I live in the UK and have for seven years. In the last two years, I have used the National Health Service about as intensively as anyone I know: first I had a high-risk pregnancy that involved in-patient stays and a large amount of facetime with senior doctors; then, I had two very fragile babies who spent ten weeks in the NICU followed by months (and years) of follow-up from various teams who monitor the girls’ development. I have nothing but gratitude for the way that I am my daughters were cared for; I’m getting emotional thinking about it as I type.
The consensus among Brits is, I think, that when you have a life-threatening condition (as my daughters and I did), the care you receive from the NHS is first-rate. If it is something less pressing, you will be seen…eventually. And if it is an elective procedure, well, it is very hit-and-miss.
This was the experience I had when went to my GP with an elevated heart rate and various other symptoms that were eventually diagnosed as Graves’ Disease (an overactive thyroid). Although I had lost dramatic amounts of weight and had various unpleasant symptoms, like anxiety, tingling in my feet, and CONSTANT hunger, I was not in any immediate danger. It took months for me to get an appointment with a consultant, complicated by the fact that, when I started seeking treatment I was pregnant, then lost the pregnancy, and then went to one fertility/endocrinology clinic where the doctor (later my doctor, with the girls) apologised profusely for bringing me into a ward full of pregnant ladies a few weeks after a miscarriage. When I finally saw the right person, I was given medication and sent on my way in a matter of minutes – because that was all I needed, not because anyone was being flippant about my health.
During the months that I waited for treatment, and waited for the green light to start trying for another baby, I was so frustrated and fed up: I needed five minutes with someone who could give me a prescription, and it took me five months (from the first GP visit) to get it. If I hadn’t had to wait, maybe I wouldn’t have lost the pregnancy in the first place. Maybe I would already be pregnant again. Maybe things would have been different.
Recently a friend mentioned that she was having suspicious, potentially thyroid-related symptoms, and that she was not optimistic that the response from the NHS would be speedy. And that’s when I realised that I was completely at peace with my thyroid experience: if I hadn’t manifested Graves Disease the way that I did, I wouldn’t have the girls, and they are exactly the babies I want to have. I spent so much energy wishing they’d just get it sorted only to end up grateful, in the end, that they took their time.
I mean, I learned after the disease reappeared at the end of 2017 that I will likely be facing surgical removal of my thyroid in the relatively short term (a couple years) and until then I will be on medication to regulate my hormones. It meant the girls were carefully monitored, as they had a higher risk of thyroid complication, and its a genetic disease so they might have it later in life – all of which is not great. I’m not thrilled to be ill, or to have passed my wonky genes to my kids.
But. The only way I was ever having three kids is if I had twins, and it turns out I love it. So thank you, NHS. Your peculiar brand of efficiency and ineptitude brought me these children, and I can no longer imagine my family any other way.