Today I cried at the clinic. Nothing had gone drastically wrong, I wasn’t hurt, nobody had been horrible to me, nobody had been unbearably kind to me. Maybe it was the hormones finally kicking in which resulted in a disproportionately emotional response, but basically I cried because I was treated like an idiot, and treated like a number, and treated like a cash cow, rather than a person.
And I’m pretty sure that the person who made me feel like that didn’t mean to make me feel like that, but it did make me think that I should probably write this post that I’ve been meaning to write for a while. This isn’t really for anyone who’s freezing their eggs, it’s more for anyone who works in a fertility clinic where someone is freezing their eggs. Or actually, I suppose, for anyone who works in healthcare, treating patients at all, in any discipline.
You know what, I get it. I get that you’ve been scanning people since 8.40 this morning at roughly 20 minute intervals. I get that you’ve probably seen nine women before me. I get that this is your job. But you should probably get that this isn’t my job, this is not my normal, this is kind of a big fucking deal to me.
So, at the very least, if we haven’t met before, it would be nice if you introduced yourself. And you know what, yes, I expect you to have read my notes. To know what day of my cycle it is, to know that I’m freezing my eggs rather than doing IVF. But beyond that, I’d quite like you not to treat me like a moron with all the time in the world, and a bottomless pit of a bank account.
I won’t be late for my appointment so if you’re running late – like 40 minutes late – I’d quite like it if you could let me know. And if I’m waiting in the waiting room for a blood test, I’d quite like not to see a bunch of nurses who could do my blood test just standing around chatting. I’d like you not to suggest on a Wednesday that I buy certain drugs in advance, and then decide on the Thursday that I need other drugs, and that no, I can’t return the ones I’ve already bought. Sure, in the great scheme of things, £35 probably isn’t that much of a big deal, after all, this cycle alone is costing me around £4000, but still…
And when I call and ask for a doctor to call me back because I have a question about the side effects of the drugs I’ve been given (and want to check I’m not actually slowly haemorrhaging to death from a punctured ovary and that it’s normal to bleed this much) I do sort of expect someone to call me back and me not to have to call on several consecutive days. Duty of care and all that.
I’d also like you to talk to me like an intelligent human being worth engaging with, rather than a patient to be imposed upon. If you’ve changed your mind and you want me to take one drug instead of another, don’t just tell me “because it works differently”, make the effort to explain why and how, and why it’s a different drug from the one I took last time – maybe then I’ll be less pissed off about the fact that I’ve wasted money on drugs you now don’t want me to take.
The fact is that the majority of the staff I’ve seen have been great. While I’d like to have one doctor who I saw for every single scan and every egg collection, I get that that’s not possible. (Unless you can find me a doctor who is prepared to work seven days a week, not take holiday and very possibly clone themselves.)
But it’s amazing how the attitude of the person who scans you can affect your mood. You can be the best clinician in the world, but if your bedside manner sucks, that’s what people will remember.
So I don’t know if the smiley doctor who points things out on the scan and is always positive about how many follicles I’ve got and how well they’re coming on is making better decisions about my treatment plan than the sullen one who turns the screen away from me, doesn’t say a word and then looks annoyed when I ask questions, but I know which one makes me feel better. I know which one makes me feel like this is a good, positive thing to be doing, and which one makes me feel like I wish I’d never embarked upon the whole stupid thing in the first place.
And if you work in this area, you should know that. I think deep down you probably do. But I imagine that working in a busy clinic doesn’t make it that easy to always remember it.
I’m not asking for ungrounded optimism, or for you to act like my best mate, and maybe I’d care less if I was there with a boyfriend, or a husband, and we could laugh about it afterwards. But I’m not, as I might have mentioned (once or twice – sorry, it’s getting boring now, isn’t?), it is just me. So I’d rather like to feel that this thing that I’m doing is something I’m doing, not something I’m having done to me. That the huge amounts of money I’m spending don’t just buy me technology and expertise, but they also buy me the right to a little more conversation – this isn’t, after all, the NHS, that I love dearly, but is so stretched that I know that often conversation is a luxury that comes secondary to saving someone’s life. Ultimately I’d like to think that I’ve bought myself the right to be treated like a person, not, however inadvertently, an idiot, or a number or a cash cow.