National Treasure

Coloniescross, Going Postal

The National Health Service in Britain is seen as a “National Treasure”. Politicians of a certain stripe have recently started to call it “Our National Health Service”, leading me to wonder just who it used to belong to before it was ours. But I digress (slightly).

There are certain truths about this organisation that we should be clear on and there are certain myths surrounding it also. For some people it is the pinnacle of what civilisation can achieve. A clean, efficient, well run and free at the point of use service for the taxpaying citizens of The United Kingdom to make use of should they ever need to. For others it is exactly the opposite, a dirty, inefficient and expensive shibboleth that badly needs to be taken down and possibly never rebuilt.

It eats money at a phenomenal rate, costing the taxpayer IRO £125 billion a year, that’s well over £2k for every man woman and child in the UK and this figure grows, exponentially, year on year. Most people who are paying tax will also pay for dental care, eye care and any prescription medication they might require. The government might spend over £2k per person per year on the NHS but for those in work and paying taxes the cost can be, and often is,  much higher.

I might be tempting fate here but I mistrust the NHS greatly. I mistrust the experts that pontificate in the media about it, I mistrust the numbers that it publishes and I mistrust, to a certain degree those people that are charged with delivering its services to the public.

The NHS is again in “crisis”, so much so that, for the umpteenth year in a row, patient safety is at risk. That one always makes me smile because; if you are unlucky enough to be a patient you are always at risk. You are at risk of infections, cancellations, strikes, botched operations, dying of thirst, misdiagnoses, lack of doctors, lack of nursing, lack of understanding of your condition and being at the back of the queue. You are at risk, in your own country and possibly in a hospital in the town you grew up in, of being seen as nothing but an inconvenience. You might be old, you might have a “complex” condition and you might need emergency care. All these things put you at risk.

I could go on, depending on where you sit on the political divide you will either see immigration as a major factor in the ongoing mess that is the NHS or you won’t, I think it’s a major contributory factor but I don’t think it tells anything like the whole story. Some of you will know about my “misspent youth”, which I have alluded to in the Colin Cross Incarceration series and one or two other stories. Although I wouldn’t say that I over embellished the facts there was a certain amount of artistic license taken in the telling. There was little glamour in reality, unless of course you were living it, which made it glamorous at the time.

Hepatitis C

During 1973 and into 1974 I was buying hash and acid from 2 guys that shared a flat in the Chalk Farm area north of Camden. These guys (let’s call them Frank and Ken) were the “real deal”. Proper dealers, they didn’t sell anything less than a weight (1lb) of dope or 1,000 tabs of acid and you had to be introduced to them by people they really trusted. Having said that their flat and a couple of others within a couple of hundred yards were always full of users and buyers but London was wide open then. Frank was a bit of a dope fiend; Ken was always the one that you felt more wary of. Ken was the one that introduced Frank, me and a couple of others to “H”, we called it smack and we thought we were cool enough to handle it.

Over a period of around 3 months I maybe injected heroin about 15 to 20 times. I didn’t really get on with it, I’m glad to say, it always made me vomit. Ken got right into it; he was classic wired junky material. Frank was lazy about it and I don’t think he had the temperament to become “addicted”, although after I left London, partly because I could see where things were heading, I couldn’t say what really happened to either of them. I did hear that Ken had been involved in ripping off a bunch of dealers with a fictitious big dope score. I don’t know how true it was but I wouldn’t have put it past him.

I back slid once in early 1977. I was selling dope in Doncaster and one of my customers was a Canadian guy that we called Hank the Yank. He scored half an ounce from me and mentioned that he had acquired some half grain morphine sulphate tablets and asked if I wanted to take a couple in part payment. I went back to his house with him and we shared a needle to shoot up. I knew when I was doing it that I was taking a crazy risk but I did it anyway. I never touched opiates or pills after that day.

Fast forward a number of years and I’m married, working and, much to my wife’s consternation, I’m still dealing small amounts of hash. Apart from that to all intents and purposes I’m just your ordinary bloke in the street. I stopped using drugs of any kind in 1985 after the birth of my first child and I even started giving blood, something which my wife had done since she had been old enough to do so.

In early 1995 I received a letter, out of the blue, from the Blood Transfusion Service telling me that due to certain anti-bodies that had been found in my last blood donation they would not be taking further donations. They also strongly suggested I see my GP with a view to having a liver biopsy and further blood tests. After months of procrastination I did this; the biopsy revealed a small lesion on my liver and the blood tests revealed the same anti-bodies that had been present in my donation. These two things, taken in conjunction, were indicative of Hepatitis C, a new strain of the virus (previously known as non-A non-B) which it was believed could cause liver cancer. There was no cure and it was felt at the time that many people would die from it, either through total liver failure or through other infections. The medical profession loved Hep C, it was the new AIDS and the guy that was charged with finding a treatment for it was a Professor of virology who was based at The Royal Free Hospital on Haverstock Hill.

