I’m just the plumber

It was like a scene from a movie. My husband on top of his bed, in blue pyjamas, his skin pale against the contrast of royal blue and white sheets.

After a brief exchange, I took off down stairs in search of a cup of coffee leaving my husband and daughter mid conversation. I needed sustenance but had the presence of mind to take my mobile with me in case the doctor arrived before my return.

We weren’t expecting this doctor till after seven but as with most things in this hospital – in any hospital, I imagine – very little goes to plan.

Just as earlier that day when I’d rung to hear from my husband the results of the TOE test he’d undergone that morning to determine the fate of his infection, I couldn’t raise him.

I tried his mobile, his hospital room phone and then I tried the nurses’ station.

‘Your husbands with they eye doctor,’ the nurse reported when I asked his whereabouts.

This was news. An eye doctor now. I knew he’d had a bout of what my husband thought was conjunctivitis but since when do people need to visit a specialist over gritty eyes?

My husband rang back soon after to say that the doctors had become alarmed at something he’d mentioned to them, though not to me. Three days earlier he’d noticed some blurring of his vision in the lower quadrant of his right eye.

At first the caravan of doctors seemed little concerned but that morning when my husband mentioned it again they decided to act. After all today was the day he was due to go home, all being well with the results of the TOE test.

And so we found ourselves several hours later on Friday night waiting for a visit from the surgeon who was to take a biopsy of my husband’s temporal arteries to establish whether a new development had arisen, whether as a consequence yet again of the antibiotics – iatrogenesis gone wild – or the result of something else, some sort of autoimmune thing that might signify a disease, Temporal Arteritis, which the eye doctor had told my husband might have ‘catastrophic’ consequences for him, including stroke or blindness.

With warnings like this, you tend to go along with whatever course of action the doctors recommend. In any case, there I was on a Friday night – these things seem to happen on Fridays, I’d just reached the counter at the café ready to order my coffee when my phone rang.

‘The doctors here,’ my daughter said and I bolted back upstairs to behold a tall man in a dark suit leaning over my husband and pointing to the sides of my husband’s head where this surgeon planned to use his knife.

‘Here on both sides, a neat cut beyond the hairline.’ He had explained all to my husband in the three minutes it took me to run back to the ward.

‘What will you do?’ I asked and the surgeon sighed as he explained once more that he would cut out a tiny piece of artery on either side to send off to the pathology lab for testing.

‘If this is merely a consequence of the antibiotics and it will rectify itself once he’s off the antibiotics (which was the case now given the doctors had finally after 42 days stopped all antibiotic infusions) is this test really necessary?’ I asked.

The surgeon stood to his full height and waved his arms around as he backed off towards the door.

‘I’m just the plumber here, I don’t make the decisions. I just do my job. If you want to know the whys and whens, and whatever for, you have to talk to them. They’re the brains. I’m just the plumber.’

He pushed the curtains aside to leave. ‘If you don’t want to go ahead with it tomorrow or you’d rather talk about it first it can wait till next week.’

‘No,’ my husband said. ‘Go ahead with it.’

And so it was that my husband, a day later sported two red lines of stitched blood down his temples, neat wounds I might add, and not too painful.

We wait now for the results of this test before he can go home.

The endless waiting in this tedious drama.

A drama to us perhaps, but just another day in the life of a busy hospital surgeon.

My daughter quoted a friend who works in the health industry who reports that some seventy five per cent of complaints in hospitals are about doctors and their poor communication skills.

And one of the reasons people take themselves off to alternative therapists, quite apart from the treatment modalities, is the fact that the so-called ‘quacks’ have better bedside manners.

You can go a long way on good manners.

7 thoughts on “I’m just the plumber”

  1. My father had glaucoma. It is, as you may or may not be aware, hereditary. And so, dutifully, every couple of years I go and have the water pressure in my eyes tested. They remind me annually but the optician seems satisfied with bi-annual check-ups; it’s what the NHS recommends anyway. Besides I’m acutely aware of my eyesight. To the point of obsession almost. I could lose any other sense but my sight! I watched my dad in his later years and it was sad. And the thing is if only he’d gone and had his eyes checked it could’ve been caught earlier. He just thought it was old age. But he really did leave it far too long. To his credit when he was told what was wrong he did what he always did, he researched the subject, learned what might help and began splashing cold water on his eyes every day in addition to using the prescribed treatments. And for a while it worked. The specialists were impressed. But he couldn’t cure himself and eventually resigned himself to being blind for the rest of his life. Which he hated. He had a white stick but refused to use it. Vanity. Nothing more. I’m not like that but I would hope I never get as bad as him. The older I get the more at risk I am. It’s most common in adults in their seventies and eighties but Dad was in his sixties when it hit him and a bloke in my last work was diagnosed shortly after he turned fifty. So I’m ever vigilant.

    I’ve never spoken to a surgeon. My entire perception of them is wholly based on TV doctors. So, as you might expect, I imagine them to be supremely self-confident at best and suffering from a god complex at worst. My wife would clash with them. She would ask all the relevant questions and not be satisfied with half-answers. Me? All I’d want to know is I’d be out of it. Do whatever the hell you like but don’t ask me to be conscious while you do it. Hell, I look away when they take blood. Which is another reason to take care of my eyes. The idea of anyone no matter how skilled they assure me they are poking around with my eyes gives me the screaming abdabs. My brother had troubles with his eyes when he was wee and I recall him telling me that once they popped his eye out of his socket WHILE HE WAS AWAKE! I’m sorry you’d have to tie me down even now.

    1. You’ll be pleased to hear, Jim, that the fears for my husband’s eyes were unfounded. The tests came back negative. Mind you, I’m with you here: if there’s any horror I have about loss of certain bodily functions, loss of my eyesight has to be up there among them. So I can understand your anxieties about glaucoma and I trust, given your attention to those regular eye checks, you’ll be fine, unlike your poor father. Thanks, Jim.

    1. Thanks christine. Despite this initial burst the surgeon seems to have tried to mend his ways. A little birdie must have tweeted in his ear that he needed to improve on his performance.

  2. Aaaah, I feel like I am back at work. Trans-Oesophageal Echocardiograms (only done when absolutely necessary) and Temporal Arteritis, the ‘Devil in the corner’ of elusive headaches and sight disorders.
    Suffice to say, specialists have an uncanny knack for ONLY knowing ‘their’ job and avoiding responsibility for any other information. I often used to feel the patients frustration when they were seemingly left with a jigsaw of problems to put together for themselves, although it was all straight forward to us if they followed ‘the system’.
    I am so sorry these complications are dragging on so interminably for you and the family, Lis. I hope there is good news on the horizon very soon.

    1. Well Karen, all those horrible procedures to rule in or out this or that. They keep people alive but at a price: the loss of dignity and that horrible sense of bodily invasion, but at least they have kept my husband alive, at least this time. Thanks, Karen.

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