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It's no laughing matter
by Gurli Bagnall

In the beginning...

Fourteen years later I found...

So I went shopping for a doctor. This was not successful because:

  1. doctors don't like to be the subject of job interviews

  2. no one knew (or admitted they knew) the problems associated with benzos and

  3. since I had to go from one to another due to a dearth of expertise, it depleted my piggy bank.

I chose the best of a bad lot. His name should have been a warning, it being closely related to "Quack".

My second visit saw me sitting before the great man sweating, visibly shaking, trying not to scratch my skin off in an effort to relieve the itch...and, well you know the scenario. I asked for some sick leave from work.

He frowned and said in a stern, angry voice, "You don't need time off work! You need pills for your emotions!"

If I had been contagious, I would have flung my arms around his neck, wept and wailed, breathed all over him and wiped my nose all over his shirt and tie...

...and for a few brief seconds, my pain
would have turned into pure bliss!

Dr. Foot-in-mouth, medical adviser to the insurance company to whom I had applied for compensation, would have been better employed by Mills and Boon. There, despite a lack of literary style, his imaginative talents might have been considered an asset.

Take, for instance, the first page of his report. Within a third of that space, he mentioned some form or other of mental disorder nine times. NINE TIMES!! And he hadn't even met me! From beginning to end, the report was a work of pure fiction, and when I went to the library to consult a national register, I found Foot-in-mouth wasn't a psychiatrist at all. He specialized in industrial health.

As I flexed my fingers over the key board and gnashed my teeth in preparation for writing a response, I muttered to myself, "Since he's so determined to put his foot in it...

...who am I to disappoint him?

But no one took any notice of me so I applied for a review of the decision.

Mr. Fiddler, the review officer, did a "testing...testing...testing..." run on his tape recorder before commencing. During the proceedings, he stopped the recorder a couple of times to make sure there were no problems and when the interview was over, he played back the last few sentences for the same reason. I was mightily impressed with the quality of the sound – it was crystal clear and I wished I had a tape recorder like his.

Mr. Fiddler rejected my claim yet again, and the next step was to place the matter before a judge.

A couple of weeks after making application for the Appeal hearing, a copy of the transcript made from Mr. Fiddler's crystal clear tape, arrived. The business bureau which undertakes these transcriptions, enclosed a copy of their message to the review office. It went something like this: "Now look here, you chaps, this tape was badly damaged and is not to be used again. We have done the best we could to transcribe it under the circumstances."

The best they could, was an incomprehensible mess with words missing and others incorrectly recorded. It was noted in one place that there had been a full five minutes during which nothing whatsoever could be understood.

I wrote many bitter letters of complaint but no one would respond in writing. Finally one of the managers came to visit, and he impressed upon me that Mr. Fiddler had assured him it "was a true reflection" of what had taken place.

I waved the transcript in his face. "Look at it!" I demanded.

"Once it's before the courts, I'm not allowed to look at it!" protested Mr. Manager.

"Rubbish!" I responded and he left.

I pondered, nay, agonized, over how this could have happened. Did Mr. Fiddler...? Surely not! Finally I could see no other explanation but that Mr. Fiddler was...

...fiddling the "True Reflection" Serenade

They were irked because I refused to be a good sport and let the matter drop. I wrote many letters but replies, which all avoided the word "tape", were scarce. "Fine!" I said. "I'm going to put all my records at the disposal of the media."

A letter arrived by return mail indicating that my claim was to be reconsidered and within a couple of weeks, it was accepted. But really, it was no cause for celebration, for the battle continued over the entitlements even though the law said the entitlements were mine.

The first taste of this new battle occurred when I presented myself before Dr. Fandango, professor of psychiatry. He was to carry out an assessment to determine the degree of disability. Within the first two minutes, it was clear he intended to give the insurance company value for the hefty fee they were paying him to do the job. He never once stopped dancing to His Master's Voice throughout the entire proceedings.

Dancing to His Master's Voice

Not one question was asked about how I managed from day to day, and on finding my condition could not, after all, be pinned upon traumatic potty training, he then tried the quietly spoken, confidential approach. He leaned towards me and gazed earnestly into my eyes. "You should forget about weekly compensation," he whispered urgently. "It keeps people sick, you know." Fortunately, I had by then, developed a technique to stop my jaw from hitting the floor, and I comforted myself with the thought that I still had an ace up my sleeve.

It was an ace even Professor Fandango could not deny. With fumbling fingers I searched my papers for the two "before and after" photographs which were graphic illustrations of a 50% increase in weight – an adverse reaction to Doxepin which was added to the cocktail in the final three years of addiction.

My fingers closed about them and triumphantly, I held them up for him to examine. This was something the man could actually see and I waited for the compassion that I knew would appear in his eyes.

When he stopped laughing, he wiped those eyes and said, "You did become round didn't you!"

All sorts of responses sprang to mind later but at the time, I was speechless. Still, it's always nice to know you've brightened someone's day.

You won't be surprised to hear that the whole episode generated another letter of complaint but finally, disability was set at 50% which awarded me the magnanimous sum of $NZ 18,000. In sterling, that represents somewhat less than 6000 (GBP).

This has been a cautionary tale and much has been omitted in the interests of brevity. Piled one on top of the other, my files stand about 60 cm tall.

I wish you all health and happiness.

Gurli Bagnall
May, 2001

Gurli's Story · The Bounty Hunters · Gurli's Reply to the BMJ

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