Tag Archives: NHS

Comedy critic Copstick’s buttocks and Twonky’s Stinking Bishop sans cheese

The Mama Biashara show

The two Mama Biashara Fringe preview shows

In Monday’s blog, I mentioned that Kate Copstick, my Grouchy Club Podcast co-host had woken up with a face that was “massively puffy. Eyes like currants in a dumpling. But a red dumpling.” (Her words.)

Tonight, I went to see one of the Edinburgh Fringe previews which Copstick is hosting at her Mama Biashara charity shop in London – the charity gets 100% of all donations. Well, there were two previews tonight – from Daphna Baram and Sajeela Kershi.

“You look paler,” I told Copstick when I arrived.

“But still not good enough to be photographed,” she said. “You know it’s not good if you walk in and the doctor says: Oh! My goodness!… She started poking at my face, saying: Oh! It’s hot! It’s hot!… Well, I mean, Hello!?? That’s why I’m here seeing a doctor!”

“What was wrong?” I asked.

“Apparently my lupus has kicked itself up a notch,” she told me. “It’s like a computer game and I’m now at Level 5. So I got a arseful of extra steroids. They’re amazing: it’s something called depomedrone. I got a buttock full of it and, believe me, my buttocks are fairly capacious.”

“You only got it in one buttock?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Copstick. “It is on the NHS. If I had gone private, I might have got two buttocksful.”

“So,” I said, “you now have a giant left buttock and a normal right buttock? Don’t you tend to fall off chairs when you sit down?”

Rare sight - shy Copstick - at Mama Biashara

Rare sight – shy Copstick – at Mama Biashara

“No,” Copstick told me, “I just sit with a slight tilt. My right buttock is full of a metal Kenyan replacement hip joint… I think I’m going to make it a thing with Mama Biashara comedy previews that, unless you are sufficiently ill, you can’t perform… People who have some kind of permanent condition… Romina Puma is here on 4th July and has muscular dystrophy, so that’s fine. Tim Renkow is here on Wednesday and he has cerebral palsy, so that means he qualifies. And we have already had Mel Moon.

“I am setting the bar. I have lupus. Anyone less ill than me does not get to come and do a show. I think that’s fair. Do you have any stinking bishop?”

“What?” I asked.

Twonkey,” explained Copstick, “having created his marvellous new show, Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop, cannot find any stinking bishop.”

“What is a stinking bishop?” I asked.

“A fabulous cheese with a sort-of washed pinky rind and it pongs to high heaven and it’s absolutely delicious.”

“I don’t like cheese,” I pointed out, “so his chances of winning an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award are fading fast.”

“If you mention it in your increasingly prestigious blog,” said Copstick, “just ask if anyone knows where Twonkey can get some stinking bishop in and around the Edinburgh area. It would make him very happy. Otherwise I may have to secrete some around my person on the MegaBus up to Edinburgh – which would be very unpleasant for everyone.”

“You could put it in your buttock,” I suggested.

“There is no space… steroids,” said Copstick.

“Your right buttock?” I suggested.

“Kenyan hip joint,” said Copstick flatly.

Publicity for Twonkey’s stinking Bishop (No, I have no idea why either)

Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop (No, I have no idea why either)

After Daphna Baram and Sajeela Kershi’s previews, Copstick told me: “Twonkey says a sponsorship deal can be only hours away now your increasingly prestigious blog is involved.”

I puffed with pride.

“If you won’t let me take a photo of your face for the blog,” I asked, “can I take a photo of your left buttock?”

Copstick went off somewhere.

Relaxing Canadian cannabis bath bombs

Relaxing Canadian cannabis bath bombs

She never came back.

I left.

When I got home, there was an e-mail waiting for me from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent.

“I just heard,” it said, “that the dispensaries in Vancouver sell marijuana bath bombs and THC ‘gummy bear’ candies.”

I have never taken recreational drugs but, sometimes, it just seems like I have.

Reality. Don’t talk to me about reality.

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A story about the National Health Service in the UK and a bit of pain

Arthur Smith encouraged singing over ‘dead’ man in Royal Mile

Arthur Smith on Royal Mile tour with prone punter (not me)

Well, I have four as-yet un-transcribed blog-chats to post, but someone has persuaded me to blog about myself today, so you can blame him.

