With the general election coming up this week, I can’t help but think of the future of the NHS, which is something I never thought would ever be an issue in the UK. It is something I have always taken for granted, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Until now, that is. Well, until December 2016, when my youngest son, Nkosinathi (or Nathi for short, pronounced nah-tee) was born. In Swaziland. 5 weeks early. Totally unpredicted.
In fact, he didn’t want to be born. He had no say in the matter, and neither did I! (SORRY – TMI) My sac ruptured during the night when we were staying with my partner’s aunt in Lobamba, a VERY beautiful, rural part of Swaziland, right near the Mlilwane Game Reserve. We called a private hospital in Manzini, who told my partner to bring me in. I was seen by the doctor, who told me that I had “earned an admission to hospital”.
We had to pay E10,000 before I could be admitted, which included the fee for the consultation with the doctor. That’s about £600. Just to get in. We had to scrabble together all of our money from various cards, cash, even digging deep into the pockets of our bags for any notes and coins. It took a while, transferring money from accounts that we couldn’t take money from to accounts we could. And, bear in mind, I’m now worrying about going into labour with a baby who isn’t due for another 5 weeks and two days, and we have our toddler with us, who is getting really bored in the waiting room (as were we, especially as they only had wrestling showing on the TV).
We eventually got taken to the ward. The doctors hoped I would go into labour naturally but, after an overnight stay, nothing had happened. Nathi was clearly not wanting to come out. So, I was induced once in the morning, which did nothing, and then again at lunchtime, which finally started the contractions. By 5pm, I had only dilated 1.5cm*. The doctor explained that she didn’t think I would dilate any more than that. I was already fully effaced, which apparently is the last thing to happen in labour before the baby is ready to be born. So, my cervix was just not ready in time, and they needed to get the baby out asap.
At this point, they told me they’d have to prep me for surgery. I was going to have to have an emergency ceasarean. I was so nervous and disappointed. I went from being really excited and happy (so much so that the doctor wondered why my contractions weren’t hurting enough, and why I was able to laugh so easily!) to being so scared. I had never had any kind of major surgery before. Anywhere. Let alone in a country I didn’t know very well. My partner is from Swaziland, and I knew deep down that everything would be absolutely fine, but I was really nervous. I would have been just as nervous if the same thing had happened here in the UK. I remember being mostly worried about the spinal injection. I was afraid it would be really painful. Turns out it wasn’t that bad at all.
So, I was prepped for theatre. Catheter and everything. It was a wholly unpleasant experience. Nathi was born at 7:24pm on a Tuesday, and he was hauled over my head before being brought over for a quick kiss from mummy and daddy, then whisked off to the ICU. He stayed in there for 1.5 days. I had to recover on the ward, which included not being able to raise my head for 24 hours, and to lie on my back with no pillow for that whole time, which was to reduce the chances of getting very bad headaches after the anaesthetic wore off. The first time I had to get up was one of the most painful experiences of my life, as well as the headaches that I still got despite laying down for those 24 hours post-op!
Eventually, after a day and a half of not seeing him, except for little videos that my partner took on my phone for me, Nathi was brought back to the ward and we started the feeding process as well as the other therapies that he needed before he could be discharged. Every so often, someone would come and take a blood sample from him and demand money before they took the sample away to be tested, saying that they wouldn’t test it until it had been paid for. It ended up that my partner had to leave some cash with me so that these processes could be completed quickly. It was a very strange feeling to have to give cash to a nurse. We also had to buy all of the painkillers and other tablets from the pharmacy on site. I just remember feeling, by a few days in, that every minute we were in there was being paid for. And, sometimes, the doctors really dragged their heels on their decision-making! I felt very stressed knowing that any delays would cost us more and more money.
This went on for a whole week. I was discharged first, then Nathi was discharged a couple of days later. On our way out of the door, my partner received our bill. All 10 pages of it. Lists of every item used in my surgery as well as all of the drugs used to help both of us recover and stop us feeling any pain. Even every pair of sodding latex gloves that they used. Everything was itemised.
It came to almost E100,000 (That’s just over £6,000).
My very long-winded, and quite personal, point is that we would never have thought about the cost of the care if we’d been in the UK. Even with the exact same procedures and aftercare, and the same amount of latex gloves. And yet, the care would have probably been just as good (and it really was very good in Swaziland). It’s probably fair to say at this point that we could have gone to a (cheaper) government hospital, but you get what you pay for. In Swaziland, they have Medicalaid schemes but, if you can’t afford that or don’t have a job, this is the only financial option. I even heard that people have been turned away from a hospital because they cannot afford to pay the admission fees. They may have been really sick, or even dying. And they are refused treatment because of bloody money. I have also been told how expensive it can be when your babies are born early. My partner’s cousin had to pay around £80,000 for care for her premature twins, born 3 months early. It is such a far cry from what we are used to here in the UK. And we are the only nation who have this healthcare service, funded through our compulsory National Insurance contributions. But, under a continuing Tory government, who knows what the future holds for the NHS?
We all have the power to make sure the NHS is able to continue its incredible service for its citizens, and to be able to afford to continue to give great care to people without a huge bill at the end. But, also, to not have to turn sick or injured people away, just because of money. Take this as a warning from someone who has experienced the alternative.
Happy voting this Thursday! #dotherightthing
(*The reason? Apparently, it was as a result of a LLETZ procedure I had done on my cervix in July 2015, when my eldest son, Khayaletfu (or Khaya for short) was about 4 months old. I had an abnormal smear test result after his birth, so needed a colposcopy. During the colposcopy, they noticed the abnormal cells and performed a procedure to remove them. My cervix obviously scarred over after the procedure. So, the doctors in Swaziland believed that my cervix would not soften enough to be able to give birth naturally. I am now looking into whether, if I want a third, it might have to be a c-section again.)
(Photo credit: Luis Melendez at Unsplash.com)