Former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright once said that “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I’m going to go further than that. There is a special place in hell for fertility clinic admin staff who get their kicks by wielding the small amount of power that they have over women undergoing fertility treatment.
If you follow my (pretty badly neglected) Twitter account, you might have seen a series of tweets about something that happened at the clinic. To give you a bit of background… Although I know what I’m doing with needles and drugs and everything, because it’s the exact same procedure that I went through when I froze my eggs, they wanted me to have a refresher course in it because it was three years ago and they wanted to check that all my consent forms were up to date etc etc. Because I’m not going to have the time for it when I go in for my pre-treatment scan, when you’d normally do it, I agreed to go in for the consultation with a nurse beforehand and made a special trip to the clinic to do it yesterday.
After the quick chat — and it was about 20 minutes rather than the hour they usually give you if you’re doing it for the first time — I was about to leave when the receptionist called out to me and asked me about payment. I told her that I had transferred the money from a savings account that day and so could pay later in the week but not there and then. Bear in mind that we’re talking over £8000 here, not the sort of cash I have rattling around in a current account, and that although they accept credit cards, they charge three per cent which frankly I’m fucked if I’m paying.
She told me that at the very least, she had to charge me for the treatment consultation (£150, which would be credited back to me when I paid the balance). In front of the waiting room, I told her that I had been with the clinic for over three years, I’d paid them the best part of £20,000 in that time, and had just committed to treatment that was going to be over £12,000, I thought that a little trust was probably in order. But no, she still insisted that I paid the £150. I did so silently and left on the verge of tears.
Why was I so angry? Why did I feel so humiliated? Why, now, even writing about it does it make me cry? I think it’s because of the total lack of humanity. It wasn’t about £150, it was about a woman who had a small bit of power, not cutting me some slack when she could have done. It was about a really stressful situation being made so much more stressful than it needed to be. It was about making me feel like I wasn’t a person, I was just a cash cow.
And I imagine she knew how I felt, or someone who follows my Twitter did, because the clinic manager called me later that day as she’d heard that I’d left the clinic upset and wanted to check that I was OK. I told her that I wasn’t. I had never given the clinic cause to believe that I wouldn’t pay what I owed, and I found the way I was treated humiliating and offensive.
Let’s bear in mind this isn’t exactly an isolated incident. Earlier this year when I had a blood test and had to dash to get to a meeting so didn’t pay for it before I left, I got an email asking me to call the clinic that day to make payment (under £100). I replied saying I could pay when I was next in (four days later) and paying for the next lot of treatment (more than £2000). I was then told “they may cancel the blood test if we have not received the payment today.” Now that is clearly bollocks. As the clinic manager confirmed when I told her about it. But it’s all part and parcel of making what’s a really stressful experience a million times more stressful when it doesn’t need to be.
And the thing is, I don’t know a single person who hasn’t had an experience like this at whatever clinic they’re at. But it’s part of a bigger problem. And having the opportunity to talk to the clinic manager gave me the chance to tell her this. (So I suppose some good came out of it.)
I’ve got no complaints about the clinical side, but the “pastoral” care side of things generally really seems to be lacking. The two most important calls I had from the clinic — to tell me that I wasn’t pregnant and to tell me that none of my eggs had fertilised correctly — came from people I’d never spoken to before. Now I get that giving results is really not the best use of the consultants’ time, but how hard would it be to have a patient liaison person for each patient? Someone who knows the patient and their situation and can deliver news like this? She said they’re working on it, that it’s part of the plan, but I can’t understand how it’s taken them so long to figure this out.
Anyway. Do feel free to share with as many fertility clinics as you can. Or if you know one that actually gets it right feel free to tell me about it.