I went to the physiotherapist this morning. A second visit. The muscles inside my left shoulder are still occasionally painful from when I tripped over and fell on the night-time cobbles of Edinburgh during the Fringe in August. I mentioned it in a blog last month.

I blame comic Arthur Smith.

It was during his night-time tour of the Royal Mile and it was at about one o’clock in the morning. I tripped over a kerb amid a crowd of people and fell flat forwards without putting my hands out. I guess I fell on my shoulder.

The problem goes back to when I was hit by a large truck while standing on a pavement in Borehamwood in 1991. The corner/edge of the large container behind the cab of the truck went into my left shoulder, pulverising (apparently that’s medical speak for turning-to-powder) my collar bone in two places. I was thrown backwards, twisting, and the back of my head hit the sharp edge of a little brick wall maybe six or eight inches high. The base of my spine twisted slightly, but I did not know that until a few years later.

I was kept in hospital for about a week.

Because of my head injury, I was in theory under the supervision of the ‘head injuries’ department (they kept me in to see if I had any brain damage) but, because of my broken shoulder, I was kept in the broken bones ward.

Each morning, the Consultant in the broken bones ward would do his ‘rounds’ with his students and chat to the patient in each bed – except me. One day, I heard him explain to his students that “Mr Fleming” was under the care of the ‘head injures’ department (not his words) so I was not his patient.

My shoulder in 1991 - pulverised in two places

X-ray of broken shoulder at the time – pulverised, they said

No-one came to see me from the ‘head injuries’ department because I was in the bones ward. The bones ward had very attentive nurses but I was not seen by any doctors there. Until, after a week, late one afternoon, a very exhausted-looking younger doctor came and saw me. He was from the ‘head’ department, asked me how I was and told the ‘bones’ ward they could discharge me.

Apparently, I later learned, I should have had physiotherapy for a few weeks or months after my release but (possibly because I fell between the responsibilities of two departments and was a ‘head’ not a ‘bone’ injury case), I never did. I never heard from the hospital again.

At home, in bed at night, to stop myself rolling over onto my broken shoulder, I would lie with my left arm out at right-angles to my torso and, eventually, the broken bones re-merged themselves. Someone told me this had been the wrong thing for me to do because, instead of mending naturally, the left shoulder – stuck out at right angles to the body for eight hours of sleep – foreshortened the mend slightly and the two parts of the broken bone merged one-on-top-of-the-other instead of in a straight line. And messed-up the muscles in the shoulder.

But who knows if that is true?

It was just ‘someone’.

I did seem to have the results of concussion for about nine months: I kept thinking I was better and was not. I would come home and stare at the wall, unable to construct thoughts in my brain nor to read. It was as if my brain de-focussed after about two lines of a newspaper column. I still cannot read books (though, oddly, I can write them).

After (I think it was) about a year, my shoulder still gave me pain for about two-thirds of my waking hours. It was as if someone were sticking the point of a knife into me all he time. My GP doctor said it would be like that for the rest of my life and discussed what drugs I could take.

Miracle oil Wan Hua Oil

I don’t know what it is, but it worked in 1991

Instead, I went to a Chinese doctor – knowing that Chinese medicine is very slow because it tries to cure the cause not the symptoms. The Chinese doctor gave me Wan Hua oil to rub on and, within two weeks, the pain was gone.

The effect of the oil could not have been psychological, because it never entered my head there would be a fast result with Chinese medicine.

That was thirteen years ago.

If I put any prolonged weight on my left shoulder, it will still give me a bit of pain, so I avoid that. Most of the time there is absolutely no problem. But, since I fell on the cobbles of Edinburgh in August, there is some pain when I put on or take off a jacket or a pullover: presumably it is just a muscular pain as I put my arm through an unusually odd angle.

The physiotherapist this morning told me that there was nothing really wrong with the shoulder broken in 1991: the bones would have mended. Logically, he is right. But I know there is a problem in my shoulder. And I know there is pain.

I have been given exercises to do.

Doctors know best, eh?

I have much worse pain in the heel and on the sole of my right foot, but the NHS physiotherapist is only allowed to look at one problem at a time, not two.

This blog’s valued reader Sandra Smith has suggested the heel problem may be Plantar Fasciitis. I think, from the symptoms, she is probably right. It may take a year to mend.

I have started rubbing on the Chinese oil again: on my shoulder and on my foot.

