Richard Pierce


Day 251

The National Health Service is magnificent. I got up early to go for my CT scan. M gave me a lift down to the hospital, and held my hand when she didn’t need two hands on the wheel because I was so nervous, and, frankly, afraid. I made my way, on shaky legs,  into the hospital, found where I was meant to be (with some help), sat down, got up, went to the loo, sat down again, and was called in exactly on time. I had been relieved, on receiving my letter about the scan, to find the device was the shape of a doughnut, not a claustrophobia-inducing tube, so that was a plus. I answered some questions, was introduced to the two people (J and H) who would be doing the scan and injecting me with contrast agent. H retired to behind the glass, J talked to me whilst trying to find a vein (left arm no chance, right arm success), and when I told her I thought I was being silly for being so nervous, she told me it wasn’t silly, and not surprising, and normal, and squeezed my shoulder with reassurance through her surgical gloves. And said ‘The most important person in this room is the patient, and right now that’s you.’

She explained I’d get a hot flush and feel like I was going to the toilet (‘but you won’t be’) when the contrast agent was injected, then joined Helen behind the glass as they remotely injected a test amount of agent and ran the machine briefly. And then came back into the room to see how I was, and let me know they’d be putting the full dose into me in a moment. Although the test injection had been more noticeable when it slid into my body (I felt it all long the vein into my side), this was really weird, and I did feel very hot, and the feeling of going to the loo was more of a tingle than feeling that I’d actually lost control of all my nether faculties (thank God). I held my breath when she told me to (through the loudspeaker), and then it was over just as I was starting to struggle for air.

Back in the room, J told me she’d seen on my notes that I was due to have an x-ray on my troublesome right foot, and that she’d been next door and persuaded the x-ray department to very quickly fit me in so I didn’t have to wait for the appointment and come back. So she ushered me out, accepted my blubbing thanks, and I was slipped into the x-ray room where N asked me questions, got me to pose on the table like a life model (but only one naked foot visible; well, and my legs because I was wearing shorts), and three minutes later I was done, and out into the corridor after another bout of effusive thanks that they’d looked after me so well when the are so hard-pushed, so underpaid, and so abused by government during these pandemics (because there is still a pandemic of C19, and there’s a pandemic of chronic defunding).

This is our National Health Service, and it needs to be saved, and it needs our taxes to go to it, not to energy companies making massive profits and being rewarded by Liz Truss’s government with even more money (which will be our taxes).

This is joined-up healthcare. This is professionals caring intensely about their patients. This is people going above and beyond, where people matter more than numbers, where care is emotional as well as physical.

I love our NHS.



Marion leads the way vigorously out of the atrium, shoving the doors open with a force Aggie didn’t think the old woman would have. The cool night air is a relief to Aggie, and she looks around again as they make their way back to the car. It seems cloistered in here, somehow, despite Red Square despite all the seemingly outward-looking internationalism Marion has talked about. Perhaps it’s the national psyche. America is such a big country that it must be like living in the whole world. Aggie puzzles over that thought. But the world is such a small place now. She lets it go.

Bill is waiting by the car, black gloves on now, and a black coat to keep warm. He opens the door nearest the pavement, and Marion slides along the back seat to the other side, Aggie in behind her. The car starts moving again.

‘Not far,’ Marion says. ‘We could have walked, really, but that was enough of the public gaze upon us.’ She smiles. ‘And then we can talk properly.

The car turns a few corners, and the wide streets fade into narrow almost alleyways. Houses that look like they’re made out of wood and very old. Bill slows down, rolls the car to a stop outside a modest house, hemmed into the middle of a row of terraced houses. Aggie waits for Bill to let her out. She wouldn’t want to offend him. As she steps out of the car, she looks left and right. The narrow street is lined with trees. There’s one solitary light beside the pale blue door to the one Bill is pointing at, its yellow warm on the pale grey horizontal wooden cladding.

Marion pushes open the door. ‘Remote lock,’ she says. ‘We might be crazy, but we ain’t stupid. Come on in.’

Aggie follows, Bill behind her. The door clicks shut.

‘It’s just like a town house,’ Aggie says.

‘That’s just what it is,’ Marion says. ‘Why waste a nice building like this, especially when the university owns the whole street?’ She pulls off the hoodie, finally, walks along the hall and turns left into what Aggie assumes is a back room. There’s a fire going. ‘Not a good idea to sit in the front room,’ Marion adds as she throws herself into a high-backed chair. ‘Come, sit.’ She indicates another high-backed chair next to her.

Bill stands in the doorway. ‘I suppose you want me to get you something to drink,’ he says.

‘No, no. Get a chair. Sit with us. I’ll get us something.’ Marion jumps out of the chair. ‘Thanks for driving. The disguise always works well.’

Bill laughs as she kisses him, though he has to bend far down for her to reach his lips. ‘You mean it suits you to feel important when you want to.’

‘Kinda.’ She strides out of the room.

Bill pulls a stool towards the two chairs, sits down. ‘You must be wondering what the hell is going on,’ he says.

‘Kinda,’ Aggie says, and smiles.

‘Wow, you’re an American already. Obviously a quick adapter.’

‘Code-switching. It’s easily done.’

‘You studied Labov?’ Bill says.

‘Just superficially,’ Aggie says, although she can’t remember having done so, doesn’t know where the words come from.

‘I had heard you English were full of false modesty.’ He shrugs. ‘Well, not just heard. I know it. It’s easy to forget you’ve been all around when you’re sitting in this cosy place.’

Marion comes back into the room with three glasses and a bottle of red wine. ‘Do you drink wine, my dear? I hope so. Should’ve asked, but, hey, a girl can’t think of everything.’ She sits down, pours the wine. ‘Right, and now we talk. How long do we have, Bill?’

‘Two hours.’

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