We’re on the train, slowly moving out of London.
The more green I see speeding past the train window, the more nervous I get. Historically I do not do well with hospitals. Or with small towns. Or with quaint little railway stations like this one.
All of this is pushing a multitude of buttons for me, and I try not to judge even before we walk into the clinic, but it’s difficult not to. I’m still wary after our previous hospital visit in Belgium, and while I am eager to note any differences being in a private clinic the UK will make, I don’t feel overly confident.
But we make it there.
Stepping inside the clinic feels like stepping into a furniture shop. Everything is brand new, aggressively trendy, and carrying that aroma of freshly unwrapped plastic. The air-conditioning is turned on high.
We are greeted by the woman at the reception desk. She has to take our pictures so we will be in their security system, and I smile vaguely for mine while remembering to breathe. I have a list of questions clutched in my sweaty hands. We can do this.
Next, a nurse collects us and takes us into an office. She makes us sign some papers, but where we thought there might be time for asking our questions, there isn’t at all. She ushers us out again to pay first.
Apparently even though it’s only been ten minutes, we owe them several hundred pounds already.
Jo takes out her credit card and I feel a tight band of worry around my stomach. This is… a lot considering we haven’t really seen anyone nor done anything yet.
We’re directed to wait for the doctor next, so we do.
There is nobody else in the waiting room. Or in the hallways. It feels like we’re all alone in this entire clinic.
We eye the fancy espresso machine, but share a cup of water instead.
It doesn’t take long at least. Within minutes, the doctor – a woman, which I appreciate – comes by and guides us into another indistinguishable office. I am still clutching our plastic folder with questions and I put it on my lap as we sit down, hoping for some answers this time.
The doctor delves straight into it. She lays out a ton of information – rules for their programme, for the donors, the law, the medication, the time scale… Everything I had so desperately asked about for weeks when we were trying to contact clinics is laid out before us, and I perk up considerably hearing it.
We go through our list of questions, but most she had already answered for us, and the others she is happy to clarify.
Then more forms come out.
First several options need to be crossed off on whether we want to be counted in scientific research. We give our informed consent.
Next are the forms stating that both Jo and I will be the official parents of any child resulting from this treatment(!). I sign those very happily.
But then there are even more forms. About the donors and laws, about the treatments, about… it all goes so fast that I lose count of how many times I jolt down something vaguely resembling my signature, but it must be over twenty times. I go along with the whirlwind of it, but the words ‘informed consent’ start to blur. We don’t get a chance to read any of it. We don’t get to keep any of the forms either, as soon as we write down our names they are whisked away and replaced by new ones.
I feel overwhelmed by it. I don’t want to sign something without reading or understanding it. But the doctor is so fast, so sure, that I struggle to know what I should demand. I stay quiet, because I don’t want to complain, because…
And then the doctor drops the bombshell that actually, their treatment will be around two thousand pounds more than advertised. Just like that. And oh yes, we’re expected to pay part of it right now.
The band around my stomach twists.
I already feel very out of my depth, and this is just too much. NO, we need to think about it first. NO, we don’t need to do this right now. NO, thank you, just a moment…
With that, we stumble out of the doctor’s office, back into the waiting room.
Jo and I quickly talk it over. I don’t want to pay any more than what we already have given them for this appointment. Jo reminds me that if we don’t, we’ll have to come all the way back if we do decide to proceed with them. And it’ll take much longer before we get anywhere then.
I know she’s right.
The nurses are at lunch by now, so we get sent away to go eat something and come back after.
We wander up what passes for a high street and go into a coffee place. Jo orders a drink, but I refuse to. I feel physically sick. All my alarm signals are blazing. It feels wrong, all of this does. I do not want to spend that much money when we were never warned that we would be required to spend it!
Plus I have the sinking feeling that I might have signed something I didn’t want to.
Jo is much calmer and more reasonable than I am. I tell her I want to walk away right that second. But we talk through the pros and cons, and I know that I’ll regret it if we have to come back later and delay all of this by several months. Plus another trip to London would cost us a fair bit too.
So we go back.
Back into the furniture shop smell. Back into the blasting cold of the air-conditioning.
Another nurse takes us into yet another office. She stabs my arm. First my right, but after several attempts she can’t find a vein so she tries the left. I’m feeling terrible by then, but I joke around a bit. If anything, having my blood taken is the easiest part of it all.
I end up with two small matching plasters.
And then before I know it, and we are at the front desk again, paying hundreds of pounds more. It makes our total spent at our very first appointment at Bourn Hall over a thousand pounds. It’s MUCH more than we expected to pay.
We walk out, back to the small railway station, then onto the train. I watch the green meadows through the window change into the familiar grey of central London, and I try hard not to burst into messy tears.
Jo seems fine, so I hold on to that.
I fall asleep on the Eurostar home, but the feeling haunts me. I don’t know if we did the right thing with paying them. I know the clinic is great, they have brilliant reviews. Everyone was nice enough. So maybe that’s just how it goes, with the form signing and the money. They’re excellent in many other ways, so I need to…