It seems to be difficult to get Wan Hua Oil in the UK, so I have asked comedian Chris Dangerfield for a decent Chinese pharmacy, preferably in Soho.

This may be a mistake on my part.

But he knows about such things.

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Extracts from a diary about a man dying of cancer in Great Britain in 2001…

I was supposed to waken up at 8.30am today. Instead, I woke up at noon.

This is what comes of spending too much time in Cumbria.

So, instead of the planned blog (which involved transcribing a chat) – and because it just involves copy-and-pasting – you are getting extracts from my 2001 diary when my father had cancer.

There have been previous extracts, so I can claim it is a running thread.


My parents in Edinburgh, perhaps in the 1970s. Who knows?

My parents in Edinburgh, perhaps in the 1970s. I do not know

Tuesday 22nd May 2001

When we visited my father this afternoon, he had one bite of a chocolate cake, then stopped. About three minutes later, he was sick, the chocolate-brown liquid dribbling from his mouth. Today, he had walked eight steps (aided by zimmer frame and two nurses) to his commode (he is badly constipated). Before he was sick, he told us he had little pains all over his stomach – perhaps, I thought, because the liver cancer is gaining strength. How much longer before he needs opium?


Wednesday 23rd May 2001

In the morning, when I got up, my mother was sitting weak in her chair, saying: “I can’t use my legs”. Over the course of the day, they got back to normal.

My father in the afternoon was still constipated, as he had been yesterday, still weak and his mind unable to take in anything he was being told until the second or third repeat. My mother, her mind unable to think in a linear way, would say something without context to my father who would be unable to understand until she repeated it, I guessed what she meant and repeated it again to him. Today was the first time he used the phrase: “If I come home….” instead of “When I come home….” The palms and fingertips of his hands were abnormally pink, his fingers thinner and bonier than before, his eyes with a distant white light in their pupils.


Thursday 24th May 2001

After lunch, coming into the living room on her zimmer frame, my mother looked in amazement and confusion at the television set in the far corner of the room, showing an Australian soap, mute. After a few seconds, she said: “I’m going mad. I didn’t know what the TV was.”


Friday 25th May 2001

My mother fell down in her bedroom at 6.30am this morning and was unable to get up for, she told me, half an hour – though I suspect it was much longer.

I knew nothing about it until I got up at 9.00am.

At the nursing home, my father has been given an airbed to avoid bedsores.


Bank Holiday Monday 28th May 2001

Extract from a letter delivered to Colchester General Hospital:

Mike Pollard
Chief Executive
Colchester General Hospital
Turner Road
Colchester
Essex CO4 5JL

delivered by hand 28th May 2001

Dear Mr Pollard,

This letter is a complaint that Colchester Audiology Department are refusing to supply my father (who has liver cancer) with a hearing aid specifically made (after many months) for him. I am being told that the hearing aid must lie on a shelf in Colchester Hospital until such unknown time as a Colchester Audiologist may decide to wander down to Clacton Hospital. This, I am told, could take “up to six months”. I am further told I cannot collect it from Colchester and it must lie unused there “in case it does not work”  and “so we can show your father how to use it”.  These are direct quotes and the reasons given for keeping the hearing aid lying useless on a shelf.

If the hearing aid is supplied, there is – let’s be careful and say – a 10% possibility it will work and my father will benefit from it. There is – let’s be careful and say – a 10% possibility we can work it and my father will benefit from it. However, if Colchester Hospital do not supply the hearing aid, there is a 100% certainty my father will not benefit.

This is not healthcare, this is vacuous, mindless bureaucracy with the emphasis on mindless. My father had his first appointment to arrange the hearing aid at 11.15am on 13th September 2000 although, over-all, the process has been going on for a year.


At the nursing home, my father’s mind was very, very confused. After seeing him, my mother, my aunt and I drove back in total silence.

At home, my mother was very depressed, with deep furrows on brows above pained eyes: “He’s not getting any better,” she said flatly.


Tuesday 29th May 2001 (I was working away in Cardiff)

On the phone, my mother sounded depressed, telling me my father was very confused – even moreso than yesterday.


Wednesday 30th May 2001 (I was working away in Cardiff)

“His mind was much clearer today,” my mother told me of my father.


Thursday 31st May

When my mother and my aunt (his sister) went in to see my father today, he was wondering where his sister was, despite the fact she was sitting by the bed. Both the matron and my aunt thought he was looking jaundiced, though my mother did not think so. The last time I saw him I, too, had thought his skin looked a little yellow.

