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Sue Wilson.

Byline: By Sue Wilson

They are a humourless lot, Spanish medics.

When a self-help group put together a cartoon book giving advice on accessing Spain's overloaded healthcare system, the Madrid Medical Association sought an injunction.

The judge turned down a demand to impound all copies saying it was reminiscent of the censorship of the Spanish Inquisitor, Torquemada.

True, the cartoons did depict patients' heads being sawn off in error but what does the odd decapitation matter in the quest for education?

British doctors, as we know, have wonderfully humorous dispositions , writing all those funny acronyms on patients' notes like FLK (funny looking kid) and UBI (unexplained beer injury).

I particularly like the GROLIES (Guardian reader of low intelligence in ethnic skirt) but I worry about the significance of NFN (normal for Norfolk) if it's on your notes in Whitley Bay.

And the quacks poke fun at themselves too with psychiatrists being the Freud squad and anaesthetists and surgeons "gassers" and "slashers".

Have a little smile about the last two as you are wheeled into the operating theatre. It will relax you nicely.

Personally, I like a little humour from my physician when I'm feeling rough and most British doctors can mix this in with a professional bedside manner and proper communication about the ailment and treatment options.

In Spain communication tends to be concise and clinical which can be unnerving.

A friend, having chosen, after careful research, to be treated for breast cancer in Spain, was regularly reduced to tears by her consultant informing her what her treatment was to be without explaining why it was desirable.

When she reacted badly to one course and it was stopped, she was horrified to find it was experimental.

In the UK, the confidence we have in the NHS puts great pressure on the system. When my husband needed a minor operation at short notice last week, he found he couldn't get into the nearby private hospital as it was full of National Health patients.

But Newcastle General could take him where he received immediate and excellent treatment. Communication with the outside world was a bit of a problem though.

In Spain when I heard of the impending operation, I made a surprisingly short call to Spanish International Enquiries, which checked with me that it was the hospital in Westgate Road I was after.

I rang the number and, after enough time to build a small field hospital, I was asked which ward I wanted.

I was put through to a phone where two people were having a conversation about last night's television.

Having caught up on Corrie, I was allowed to take part in the conversation and inquire of the whereabouts of my husband whose name I had to repeat three times. Maybe Eastenders was playing.

I was then put through to a children's ward at the Freeman where I was scolded and sent back to matron.

After 25 minutes on a mobile from Spain I got through to the right ward.

A short time later my friend in hospital in Spain rang to give me the direct line number of the phone by her bed.

The skills of the health service may be legendary, but customer service needs a health warning.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 9, 2004
Words:540
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