Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Is It Painful?

Whilst in London, I had one of those minor incidents that provide so much colour to our lives. Using an earpiece to a bit of electronic equipment, the little rubber thingy on the end became detached and came to rest in my ear. Now I don’t know about you, but unless you are a founder member of Contortionists Anonymous, the chances of being able to see in your own ear are pretty slim. And I wasn’t even sure that’s where the little rubber thingy was. All I knew was that it was no longer attached to the earpiece and I thought it felt as though it was in my ear.

I toddled down to the concierge and explained the position to him.

“Is it painful?” he asked.

“No, I just want someone to winkle it out – a nurse or even a concierge would do," I suggested.

“We don’t have a nurse,” he said, not offering his conciergeral services, no doubt a union problem, “but I can get our doctor on call for you. He’s £65.”

It seemed pretty cheap for a fully qualified doctor until I realised that the price was for merely a very brief encounter. I declined the offer and went for a walk.

Passing a pharmacy, I went in and ran through the script again.

“Is it painful?” he asked. I assured him that it wasn’t. He peered in. “Can’t see anything,” he opined.

“Perhaps you could have a prod around?” I suggested.

“More than my job’s worth,” he said vehemently. Now I had often heard of this new English word, jobsworth, and it was a pleasure to hear it for the first time in context.

“There’s a walk-in clinic down the road. They charge £65.”

I told him that I knew of a doctor who was probably a close relative to those running the place and that it seemed a lot for for the job in question.

“Then you need to go to the A & E,” he suggested.

“I’ve been to the V & A – thought it was a pretty boring museum. Is this much the same?”

“Accident and Emergencies,” he muttered through gritted teeth. “Just round the corner.”

By chance my route took me past this establishment which was a hive of activity. It seemed as though a large percentage of London’s population had got themselves involved in some sort of A or possibly E. Brightly coloured ambulance were shipping supine and prostrate bodies in by the cartload. My ear problem did not seem to be in the same category. Nonetheless, I wandered in through the doors of this modern Scutari and tackled the on-duty Florence Nightingale. This heavily disguised angel of mercy said, “Is it painful?”

By now I had the answer to this off pat.

“It’s not really an emergency, you know,” she said disapprovingly. “Anyway, it’s an ENT job.” “Oh no, it’s not,” says I, lightly, “It’s an EAR job.”

There must be something in the Hippocratic code that discourages airy badinage with patients. She turned distinctly icy.

“You’ll have to go to your GP and get him to send you to a specialist.”

“I don’t have a GP – I’m just visiting.”

“Then you’ll have to go private. But there’s a walk-in clinic nearby.”

I told her the price and of the close relationship with the doctor on call together with my opinion of their estimate for the business, suggesting that any experienced winkle eater with a pin could do the job far more economically.

Just then, another load of casualties arrived from Balaclava and she ushered me out.

I went back to my hotel and turned on the television.

On the screen, the Minister of Health, Patricia Hewitt was being interviewed. I’m sure this lady is much beloved by her immediate family but she addresses her audience rather in the manner of a vicar’s wife dealing with a bunch of juvenile delinquents at the garden fête. Her speech was an extract from the Book of Blair, Chapter 27, Verse 11, and aimed at those with an IQ rather below sea level. The interviewer asked a pertinent question and was immediately put in his place.

“Please, now if you will just let me finish,” she said, fixing him with a beady eye and going on to explain that the hospitals were in fine shape – or would be if it were not for patients and their insistent clamour for admission. It was all very upsetting. All that was needed was to weed out the sick and ailing and the hospitals would be bright and cheerful places once more and able to cope. She concluded with a toothy, self-satisfied smile and one got the impression that she would then dig into her handbag and dish out lollipops all round as soon as the camera was off her.

After I had arrived back home in France, I called up my GP who promptly made an appointment for me that afternoon with a specialist.

By now I was conversant with the argot of the business. “An ENT man, I suppose?”

“Non,” he said in a puzzled voice, “ Un ORL.”

Well, what’s in a name. The upshot was that the Oto-Rhino-Laryngologiste was clearly an experienced winkle-eater since he did the job in about ten seconds and I fancy he was practising his putting with his spare hand at the same time. It took him longer to write out his bill which was for €28.

So my advice to any traveller who finds himself in need of medical attention whilst in the sceptred isle is to not play down your condition.

Roll on the floor in agony by all means, speak in a language that will convince your hearers that you are an illegal immigrant and this should get you free and immediate attention. And, in all the clamour that will be generated as they cart you off to the A & E (or possibly the V & A, if the ambulance is using their GPS system to find the way), you may imagine that you hear the fluting tones of Patricia Hewitt chanting the health service anthem:

“Please, now if you will just let me finish.”


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