The wasp sting produced a two-inch blister like red bubble gum. I’ve never seen such a bad reaction - did those jabs and boosters make the immune system hyperactive?
We gave up on the idea of seeing our GPs. They won’t let you make an appointment in person and so you’d go through phone hell, goodness knows when you’d get to see one of the elusive medics and even then there would be some tedious defensive-medicine hospital referral.
So we cut out the middleman and drove to the walk-in centre at the local hospital. Only it’s not a walk-in, it’s SDEC (Same Day Emergency Care) and you have to register online to get a slot. Not having a smartphone we returned home, used the laptop and got to see a doctor that afternoon, who took a look and referred us to the major hospital a few miles away - need to check there’s not a clot in that hot, stiff leg.
Fortunately we have a car and aren’t yet a 15-minute city. Are there people without cars, smartphones and home computers? How do they manage? BT are even scheduling the turnoff of landline phones. Perhaps oldies will have to use semaphore, an Aldis lamp or just write ‘Help!’ on cardboard and stick it in the window. For the rest of us, just wait until Net Zero leads to long-term power cuts…
Heartlands used to be called East Birmingham District Hospital in the days when public corporations were unashamed, because it was taken for granted that they served us. Today their self-serving is covered over with hearts or rainbows - maybe unicorns next? Still, off we go to their SDEC next to Ward 19. We’re warned that the waiting time could be up to six hours; please don’t ask for blood test results within less than four; a wall notice advises us that abuse of staff will not be tolerated.
The first wait is not for a doctor but for the triage nurse. We arrived at half three and judging by the throughput I estimated our turn would be at five past four; correct. Blood is taken.
We are then called to a different waiting room behind - much larger and already most chairs are taken. This is where we hunker down for the long siege. There is a TV to pacify us, also free coffee and sandwiches. Wait, doze, wait. Spot the familiar faces from the triage area, hope they will be processed soon so we may be next. More come in; it gets to the point where a nurse asks companions to leave to make room for fresh arrivals. I decide to go home, but return from the on-site M&S food store with provisions, which my wife rejects as unnecessary; and again with a pen, a Puzzler and a paper (The Guardian; the Daily Mail being unavailable, seemingly non grata in the NHS.)
At nine I text to say I’ll be back for nine-thirty for a racing start once my wife’s been seen; our six hours will be up by then. It turns out she’s just seen the junior doc, who wants to refer up to the senior and we’re in the room again. I try to read The Guardian but it’s full of Mrs Jellyby-like high-mindedness and for every issue nowhere is the question ‘can we afford it?’ At £2.80 I’m not sure we could afford the paper every day, either.
The room is to close at ten and the staff to go off shift. A nurse straightens the chairs, which are in three shades of blue; she swaps a couple to make them match and smilingly admits to OCD when I say that’s just what I would do. Will there be time for us to be seen, or will we have to come back tomorrow?
No, of course not. We are herded down to the Medical Assessment Unit and our numbers re-swollen by a group already there; our hearts sink. There are supposed to be two doctors attending but we have only one, who is juggling MAU and SDEC referrals, three curtained patients (one of whom is groaning awfully, like an animal) and three emergency cardiac calls elsewhere. There is another poster forbidding staff abuse but it’s not needed: we sit largely in silence, like spiders starving each other out.
Until Amin sparks up. He shows my wife things on his smartphone: Pikachu his kitten, who likes KFC; photos of his late father ‘a good man, a modest man’ who had died so suddenly when he’d seemed so healthy; his mother and ninety-something grandmother. Amin is a hospital porter so he knows the routine: he has come prepared with a carrier bag full of provisions. He offers to get us some coffee and fetches some biscuits from near the desk, then digs out French Fries to give us. He ends up gifting us a notebook from the Three phone network and my wife says we will always remember him when we see it.
His family are from Bangladesh - not Pakistan, he emphasises. ‘We (he and his sister next to him) were born here. We’re lucky. We love this country.’ They also love the Royal Family; his father had been invited to a garden party in recognition of his work with young people.
Believers in God, King and country; hard work and kindness. When the Tories become conservative they have a future, while the Guardian seethes and withers.
Amin worked night shifts in Warwick until one day he drank so many Red Bulls to keep going that he ended up in a ward himself with tachycardia. The NHS cured him of lymphoma with surgery and chemo (‘God is good’); he’s here to check it hasn’t returned and despite arriving at six no doctor has yet seen him.
His sister asks about me. Learning that I used to teach English - yes, literature as well - she looks at me with interest and respect; almost a first for me in this Philistine Anglo culture.
Amin goes round the corner to cheer and chat; a black man calls God’s blessing on him. It’s now two o’clock and I begin to worry that we’ve been waiting for a senior consultant who may not actually be on shift. The desk manager assures me it is so, it’s just the emergency callouts that have delayed things; and yes, my wife’s blood test results are in. At this moment she’s sent for and the doc has all the information on-screen so that part of the system works. Three meds prescribed, also an ultrasound scan for possible clots; come back tomorrow (today) at two p.m.
Poor Amin is still in limbo, a fleeting shadow of worry passing over him. In the corridor as we leave, a middle-aged woman sits alone, wiping tears from her face.
We return as appointed, ready for another marathon but are spared. Scan okay, the doc in SDEC tells my wife; the three meds have become only one (no explanation); we pick it up from the pharmacy and now we’re free.
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