(… as we say in the north. Bairn = child, nowt = nothing. In the south, we say, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Which has the obvious advantage of not requiring translation, but lacks a certain gutteral poetry.)
On Saturday, I wrote about what happened when I got the letter from the hospital about the appointment I’d missed. It tapped straight into my guilt-centre (wasting precious NHS resources) and my horror of being late, so I didn’t really question it.
Until I read this comment on Facebook from my friend Becky, who is a GP, medical consultant on my novel, and all-round lovely person:
I hear this ALL the time from patients. It drives me crazy. I don’t believe so many letters are “lost in the post”, I think its hospital admin error. Don’t accept a 4 month wait Stephanie, phone on Monday, speak to the consultants secretary and say you are not happy and want to be seen sooner. If she does not help, see your GP and get them to write or phone. They always magic an appointment from somewhere if you put on even a little bit of pressure (although it makes me mad that you have to) x
Which was soon echoed by the comments on the blog post. (Thank you, Rachel, Debby and Gaynor.)
So, I wrote this email, to someone at the hospital who I hoped would be able to help me. (I’ve taken names out.)
Hello. I hope you can help me.
On 7 March I came in for a routine mammogram – I was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2008 at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, was treated there, and am now in the ‘watchful waiting’ stage – and assumed it was in advance of my appointment with Mr *, on 19th March. I was then surprised to receive a letter stating I had missed an appointment on 6 March with Mr * and a further appointment has been made for me on 24th July. Puzzled, I called the appointment line and was told that the appointment from 189th March had been moved to 6 March – something I didn’t get notification of.
Although I know that, in theory, if anything untoward appears on the mammogram results, someone will get in touch with me, I’m not very happy to have to ‘wait and see’ with the only end date in sight in July. Also, one letter to me – the change in appointment – has already gone astray, and I would hate for another, more important, one, to do the same.
Is there another way for me to get the results of the mammogram, or confirmation that there’s no sign of a cancer appearing, before the end of July? I am quite happy to discuss results over the telephone, or to come in to clinic.
I’m sure you appreciate that this is a sensitive issue and I’d appreciate your advice on the best way to proceed.
Within an hour, I had this reply:
You will get a letter after your mammograms have been read by the radiologists – either saying all is ok or you will be given a much earlier outpatient appt to come back to. We don’t wait for out patient appointments to tell people their mammogram results – so I hope that reassures you. I have checked on the system and the results are not yet available – I would expect you to know your result within 3 weeks of the mammogram being done.
Please let me know if I can be of any further help!
Which prompted this from me:
Thank you so much for this – it’s just what I needed to know.
You know where to come if you have any problems!
So, within 3 weeks I will have the results of my mammogram. Which, it turns out, would always have happened – but now I know what the process will be. And when I am standing in my hallway with the letter in my hand, I’ll know that there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be good news, instead of thinking, well, here’s a letter from the hospital, ahead of my July appointment, and feeling the doom-clouds congregate in my heart. This is no small thing, my friends.
Today’s lesson, then, for you to learn along with me (although if many of you hadn’t already known it, I wouldn’t have learned it in my turn): don’t just accept something that doesn’t feel right. Ask. You don’t have to be horrible or difficult or angry about it. Asking doesn’t make you a bad patient or a time waster. You’re allowed to seek clarification. And once you have, you might sleep a bit more easily.