As I mentioned in my previous blog on teenage pregnancies, I visit a local government hospital on a monthly basis to collect my chronic medication. I was very fortunate when I initially experienced my neuropathy in 1993 that I was employed in the Department of Medicine of the teaching hospital attached to the university. This meant that I was cared for by the physicians and Head of Neurology, Professor Bill, when it happened and so have been under his care ever since.
Over the past 2 years I have realised how privileged I have been to have stayed with him when his department, based at the old hospital which was on a different campus to the main teaching hospital, moved to a brand new tertiary level hospital. This is a truly magnificent hospital which has now been open for about 15 years and is well maintained with up to date equipment.
Professor Bill required me to visit him every month so that he could monitor progress as it is a fairly rare neuropathy that has been diagnosed. Unfortunately for me he had to retire at the end of 2012 which meant a change of doctor at the hospital clinic. I was not assigned to a qualified neurologist but to an available Registrar-in-Training which has meant a different one on each visit. My visits were also reduced to 6 monthly and I have been told to collect my medication in the other 5 months at the local primary level hospital.
It is these monthly visits which have made me realise that I had been shielded from the public hospital system by attending the new hospital each month. The queues are much longer, the systems are old and often specific medicines are not available requiring one has return at a later date in the hope of getting those medicines.
The process goes something like this.
- Arrive as early as possible. I currently arrive at about 3am to be able to get back home by 09:00. Many patients stay overnight to be at the front of the queue while, some trickle in after me. Dozens of others have to rely on public transport and can only get to the hospital from 06:00. This means an all day exercise for them.
- An employee arrives at 06:00 and takes the blue hospital card from all those who are in the queue by then. He then goes back into his container office and locks the door. He has to go to another office to find the pink medicine card for each of the blue cards that he has collected. He returns to his office and comes to a window, which only opens half-way, and those whose cards have been collected queue up to receive their pink card and their blue card is returned..
- Walk to the pharmacy by going through Casualty and passing the long queues of patients who are waiting to collect files and so be able to visit the doctor. Some won’t be able to finish in time to collect prescribed medication and so must return by 08:00 tomorrow. If later they must join the queue. They will probably sleep on the concrete floor rather than pay transport costs back home and return. This means no food or drink until they leave the next morning.
- Sit on a wooden bench and wait for the pharmacy to open at 07:30. Patients are then called to one of 3 windows, hand in their pink cards and wait for the scripts to be filled. This can take anything from 10 mins to 1½ hours, depending upon what the medicines are, if they have to be obtained from the stores and/or if they have to be counted out. One is given exactly the right number for 28 days and not one extra. ie. 28,56,84 etc
- Get called to stand in another queue to be given your meds on presentation of your blue card. Go home.
Now this is why I am so fortunate. I have my own car and can drive to and from the hospital in 10mins. Most of the patients have to rely on public transport – bus or minibus taxi – paying out of their meagre incomes. It takes them a lot longer to get home as well. The elderly have to walk slowly so others go past them getting into the queue ahead of them. Many have babies or young children who get irritable.
If a medication is not available, whether an essential one or not, the patient is given a white piece of paper referred to as a TCB – To come back – on which is written the missing medicine and a phone number. You are asked to phone and find out if the medication is available 2/3weeks later and, if so, come back and get it. Again, easy for me, even though the phone is never answered, but what about those who only have cell phones but usually without airtime and have to pay transport again.
It seems that no one cares about any of this as it is something they do not see nor have to contend with. Let us all be more aware of how others, through no fault of their own, have to battle life’s daily needs.