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.