Tuesday, April 18, 2006

MISSION: NHS CO-OPERATION, a play in 5 scenes

inspired by Super Hero Otto and Winston The Boy

Christina - a frumpy pit bull disguised as a human being taking on the physical appearence of an African-American 40-something woman who has been a former administrative and poetry diva turned teacher and devoted mum. She wears baggy grey trousers which no longer fit properly, topped it with a raggedy black and tan fleece jumper.
SweetIndia - 20-something NHS Dental gatekeeper of Indian or Pakistani descent
SistaFriend: 40-something, NHS Dental gatekeeper of African descent.
Doreen - 50 something, NHS dental gatekeeper of European Extraction
Victoria - 40 something, NHS Administrative Dental Facility Manager of European extraction.

Scene 1: Black Stage - Opening Monologue
I have much to learn from these small people. Super Hero Otto and Winston The Butterfly/Giraffe/Tiger/Leopard Boy. They can put on costumes and make a light day of play.

This morning I have to go to the Royal London Hospital Emergency Dental Clinic. I knew I had to go there. I don’t want to. I’m almost fully human now and this will be a real setback. But, in order to save money and not irradiate my son twice in a 2 week span - I have to obtain....THE X-RAYS.

My true self - the pit bull - is hungry for blood. She wants to gnaw and gnaw at the legs of those who’ve harmed her master. She’s howling. I feel her clawing at the inside of my rib cage.

But - I have muzzled her. Her head twists from side-to-side in outrage. Her paws scrape across my jowls. I fear she will claw her way out.

But - we must save the boy. And this is England. We may not be unforgivably rude or alien, else all is lost.

Scene 2: Gate 1 - Royal London Hospital Ground Floor
(Christina enters ground floor reception and approaches the window)

Christina: Hi, I don’t know if you remember me, we were here last week?

(SweetIndia nods.)

Christina: Yeah - umm, thanks for the tip on different emergency rooms last week, but, having all of his teeth pulled is unacceptable. You thought so too. Remember?

(SweetIndia nods:)

Christina: I think we’re out of time for dilly-dallying. So, I’ve arranged for my son to be treated in America, next week.

(SweetIndia raises her eyebrows.)

Christina: Yeah, it’s really incredible, our friends and family have all helped us raise the money so he can have a normal life with teeth and everything. So, I need to pick up his x-rays.

(SweetIndia looks surprised, amazed, delighted, ruffles through some files, grabs mine and then frowns.)

SweetIndia: I’m sorry. I can’t give them to you.

Christina: Pardon me?

SweetIndia: Only a dentist can let you have them.

Christina: You do realise, I’m going to America on Thursday to fix this problem?

SweetIndia: I would if I could. But, wait...I’ll call upstairs. (She dials phone. Mutter, mutter, mutter. She looks up at Christina) You’ll have to go upstairs and see if they can help you.

Christina: Okay, thanks. And I really appreciate your support last week!

Scene 3: Gate 2 - Royal London Hospital 3rd Floor
(Big queue at reception. Christina patiently waits her turn. Sistafriend hurries in from her break. )

Sistafriend: Oy? You aright?

Christina: Long story - tell you when you get to your desk.

(She waits. She graciously (and manipulatively) lets others in front of her. Sistafriend sits at her desk. Calls next. Christina hurries to her place.)

Christina: Hi! Thanks for all of your help last week. You’ve made a tremendous impact on my son’s life. Truly. Listen. Surely you understand that it is impossible for my son to spend age 3 until 7 toothless.

Sistafriend: Yeah?

Christina: It will have a horrible impact on his speech development, peer relationships, self-esteem...

Sistafriend: I know. I know...I have a son.

Christina: Oh, great. He must be wonderful. (She nods and smiles.) So, I’m here to get my son’s x-rays. My friends and family have managed to get us back to America. We can save the teeth. The dentist is a paediatric specialist and really wonderful over the phone and can treat him right away. We leave on thursday. The dentist just wants the x-rays. He knows how much this will cost and said it would be healthier for my son and cheaper for me if I just brought the x-rays with me.

Sistafriend: I’ll check. (She goes back to a room. She look sad. ) It will cost £24.

Christina: I’m skinned. i don’t have £24. Do you know how much money has had to be raised in less than seven days.

Sistafriend: I’d give them to you, but, I’d get in trouble. I’m really sorry.

Christina: I understand. Is your supervisor here?

Sistafriend: (looking doubtful) I’ll get her for you.

(Doreen enters.)
Doreen: May I help you?

Christina: Mad recap of all the events to date culminating in Surely you could waive the fees?

Doreen: No i can not. everyone pays the fee. these x-rays cost The Trust money, you know.

Christina: Yes, i understand that. I see that money every week coming out of my paycheque. And I’ll be saving The Trust money by having the procedure done outside of the country.

Doreen: These x-rays are the property of The Trust and they cost us money. Everyone pays the fees, solicitors, everyone.

