NHS and me (part two)

For part one of this two-part post, click here.  All respectful comments welcome; I hope this post will encourage an intelligent conversation about health care.


            So, the next morning found me arriving at the Early Pregnancy Unit at 8:15 AM.  The clinic opens at 8:30 on weekdays to care for things like bleeding in pregnancy and other such scares, and they do scans until 1:00.  Women experiencing bleeding at other times of the day, as I had learned the previous evening, are instructed to return at a more civilized hour.

            Apparently, I was not the only pregnant woman in SW London a little nervous that morning, because there were already four other people ahead of me.  I sat down to wait.  Too anxious to open the book I had packed for good measure, I fell back on the world’s oldest pastime.  I people-watched.

            The woman who came in right after me was probably a few years older than I am.  She wore a wedding ring, but unlike some of the other women in the waiting area, she was sans father, just like me.  I came to the conclusion that she must have other children, and the baby’s father was probably administering oatmeal and toothbrushes while she sat and waited to see how her pregnancy was doing.  I sort of wanted to strike up a conversation with her, this woman I had determined was in a situation much like my own, but this is England, and such things aren’t usually done.

            Next to me was another woman, this one without a wedding ring.  I look, you must understand, not to judge whether someone has conceived a child out of wedlock, but because she was there with a child, perhaps just under two years old, and I sort of wondered whether there was a man who might have provided a bit of childcare so that she could come for her scan without a stroller and a diaper bag.  Chances are that there was a man, of course, but he was already at work, worrying the whole time about his partner, their child, and their unborn baby.

            The woman, however, seemed completely unconcerned.  She was wholly focused on the little boy, playing little games and offering him peanuts as he sat in his stroller.  As I watched them ever-so-subtly out of the corner of my eye, I pondered a few things.  From their clothes and accessories, it was clear they did not have much money, and I wondered whether, exhausted from caring for her child all day and the first trimester of a pregnancy, she might go to a night shift when someone else took over care of her child.  I thought about the snack puffs her son dropped on the floor that she left lying there, and wondered why she did not pick them up.  Mostly, I contemplated what I always think about when I see something like this: how in the hell do other people get their kids to sit contentedly in a stroller that is stationary?  Is it something kids are just born with, or is there some trick of parenting that convinces a child to remain happily seated even after the ride as come to a full and complete stop?  Is there a class I can take to learn this skill?

            When she got up to go in for her scan, rolling her completely placid child in ahead of her, I started watching a woman who clearly did not have other children.  There were two reasons I suspected this woman was terrified of losing her first pregnancy, and neither had to do with the business attire that had no breakfast spills on it.  One reason was the anxiety in their eyes.  It was not stronger than mine, but it was more confused because her entire status as a mother was hanging in the balance.  This was not a woman who had been through the ropes; she was a woman afraid of being hit in the head with one.  The other reason I suspected she did not have other kids?  She had a man with her, while J was at home overseeing the troops before school and other forms of childcare kicked in.

            And, there were a few other women waiting, although it seems inaccurate to call them women.  They themselves were children, girls with small, round firm bellies and teenaged boys by their sides.  Because, of course, teenagers can get pregnant, too, and their pregnancies can have scares, too.  Not that these girls looked frightened.  The stereotype of the pregnant teenager is a little girl, cowering in the corner, terrified about her future.  These girls looked strong, in control, as though they had no idea that the sky could fall tomorrow.  Teenagers –pregnant or otherwise — never seem to know that the sky could fall.

            And we were called in, one at a time, according to our numbers.  The woman pushing her toddler in an umbrella stroller, leaving a trail of snack puffs behind.  The career woman with a briefcase and a husband in expensive shoes.  The teenaged girl with the big hoop earrings.  Me.  It did not matter how we got pregnant, whether we were married, how many degrees we had, what age we were, or if we could afford to buy a drink at the vending machine.  They saw us in the order in which we had arrived. 

            An hour later, I left, sonogram in hand and smile on face.  There was a heartbeat, and there was a brain, a good start as far as babies are concerned.  It was 17 hours later than I would have liked an answer to my questions.  It was less attentive prenatal care than I am used to.  But was it, perhaps, the level of care that I needed?


