LONG POST WARNING
I am trying to be a man whose glass is half-full. And on a day like today, I feel like I’m getting there.
Let’s start at the beginning. It’s weird waking up in the same room that you’re going to be working in, at least for me (I know I’m fortunate). What I haven’t written about over the last two weeks is that I’ve been having severe visual disturbances in my right eye (bright flashes of light, things moving around in there), and last night they got worse. I have mentioned the tooth issue, and this morning I felt that I was falling apart. So, on the stroke of 08:30 I called mu usual dental practice (and hour’s drive away), explained my predicament (and bear in mind a local private dentist said they had no emergency appointments until mid-December), and was given an appointment for 15:00. Then, a phone call to my usual optometrist (in the same town as the dentist), and unfortunately the specialist optometrist wasn’t in, and the lovely woman who answered the phone suggested someone else in a diferent town about an hour’s drive away from here, and they could fit me in at noon.
A brief interlude to say one thing – this is Monday morning we’re talking about, in a time when all health providers are under immense pressure, and all three receptionists I spoke to at these three different healthcare providers were without fail not just polite, but engaging and supportive and cheerful and encouraging. I thought that was fantastic.
So, I turn up at the optometrist appointment 7 minutes late because the traffic is godawful. Nothing but positivity (man, humans can be such kind beasts). Dilation eye drops in both eyes. Computer-aided retinal scans. Signs of aging (and I’m not saying age deliberately – we’re all in an aging process, and let’s look at that positively), but no signs of what I’d been fearing most – retinal detachment. Floaters, yes (there has been a big one in my left eye for at least 5 years). Super supportive optometrist (hyper, on his game, in possession of all the latest gadgets) who then did a manual examination of both retinas. Everything fine. And now here’s the kicker – I asked how much I owed for this extensive examination. NOTHING. IT’S ON THE NHS (my capitals; it was actually said in a quiet confident voice). This is what we’re slowly being robbed of by the current government – this wonderful service full of wonderful people that was once the envy of the world (my English textbook at my German school had a whole chapter on the wonders of the NHS).
I wasn’t allowed to drive for at least an hour after the examination was finished, so I wander around this town half-blind in the pouring rain, first buying 5 books from a charity shop, then looking for sanctuary in the shape of a cafe. I find one, ask for an espresso, sit down, and start checking work emails, Mastoon, etc. The young guy comes across (I am sure he was an apprentice) and brings me this big cup of frothy stuff. ‘That’s not an espresso,’ I say. He tells me there’s no milk in it, so I let it go (need to be more self-assertive really), and sit there letting it cool while doing some more work on my phone. I’m about to tuck into this coffee when the young man comes across again, and says he will swap it if I want to. I, very grateful, accept the offer, and get a marvellous double espresso. In the meantime, a more mature gentleman than I, after asking me if it’s ok to sit at the same table as me and getting a positive response, has taken his seat, peeled of his coat to reveal a bright-red jumper the same colour as the bright-red fleece I’m wearing. He obviously comes in here every day, because they know him, and he asks for a small glass of water to take his medicine with. He and I exchange inconsequential banter, and he asks for the sugar (I’m at the end of the table nearest the wall, where all the condiments seem have congregated to have a meeting. I’d heard that he ordered a buger (no salad, no chips), so I ask him if he wants the ketchup and the salt and pepper, to which he responds in the affirmative. When I go to pay 15 minutes later, all four staff are by the cash register, and offer their apologies for the espresso confusion. I wave my hands and say it’s not a problem. The woman at the cash register says it was her fault. Again, I wave the apology away as unnecessary, and thank them for swapping the froth for the real thing. On the way out, I put my hand on my table mate’s shoulder, tell him to enjoy the rest of his lunch, and to look after himself. He looks delighted to have that touch and the words – we forget how much people crave company, especially after lockdowns.
Onwards. I get to the next town 40 minutes before my appointment, so wander to the bookshop I actually did a signing of Dead Men at years ago, look at all the stuff, but don’t buy anything (I’m maxed out on books at this point), and then into the dentist. Whilst waiting for my appointment, I hear the receptionist talking to a prospective NHS patient. She tells them they’re so unsure of government funding that they can take NHS patients on for only one checkup because funding is so uncertain that they can’t promise they’ll be able to see them six months after that first check-up. What a state of affairs. Words almost fail me (but not quite), and you’ll know what I’m thinking and what I believe without me even having to say it.
Wise Dr Azim, whom I have mentioned in this space before, welcomes me with his usual firm handshake. ‘Dr, Azim, my dear friend, how nice to see you,’ I say. As I sit/lie down I look at him more carefully. Above his mask, he looks more care-worn than usual, older, tired, even though the laughter lines are still there around his eyes. He establishes that my tooth is chipped (that’s what’s been shredding my tongue), that the filling hasn’t come out, that it will need capping at some point in the future, that my mouthcare since my last check-up has been good, that I should come back in six months. He wishes me HC, and I tell him that it’s too early. He sits down in the corner by the computer, smiles again, with his eyes, and I tell him to look after himself. He nods and focuses on the next lucky person he’s going to see. You don’t need to use a lot of words to be wise, I think. And for all this, I’m charged the princely sum of £26 (yes, I know that’s a lot of money to many people) compared with the basic fee of £150 local private practices are charging for emergency dental care. Draw your own conclusions.
And the bottom line after this long post (some might say overly-long) is simple. #SaveOurNHS Put that hashtag into your socials and see what it comes up with. And then tell me you still agree with Tory-induced austerity and discrimination against the poor, and against the health service that was put in place to help them and make Britain a healthier and kinder place.
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