Terence Ruffle’s adventures in the NHS


This last week has been somewhat “NHS- tastic” for me. It started with a friend being rushed to A&E in an ambulance…….only to join 9 other ambulances waiting outside the hospital. My friend arrived around 10.00 p.m., and at 4.30 a.m. the next day she was finally admitted…..to the resuscitation ward. Ten ambulances with real human beings in them were waiting outside of A&E for a bed to become free. My friend waited for six and a half hours before they were able to accommodate her.

I’m not about to diss any of the staff, although waiting outside of the resuscitation ward the following day, I appeared to have gained the cloak of invisibility: no one would make eye contact with me, and my attempts at communication were met with complete indifference. Extremely frustrating.
One hears so much about the NHS verging on collapse, well, from where I was standing, it’s already collapsed. I can’t imagine what would happen in the event of a major terrorist attack or a natural disaster, because our local A&E certainly wouldn’t be able to help anybody. Don’t get sick kids, cos going to hospital can seriously damage your health!


My second encounter was at a walk in centre: I’d been advised by my optician that I have premature age related Macular degeneration and my Doctor thought it a good idea I see a specialist. I received a letter confirming my appointment…… with Dr. Butt. Wow, the Dr Butt? I’ve seen all your movies, we share similar interests mate. Thank god it wasn’t Dr Dick, otherwise I’d have had second thoughts about attending……

I walked up to reception and the 2 ladies behind the desk were in deep conversation with another woman, who guessing by her name tag, was also an NHS worker. There was a hand written notice on the desk that said “eye clinic appointments: write your name here”. Except that there wasn’t a pen, so I tried to attract the attention of one of the ladies: “excuse me, can I have a pen please, excuse me, pen? please, excuse me, there’s no pen?”, and after a couple of minutes one of the ladies looked at me indignantly and said “yes?” and I asked whether I could use her pen. I felt dreadful intruding on their conversation, I mean Strictly, it’s a way of life, innit? How dare I interrupt, just because I’m going blind…..

I found a seat close to the front: going to appointments in clacky glass buildings like these are always a nightmare if you’re deaf. There must have been roughly 60 other adults there, with maybe 10 or so kids who were attempting to re-enact some bloody scene from the Vietnam war, or at least that’s what it sounded like to me.

But remarkably, after around 10 minutes, a chap came out, and I’m pretty sure he said “Terence Ruffle”, tho’ I couldn’t be certain and so I asked him to verify.
When we got into the small room he was using as his office, he began to talk to me. His voice was very quiet, and English obviously wasn’t his first language. So I said to him “I’m sorry sir, I’m very deaf tho’ I lip read very well, please look at me when you speak”. This was a cue for the usual over-reaction deaf people get at least half the time, from people who naturally assume that you are not only hard of hearing but retarded too, and so he barked a series of pigeon English commands at me.


Having put drops into both my eyes, to dilate my pupils so he could see the back of my retinas, he asked me to wait outside for a further 10 minutes for the drops to take effect.
Back in the waiting room, the Vietcong appeared to be making advances, judging by the screams anyway. And a new notice had appeared at reception: “minimum waiting time, 4 hours”. As the drops burned my eyes and my light sensitivity increased, I vowed if I ever got terminally ill in the UK, I categorically would not go to hospital. I’d invite my friends round to share my stash of legal Morphine, open numerous bottles of Whisky, and bop til I drop. I may even risk having a cigarette……

Sure enough, 10 minutes later, the good doctor called me back into his room, barked a few more orders at me, and looked at the back of my eyes with a powerful light machine. “You can’t drive for 4 hours now” he said, “just as well” I replied. “I don’t have a driver’s licence”. And no, thankfully he didn’t ask to look at my butt……

The upshot of the visit was that Dr Butt declared my eyes “very healthy” and that my Macular degeneration is “minor and nothing to worry about”. And then he said “but you do have cataracts on both eyes” like that was supposed to be some sort of consolation prize. Cataracts? good-oh! Oh and of course, he can treat my MD with “injections into your eyeballs”. Actually my optician had already mentioned this: “Oh my eyeballs? shove needles into them? inject them with chemicals you say? can’t bloomin’ wait! when can I start the treatment?”
That could’ve been my fault: I told Alan my optician that I’d had my last molar pulled, without anaesthetic, several days prior to my previous appointment, and saved myself £30. He obviously believes I’m some kind of masochistic pain freak. Me and my big mouth……

