I have developed some mysterious spots on my stomach and back. My first response was to look on the internet, which I don’t recommend for those suffering from any kind of hypochondria or paranoia. After not managing to do much more than rule out meningococcal, I began showing my rash to all my friend, who responded with diagnoses ranging from ringworm to shingles, and treatment plans varying from flaxseed oil to teatree oil.
One friend suggested seeing a doctor. I hadn’t thought of that. So I jumped on the internet again and googled ‘bulk billing doctors melbourne’. I found out that it’s hard to locate a doctor who bulk bills, particularly in the CBD. So I rode my bike to Coburg and sat in a waiting room adorned with plastic plants and a wood-veneer desk. Dr S- (the ‘lady doctor’) was a stern mother type, who threw a sharp, disapproving look when I confessed that I got “a little bit drunk” last Saturday night, but smiled when I told her, candidly, that my recent sleep deprivation was due to a new boyfriend. She looked at my spots through some weird mechanical looking device, and concluded that I would need a blood test to be certain of whatever disease I’d contracted.
So I jumped on my bike again and trundled to the Sisters of Mercy on Moreland Road. A nurse with grey hair and a smiling, olive complexion sat me in the big grey blood-drawing chair and tapped around for some veins.
“…On my way, to where the air…is…clear…”
I recognised that tune. “Are you singing the Sesame Street theme song?”
“Oh yes!” she answered, pulling the tourniquet tight. “I’ve had it in my head all day!”
I told her about the time I taught a group of people to sing the Sesame Street song in four-part harmony. She laughed, and noticed the strange spots on my arm. “What are those?”
I explained that I didn’t know, and that was why I was here.
“Oh, I think I have something similar!” she cried. “I’ll show you!” She stood up, putting down the alcohol wipe to untuck her blouse.
I inspected a few blotches on the nurse’s back. “Oh yes, that could be what I’ve got,” I said.
“Well, do give me a call when you’ve got the diagnosis,” said the nurse, and focussed again on the task. “Now, I’m not going to bullshit you,” she said, looking up. “This is going to hurt.”
It wasn’t too bad, and I left smiling, encouraging her to keep singing.
So it turns out that I probably have psoriasis, which is, apparently, one of the most ancient skin diseases known to humans, and incurable to Western conventional medicine. Dr S- prescribed cortisone cream which I refuse to use, because it doesn’t actually fix anything – it only treats the symptom. Nick says that your skin is like your body’s billboard, and will signal when there’s something wrong. Agreeing, I went along to the clinic at the Australian College of Natural Medicine in the city, and spent an hour and a half telling a trainee nutritionist and naturopath what I eat, how much I poo and lots of other giggle-inspiring information (from me, not them – they were very professional). My treatment plan involves fish oil, lots of nuts (thankyou stimulus package) and some kind of ‘flower essence’ which I drop underneath my tongue whenever I’m stressed. I’m trying to have a bit of a health overhaul – more sleep (despite the boyfriend), no alcohol, no dairy, no caffeine, etc etc. I’m also trying to remove the sources of anxiety from my life, which is proving a little more difficult.
The naturopath wants my blood test results. Dr S-'s receptionist is being all possessive about them – apparently I might have to go and collect them (40 minutes on my bike) because of ‘confidentiality reasons’. Whatever. People send confidential information in the post all the time. I think they’re just being difficult because they want to have a monopoly on my health…I guess their pride is at stake. They would hate it that I’m seeing a naturopath. But the doctor can’t fix what I’ve got – it’s like she would rather I stay sick than admit that she doesn’t have all the answers.
But anyway, it’s been an interesting exercise in health-service navigation, which I’m not used to because I normally don’t have heaps of things wrong. You really have to be switched on and quite pro-active. I can see how people would just languish for ages without proper medical attention, or else try treatment after ineffective treatment because of a blind faith in a particular system. I reckon you have to take your health into your own hands, which is something the conventional medical profession trains us not to do.