Julie and I flew from Melbourne on 6 May at midnight and after a three-hour break in Hong Kong we landed in London on 7 May at 4pm. Allowing for the time zone jumps, that’s about 24 hours in the air.
A few weeks earlier I spent three weeks in hospital with some bug and my haemoglobin had dropped to 7. It was around 9 when I got onto the plane. We debated whether I (we) should go at all, but my health was improving and frankly it is always easy to find an excuse not to travel. If you give in, you will never go anywhere, so we decided to push on.
I rarely sleep in planes, and dread long hauls. True to form, I staggered bleary eyed through UK Customs and passport control feeling weak and tired. Luckily our no. 2 son Liam was there to meet us, and he managed all the heavy lifting (not just at the airport, but pretty well every day!).
We drove to his flat and I gently lowered myself onto our bed for a nice 12 hour snooze. Julie and Liam were out and about, on a long walk to Regent’s Park and some dinner before coming home to bed at a much more respectable 10pm.
London – Diaverum Forest Hill
I was booked into dialysis at Diaverum Forest Hill the next morning at 0730, by which time I was awake, if not firing on all cylinders. As you well know, dialysis is a must show activity, no matter how you feel (no option to call in sick!). Forest Hill was about 40 minutes away by cab (or two trains, one underground, one overground and two short walks) in South London. I chose the cab (₤30 from St Johns Wood) and arrived at about 0720 complete with backpack full of goodies.
The Forest Hill unit has 20 seats and is busy all the time. They very graciously moved someone to an afternoon session so I could dialyse as early as possible after I arrived (I arranged this before we left home). Though I didn’t feel like it, I still put in my own needles (it is the one area of control you have no matter where you dialyse – and you only have yourself to blame if you stuff up), and watched closely to be sure all the settings were as specified by my unit (they were).
Mihaela, the Deputy Nurse and the staff were very friendly and helpful. The other patients watched and returned my nod, but remained non-committal. But no matter where we come from, we are all in the same boat and with so much in common, things soon warmed up.
After a couple of naps, a cup of tea and my snack, it was 1040 and time to go home. I felt much better and was ready for the train trips home (accompanied by both Julie and Liam).
I eventually had seven sessions at Forest Hill, mostly starting at 1730 (with the occasional machine failure pushing that out an hour or so). It was a very good experience and I gradually felt like I knew the place. The only hassle was the distance from where we were staying – forty minutes plus each trip (trains one way, cab return). Next time I will arrange for a more convenient distance to maximise our holiday pleasure (if you can’t do that on holidays, when can you?).
Forest Hill is a private unit and charges a few hundred pound per session. Go to http://diaverumholidaydialysis.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/UK-London.pdf for details.
Within about three days I was feeling pretty good – better than when I left. I felt absolutely justified in deciding to travel.
Oxford – Churchill Kidney Unit
At the start of the second week, we drove to Oxford, history mecca and stepping off point for The Cotswolds and all parts west. I had booked in for two sessions at the Oxford Kidney Centre, which is an NHS Renal and Dialysis centre.
From the outset the staff at the dialysis unit were very helpful. I spoke to Lin, the Unit Manager on the phone from Australia and she immediately offered me spots on the Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday Twilight shifts. Later Allie Thornely, the Renal Dialysis Matron, told me they are very positively disposed to supporting holiday patients and can be flexible on the number of days available. This is a great help when planning a UK holiday, because Oxford is so central for touring around the south of England.
The staff were very welcoming, friendly and competent and were happy to do that little extra. My only (minor) issue is that all dialysis is on beds, not chairs, and I find it difficult to sit up to do things (like computing). Beds notwithstanding, I felt very confident and safe and would certainly return should the opportunity arise.
The treatment was free (reciprocal agreement with Australia) and there were no other charges. For those from other lands, the cost is around £300 (currently about $470) per session. Go to http://www.oxfordradcliffe.nhs.uk/forpatients/departments/renal/kidney/kidney.aspx for contact details.
Stockholm – Dialys Unit Södersjukhuset
I emailed Eva Regnell, the Coordinator of dialysis at the Södersjukhuset Njurmedicinska kliniken (South Hospital, Renal Medicine), part of the Karolinska University Hospital. Again, she immediately offered me holiday dialysis spots of my choice. Initially, I booked only one session on Saturday 19 May, because I didn’t know if they offered Sunday dialysis. I would have preferred both days because of the long gap coming up on the return trip home. I asked during the Saturday session and found they have a small group that dialyses on Sunday, which I was allowed to join. Very accommodating.
The unit is very centrally located in on Sodermalm, easy access by bus or cab. It was just 4km from our hotel.
The unit is a very slick operation, with 30 beds (no chairs). Staff are friendly and competent and I felt very confident and safe.
A couple of things I’d not seen before:
- They use special bull-nosed needles, called BD Blunt Fill needles to scrape off the scabs if you are buttonholing. They are still sharp, but not so pointed, and are quite effective.
- The hospital is so big that each ward is issued with a scooter so they can get around quickly. Very amusing to see a staff member zing past.
Again, I would definitely return if the chance arises.
While the treatment was free (reciprocal agreement with Australia) there is a 370 SEK ($50) admission fee for each session (dropping to 200 SEK ($28) for the third and subsequent sessions). For those without a reciprocal agreement and non-EU citizens, the cost is 5068 SEK (currently about $710) per treatment. Go to http://www.karolinska.se/en/Departments/Departments/Renal-Medicine/ for contact details.
(I have email addresses for each centre, but for privacy reasons will not publish them on this post. Please feel free to contact me for more. Also, check with the health department in your country to find out about their reciprocal agreements.)
I am very much looking forward to my next trip.