Tune in next week for a very different experience we have had with the NHS…

39 responses to “NHS and me (part two)

  1. people watching is one of my favorite things to do. especially in airports (where i tend to spend a lot of time!!) i love trying to guess where people are going, where they came from, who is waiting for them….

    and even though i knew that everything came out ok, it was still cruel to make us wait a day to find out for sure 🙂

  2. What a relief! So happy for you! There’s nothing like seeing that little flutter for the first time . . .

  3. I hated having to wait overnight for the rest of this post, clever girl! It was hard, perhaps in part because I know exactly how much harder it is to wait for an ultrasound.

    My lifelong healthcare experience has been one of fast, quality, little-to-no-hassle care. Anyone who has had it, comes to expect that’s the norm. When not in the middle of a medical “crisis,” I would say that the level of care that I expect is unnecessarily high. Deliberately lowering the level of care available in order to accommodate more people is a nearly impossible sell, from many angles. But, like with the environment, I don’t think change is possible without sacrifice.

  4. I read this avidly for three reasons; a) your health and safety, b) my own experience as an ex-pat and health care and c) my husband is contemplating a position in a Canadian university.

    So glad to hear you are well and baby is strong. Isn’t motherhood the strangest of commonalities?

  5. How dare you make me read an entire interesting, well-thought-out post before you spilled the good news, you heartless thing. 😉

    Thank goodness for little heartbeats. I’m so relieved and happy for you. Regardless of the happy outcome, I still say boooooo to the heathcare system that feels ultrasounds are best performed during normal business hours, and that expectant mother anxiety is easily pooh-poohed away. A pox on such policies, I tell you!

    Also, the only way to make children sit in a non-moving stroller is to 1) drug them or 2) get lucky and have a compliant child who actually sits still. Drugging them is normally frowned upon (for quite obvious reasons), and the other option is a total crap shoot. 🙂

  6. Stroller sitting is definitely inborn. Only one of mine had it – and naturally it was the first one so I was spoilt and utterly unprepared for the squirming, wriggling escape artists who came next. However, once again I firmly believe the parent should take credit ANYWAY just on general principle.

    Lovely bit of observation on the waiting room… and thank goodness on the positive result!

  7. I am glad it worked out for you.

    My kids would only sit in a stroller when forced and then only if it kept moving. If it ever stopped, like say when I was shopping at the mall, then the screaming began.

  8. Oh, very good news. I’m glad for you, Emily.

  9. YAY for a heartbeat & brain.

    ok–i promise not to romanticize universal national health care. i can see how the ‘get sick within certain hours if you want help’ is truly problematic. i do know, however, that our health care system needs MAJOR fixing. we currently pay for health care completely out-of-pocket & it is brutal. i think about the numbers of uninsured folks/families we have in this country & just don’t see how it gels with our professed ideals…

  10. I, of course, have strong feelings about all this given my recent, not-so-happy-in-the-end experience. I had to wait 4 days for the same kind of care you talk about here–in part it was because of a universal health care system but mainly it was because I live in a remotely populated region and, as such, our services are not as fulsome as they would be in other parts of the country. The latter, I think, would be a factor in healthcare whether or not the underlying system was public or private so I don’t necessarily want my experience to stand up as an example of the failure of universal health care. All my commenters from other regions of Canada were incensed on my behalf.

    Having said all that, I remember the weeks I spent early in my pregnancy reading the Baby Center and I-Village message boards. Time and again, so many American women with good private coverage would talk about the level of care they were getting. Some had had multiple ultrasounds by the time they were 8-9 weeks pregnant–just for reassurance! Others were tracking their hCG #s just so they would know!! So much of what they valued in their healthcare seemed superfluous and privileged to me–that there would and should be ways to give up a lot of non-essential care in favour of something more inclusive.

    I hated that I had to wait four days for my ultrasound. I hated that, simply because of the wait, the ultrasound provided me with such a nightmarish experience, one that I won’t soon forget, but I do stand by universal health care. In the end, there was no medical technique or procedure that could have saved my pregnancy. As much as I may not have liked what happened to, I am willing to exchange a little peace of mind for a more universal system. When I read what is happening to Kyla these days, I am even more convinced that some sacrifices are necessary. Because, really, who needs to track their hCGs unless they are in crisis?

    This comment is meant to be respectful but as you know I am also quite emotional these days. If the tone sounds off, I apologize.

  11. This comment also agrees with what you are saying so I know that it is not disrespectful to you. I just don’t want it to be disrespectful to others.

