“Stomach pains, you say? Oh dear. They can be very painful. Take your shirt off and let me examine you,” said the triage nurse to the man perched on the end of the bed. “How long has this been going on?” The man grimaced. "Years, but it just won’t go away.”
“Years?” said the nurse. “How many?” The man stared at her, beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead. “They’ve been investigating my complaint for over three years.”
“That sounds an unreasonably long time,” replied the nurse, puzzled. She tut-tutted. If there was one thing she couldn’t stand, it was a lack of professionalism on the part of the Health Services. That’s why she’d joined the Union in the first place. To ensure standards were maintained.
The man shrugged. “My boss, she’s as tough as nails – “at least I get the job done”, that’s her motto – she says I’m not allowed to have a single day off work coz the whole place would go down the gurgler without me. The firm simply wouldn’t have the numbers to go on.”
“We’ll see about that,” said the nurse. "Lie down, and I’ll have a feel." There was a loud gasp from the patient as she gently prodded around his abdomen. "Oh dear, those feel like guilt pangs. Been a naughty boy, have you?"
The man looked away shiftily, and the nurse smiled sympathetically. “We normally see these sort of problems when people have been over-indulging. Long lunches. Boozy night clubs. That sort of thing. Been living the high life, eh?"
The man shook his head. "Not since they confiscated all my credit cards. Of course, before then..." his voice trailed off, and he smiled ruefully, as the memory of those bacchanalian days and nights came flooding back. “The good times,” he said to her, with a twinkle in his eye, “money for nothing and the chicks for free.”
“Dire Straits,” said the nurse.
“Yes,” said the man, his smile fading. “I think so.”
The nurse surreptitiously studied the patient’s notes, pages and pages of them. It simply didn’t make sense. She may not have had a medical degree but after a decade in triage she knew enough to realize that a certain ‘Doctor Tim’ had simply avoided doing a proper investigation altogether. It was despicable, she thought to herself. And then, after an inordinate length of time of doing absolutely nothing he had handed the whole job over to ‘Sister Bernadette.’ She, too, had declined to investigate the problem. Even though, as far back as 2009, the notes clearly recorded "a clear prima facie case to proceed to an investigation." The nurse frowned. What on earth was going on? Why were they stalling? It was almost as if there was a massive conspiracy - some kind of institutional go slow.
Her curiosity aroused, the nurse quickly flipped further back through the notes. She couldn’t believe her eyes. The hospital bills! Three years and nearly a million dollars later and they still hadn’t come close to diagnosing the problem. It was scandalous! She knew full well that stomach cramps could lead to all sorts of nasty problems if they weren’t treated quickly, such as vomiting or diarrhea. Yet the only vague reference she could find to any kind of symptoms was the cryptic email from an unknown ministerial media man that stated: "Thanks that's awesome should minimise any runs he gets in the morning."
It was a real mystery. Made even stranger by the fact that several times over the past few years both the NSW and Victorian police had turned up at the hospital but both ‘Doctor Tim’ and ‘Sister Bernadette’ had refused to co-operate in any way with them. Surely that wasn’t normal? What on earth had this patient done? Who on earth was he?
There was a knock on the door, startling both the nurse and her patient. Two policemen stepped into the room. “Excuse us, nurse. We’ve been sent here by a Mr H.R Nicholls. The ombudsman has asked us to investigate the “gross delay” in the investigation of your patient.”
“Thank goodness,” said the triage nurse. “And about time, too! That’s a relief, isn’t it, Mr… Mr…”
She turned around but her patient had already disappeared.