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Heroin wholesaling in Scotland & why comedian Del Strain was shot in the leg

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Del Strain in Trafalgar Square yesterday

Del Strain shares bis thoughts in Trafalgar Square yesterday

“I’ve never really understand why anyone wants to perform comedy,” I said to Scots comedian Del Strain yesterday.

“Because when I’m on stage,” he told me, “for them twenty or thirty minutes – when you’ve got the audience, for that piece of time, my legs ain’t sore, no matter what’s going on in the world, no matter what your financial state, no matter if someone’s died in your family that day… there’s nothing else there. It’s just like being a surfer riding a wave.”

“And why are your legs sore?” I asked.

“Cos of the gunshot wound,” replied Del. “Getting knee-capped. When I’m on stage, nothing else matters. It’s a better buzz than any Class ‘A’ drug I’ve ever took. I’m buzzing on adrenaline all the way home. That’s why I do it… It don’t feed you, it don’t put shit in your fridge, but it feeds you in the soul.”

“Why a gunshot wound?” I asked.

“Cos I got shot by accident,” replied Del, after a pause. “The gun went off by accident and I got shot.”

“Who accidentally shot y…” I started to say.

“My brother,” said Del immediately.

“How come?” I asked.

“Because, basically, I was winding him up,” said Del, “and he picked up the gun and he didn’t realise that there was still one in the chamber and it went off. He didn’t mean it to go off, he didn’t mean to shoot me, my parents were very, very…”

“How old were you?” I asked.

“About 17. But my parents were… Let’s say they didn’t have the best morals around, but they did teach us how to shoot. If it had been intentional, it would have been in the head.”

“It may seem a bit dull,” I told Del, “but, when I grew up, we didn’t have guns in our house.”

“We did,” said Del. “We had quite a few guns in the house.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Everyone I knew had a gun,” Del replied.

“This is in Kilmarnock, Scotland, in the 1980s?” I checked.

“Yeah,” said Del. “Late 1970s, early 1980s. We grew up with pump-actions and .22s. People did use guns up there for legitimate reasons, I suppose. Like shooting vermin on their estates.”

“Depends on your definition of words,” I said. “What did your parents do?”

“They were heroin wholesalers,” Del told me. “Well, my dad… The first 20 years of his life, he was heavily involved in drugs. But my dad’s been ‘clean’ 27 years and actually started working in a rehab. So he spent the first half of his life putting people on the gear; and the second half of his life getting them off it.”

“He’s had a full life,” I said.

Del in St Martin in the Fields crypt yesterday

Del in St Martin in the Fields’ crypt yesterday

“My birth mother actually died a year ago yesterday,” said Del. “Cancer. It was horrible. Fair warning: anyone who’s had an alcohol or a drug problem in their life and who has anything like that on their medical record… When you come to the end of your life, the NHS will treat you like a piece of shit. They will Hum and Hah about benzos and morphine and they won’t even give you the duty of care – because you’ve got that on your record.

“Even though you’ve got like a week to live, they think you’re trying to blag them to get some extra morphine. It wasn’t until the third day that the Macmillan nurses came in and done great work… She came in and she trebled the morphine and my mother had two peaceful days, God bless her, and she slept and went. That was a bit of a shock to me when I saw it with my own eyes.

“My dad’s been clean 27 years. He had a liver biopsy and he went to the hospital and asked What about pain relief? He’d never took no pain relief, cos that’s the way he rolls. But the doctor’s still looking at him after 27 years like my dad’s trying to do him out of 4 or 5 codeine a day. Like 10 pence worth of codeine. Which I take as an insult but also find pretty funny.

“It’s people’s psyche. They don’t change their opinion about you, no matter how much you turn your life around. Every day of my life, I try to do two mitzvahs – two acts of random kindness. I’m a big believer in What goes round comes round and I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life and I’ve had Bad back for those mistakes, but the way I’ve tried to live my life for the last seven or eight years is just trying to be a better person, trying to be creative and trying to make the world a better place.”

“When we talked about this a few years ago,” I said, “you told me your son had turned your life round.”