To cut what could be a long story short I was offered a space on a clinical drugs trial, it was felt that an anti-viral called Interferon and/or a drug called Ribavirin might be effective in treating chronic Hep C and guinea pigs were needed. By now I was convinced that my use of intravenous drugs and my injudicious sharing of needles had given me this virus, the medical professionals offered no other possible explanation. I was wracked with guilt, there was a case being made for the virus to possibly be able to transmit through sexual contact and I was deeply concerned that my wife and my children could be infected.  With this in mind I went on the trial.

I can’t remember how many people there were on it, some were druggies, many weren’t; some were haemophiliacs and had been infected through blood transfusions. A couple were young mothers who had been given infected blood during their confinements. The people on the trial were split into 4 groups. One group was on placebo, one on Ribavirin only, one on Interferon only and one group on both drugs. I was on both, oral Ribavirin and Intra-muscular injections of Interferon.

Following the six week trial I was given the opportunity to continue the treatment, which I foolishly accepted. No one told us about the side effects, both short and long term. I suffered from hair loss, hallucination and repetitive behavioural patterns all through the treatment. The song “I’ll Sail This Ship Alone” was constantly playing in my head, my sleep patterns have never recovered.

Every month I had to attend the phlebotomy department at the Royal Free Hospital, I was working a 6 day week at the time and used my day off for the trip. Even then, 1996, the place was full of foreigners; Africans, women in full Muslim dress surrounded by children, there was a ticketing system and there would often be a 2 to 3 hour wait for a simple blood test. This time mattered to me but to them I suppose it was just somewhere else to be. My bloods were up and down, sometimes showing high levels of anti-bodies, other times almost none. Neither the Professor nor his team could explain it but I trusted them and hoped that against the odds I’d found a cure, even though the pain and anguish were still with me.

In January 1997 I was rushed into the Oaks Hospital and underwent emergency surgery to remove my appendix. I had been feeling ill, on and off for a couple of months and had been quite sick over the Christmas period. Many people had remarked at how poorly I looked. My GP had diagnosed flu.  After a short convalescence I resumed my visits to The Royal Free, no anti- bodies were present in my blood, again the team at the Royal Free couldn’t or wouldn’t offer any explanation so I decided to look into it myself. Certain chronic viral diseases can only be detected in the blood by the presence of anti-bodies. These same anti-bodies are produced, in differing quantities, by what used to be known as a “weeping” appendix. It is more than possible that my appendix had been slowly poisoning me for years.

I challenged the experts to explain what had happened to me and also to explain why they had been so willing to diagnose me with a potentially fatal and communicable disease without exploring all the possibilities. It’s just as well that I didn’t hold my breath because I’m still waiting. I’ve had blood tests since then, never once has any medical professional asked me about Hep C. I assume because I never actually had it, so far as I’m aware any mention of it has been expunged from my medical records. Having always had a healthy mistrust of so called professionals, this was now extended to medicine.

Within 2 years my mother had died in Doncaster Royal Infirmary, writhing in agony without medication after a tumour the size of a small rugby ball had been dismissed for 2 years by her GP as water retention. The room she died in didn’t have a light in the ceiling and there wasn’t a doctor available to prescribe pain killers. This was on a Saturday and it was also on Blair’s watch.  The managers at the hospital lied about the standard of her care, begged us not to go to the papers and promised to make changes. Doncaster Royal Infirmary is still one of the worst performing hospitals in the country.

My experiences may not be typical but they are far from unusual. It is my opinion that the NHS, in its current form, is nothing more than a lottery. By blaming the old and those with what they call “complex” needs they ignore the elephant in the room.  The media and politicians use it like a football, caring little for those that suffer because of its inadequacies and its bad management. Successive governments have done nothing but throw money at the NHS while reducing the number of beds and importing millions of patients carrying illness and disease long since eradicated in the UK.

I wish it weren’t so but I hate visiting the doctor now and won’t do so unless I feel it is absolutely necessary. I sincerely hope I never need long term hospital care  and always worry, probably unnecessarily most of the time, when someone close to me is sick. While ever the NHS remains the “sacred cow” it won’t change. £125 billion will become £150 billion and the £200 billion. Taxes will be increased on sugar and pop and beer, we’ll all be told to take care of ourselves more but the demands will grow and the blame, as always, will be laid at the feet of the elderly. How long before euthanasia, I find myself asking.

I set off to write this to show that The NHS hasn’t really been fit for purpose for a long time and that it often gets things wrong. My hope is that things will change; my great fear is that they never will.

© Coloniescross 2018