Christina pauses...you can see solicitors cross her face. “Maybe, I could finish this conversation with your supervisor.

(Christina frantically writes down all of the information in her notebook and exits.)

Scene 3 - Gate 3, Royal London Hospital - Floor 1

(Christina stands in front of an imposing door with a complex lock on the front. She knocks once lightly. She waits. She knocks again a little louder this time. The door opens. Christina pastes a winning grin on her face and strides in.)

Christina: Ms. V?

Victoria: yes?

Christina: Hi! (sticks her hand out and shakes.) My name is christina Springer. My son was seen here last Wednesday and I’m here to see you because you’re the next one on my list.

Victoria: (looks shocked) Is this a complaint?

Christina: More of a request.

Victoria: (quickly steps out of the way . Christina steps in. Victoria quickly closes both doors.) How may i help you?

Christina: (Mad recap ineptitude, transAtlantic flights, good American dentist, NHS expenses saved, incredible community support. Christina sighs. Tears well up in her eyes, she is feeling very frustrated.) So, but for the fact of my background in public relations and fund-raising for charities, my son would be toothless until age 7 simply because the system is broken and all of you are forced to do the best you can. All I want are his x-rays. We have no more money. We can not pay for them.

Victoria: (Pulls up his file. She validates all of the mistakes to date on the computer system.) I’ll see what I can do. Will you wait back up on the 3rd floor.

Christina: Sure, thanks so much!

Scene 4 - Gate 2, Royal London Hospital - 3rd Floor

(Christina enters and sits in the waiting room.)

Sistafriend: You aright?

Christina: Thanks, yeah, Ms. V asked me to wait here.

Sistafriend: (surprised) Oh! Okay.

(Time and time passes.)

Sistafriend: I can call her for you?

Christina: Thanks I’ll do anything for that boy. (She nods.) Right now what I have to do is be patient. But - no bother - when you don’t have anything else to do...you pray.

Sistafriend: (smiles) You’re right.

(Time passes and passes. Personnel come and go. Many remember Christina and Winston. They ask questions. Christina fields them. Let’s them know wee bits and pieces. They all wish the boy well. Finally Ms. V bustles in.)

Ms V: I’m sorry it took so long. I had to have a dentist sign off on them.

Christina: Thanks! I’ll bring them back!

Ms. V: No, no. These are your copies. Should I cancel his other appointment?

Christina: I thought I did this morning, but, if you’d be so kind to make sure it was cancelled, I’d be so appreciative.

Ms. V: Yes, I’ll take care of that. otherwise, it will show up in the system as another non-attendance

Christina: Sure, I understand. And I’ll phone tomorrow to make sure it all was taken care of.

She nods. They shake hands. Christina refrains from skipping out of the hospital. She does brandish the x-rays at Sistafriend who beams a huge smile and gives a thumbs up.

Scene 5 - Black Stage - Final monologue.

Feeling pretty proud of myself this morning. Not once did the following words cross my lips:
+ solicitor,
+ sue,
+ you pay, it’s your God-damned fault,
+ inept sons of bitches you’ll pay for this
+ hunt you and all your relations down,
or the dreaded
+ look for yourself in a poem which I will both publish and perform all over the world.

I’m also noticing what a long way I’ve come from being in the States. And I’m thankful for the in person and otherwise friends I’ve made since I’ve been here. And I especially cherish my quieter, more congenial friends back home.

I still feel that pit bull growling and snapping within me. But, she’s tamer now. And she knows when to let go.


Anonymous said...

why does your son have such bad teeth? do you let him snack on sugary foods, and not brush his teeth? dental decay is an entirely preventable disease you know. Instead of castigating the NHS, maybe you should take a moment to consider how your son ended up in this situation. Even if he does have all his teeth 'fixed' in America, if you both carry on with the damaging habits that led you there, he'll be in a similar situation in the not too distant future. Prevention is better than cure.

Christina Springer said...

Well, actually, we do a lot of prevention. We are not neurotic about sweets or juice, however, he is aware that there is alway a trade off. Sweets and juice are immediately followed by the tooth brush. We do a lot of brushing and I carry a toothbrush and paste with me at all times.

I find it appalling that we attempted to see a dentist on several occasions. We were stymied frequently by the dentist extending holidays, failing to show up at the office and other reasons not of our making. In addition, the Royal London Hospital mishandled our paperwork which resulted in losing critical prevention time.

Finally, in the States, we have known children who also have weak enamel. They got immediate, proper, preventative treatment with no waiting lists or other stalling. Their teeth are fine.

A system which has a 6 month waiting list for filling cavities is broken.

Anonymous said...

But why can't the general public realize the system is broken?? They pay more here in taxes than I ever did for private health care--I had better service, choice of doctors, hospitals and dates--the system here is just aweful.

I would have shouted down the dental place until I got the x-rays. Something I would never have done in my life until I got here--it is just too frustrating dealing with any customer service/medical service in the UK.