“That was it,” said Del. “I went to jail and I had never been away from my son for a day of his life – he was about 5 – and that was a shock to my system. What I was doing at that time – selling pot – gave me what middle class people would call flexi-time. So I did very little work. I would go out for three hours on a Sunday and make £1,000. I could live on that and spend lots of time with my son. Going to jail was a shock to my system. I wanted positive affirmation for my son. My son is now in all the top classes at school, never been in trouble at school. He is all the things I wasn’t at 15.”

“And how old is he now?”

“15.”

“Even if I stop doing stand-up tomorrow,” Del told me, “in the last eight, nine, ten years, it was never about fame or fortune. It was about me actually putting some good into the world. It was about bringing my son up with positive affirmation, because I don’t want him to be a scally like I was. But I don’t know what’s going to happen. Tomorrow, I could go back to doing what I done ten or twenty years  ago. Who knows?”

“You sold pot,” I said, “and…?”

“Only pot,” said Del. “I’ve never sold any Class ‘A’. After everything I saw with my parents, I never ever wanted to sell Class ‘A” – I don’t believe you get any luck with the money.”

“And your father…” I prompted.

“They were the main dealers,” explained Del, “for the whole West Coast of Scotland for about eight years.”

“And he was using it as well?”

“Yes. He was using it from the 1970s. But people don’t understand that there were no illegal drugs in this country back then. There was a small select group where he came from of about eight people. And that’s all there was for many years. They got their drugs by breaking into pharmacies and chemists and, in chemists at that time, you had 98.7% pure heroin and cocaine.

“In 1979, my dad was one of the first five registered addicts in the whole of Scotland and he was on a scrip (a prescription) from Edinburgh… But the first thing Margaret Thatcher did when she got in as Prime Minister was take away the junkies’ scrips and that’s when the illegal drugs market started. It was an accumulation of the (Soviet Union’s) war in Afghanistan and the Shah getting thrown out of Iran. The 1980s were just flooded with heroin for a catalogue of reasons but, if Thatcher hadn’t done that then, we probably wouldn’t have had the numbers on heroin that we ended up with.”

“I’ve never understood why we stopped supplying heroin to addicts,” I said. “We seemed to have a system that worked at that time.”

“There was 300 addicts in London in 1973,” said Del. “The whole of London. Think about that. While my dad was on that scrip, he had a job, an apprenticeship. He was actually working, going to his work every day, living a normal life.”

“And, getting back to your gunshot wound…?” I said.

“I still get horrific pain,” replied Del.

“And there’s nothing they can do about it?” I asked.

“No. It’s fucked,” said Del. “It makes my leg swell up and the blood don’t pump properly. Veins and nerve damage. All smashed-up. They wanted to cut my leg off and I wouldn’t let them.

“I went home and, after about four years, when I came to London, I was doing Class ‘A’ and my leg swelled up and Guy’s Hospital threw me out with some morphine and told me if I started urinating blood to come back. I sat in a room for fifteen months and my leg wouldn’t straighten – bright red, like a boxing glove – nearly lost my leg – and it took me fifteen months to learn how to walk again, to straighten my leg. I was shot in my left leg and now, when I walk, I walk on three toes on my left foot and the heel on my right foot.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. That’s just how I’ve adapted to walk. The blood clot caused nerve damage in my ankle so, when I pull my sock on… you know when you hit a nerve in your tooth and you go Agghhhh!? My ankle’s like that. But it’s been like that since I was 23. I take prescribed drugs now to block the spasms: you know the drugs they take to stop seizures? It’s them things. It stops the nerves from jigging.”

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The British NHS – pain is still pain & death is death despite good intentions

My personal experience of the blind bureaucracy of Britain’s National Health Service – which I blogged about yesterday – continued after yesterday’s blog.

I blogged about how I encountered well-meaning bumbling when I had to have my eyes checked at the Ophthalmology department of my local NHS hospital in Hertfordshire.

My friend's painful horizontal wisdom tooth (left)

My friend’s painful horizontal wisdom tooth is seen on the left

Later yesterday, though, a friend of mine encountered continuing blind bumbling at the Dental department of Guy’s Hospital in London.

She has had painful problems with a wisdom tooth for, I guess a couple of years. A couple of weeks ago, she was told by a very amiable doctor at Guy’s that the tooth could be taken out but, as it was close to a nerve, they would first have to take a cone beam mandible CT scan to see exactly what any potential problems might be.

Good.

It might take six weeks to arrange the scan.

Well, OK.

