Hazel McHaffie

Exemplary service

We all know about the devastating effect of the pandemic on NHS waiting lists, and doctors’ appointments, and cancer diagnoses and treatment. We’ve all been aware of the changed rules of engagement for going into hospitals; some of us even fell foul of the policies that kept us from visiting our loved ones in hospitals and homes, denied us opportunities to say those last goodbyes.

So I’ve been staggered by the ongoing care I’ve received as an outpatient myself. Four and a half years ago I was diagnosed with cancer and had two surgeries to treat it. Because it was one of the more virulent and life-threatening forms of malignancy, I was told I would be monitored closely for five years, and given contact details for specialists whom I could ring if I was worried about anything between appointments. Initially I was seen every three months, and then gradually the time periods extended. Then the pandemic struck and so many routine appointments were cancelled. But mine were continued. When complete lockdown was in place I was given a consultation by phone, but once restrictions lifted sufficiently, the team felt I should be seen in person, and real appointments resumed. Last week I had my penultimate consultation.

To be honest I should have been perfectly satisfied if they’d said, just contact us if you’re worried. Indeed, I’ve felt guilty about taking up a valuable slot in a beleaguered health service, and told them so. But they’ve been adamant; each check is important, my welfare is important. I am both impressed and grateful. They have done all the worrying for me.

So it was perhaps serendipitous that, this latest visit, I took with me to the clinic waiting room a slim volume about a woman who worries about everything! It’s The Purveyor of Enchantment by Marika Cobbold – an undemanding read, requiring little concentration.

Clementine Hope, thirty-six, large and newly divorced, is a piano teacher and pathological worrier. She inherits a house, a stack of unfinished fairy tales, and an inferiority complex from her Aunt Elvira. Her half-sister Ophelia is younger, smaller, calmer and saner, and she despairs of Clementine’s fears and negativity.

When Clementine, after a failed relationship, determines to take herself in hand, she goes overboard in the risks she takes. Why does she have to be so extreme? a friend asks. Her reply: ‘I think you have to be to arrive in the middle. It’s a question of adjustment. I’ve been living a life confined by petty fears. Now I’m trying to be magnificently bold in order to finally arrive somewhere in the region of normal and sensible.’ Magnificently bold or magnificently stupid it may be, but her homespun version of aversion therapy does the trick: her fears recede and she reaches for a different future where she is in control … in spite of Ophelia.

Needless to say, I didn’t read the whole book waiting for my appointment!  Conscious of the importance of limited time and space in the socially distanced chairs, appointments are now super-efficient. Hats off to an excellent department and its team of committed staff. And the book? Well, it’s on its way to the charity shop. Not one for my shelves, I’m afraid.

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