My NHS Nightmare: Living in Chronic Pain

I’ll call you back. Ring back next week. I’m going to put you on hold. Please wait. Someone will get back to you. These things take time.

These were the responses I heard on almost a daily basis as I fought to get a hospital referral. All the while living in intense pain, amongst other awful symptoms that left my GP branding me a ‘mystery’. They couldn’t provide me with a diagnosis so they referred me to my local hospital, so there I sat on this arbitrary waiting list which no one could provide a time frame for.

So I waited. I waited 6 weeks, with no treatment or relief for my mysterious symptoms. After 6 weeks, I was reaching my limit, my pain had only gotten worse and over-the-counter pain relief was proving to be useless. So yet again, I spent my time on hold with various medical personnel. After another 2 weeks of fighting to speak to an actual doctor rather than receptionists and nurses who knew little about my case, I finally spoke to a doctor. I begged him to do something, anything.

Little did I know his ‘something’ would turn out to cause me more distress. I was prescribed painkillers, more specifically, codeine. Now anyone that has taken codeine will know that stuff is strong, and the side effects are equally so. I was unaware of codeine’s reputation and was relieved to finally be able to ease the pain that was dominating my life. The moment my prescription arrived I took 2 tablets and went about my day. 20 minutes later I was laying on my bed unable to lift my head because and I quote ‘its too heavy’. I was high.

Completely off my head with a day of work and studying ahead of me, this was the start of my inability to go about my life as usual. So I called in sick and resided myself to my bed. A few hours later my second side effect emerged in the form of intense vomiting. Once I had cleared the entire contents of my stomach I slept for 14 hours straight and woke up (the codeine having left my system) once again in agony. Some might ask why, after that experience with the codeine, I would take them again. This is where my answer may provide you some insight into how intense my pain was. I would take the side effects of the codeine, as intense and unpleasant as they are, any day over my pain.

Fast forward a week later, and my side effects had left me unable to work, study or do much of anything expect sleep and throw up. I hadn’t been able to keep much food down and then, with my stomach basically empty, I started throwing up whatever liquid I ingested – leaving me dehydrated and emotional. I was left with no choice but to stop taking the codeine so I could provide my body with some nutrition. After 2 days of trying to speak to a doctor about these side effects, I was prescribed a whole load more medications. The painkiller Naproxen to allow me to reduce my Codeine dosage to hopefully ease the side effects (It did not). Then anti-nausea medication to prevent me throwing up everything and 2 other medications relating to my other symptoms. My pharmacy bill that month was £75. Which is a lot for medications that I now relied on to get through the day. After arguing my lack of quality of life was reason enough to need an appointment urgently, I had finally convinced my GP to write an expedite letter to the hospital in an attempt to jump the waiting list. Filled with pills and a new found hope for my referral I waited patiently again. It felt like Christmas morning when I saw that NHS stamp in the post. I ripped open the letter to find my appointment date stamped clearing in the centre of the page:

4th of August 2021.

I was outraged and devastated. They expect me to live like this for over more 4 months. Not taking into account the 4 months I’ve already spent deteriorating. I’m not one for confrontation but I feel bad for the receptionist that answered my call that day. I went full Karen-style on that hospital to hear the same line ‘Ring back next week and we’ll find out what’s going on’. This week is that week. I spent 45 minutes on hold to get told they’d ‘call me back’.

While I understand the COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge strains on the NHS and its departments are staffed thinly due to relocation of doctors to the COVID wards, but I was made to feel like a nuisance, an inconvenience and not at all like a priority – all because the basic blood tests came back clean. Those initial bloods put me right at the back of the queue, and my deterioration, side effects or quality of life were of no concern. I am still waiting and I expect to continue waiting for a while to come.

Trinity is a first year English student at University of Leicester, originally from Bourne, Lincolnshire. She is looking to pursue a career in journalism.

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