What I Love About Where I Live: The National Health Service

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Our family just went through a bit of a health scare. A month ago, I made an appointment to see a doctor about a little lump I had felt in my breast for a while. I was really worried, and even making the appointment felt scary. Seeing a doctor always fills me with anxiety, even when it’s just a routine checkup. I waited with lead in my stomach for the day to come. I drove myself to the doctor, and told her about the lump, about how it had been there for a while, and that I had a couple of other suspicious symptoms. She did not have the best bedside manner, and as she examined me, she felt the lump and abruptly told me to get dressed. By the time I did, she was already on the phone requesting an urgent appointment at the breast clinic. I asked her how worried I should be. She said my risk factors were low, but my exam and symptoms were troubling. As I left her office on noodle-y legs, she called after me, “Try not to worry… But I know it’s hard.”  She didn’t sound convinced at all that I shouldn’t worry.

And then, the mental battle really ramped up. I had to wait two weeks for my appointment at the hospital, and it was kind of awful. During our time in Belgium, it was my singular goal to stop thinking about the upcoming screening, and to enjoy what was in front of me. I mostly succeeded. When I got home, there was a letter from the clinic waiting for me, and I discovered that I had been scheduled in the “Urgent Suspected Breast Cancer” clinic. I lost my appetite for the next week, as I waited. Waves of nausea kept coming over me every time I thought of it.

Obviously, I worried about worst-case scenarios, and I worried about what bad news could mean for my family. I had so many dreams about telling people that I had cancer. I thought about my hair falling out, and of surgery, and of hospital beds and IVs, and so many really difficult things that are a reality for so many people right now, as I type this. But there was one thing that I didn’t worry about:  medical bills. Even as I was completely terrified of all of the possible outcomes of my screenings, the one thing I just didn’t have to worry about was paying for my medical care– and that was incredible.  All of my adult life, I have had to think about the cost of health care, so the potential for illness or injury was also a huge financial concern, in addition to all of the other ways it hurts. And worrying about the costs of exams and imaging was just not an excuse for me to wait longer to get it checked out. So, I am really thankful for the NHS, and knowing that it’s there makes living in England feel secure in a way that I haven’t experienced before.

Ok, back to the screening. That was yesterday morning. Jeff took the day off of work to go with me, and I am so glad he did– I don’t think I have ever felt more anxious in my life. It was kind of a crazy experience to be sitting in the same room as a group of other women that had been assigned to that clinic. The tension and heartache and hope were so thick in the air, I pretty much sat there shaking and dry-mouthed, trying to distract myself with a crossword puzzle until my name was called. There was something else that made it intense– all of the staff were extremely kind, and delicately treated me a bit like a bubble about to burst. I am not sure what they expected me to do– go into hysterics, maybe? Maybe. I was calm enough, though. The doctor at the clinic talked with me, and examined me. She was considerably nicer than the first doctor that had referred me there, and (incredibly) managed to help me feel more calm than I had before. Still, she sent me to Imaging to investigate the denser tissues she had palpated.

I needed an ultrasound. A really eager and incredibly chipper older lady volunteer escorted us to the breast imaging center. She even made a bunch of introductions for me, showed me to my changing cubicle, and checked that I was OK a few times… There was a distinct feeling in the air that this could be the worst day of my life, and everyone acted really nice but kind of nervous. When I went into the treatment room, there were three women working in there. One was the ultrasound tech, and I seriously think that the other two were there in case I had a breakdown. I really don’t know what else they could possibly be there for, since it’s a one-woman job! They kind of hovered anxiously, and it was weird.

The ultrasound showed nothing abnormal.  The technician asked me to show her again the spot where I felt the lump. She checked again, but saw “nothing troubling at all.”  She sounded surprised and relieved. I asked if I need a follow-up, or if I needed any more tests. No— I was clear. Everyone in the room breathed easier. I somehow felt relieved for them, as well as for myself! I got dressed, went to the waiting room, and told Jeff that I was fine– that there was nothing to worry about in my breast. It took a while for that to sink in, since this had been such a big, huge worry-fest for both of us, no matter how brave and hopeful and level-headed we had tried to be. Most of our fears had been unspoken.