I staggered out of the walk in centre, my pupils so dilated the bright sun blotted out the world, and I began to panic that I wouldn’t see the bus home arriving……


My final encounter this week, was with my favourite health professional, Sister Ray. Yep, the Sister Ray uncle Louis. Sister Ray has been maintaining my ears for some 17 years now. I am deaf in both ears, and I have a kind of adult glue ear too, which needs attention every 3 months or so. Eve has become like an older sister to me, she’s extremely professional but she has an excellent sense of humour and we are close. I remember taking Alfie to see her once: she was trying to extract a large blim of something from his ear, it was obviously causing him pain, so he told her “you’re hurting me dear” in a very polite way. She apologised and continued. A little later, Alfie says “YOU’RE HURTING ME DEAR!” in a very loud voice, and at that point thankfully the task was quickly completed, otherwise he’d have probably got up and ran off!  He was so well mannered, even with Dementia……

There’s something very old school and soothing about Sister Ray, a touch of “Carry on nurse”, she could have been Hattie Jacques much slimmer, more attractive younger sister. I told her that my Tinnitus has been chronic of late, I knew she’d say it was a result of stress, and she suggested that perhaps another visit to the Tinnitus therapist was in order.

I told her about the dreadful scenario that greeted my friend at A&E, and Eve explained that the hospital was extra busy with people from local residential and nursing homes, unable to receive adequate treatment for their illness in care. I also mentioned my experience as the invisible man, and she agreed it was a very annoying scenario. I stressed that I didn’t want to diss any of the staff, but Eve said there were a small number of people working in the NHS that did nothing but moan and complain about conditions, that those people get paid a very reasonable wage, and they should just get on with it, or get another job……

Anyway, Eve cleaned my ears and I thanked her kindly, told her to take care and that I’d see her in three months. That was three days ago, incredibly I woke up today with virtually no Tinnitus! This is a rare occurrence I can tell you, and such a relief. Unless you’ve experienced Tinnitus, it’s difficult to describe it, but I guess I get close when I say at it’s worst it’s like having a noisy old washing machine on final spin next to your head, 24/7. It’s louder than anything else, including my music, although amazingly loud music no longer aggravates it. I remember wondering why the immersion heater tank in my room was continually filling: I guess I must’ve been around 10 at the time: I had Tinnitus even then tho’ I didn’t realise it……



I guess this week I’ve seen several extremes in the NHS. Clearly 10 ambulances waiting outside of my local A&E is a dreadful thing, and it’s obvious their resources are stretched to the limit. I suppose the walk in centre was a fairly painless experience, for me anyway, and fairly quick, but not for the poor buggers I left behind. It would seem getting treatment for minor ailments is no longer possible, unless you want to make yourself feel a good deal worse by an endless wait in an uncaring environment. Thank god for the last vestiges of the Health service, with people like Sister Ray, totally caring and committed.

And at this point I must also acknowledge that my Doctor, my Dentist and my Optician are all fabulous people, with bedside manners second to none, all sharing an excellent sense of humour, and an instinctual ability to heal. God bless them all……


4 Responses to “Terence Ruffle’s adventures in the NHS”

  1. Enjoyed your writing and delivery Terence……………you should be on the stage.

  2. Another insightful read, and well put. We can mostly all at least empathize with this story. I have several of my own regarding the NHS, some are comedy sketches and other’s are pure horror. I know it’s a great thing to have and I have been grateful of it’s services on several occasions.
    However I do feel that with more and more elements of the NHS being sold off and privatised is a dangerous move. Its becomes less of a health service and more a poorly run business chasing unobtainable “targets” very sad indeed.

  3. I do hope you publish your memoirs one day Terry. They are full of passion, wit, emotion and humour. You were born to write!
    I am behind the NHS all the way, but sadly have had terrible experiences of late. The most upsetting six years ago, at the West Suffolk Hospital. The way my beloved Dad was treated in there was horrendous and I will never forget it. The surgery I attend, is also not coping and getting an appointment in less than five weeks impossible, unless you happen to get through on the telephone between 8-8.20 am, when you may be lucky enough to see a GP. the same day.
    Gone are the days when you stayed in hospital for a week after a tonsillectomy and ate as much jelly and ice cream as you could manage

  4. A good read as always matey. I didn’t realize you were suffering quite that much. Yeah, even in the medical-health mecca of the world, I try to avoid doctors unless it’s really serious. I hate the way they put all those bright fluorescent lights on and show up all your spots!

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