I cast my eyes over the packed Sunday crowd in the Breaksday Tent at the first ever Glade Festival and smiled. A small lake of hands in the air, happy faces, wide eyes and wild costumes... then my gaze settled on one particular female, in the weirdest, most wonderful costume of them all, who'd made eye contact and was waving frantically, like she was drowning.
She seemed to be trying to say something, but in the melee and with the music playing at that immense Function One sound system volume it was hard to make the words out. Her costume represented every colour in the visible spectrum as she beckoned me over at the end of the set. I felt I should make a reciprocal effort and so made my way to the barrier at the side of the stage. She removed her ornate headdress and multi-coloured bubble glasses to reveal a familiar face as she opened her arms.
"Eddy, how amazing to see you here, it's me - Annette Steele!"
Hang on, I know that name... but where do I know it from...? Hang on, no, it can't be...
And I suddenly realised this amazingly dressed festival goer was my GP. I was flabbergasted and delighted at the same time. I couldn't quite believe someone as professionally serious and able was bouncing up and down to Rage Against the Machine in the busiest tent of an electronic dance music festival.
Damn, I miss her now. She was the best GP I ever had. When a bad sinus and ear infection, and cumulative years of loud music with no protection, combined to trigger my tinnitus 14 years ago, she was my first port of call. She knew what it was straight away and referred me to an audiologist immediately.
You'd think that was standard procedure, but, unfortunately, not every GP is as well informed or as sympathetic as Annette.
This week is Tinnitus Awareness Week 2012 and, as ambassador for the British Tinnitus Association, I am bound to tell you that this year our focus is on GPs. First of all I have to say I am a massive fan of the National Health Service. I'm the most accident prone person I know and I've been helped and treated along the way by some incredible people, kind, thoughtful, knowledgeable, overworked and underpaid angels in human form. What I'm not attempting here is to have a go at GPs in general. There are some incredible GPs out there, like Annette, who help make Britain truly great.
BUT - and it's a big 'but' - we know, from the BTA helpline, and from asking many case study sufferers, that there are GPs out there who really need to raise their games when it comes to this condition.
Below are a few examples of genuine responses GPs have given to people seeking help for tinnitus - it almost helps if you start each one of these like an old fashioned doctor gag:
"Doctor doctor, I've got tinnitus, what should I do...?"
"Come back when you're actually ill."
"Man up and don't waste my time."
"You can't have tinnitus, only old people get that."
"I'm not referring you as it's not a priority, here's the number of a private consultant."
Each one of these real examples is so shockingly wrong on every level. I know there are many very good GPs out there, but still, in this day and age, to have someone as authoritative and responsible as a qualified doctor say something like that is unbelievable and unacceptable.
Though, while it is unforgivable, these Victorian attitudes are possibly understandable given the awful state of tinnitus awareness among supposed professionals.
The health correspondent of the Telegraph only last year wrote: "Tinnitus is a disease that affects old people". While I get calls from suicidal teenagers with tinnitus, some journalist is getting horse-shit like this past their sub editor in a supposedly quality newspaper. I suspect quite a lot of GPs read the Daily Telegraph, and while they won't formally look to it for medical knowledge or opinion, sweeping statements like that can still make an impact subconsciously, especially if the someone reading it already believes the misguided statement the Telegraph's supposed health expert is presenting as fact.
Now imagine one of these catastrophically ill-informed GPs getting more power from the government to control their purse strings, as the Coalition intends. Do you see that doctor referring the next tinnitus sufferer s/he meets to the specialist that patient dearly needs? Or will they be sent away to (literally) suffer in silence? The irony of the fact none of us can actually hear silence is almost unbearable.
The reality is that in these tough times tinnitus services are a soft target for closure, and we cannot let that happen. This condition is causing severe discomfort and distress for NHS-reliant people right now, to the extent that some of them will become suicidal. Some sufferers have even asked for their auditory nerve to be severed. In a few cases their doctors have been daft enough to let that happen, and in every case the patient became deaf but STILL HAD tinnitus.
If you have tinnitus, or you care about the issue, write to your MP, almost all of them are available on email and most of them will read correspondence, or at least have their staff go through each letter and log it. If you're not sure who to contact or how to get in touch, go to www.writetothem.com which will work out who your MP is from your postcode and send your email for you. If they get enough emails and letters on this issue then perhaps George Osbourne's axe won't cut off the one kind of healthcare needed by almost every musician I know.
Speaking of which, here is a link to some video diaries kindly recorded by some of our tinnitus-suffering friends and colleagues.
Those ill-informed GPs and health journalists need to see for themselves that saying "only old people get tinnitus" is as ridiculous as saying "only old people get cancer". These diaries are also useful to learn ways you can cope with the condition, and we'll hopefully get a few more uploaded this week, I know Adam F did one for us over the weekend. I just did one myself and the lovely Shaun Keaveney is getting involved too. The BTA are uploading a new one each day this week.
If you've recently developed tinnitus or you're worried about it, just click this link to the BTA website, where you can find out what it is and even call a free, confidential helpline to talk to somebody that knows their onions.
If you want to get protection, in the form of some proper earplugs, moulded to your own inner ear, with filters that don't interfere in any way with the fidelity of your music, our friends at Harley Street Hearing, who look after the ears of musicians as diverse as Chris Martin and Plan B, can help. If you book an appointment this week you'll get a hefty £40 discount, bringing the cost down to £139.95, which I assure you is money well spent. Just call 020 7486 1053 or email email@example.com and quote 'Tinnitus Week' to get your discount.
Finally, if you're going to visit your GP about tinnitus, the chances are they'll be as good as mine and you'll be treated with sympathy and understanding. But given that not every GP is as good as Annette, this webpage may be useful for you to take along with you. It's a top ten tips for GPs, so they can see, at a glance, what they are dealing with and be warned of some of the more obvious pitfalls.
Thanks to all at the BTA and their supporters, and thanks to all the DJs and musicians that donated their time to make video diaries. Even if just one GP raises their game as a result, then this will have been a sterling success.
I remain your loyal and humble servant, and one of the one-in-10 people in this country with tinnitus that just wants every GP to be as aware of the condition as you are. It's not that much to ask is it?
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This article was originally written for my weekly CMU Column here: http://www.thecmuwebsite.com/
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