A few days after my visit to Waitakere hospital’s emergency department, I received a letter advising me of an appointment at 8.30am on Wednesday 18 May at Waitakere hospital. Thinking this was a prompt follow-up to my ED visit I turned up and after a few minutes I found myself in a room talking to the specialist who had expertly removed the basal cell carcinoma from the side of my nose in October 2014.
After experiencing some confusion about why I was there, I learned that this was not a follow-up appointment to my ED visit the week before. It was an appointment to discuss the referral for surgery to remove the sebaceous cyst on the back of my neck that my GP has sent in two weeks ago. The specialist did not know that following the visit to my GP who had advised me to go to ED should the cyst begin oozing, and having received the same advice from my oncologist Dr S. when things got worse, I had indeed turned up at Waitakere hospital the week before.
The specialist also did not know that I had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and nor did he know that I had just endured five months of very heavy duty chemotherapy. This felt very unsafe.
How can a doctor discuss options for dealing with a health issue with a patient when he does not have a complete record of recent and hugely significant health events in the patient’s life? This is an utterly appalling situation. It relies on the patient being able to give an accurate account of the missing information once it becomes clear that the doctor does not have a complete picture of the patient’s current situation. And should the patient not be aware that the doctor doesn’t have all the information he or she needs, what happens then? It doesn’t bear thinking about!
I gave a brief summary of the events of the past six months to the specialist and described the history of my sebaceous cyst. I also admitted that I did not feel ready to be having surgery for the complete removal of the cyst so soon after finishing chemotherapy. Hospitals feel like dangerous places to me at the moment. And as difficult as having regular changes of the dressings are, these are preferable to being admitted to hospital for surgery. He agreed. He also said he suspected that the chemotherapy had contributed to the sudden inflammation and break down of the skin on the cyst.
I paid the parking fee and walked towards my car feeling tearful and utterly terrified at how disconnected the health system is. This is unsafe care and it is simply not good enough. But I am not sure I have the energy to write a formal complaint.