  12. Well, would you say these were the longest 17 hours of your life? *sigh* Perfectly understandable! I’m so glad that everything is fine 🙂

  13. I’m glad you and baby are okay.

    You know, I’m a big believer in the NHS. I believe passionately in socialised healthcare. I think the US health system is effed up beyond repair. I believe it is my right to healthcare. If we were in the US we would have no insurance, I don’t think.

    And yet, the system is failing me. I am being failed by something I care deeply about and believe me, that’s hard to reconcile sometimes.

  14. Glad you’re okay.

  15. I’m glad you’re ok too.

    And I agree–the level of health care we need, that serves us medically, is not always hte level we would feel is most reassuring. Personally I’m ok with putting up with wait times in the service of providing everyone with the care they need.

    I especially loved the bit about how everyone was called in according to the order in which they arrived. Nice juxtaposition with the class issue.

  16. planningdoesntwork

    I live in Canada, another country with government run healthcare. Any time I’ve been sick or hurt I received the care I needed. I am, however, now dealing with infertility (this is what I searched for when I ended up at your blog last summer). It took around 16 months from the time I decided to see the doctor after we’d been trying for about 6 months until the time I actually got to start IUIs , a relatively basic fertility treatment. I had to wait a couple of months for an appointment with a specialist, then a couple of months for tests, then a couple of months to get back to see the specialist, then a couple of months to see another specialist, etc., etc., etc. 16 months is a lot of waiting, and I’m not happy about it. But yet if I have an emergency it’s taken care of and I don’t have to worry about insurance or costs. Sometimes this system works, but for other things I wish I had the option to pay for faster results. But that would create a two-tiered system wherein people who can pay get faster (and therefore potentially better) healthcare. This is exactly what the nationalized system is supposed to prevent.

    I’m glad everything is okay with your pregnancy. Fortunately I read both of the posts at once and didn’t have to wait overnight to hear the final result.

  17. Great post. I keep planning on doing my NHS/US healthcare post, but my brain is not too keen on coherency lately, so I’ll leave it for a bit.

    Congratulations (belatedly, because I suuuuck) in general, and particularly with the whole heartbeat and brain thing!

  18. I’m glad you and the baby are doing well. And the stoller sitting thing? Totally something that a kids is born with. My son would have sat in a stoller for days without needing to move an inch. My daughter would start demanding “out!” as soon as I let the stoller drop to a speed of less than 50 miles an hour.

  19. So glad to hear all is well. Funny you mentioned the stroller thing, I wondered the same thing when my daughter was younger. She was never able to sit still in one.

  20. Oh, babe. I am very relieved to hear that everything is as it should be.

  21. Congratulations. There’s nothing quite like seeing a heartbeat and brain for the first time.

  22. I’m glad to hear you and the baby are well.

    I have to throw my hate in the ring for socialized health care. It’s the only fair system. I would be willing to wait for non-emergent care, so long as we could receive thorough and timely emergency care.

  23. I can be patient, in that I don’t chew everyone out in my path as I wait for news. I just can’t sleep worth beans. I’m glad all is well.

  24. I must confess I had to skip to the end before reading the whole post to make sure that all was well. Really, I knew it must be or the tone of the post would be different, but I had to check. And am duly relieved.

    I love the people-watching report. I see a lot of pregnant teenagers in my doctor’s office, too. It startles me every time.

    As for national healthcare, I hope the US gets it soon, even if sacrifices would need to be made. Of course, the ideal would be for all to get immediate, attentive care. But with our current privatized system, too many end up without needed care. While I’m sure it would stress me out to have to wait for care, I’d like to think that the part of me that wasn’t raging with frustration about my own needs would be comforted by knowing that others were having needs met.

  25. *huge sigh of relief*

  26. How I detest the NHS. Their brutal indifference is so awful that somehow we’ve come to accept it in this country as ‘something we should be thankful for’. Ten years ago I contracted viral pneumonia, was too weak and ill to get out of bed, but was refused a home visit on the grounds that somehow I could get into a car and be seen by a doctor in the surgery car park (in the middle of December). The doctor said to me ‘I have a waiting room full of people with chest infections here: I don’t know what your problem is.’ I was too ill to argue, I stayed home, I had no treatment and the pneumonia developed into ME. The rest, as they say, is history.

  27. Oh I should also have said: I am so very pleased for you. I am indeed, but between you and me, I had every faith in you and a happy ending.

