cover themselves. (And why don't doctors feel they need to cover THEMselves?) They give you as long as you like to express all your concerns, list all your symptoms, and then they give you advice. I've called them three times now, and I've always been pleased with the conversation. If they feel you need medical attention, they arrange an out-of-hours visit for you at your local clinic, as they did with Fifi a few days ago when I thought she had conjunctivitis. I called last night to get medicine adive, since the insert said not to take if you are breastfeeding. I mean, who has ever consulted a doctor before taking an OTC drug? Now that I've discovered NHS 24, I can. And I do. And it was worth it.

Sigh. That was much longer than I originally expected it to be. Sorry to any doctors/nurses/etc out there (like my pharmacist brother and my nurse sister-in-law and aunt and my hospital-working mother). I'm sure none of you are like the ones I've encountered.

(P.S. Doctors are good and necessary, I know this. Some out there are brilliant. I just think I happen to have a crappy GP. And it has tainted my impressions of the whole lot. Kind of like when you bite into a sour grape and then can't bear to eat any more of them, even though most of them are probably very sweet and delicious. I have met some brilliant doctors, so I know they exist. But I've met some major jerks too. Disclaimer over. Sorry if I've offended you. Go homeopathy.)

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