It’s still kind of hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that it’s over! I am still processing the whole ordeal, to be honest. I am thankful. Thankful that I am healthy, thankful that it’s over, thankful that I had the medical care I needed to get the problem checked out and to the point of closure. And of course, I am thankful that I could tell you my story. It always helps! It’s a really happy day for us, since Jeff and I woke up without that heavy burden of worry and uncertainty this morning. I am making our family a huge meal for dinner tonight– we’ll have a party.

Whew! Also, I would just like to really thank all of the friends and family members that sent encouraging words our way, and for your prayers, which were surely answered!

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12 Responses to What I Love About Where I Live: The National Health Service

  1. Marilyn August 22, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    So hard! I work as a nurse in a breast and cervical screening program. Your post is such an articulate picture of the anxiety women go through. And I love that you brought in that the one thing you didn’t have to worry about is cost….this is such an issue in the United states. Thanks for being vulnerable and verbalizing these events and feelings.

    • Ariana August 24, 2012 at 8:43 am #

      Thank you, Marilyn! I imagine that your job can be really emotionally exhausting– so much hope for the women you see, yet many of them having their lives turned upside down right before your eyes. I am glad that there are thoughtful and compassionate women like you in those jobs– your work is so important!

  2. Jenny August 22, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

    So glad this post had a happy ending. What a relief to know you’re healthy and all is well. xx

    • Ariana August 24, 2012 at 8:43 am #

      Yes, Jenny! I wrote a few very different blog posts about this in my mind in the days before I got the all-clear…

  3. Rois August 23, 2012 at 1:42 am #

    Glad to see a happy ending! I went through the same thing with a lump that was not a lump,scary is too small of a word for it.

    • Ariana August 24, 2012 at 8:44 am #

      Yes, Rois. I am sorry your ordeal was much, much worse than mine. I am often finding myself thinking of the women out there that got really different news than I did, offering up a prayer for them and their families.

  4. Marisa August 23, 2012 at 3:04 am #

    Ariana!! I am so sorry you had such a scare. What a horribly frightening experience. I really appreciate that you have shared your story in this space and I think you are courageous to be so open about such a personal part of your life. I imagine it must have been awfully stressful for Jeff as well. But what a lovely guy to take the day off work to go along with you – you are lucky and blessed to have a husband like that 🙂 I’ve never gone through anything like this myself but my mom was diagnosed with cancer in January of 2010 and I have gone through the ups and downs with her and know something of the anxiety you felt. When my mom first got sick we had to wait for 4 days over a holiday weekend for the results of a biopsy – after the surgeon told us she was almost certain it was mesothelioma (if it were she’d have had a year at most.) Those days were the longest and most torturous of my life. The good news was that she did not have that particular type of cancer. She does have a different type though and fortunately is in remission right now. But because the type she has (multiple myeloma) always comes back she has to have her blood tested periodically. In any case she had her blood drawn today and will meet with the doctor next week. But that means it is another week of waiting and worrying and praying that the doctor doesn’t tell her that this time her numbers have moved in the wrong direction. So yes, I do have some understanding of what you’ve been through 🙂 But I am so ecstatic that your news was so good! You certainly do deserve a party! And so glad you got to escape to Belgium and get your mind off it for a few days before you got the all clear.

