We are the kind of family that believes in sharing. If Zach picks up a little bug at school, he feels compelled to not only bring it home for his brother and parents, but to raise it to the third power before passing it along. So, I was not surprised a few months ago when the boys and I all had sore throats together.
There are sore throats and there are sore throats. And I am one of those people who is unlikely to see the doctor unless my arm is hanging off by a tendon. But, I do know when I have strep throat. Since the boys seemed to have the same problem that I did, we all went in to the GP together.
“Hmmm,” he said. “That is quite an aggravated throat. I had better culture it.” He did not culture the boys, on the principle that they had whatever I had, and I was definitely the most willing patient.
“Should I start on antibiotics?” I asked, since I knew full-well what was wrong with me. No, NHS protocol is to wait for the culture, which I do understand. Not wise to just hand out antibiotics to everyone who asks for them.
The next day, I called up to get the results of my culture. “Oh, that won’t be back today,” the receptionist said. I knew she was mistaken. It was a strep test; those suckers can be completed in the time it takes Benjamin to eat three strawberries. I asked her to check, just in case it was in. “No, not back,” she said.
“I’ll call back tomorrow, then.”
“It won’t be here then, either,” she replied. “Strep tests take at least a week to come in.” A week? A week?! For a strep test? And we were not allowed antibiotics until the culture came back. So, my preschooler, my toddler, and me were supposed to walk around for a week with strep throat, waiting for the results of a test that I already knew the results of.
Over the week, my throat got worse. From what I could tell, so did my sons’. Then, it got better. We all seemed to be feeling better. I stopped calling the doctor’s office. And then, eight days after I had been cultured, the doctor called me. I had strep. “It would be best if we gave you all a course of antibiotics,” he said.
Right. So, apparently, NHS protocol is as follows. Patients are to live through the incredibly painful symptoms and fight them off on their own. Only once they are feeling better are they to be treated for their illness. They are also to walk about infecting other people for a good week, because the money saved from taking eight days to get a culture back can then go towards culturing all the other people who were exposed to strep in the time that the doctor refused to diagnose them.
There have been times I have seen NHS as a minor inconvenience, one I am more than willing to put up with on the principle of everyone having medical coverage. There have also been times I have been shocked at the incompetent doctors. And, although I know many of you felt our rash experience was just a bad doctor, it was actually just one in a string of encounters that showed me that NHS is not doing its job, that this universal health coverage often means no coverage at all.
I do not know what the answer is. I do know it is not NHS.