"My first visit to the Rheumatoid Clinic"

About: Western General Hospital / Rheumatology

(as the patient),

The appointment had been difficult to procure. It was a referral labelled "Urgent" and subsequently lost. I had waited 4 months....Eventually....

It took me 20 minutes to shuffle across the car park and negotiate the mountainous slope up to the main building. Six months ago I would have achieved this with a hop and a skip in about 3 minutes.

Inside, the double staircase left me short of breath but I was so eager and happy to finally be in the Rheumatoid Clinic that I approached the reception desk with the naivety of a 6 year old’s first day at school.

Reception Control!

Truly larger than life itself, the receptionist barked angrily at the crippled customers like overworked bar staff serving 3 deep at the tea time watering hole. It was as if the barrels needed changing down in the cellar. There were no drunks, no profanity, only people in pain. Standing, waiting in line. Patiently waiting patients, in pain.

The polite enquiries were administered efficiently with what I would describe as sharp disdain. Curt and to the point, like we should already know the protocol. I was directed through to the waiting “lounge” in a manner which left me in no doubt where I should go!

I shuffled my form into the only vacant seat at the inward looking square of well used office lounge furniture. It was busy. Like a very small airport departure lounge in rush hour. Nurses fleeted past in one direction then ghosted back in another. They were fast. On missions.

I was tired. The walk from the car park, up the stairs, past the “immigration control" had taken its toll. I stared at my feet and tried to make sense of it all.

How did the receptionist get that job? Who interviewed them for the job? What did it say on their CV? Who designed this “lounge?” Where is the integrity? I wonder how long everyone has been waiting? Do I moan more than that other patient? Will my consultant be a human being or an SS doctor specialising in experiments? The cleaners have missed a bit, there are 14 light tubes on the ceiling....My mind was just about to go numb.

Boom! Then it got interesting! Senses pricked and an electricity ran through me. "Keep focussed and watch what happens" I said to myself. An older lady shuffled into the lounge and there were no seats left! She was obviously in pain but I'm pretty sure we all were. Eyes narrowed and fleeting glances were exchanged. Who was going to move? What is the etiquette? A room full of pained, fatigued cripples and not enough chairs to go round. It was like the Brandenburg Gate 1939. Glances and shuffles and uncomfortable squirms. Tics and flicks and lobe stroking.

This plane is about to crash into the side of the mountain and there’s one parachute missing. Who is going to take the hit for the team?

The awkward group decision was taken out of our buckled hands as a nurse called through the next sufferer. A space was made... Silent sighs of relief and passing of wind.

The collective loss of anxiety was like watching David Batty stepping up to take a penalty for England (Scottish waiting rooms are like this!) This emotion was quickly replaced with increased tension about another victim possibly entering the lounge.

Should I just stand up now and be done with this Russian Roulette? The atmosphere is about as strained as an inflamed Achilles tendon. Anxiety turned to anger. That there weren't enough seats for people to sit on. Were we being punished for being ill and for being in pain? Is that thought even possible? This is a hospital. Where the sick get better. So why the "meat processing?"

There is nothing worse than having chronic pain in your feet and Achilles and having to stand still... What did we do to suffer this rather unavoidably obvious "Administrative Error?"

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Response from Stuart Wilson, Director of Communications and Public Affairs, NHS Lothian

Let me first of all say that I am sorry that your experience has been a negative one at our clinic. Your comments have been passed to the relevant team to act upon.

Let me also say that your comments were very well written, descriptive and paint an excellent picture of your experience. If you are looking for some voluntary work I could do with a good writer on my Communications team!

Thank you for taking the time and effort to let us know about our care and facilities.

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Update posted by TweeterCal (the patient)

Hi Stuart, I am happy to say that my most recent visit was quick and efficient. The receptionist was very helpful and professional and I was taken straight away, without sitting down! The lounge remains the same, a functionally cramped space that could do with some modern comfort. I will fundraise for cushions when the time is right - I do not offer critique without first thinking, "what can I do?"

As for the Director of Communications and Public Affairs for NHS Lothian looking for a volunteer (workfare?) in the age of "The Big Society," I think ATOS, The DWP and my employer would at some point, raise more than an eyebrow if I were to accept your kind offer. If Government and Societal attitudes to disability weren't so nasty and punitive, I would have been more than happy to help you out.