    I also want to thank you for lauding the National Health Service. Not to get too political but I am a big proponent of national health care and I quite honestly can’t wrap my brain against the stark opposition. Personally, I have not had employer sponsored insurance in 6 years and have had to pay for insurance out of pocket. Over the past 6 years I have also seen the quality of the health insurance I am able to purchase as a single payer go downhill quite drastically. It is difficult to purchase decent health care even if you are able to spend a lot of money. The health insurance companies simply do not cater to single payers – they are completely geared toward employer based insurance. So it is a very frustrating position to be in. I have often wondered what I would do if I was diagnosed with something like my mom has (which, by the way, does have a genetic indicator – and we have 3 other family members that have had this disease.) My mom was a public school teacher her entire career so she has excellent insurance benefits – but I simply don’t know what I would do.

    Ok, sorry to have written such a novel – you can see I have a lot of thoughts around this topic. Hopefully not too political – I know others have equally strong opinions that are different from mine. But mostly Ariana – I just want to say again how relieved I am for you and your family. Much love – Marisa

  5. Ariana August 24, 2012 at 9:05 am #

    Wow, Marisa, there is a whole lot of me to unpack in your comment! First of all, I am really sorry about your mom’s illness. I’m glad she can get treatment and that she is OK, but I imagine the mental battle is extremely difficult, and also so hard for you. Hoping for good results for her most recent blood test… And the piece about it being genetic… Wow! I’m sure you have to do a lot of internal work to have a level of peace about these things.

    About the NHS… Yes, I really love it. It’s not perfect, but I have the option of using our US insurance plan, or going with the NHS, and I choose it every time. (I used our insurance plan for my knee surgery, which would have been put off for a long time if I had gone the NHS route– but we did have to pay over $2,000 after insurance!) Many people go with private plans and hospitals for things like this, it’s not as if other options besides NHS care are not available. People here do pay for some things, like singular prescriptions. But anyone with a long-term illness gets free Rx’s, which is a really big deal. Three people in my family have Type 1 diabetes, and meds are incredibly expensive, and the cost of taking good care of yourself is higher than not– so it’s a really tricky proposition for someone who is struggling financially. I don’t know what the best solution for the USA is, but I do know that the current healthcare system is not working well at all. I will leave it at that, since I also don’t want to turn this into a political thread! 🙂

  6. Anonymous August 28, 2012 at 2:01 am #

    Ariana, I am so relieved that you are okay, and are now able to look back with relief! It is also good to hear about the NHS working well.

    AT 32, I was on the other side… I had to wait for 2 weeks for results; the two most horrible weeks of my life ever. I knew it was cancer — when I left the hospital, every nurse I ran into on the ward looked at me with pity, every orderly, including the one taking my sample to the lab… and they all said the same thing — “good luck!”. The doctor though, he was nowhere to be seen. I had the procedure where he viewed the tumour, *I* saw the tumour, and he never came to speak with me afterwards. Not a word. All I got was those pitying glances.

    I knew I had cancer, but needed to know how bad it was. I had my GP go after the gastroenterologist, and she got the pathology results (and his professional opinion) 10 days before he was scheduled to meet with me. Armed with that, I found the top surgeon in the country with my type of cancer, got in to see her, and had my surgery scheduled before those 2 weeks were up.

    When I saw him again, it was in a bookstore — the big box kind with the couches. I had had my surgery, was on chemo, and had an 80% 5 year survival rate prognosis. He was sitting in an armchair, sleeping. I was holding a Venti iced tea… oh, it was so tempting. I had never been so tempted in all my life…



    • Ariana September 5, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

      Oh, my gosh! What a horrible and scary experience! I am so glad that everything turned out Ok, and good for you, for taking the case to someone else! And I’m glad you GP was able to help you and get you the info/ resources you needed. I wonder what in the world was up with that gastroenterologist…

      Thanks for sharing your story! And, again, so glad things went well for you, Monika.

  7. Anonymous June 29, 2013 at 10:33 pm #

    So sorry you had the scare. I am here because of your 2013 birthday post. Hope you see this. If you have any breast issues at all, please check out http://www.breastcancerchoices.org
    They will recommend iodine, which cleared up all my breast issues, fibrocystic disease, heaviness, PMS breast issues etc. and may also deal with cancer as well.


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