Some time passed before the urology appointment. In my local health service district, we are blessed with four hospitals. Super Hospital (SH), the beacon of all things medical & research, Super Hospitals Smaller Brother (SB), just as good, but at different things, and two smaller hospitals, Hospital by the Sea (HBTS), and Hospital in the Badlands (HITB). I work at SB, so I figure I’m not going to bear my arse to all my colleagues, and I request not to be sent there. SH is an hour away, and is notorious for parking, which costs around $40 for each appointment. I read good things on-line about the urologist at HBTS and pick that one. HITB doesn’t offer urology, in case anyone is wondering.
I was categorised as an urgency category two, which indicates I should see the specialist within 90 days. Prostate cancer kills you slowly. At this stage, all I have is a potential cancer marker one point above average and 20 mls of wee left in my bladder, which I have blamed on young grumpy witch the sonographer. They were pretty laid back in HBTS and didn’t get around to sending me an appointment until six months later. Which they then cancelled by SMS the night before. Another two months passes, and I get another appointment. Luckily for them, I’m still alive, and so it’s game on.
I was at work on appointment day, and I telephoned the outpatient department to see if it would be possible to attend later in the day, maybe toward the end of the clinic, so I would miss less of my shift. This was confirmed by the lady on the telephone, from whom I have not yet experienced enough service to furnish her with a title. The day goes fast, I leave, a little later than planned, and try to get from one side of the city to the other. Luckily, the weather is fine, and I’m on the bike, I can squeeze through the traffic, so I get there with a few seconds to spare, park up next to the door, and I’m in.
The only people I can see are patients. All the staff are hidden behind closed doors, or glass screens. There is a computer screen to greet me, which, it purports, is going to assist me. All I have to do is scan my letter of appointment. I delve in my bag, and surface with the desired letter, juggling my helmet, gloves and leather jacket. I hold it up to the screen, and it beeps reassuringly, as the scanner picks up the bar-code. It tells me I am 2 hours late for my appointment. Instantly, I formulate a title for the lady I spoke to on the phone. It starts with Fuckwit. I stand, lost, dismayed. I’m a nurse and I’m computer literate, and hey, I can even read. In English.
Some of the elderly,
Some of the people who don’t speak English as a first language,
Some of the people with dyslexia,
Some of the people who don’t read,
Some of the people who can’t see,
Some of the people who have intellectual disabilities,
Some of the people who have anxiety/PTSD/panic/mental health issues,
Some of the people who just don’t do computers,
That list is just what came to mind as I write. They are the people that automation such as this will disadvantage. I would say, they are disadvantaged enough already. Is this a positive step towards health equality? Health is about people, surely?
I stand there for a couple of minutes. I look around. There is literally no-one nearby to help. Then an angel appears. A helper. A volunteer. She drifts towards me, taking her time, after all she must have been at least 85, and was using a wheelie walker to steady her 35 kg frame. She meets me at the computer screen and looks at my predicament. She offers her condolences that I’m only a man, and how would I possibly know what to do? Where’s my wife she wants to know? I answer and she immediately latches on to my accent. It’s a free for all. She is amazed I even got here. Apparently, I should still be looking for my balls, which she suggests are still in England, as Australia wins the first test of the Ashes by 10 wickets at the Gabba. Finally, the vituperation ceased, as she tired of verbally kicking a downed man, and she points a twisted, arthritic finger, to a previously unnoticed, yellow line on the floor, and suggests I follow it, with a glint in her eye. Eh? It’s all gone a little awry. I’m flustered, a little late, I’m getting hotter in my bike gear, and a wizened old hag is now suggesting I follow the yellow brick road, to god knows where. I’m all out of ideas, so I go with it.
Around the corner is a desk. With a real person. The person is “help as little as feasibly possible whilst still meeting the key performance indicators of my position” admin officer. She assists me, within the limitations of her title, and I’m eventually sat outside the door of the urologist. Helpful and lovely old hag volunteer, with the vitriolic tongue , has now upgraded her wheelie walker for a full-on motorised buggy, and seeing me in the correct place, whizzes over like Davros, King of the Daleks, to check I’m OK. Happy to see me looking relaxed, she disappears out the door, the wheelie walker slung on the back of the scooter, next to an Australian flag sticker with the motto “if you don’t like it- f##k off!”. Proper salt of the earth. She was probably a fair bit younger than I remember, having spent most of her summers in the blistering hot, ageing, Queensland sun. I have no idea what motivated her to give back to society as she did, but if she treated everyone the same as me that day, society wins. As long as you don’t mind a bit of leg pulling.
I get called in by Dr Professional, the urologist. I give him the history. He tells me it’s significant. The rise in PSA, not the left-over bit of wee. He says I need a fancy blood test, and an MRI. It’s goodbye for now and come back in a month.
I leave, none the wiser. The cancer still hidden inside me.