I take a silly sort of pride in having a high pain threshold and having overcome several health crises in the past, including stroke and pulmonary embolism, not to mention having pushed out a baby weighing 10 pounds 11 ounces (4.95kg). So, I would never have anticipated that a simple ear infection would bring me to my knees, but that’s what happened last week.
What started as an outer ear infection soon spread to my neck, jaw and the side of my face, causing swelling, redness, and excruciating pain. The antibiotics prescribed by the GP didn’t help, and despite my begging him to ‘do a van Gogh,’ the doctor refused to sever the ailing ear from the rest of my body. Finally, I was sent to the A&E for further help.
Before I continue, let me make it absolutely clear that I am a passionate supporter of the NHS and that I believe free health care to be a fundamental human right. Let me also point out that in the vast majority of cases when I’ve had to seek medical help from the NHS, I’ve been met with the utmost care and competence. So perhaps last week’s visit to the A&E was just a glitch.
It all started well; an urgent care doctor saw me soon after I’d arrived and immediately determined that I needed to be examined by an ear, nose, throat specialist. I nodded in agreement. The only problem was that this hospital didn’t have such a specialist so they would have to refer me to an ENT hospital.
They just had to take some blood and give me something for the pain first.
“We’re giving you morphine,” a male nurse announced as he entered the cubicle where I lay exhausted and half-asleep in a reclining armchair.
“Morphine,” I said, at once fully alert, “no I don’t want morphine. Just give me some paracetamol.”
Dismissing my protests with a sour look on his face, the nurse swiftly administered the morphine through the cannula in my arm.
“In just a moment you’ll feel so much better,” he said before leaving.
Except, that’s not what happened. Morphine, as the doctors and nurses – and my infinitely patient husband – soon discovered, transforms me from a reasonably happy, reasonably civilised person, into a raging, crying madwoman. Within minutes of the injection, tears were pouring down my cheeks, and I was cursing just about anyone who dared come near me.
“Get her away from me,” I cried when a very young nurse came to find out what was the matter.
“They’re going to kill me,” I whispered loudly to my husband, pointing at the hapless junior doctor and the so-called ‘speciality’ doctor that arrived shortly after.
My husband did his best to smooth things over, but with or without morphine, it was apparent the doctors hadn’t a clue how to treat me. After five hours, during which time I’d had intravenous antibiotics, paracetamol and fluids to hydrate me, yet another doctor came to see me.
“We think you need to see an ENT consultant,” she said. That’s when my otherwise patient and polite husband lost it too.
“YES, you said that five hours ago, so why is she still here?”
I think the doctors and nurses were as relieved as my husband and I when we finally left for the ENT hospital in central London, where a consultant was waiting. Within two minutes of arriving in the dimly lit hospital reception, a baby-faced man barely a day over thirty, came shuffling through a door and asked us to follow him. I assumed he was a junior doctor or medical student and that he was taking us to see the consultant. I was wrong: this Doogie Howser-look-alike was THE consultant. I swallowed hard. When it comes to doctors, I’m unapologetically ageist; I only trust doctors older than myself. Within minutes, however, ‘Doogie Howser’ had expertly diagnosed my ailment and prescribed a cure.
It took another few days to recover, during which time I lay in bed chewing codeine tablets and shouting “stupid woman!” while watching Prime Minister’s Questions on my iPad. That was days before Jeremy Corbyn did or didn’t say the same.