  28. oh sister…attentive or not, (you, by the way, are incredibly attentive) all that matters is the little person is nestled in there, growing.


  29. As a lifelong Canadian, it took me a few minutes to realize that you were startled by your experience with public healthcare – I’m just so used to prolonged waits with utterly mixed groups of people…. I think that there’s definite downsides – horrible wait periods, brisk appointments – but the pluses for me always win.
    And hooray for your good news! I hope the rest of thee pregnancy continues smoothly.

  30. Just another in a long list of reasons I am so scared about the possiblity of NHS.
    Fabulous post.
    I’m so glad everything turned out so well.

  31. Congratulations on baby #3. My third was a big surprise and he has turned out to be the most wonderful surprise (and future doctor)! I just need to add that this type of medical care is what I fear may happen to us in the USA if our leaders don’t really think things through. I’m just glad that it did not turn out badly for you.

  32. I’m so glad it is all okay.

    Those placid kids? They are born that way, and while it looks good from a parenting POV? And those parents often take credit for it? It’s all luck of the draw, and it’s not per se a good trait. It can be an obstacle to overcome, too, like anything.

    WRT privileged healthcare…

    It surprises me to see some of the comments and fears. I understand some of the critiques of national health care. I understand people are worried about how it will play out here in the US.

    Quick aside…one comment struck me, and I hope it’s okay to say something about it, something that will hopefully help. In the US? There are no home visits. It doesn’t matter how sick you are, you have to go to the hospital.

    I sat, two days after giving birth, clutching my newborn, bleeding profusely, barely able to breathe, with pneumonia, in an ER for SEVEN HOURS. All told I was there for about twelve hours, most of that time time slumped in a plastic chair in the waiting room. I’ll leave off the rest of the story but it was a bad few months.

    The best care is private, no health insurance accepted, straight full payment.

    I can imagine how wrecked your nerves were having to wait, but as you said, what could be done? It’s a matter of knowing, and as stressful as waiting to find out is, you made a good point.

    I think, having read what you say, and Mad’s points, I now understand, for the first time, why I am not frightened of national health care and so many others are.

    Such a different perception of want and need, of experience of care, I think.

  33. If you find that stroller class, let me know. I’d be willing to travel far and wide to learn how to keep a kid in a stroller for a few minutes.

    I’ve long been in favor of some sort of national health care system. There are disadvantages to both scenarios, but I much prefer to wait a little longer than to know that some people aren’t getting any care.

  34. i’m still reeling from the fact that I HAD NO IDEA THAT YOU WERE PREGO!!!!

    congratulations and i will never take another blog break so i won’t miss such good news again! LOL

  35. this is interesting… i enjoy getting not only the perspective on a different health care system, but also your people watching. great. and great news!

  36. oh, Emily, *so* glad to hear everything is okay. a heartbeat. yay 🙂

    re: NHS. I’ve heard some horror stories from my mom in London.

    I haven’t had insurance since I was a teenager and covered on my parent’s plan. I just can’t afford it. Monkey has coverage through Medi-Cal….Luckily, California has really great programs available but I realize this is not the case for the rest of the country….

    I often wonder what the level of care will be when, one day, we have universal health care here in the U.S….

    Although it seems, to me, that even people who pay ridiculously high rates for private insurance don’t always get the best of care either. Sure, it may matter if you’re going to a doctor’s office but in an emergency-type setting it seems that everybody receives the same, inattentive care.

    It’s not just our health care coverage that needs an overhaul but the medical profession as well and the patient care that doctors and hospitals offer. What ever happened to doctors who actually looked you in the eye and talked to you instead of sweeping into the room, hours late, just to look at your chart (barely looking up) and treat you like cattle?

  37. One major benefit of being a US military spouse – the health care. Generally speaking, it’s advanced and fast and always completely free.

    Without it, my first (high-risk, complicated) pregnancy would have been a financial tragedy as well as an emotional nightmare, and our daughter’s numerous visits to specialists could have been the end of us.

    Of course the down side is your husband can get shipped off to Iraq, something I’m still regularly in denial about. So I guess there are pros and cons to every system…

    Sorry for what you went through, and glad everything’s ok.

  38. Wheee! Congratulations. I hurried thru this to read what I’d missed. Glad everything is okay (it is all still okay, yes?)

  39. Emily, I loved this post, and all of the people-observations. I’m sorry I’ve been away from your blog too long and I missed your happy news. Congrats on your pregnancy.