Sunday, 5 January 2014

Rural health care - or the mysterious tale of the spider bite

Last week I experienced what it's like to go to a GP in a rural town. A large red swelling had appeared on my right leg On New Year's Day. It was hot and had a hard centre. It was painful to walk and seemed to be growing larger by the hour. I tried a few remedies over the course of the day but when I awoke the next day to a bigger, redder, angrier swelling, I decided that I needed to see a doctor.

Firstly, I discovered that one must call in the morning to make an appointment for that day. It is not possible to book ahead. Therefore, making an appointment is like trying to win a competition on a radio station - you just have to keep hitting redial until you succeed in getting through. By the time we spoke to one of the receptionists, only late afternoon appointments were available. In the time taken to give my first name, the slot we thought we were booking for had been snapped up and I was in to see a different doctor at 3:45pm.

I arrived a few minutes early to complete paperwork. It was very hot, so I asked the receptionist where I could refill my water bottle.

She looked at me, puzzled.

"Where can I refill my water bottle?" I repeated.

"We don't do that here," came her mean reply.

"Wow. Really?" was the best that I could do.

I took a seat in the expansive waiting room. I took in the meagre pile of sticky magazines, children's toys spread all over the floor, the blaring television and the miserable looking people and imagined the difference a supply of cool water would make.

Before long a very large man came and sat right beside me. There were so many seats and available places to sit, but he sat right beside me and proceeded to sneeze and cough. I moved. I didn't want to leave the doctor sicker than when I went in!

I  was called in to see the doctor only ten minutes after my appointed time. He took me through and immediately took a past medical history. He didn't say hello and he didn't introduce himself. He asked a lot of questions about my past medical history that had nothing to do with my current problem. It was probably about ten minutes before he stopped typing on the computer, turned to face me and asked what my problem was today! I was appalled. (I know that all my work teaching doctors about empathy and communication probably makes me a tough audience, but really, this was sub-standard.)

I showed him my leg. The expression on his face changed (shock? distaste? fascination?) and he donned some gloves. He pressed and touched and then declared that I had been bitten by a spider. He asked me if I wanted some antibiotics to treat the secondary infection that had resulted and suggested that I take some antihistamines. I reminded him that I take antihistamines daily.

Seconds later I was out the door with a prescription for an antibiotic in my hand and a bill for $70.

By contrast, when I collected my prescription from the pharmacy, the pharmacist wanted to confirm that the tablets were for a skin infection. I showed her the bite. She nodded vigourously and said that she'd seen about five others just like this.

I've been sleeping with an icepack to take the heat out and the antibiotics have reduced the swelling and the red ring of poison. I now have a hard, dark, sore lump on my leg.

It's unlikely to be a Red Back Spider that bit me (I'd be really sick). The consensus is that it's probably a White Tail spider that feasted on me. Avoid this if you can!

Have you ever been bitten by a spider? What's the worst thing you've ever been bitten by? Did you bite it back?

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