So it was a surprise when my friend got home yesterday night to find a letter from Guy’s Hospital telling her the appointment to have the scan was arranged for yesterday morning.

She had been away from home for a couple of days.

The letter from Guy's Hospital - bad timing

The letter from Guy’s Hospital – bad timing

The letter for a scan at 10.00am on Friday 15th February, dated Thursday 7th February, had been sent second class on Monday 11th February. In theory, this should have arrived on Wednesday 13th February. If you trust the Post Office.

My friend was at home on the Tuesday, away Wednesday/Thursday and returned at 2300 on Friday night. She missed the scan appointment at 1000 that day. The letter, we think, may actually have arrived on Thursday, one day before the appointment.

In the minds of the no doubt amiable and well-meaning people creating the letter on 7th February for an appointment on 15th February, that was enough notice. But then the letter was not posted until 11th February. It was sent second class so – even if the postal system worked effectively – it would not arrive until 13th February and there was no thought of someone being away from home on two consecutive days.

So well-meaning people bumbled into incompetence.

At the bottom of the letter, it says: “If you are unable to attend your appointment please contact the Department giving 48 hours notice… If you do not attend an agreed booked appointment your form will be returned to the referring Doctor and you will need to contact your Doctor for a new referral.”

So, even if my friend had received the letter on Wednesday 13th (with the mail being delivered late-morning) she could not have re-arranged the appointment with 48 hours notice.

And now, because she did not know about the appointment, she will have to go back to her GP, get another referral, get another appointment to see a doctor at Guy’s, get that doctor to make another appointment for another scan, wait for the system to arrange another scan and then hope she receives a letter in time to know she actually has a scan appointment.

400 - 1,200 patients killed at Stafford Hospital

Stafford Hospital – where 400 – 1,200 patients were  killed

In some parts of the NHS, of course, patients die because of lack of care.

A couple of days ago Lord MacDonald, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, was calling for police to investigate the “needless deaths” of between 400 and 1,200 patients at Mid Staffordshire Hospital between 2005 and 2009.

Five days ago, NHS Medical Director Sir Bruce Keogh announced that nine English hospital trusts were to be investigated because of abnormally-high death rates:

– North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust

– United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust

– George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust

– Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust

– Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

– The Dudley Group NHS FT

– Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS FT

– Medway NHS FT

– Burton Hospitals NHS FT

My experience in Hertfordshire and my friend’s experience in London are of course – in comparison – wildly trivial. But they are a sign that, even when well-meaning people try their best, the NHS (perhaps like all large bureaucracies) is a mess.

In the case of the NHS, though, it is not just inconvenience which is caused but, in my friend’s case, continuing pain and, in many other people’s cases, death.

From tiny, slightly deformed acorns do vastly warped oak trees grow.

My friend phoned the number on the letter this morning and got no answer.

“It rings and rings for ages, then cuts off,” she told me.

So she then phoned the main telephone number at Guy’s Hospital.

“You get a voice recognition computer which asks for the department you want,” she told me, “If you ignore it, it gives you operator. The operator told me the Appointments Department is only open weekdays.”

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Britain’s National Health Service: Sod’s Law. What happened to me yesterday.

NHSlogo

Mostly amiable but badly organised

I have said it here before. What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t have a moan?

My mother had the eye disease glaucoma. So did my father’s mother. And so, I think, did my mother’s cousin. It is hereditary.

If you get it and the doctors catch it early, you can be cured. If they catch it late, there is no cure. You will go blind.

So I have regular eye tests.

After the last eye test, my local optician said the pressure on my right eye (always my weakest eye) was slightly – but only slightly – abnormal. So she sent me for more tests at the Ophthalmology department of my local NHS hospital. I went yesterday afternoon.

I am not going to name the hospital because the people who dealt with me were well-meaning people and trying to do their best. But, as in most of the rest of life, meaning well gets tsunamied by Sod’s Law and everything goes arse-over-tit.

When I eventually got an appointment, it was not in a letter. I got a phone call last Friday (the 8th) from a computer with an automated voice. It told me I had an eye appointment at my local hospital on Thursday the 14th at twndthee.

What?

Twndthee.

I phoned the number a couple more times and, as far as I could tell, the automated voice was saying “twenty to three” but I was only, perhaps, 65% certain. It might have been twenty past three or something else to do with three. Or possibly two. If it was, indeed, saying “twenty to three” they had, presumably, programmed the computer to say that phrase as it is friendlier than saying “two forty”.

