Just under a month ago, I began to worry about diseases. Yep, my concern for my own welfare, having decided to expose myself to the world, as it were, was somewhat late. While obsessing about the where and when of my trip, I gave little thought to what was waiting for me when I got there. In my case Rabies, Japanese Encephalitis, Hep A, B, Typhoid, Cholera, Diptheria, dot dot dot. Vaccination was a distant concept and the NHS the obvious solution. I ignored the vague disquiet about this solution (for I am always vaguely chattering inside) and the reasoned voice that suggested that the strained NHS might have global trotters stump up for their own protection against the exotica.
And it all went smoothly at first. I called my GP’s surgery, politely explained that I was going travelling for nine months and I was aware I would need some injections before I went. Answer: you fill in a form. Of course you do. And so I did. And I was proud to find said form on the website, then satisfied with the message that it had been ‘successfully completed’. One more summit conquered on the travel quest.
I waited for the telephone call.
I waited some more and I was not surprised that I did not hear anything for a few days. I am patient. The NHS is busy; I know that. But somewhere I read that you have to start these vaccinations eight weeks before you go away and (because characteristically I left it to the skin of my teeth) the disquiet begins to be distinctly not quiet at all.
‘Er, hello, my name’s…..I completed a form recently for travel vaccinations and I haven’t heard anything.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘Well, Nepal and Thailand are the ones I’d need vaccinating for.’
‘Oh, if you’re going to more than one location then you need to go to the vaccination clinic.’
‘Right,’ meaning, ‘and you are telling me this now?’
And she reads my mind – which is what GP’s receptionists are trained to do, if only to dash hopes – savagely: ‘It was on the back of the form you filled in.’
And because of this predatory desire to disappoint, I know how important it is to remain civil. ‘Yes, well I guess I wouldn’t see that because I filled it in online.’ Have it.
I wait for an acknowledgement (her having it, as it were). Nothing. So I ask for the number and ring off.
The clinic tell me in the most straight forward way that yes, they can do all the vaccinations but they will charge me. GP surgeries do this a lot apparently – referring people to a private clinic for vaccinations that they could provide for free. ‘Go back to them,’ she said, ‘there are some they will give you for free.’
So, I ring back for round two. I remind the lady who I am.
No, we can only do vaccinations for people going to one location. It’s how we weed out the work (I agree this is effective, but imply it is ridiculous and inconvenient), the nurse does it for free, you see – voluntary. It’ a lot of work for her.’ Requisite guilt on my part.
But Nepal and Thailand require the same vaccinations, it almost is like going to one place (hear pleading). The best she will promise is for the nurse to ring me. In four days. FOUR DAYS. My eight weeks is shrinking.
Hastily Googled, I dial another local surgery. Yes? You do vaccinations? That’s no problem, I’ll come down and register now.
I race over shabbily dressed from working at home all day, full of anxious optimism. At the desk, I explain I have come to register and book an appointment with the nurse for vaccination.
‘When do you go?’
Blah, blah, blah.
Cue look of delight (sure I was not mistaken about that). ‘Oh, well it’s too late, you need an appointment eight weeks before you go. You won’t get one.’
I like to think I have the monopoly on negativity. I am tempted to try to out negative her, a duel of barbed words and opinions, but no, I am aware of my surroundings, this is the GP receptionist; treat with caution. ‘Okay, but I need to try.’
‘And, you can’t book an appointment today, you’re not on the system.’
‘What?’ F**k caution, ‘computer say no?!’
I slink over to a quiet corner to fill out the forms, pass them back and tell her I’ll call tomorrow.
When I do, fingers crossed and praying I speak to someone else. She gives me a date six weeks before departure. Will that be ok? I want to know. You usually start at eight weeks, do you know why is it usually eight weeks?
She didn’t. A nurse would. She would have to get a nurse to call me to discuss it. She could give me a time slot – five weeks before departure. Do the maths. So, I give up and hang up, picturing my rabid self, driven crazy by clear liquids, becoming paralytic and dying.
But seriously. The NHS do not vaccinate against rabies, you do have to pay. It is a three course vaccination, each 7 days apart. Nor do they provide Japanese Encephalitis or Hepatitis B (among others). My advice, from lessons learned; read the NHS website and get in touch with the GP as soon as possible.