Life

It feels as if the NHS is on its knees so the idea of a house call seems ridiculous

Seeing an extra from the 'night of the walking dead' in your waiting room evokes a certain sympathy at the end of a long stick. And this was me, a full week into flu. A house call? 'Twas far from that we were reared. Besides, it feels like the NHS is on its knees – I'd rather not make it teeter any more

A scene from the recent BBC documentary Hospital, set in a busy London hospital

YOU could have gotten a house call, the doctor's receptionist said. She looked alarmed. For someone who deals with the sick on a daily basis, it was clear I was hitting off the top end of the register.

Seeing an extra from the 'night of the walking dead' in your waiting room evokes a certain sympathy at the end of a long stick. And this was me, a full week into flu.

This illness is boring me too, but stay with me.

A house call? Those are for sick people. I've never had a house call. I would not disturb a doctor. They are busy people.

They saw me fast, despatching me with horse pills the size of myself and an instruction to come back if things took a turn for the worse, and watched me wobble forth, debating the relative merits of burning versus burying and woodland versus scattering to the four winds.

A house call? 'Twas far from that we were reared. Besides, it feels like the NHS is on its knees – I'd rather not make it teeter any more.

Getting an appointment is tough; waiting to be seen is par for the course. Oh for the days of matron and the old-style doctor on call 24/7 – or perhaps we're all seeing the past through halcyon glasses.

I have a distant childhood memory of an excruciating earache. The 'Judas' child up the street coaxed me to the gate, pulled out a toy... and whacked me hard across the side of the head. She had, my mother said, “issues”. After that, I had a few of my own.

My father took me down to the doctor's surgery – a big old-fashioned waiting room crowded with people waiting and, better, waiting to be seen. These were patients with true patience – maybe that is where the name stems from. There were no seven-minute referral slots. The doctor just took the time needed.

So we sat and better sat and what I remember was the deep swirling purple of the methylated purple in the big glass bottle, the stark smell of it and the softness of cotton wool.

We've all had run-ins with the NHS. Once, I dared to tell a 'big doctor' – the head of renal something – that, in my humble opinion, I did not have kidney disease, although my mother had warned me about sitting on cold steps.

“Ah, so we are diagnosing ourselves, are we?” he ventured from his side of the big oak desk, peering over his half-moon glasses like God Almighty.

Just because his manner was hardly polite bedside, didn't mean he wasn't the right person to fix me, I suppose. Anyway, I was right.

But when I look around at friends and see the stress that doctors face, I'm not sure I'd want my child to be one. GPs have thousands on the lists; pressure on all sides, test results to be seen and read, major decisions to be made – not to mention the added burden of running a small business – no, thank you.

As for young doctors – I know a few and I feel for them.

In the fug of the flu, I ended up watching Hospital – a documentary series about St Mary's Hospital in London. All in a day's work seemed to require much that was above and beyond duty.

There was the nurse trying to find somebody who speaks Polish to help a man who really did not need to be in his hospital bed but had been sleeping in his car because he was homeless. There was the lovely man with the aneurysm waiting for elective surgery.

We watched him go through the whole process of preparing for his operation – it was the day, he had been wheeled down to theatre – and we watched the medical team planning and prepping up until the last minute. Then we watched as the phone rang and the message came that there were no beds available in intensive care, so the operation could not go ahead.

All that expertise gathered and all prepped; a man who had braced himself for a major operation; a wife who had kissed him goodbye and was waiting and hoping. But there was no bed, so there could be no surgery.

And fair play to his surgeon – he went himself to break the bad news, to apologise and to tell the man he would have to go home and wait again with a ticking time bomb of an aneurism.

It makes for sober watching. The TV and the newspapers are full of health stories and waiting lists. The NHS is a patient in need of drastic care – I'd be happy to pay more just to get it off its knees.

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