Hasta La Vista Médico!

‘Your call is very important to us… blah’

I tuned out again as I looked at the time on screen. Not too bad, just the sixteen minutes so far.

I tuned back in as the recording of some electronic background music, unrecognisable so no copyright, so no royalties payments, ambient ersatz, faded out. Was I going to be…’Your call is very important to us, please continue to hold and you will be connected to an agent as soon as possible.’

No I wasn’t going to be…connected to anyone. Not yet, maybe never. The last time I’d called a doctor the system had sounded different, there had been a number in the queue countdown. That had been reassuring in a way but obviously had provoked some adverse comment or reaction as we had gone back to chirpily annoying slack mouthed Essex Girl vapidity. When did sitting in blind hope there may be an answer become preferable to a realistic announcement of the wait length? Some idiot focus group assessment no doubt.

The previous few occasions I remembered being on this system my call had been so important I had been cut off after half an hour and dead aired. On occasion I had been returned to a ring tone that went on presumably to eternity as it never reconnected with the chirpy vapidity. Vapid chirpiness? You choose. I have been transferred into an electronic abyss by the system and been greeted with bemusement after I rang back and explained it was me again. I have been transferred, waited in some holding room limbo and then been answered by the same receptionist, my apologies; Care Navigator. You know how desperate a service is by how arcane and Byzantine the renaming of basic functions and personnel becomes. Receptionists now stand as gate keeping Care Navigators and must be informed of your most intimate physical and mental secrets if they are to deign to allow you the vague hope of speaking to, not necessarily seeing, a doctor.

Name, date of birth and address are not the three questions you must answer to pass the Keeper of Care Navigation, that is but the First Test.

The system seems to be designed to keep you from seeing a doctor, not facilitating or Navigating towards that consummation devoutly to be wished of seeing someone qualified to know what is wrong with you and having it treated by them.

Nineteen minutes on the screen and they were still convinced my call was important to them. I had the computer screen up because I needed the number to call. I used to be able to make appointments online but when everyone realised you could do that, appointments were booked up as far as the system would go – usually a month in advance. So that stopped. They were looking at new ideas when Covid arrived like a Godsend for them. It suddenly was not only understandable they would suspend as many face to face appointment interaction opportunities as possible, but it was welcomed as a means of preventing the Dread Plague. So we went back to phoning for appointments. But phoning for appointments for telephone calls not actual appointments. I’m beginning to think GPs are being replaced by AI algorithms.

Don’t laugh. The idea is out there and we are being softened up to accept the ‘inevitable’ surrender of our health outcomes to machines. There are already causal machine learning algorithms that allegedly do a better job of diagnosis than 70% of GPs. Just don’t ask who decided the percentages. But given how the world works, say Goodbye to Dr Foster up to his middle in a puddle in Gloucester and say hello to the Cyberdyne Systems Doctor T101 up to his abs in Skynets new Care Navigation Sector, ‘Hasta La Vista Baby!’

Twenty six minutes and there’s a disturbance in the Force, and a human voice tries to say ‘Hello’ and then coughs.

Before I can be rerouted I say ‘Hello’ to grab the attention of what sounds like an actual human Care Navigation Assistant.

We politely go through the poker playing of what I want. I lead out big and bet a Doctor’s Appointment for my son. She raises with a request for his date of birth etc. I call, revealing his details with faultless memory. We get another card and I check. She bids an offer of would he be available this morning? Stunned I am about to see her when I decide I’ll call and wait another round. Yes he would. She goes all in with The doctor will ring this morning then. I see her. He wants an appointment. She reveals a Royal Flush of Doctors always ring first and she cannot book face to face appointments. I am broke and wander off to the balcony overlooking the bay and ask if may borrow a Casino Webley.

She feels pity and we eventually agree they will ring back after eleven o’clock and he can just mumble that I can speak for him. He can’t marry without my permission and he can’t join the army without my say so but I can’t speak to a doctor about him.

Now all I have to do is try and wake him up. I feel a certain amount of schadenfreude, tinged with karma not entirely unrelated to being woken at four in the morning by the sound of him practising a Metallica tune on his electric guitar. I mean it’s not what I want, but you know, who am I to argue with the demands of Doctor Arnold?

He’ll be back.

We hope.