Anna Rawhiti-Connell is baffled by an irresponsible health system mixing up her identity two days before a scheduled surgery she knows nothing about – a standard of care and service we wouldn’t accept from almost anywhere else
Last week I got a text from the poor people who do my annual leg wax. At least that’s what I thought. It seemed unusual that they were asking me about my insurance, but these are unprecedented times.
The text came from one of the generic numbers used by a lot of businesses and asked that ‘Anne call them regarding her insurance’. After realising it wasn’t from the waxers, Anne (my database doppelganger) and I connected the dots and twigged that ‘them’ might be the clinic I was expecting a quote from for a bit of surgery I, Anna, am meant to be having.
When I did call, confusion ensued. After a bit of time establishing that I was calling because they’d asked me to, I was told they needed some info for my surgery on Thursday. Thursday being two days after this call was taking place. This was the first I’d heard about my surgery on Thursday. As my endometrial polyp and I understood it, we were waiting for the quote. The quote hadn’t arrived and so I was somewhat surprised to hear I was booked for a surgery under general anaesthetic, in two days’ time.
I have a very good phone voice, inherited from my mother, and I used it to the full extent of its powers to express my “surprise” at this news and to convey that I hadn’t organised my week to account for a surprise general anaesthetic.
Apparently the quote I’d been waiting for ‘might have gone to junk mail’. I had checked this already and when the replacement quote I “politely” asked for arrived, there it was, sitting above an email from a spamlord pervert. My mail client had marked it as junk because the attachment was an RTF file. Fun fact: Microsoft recommended that RTF’s be blocked as email attachments in 2014 because they’re not secure so it’s possible my polyp now belongs to the dark web.
My examples might all look like a series of funny admin errors served up to a bolshy middle class woman with some minor health issues and health insurance, but really, they’re yet another example of how rickety our health system is.
The quote looked like something I could’ve whacked together on my phone. No letterhead, no signature. So, in a third call, I asked that I get a letter signed by an actual doctor, suspecting my insurers wouldn’t accept ASCII art as evidence of what the surgery might cost.
Many phone calls and emails containing scanned brochures followed and I can honestly tell you I am still not sure of what surgery I am having or why I am having it, beyond the need to remove the polyp of the dark web.
I certainly haven’t had any risks explained to me or any information about what will happen to me when it’s done. There seems to be an additional procedure that’s been chucked in and I am waiting to speak to the surgeon about this having failed to find the right brochure attachment to figure it out myself. To be fair to the surgeon, she did offer to answer my questions on one of the phone calls I had. But just as she hung up, I realised I didn’t actually know how to get hold of her. Her number was blocked.
As if this comedy of errors wasn’t already riveting enough, I have been battling with our fertility clinic for three months to get a quote for something my husband needs done, and an explanation for why a previous procedure cost $1000 more than we expected.
I have outlined in an email why time is not something we necessarily want to lose in this situation, my autumnal eggs getting closer to resembling White Walkers as each day passes. I expect a few have just curled up and died of sheer exasperation while a couple of particularly frugal ones have choked on yet another bill. My husband is likely to get the email about this development just as I, for some inexplicable reason, have been the only one of the two of us receiving the ones about his testicles.
I’ve spoken to/yelled at a few people about all this, asking whether I was just having particularly bad luck. 100 percent of these people said no, I wasn’t. That this was just how it was when dealing with the “health system”. And it is the “system”.
I’ve worked in large, complex organisations and know that simple things like getting a name changed can fry the motherboard of the single IBM upon which the whole system hinges. But I’m also not prepared to accept it’s good enough when it comes to how we are treated as patients.
I’m not going to sit here and write a shitty diatribe that lays it all at the feet of the many hard-working people in a system that’s under-resourced and overburdened. I’ve worked in large, complex organisations and know that simple things like getting a name changed can fry the motherboard of the single IBM upon which the whole system hinges. But I’m also not prepared to accept it’s good enough when it comes to how we are treated as patients.
There is already an enormous amount of indignity, vulnerability and power imbalance baked into our dealings with the health system. It’s the one place where most of us truly don’t know what we don’t know. We do what we’re told and don’t ask our stupid questions. We just lump feeling disempowered, isolated and frustrated. We accept a standard of care and service we wouldn’t accept from most other service providers and we do all this in exchange for wisdom from on high and not having the wrong thing cut out or cut off.
My examples might all look like a series of funny admin errors served up to a bolshy middle class woman with some minor health issues and health insurance, but really, they’re yet another example of how rickety our health system is. It’s stretched and broken and isn’t able to account for the human beings attached to the organs being attended to. Our fears and concerns when we are at our most vulnerable are treated as being superfluous to our capacity to cope with what’s going on.
Throughout all of this, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that I have managed to get slightly better outcomes because I’m prepared and able to fight. I’m able to advocate for myself. I have a good phone voice and English is my first language. I have health insurance and I’m not in a position of precarity or vulnerability. I own my own business and can take the time to call and email during work hours. These shouldn’t be the conditions upon which good health outcomes are based. If this is my experience, how the hell are people who are genuinely ill and fighting on multiple fronts meant to find the energy and time to get the outcomes they deserve?