A good intention. But the result was less clear.

I decided to wait for the inevitable letter.

This arrived on Monday confirming that, indeed, my appointment was at 2.40pm.

On Wednesday, I got a phone call from a genuine and very polite human being asking if I could come a little earlier – 1.30 instead of 2.40.

No problem. All agreed. Earlier appointment at 1.30 was confirmed.

Yesterday morning, my eternally un-named friend asked me: “Are you going to drive there?”

“Ah!” I said. “I had forgotten about that. I think they put eye-drops in and warn you not to drive.”

I looked at the letter.

“There’s nothing in the letter about it,” I said.

So I phoned up the telephone number on the letter.

“What is your reference number?” I was asked by the very amiable man on the other end of the line.

I read the reference number on the letter.

“Not that number,” said the very amiable man. “I need the reference number.”

“That is the only number I have,” I said.

“What is your NHS number?” he asked.

I read it off the letter. There was a pause.

“…and what is your password?” the very amiable man asked.

“Erm…  I don’t know,” I said. “I didn’t know I had one.”

“It is on one of your reference sheets with the reference number,” said the very amiable man.

“I only have one sheet,” I replied.

“I cannot process your request without a password,” said the very amiable man. “The reference number and password are on the referral letter sent by your GP to the Hospital.”

“I don’t have any copy of that,” I said. “I only have the appointment letter sent to me by the hospital.”

“I need a password to process your request,” said the very amiable man.

“I am having eye tests at the hospital in a couple of hours for glaucoma,” I said “and just wanted to know if I was allowed to drive. I wondered if they might be putting eye drops in which would mean I shouldn’t drive.”

“I cannot speculate on the answer,” said the very amiable man, “but sometimes they put eyedrops in. I cannot speculate on what they may do without access to your medical records, which I cannot access without your password.”

So, yesterday, I got a bus to my local hospital for the 1.30pm appointment. I arrived early and had a cup of tea. Then:

1.20pm – I turn up, present my letter to the receptionist and point out I have been asked to come for the earlier 1.30 appointment. No problem. I am logged in.

2.25pm – I think it best to check. I politely asked the receptionist if he can double-check what time my appointment is. Much fiddling on computer. “Two forty,” he says slightly aggressively. “Ah,” I say.

2.35pm – I am called in to the very amiable nurse, who makes the first tests on my eyes, photographs the back of my eyes and tells me she doesn’t think there’s any real problem, but I will be having two more sets of tests by other people and then seeing the Consultant.

"Wait in here," I was told

“Wait in here…” I was told by my first very amiable nurse

2.50pm – She takes me to another examination room and says, “Wait in here. You may have to wait a bit of time for the other tests.” I sit down. She leaves.

2.59pm – Another very amiable nurse comes into the room to get something and is surprised I am sitting there. I tell her why and I describe the nurse who left me. This second very amiable nurse takes my name and goes off saying “I will check.” I tell her: “The other nurse told me I might have to wait a bit.” The second nurse tells me with a smile: “Don’t worry unless it starts to get dark.”

3.06pm – The second very amiable nurse comes back into the room again to get something, looks surprised again and asks, “Any luck yet?” I say , “No.”

3.11pm – The original very amiable nurse comes into the room to get something, looks surprised to find me there, and says: “Oh, you’re not supposed to be in here: you’re supposed to sit outside” (in the corridor). I go and sit on a row of seats in the corridor.

3.17pm – I hear my name being called about 15 feet to my left, in the original waiting room. It is a very amiable Consultant. He examines my eyes.

The end result is he says I have no signs of glaucoma. “Your nerves are way too healthy,” he tells me. “When I look at them, they’re lovely and pink, lots of nerve tissue there. You’ve got thick corneas so, when they test your pressure, particularly with the air puff machine, they’re going to get false, high readings. The most important question is Is this pressure damaging your nerve? and the answer is No. Your nerves look 100% healthy. They’re lovely.”

“So I can put my nerves into the 2016 Olympics?” I ask.

“Yes,” says the Consultant.

Everyone was very amiable.

The organisation was a mess.

No one person was to blame.

That is life.

Sod’s Law.

I guess death in the NHS is much the same.

So it goes.

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Comedian Martin Soan breaks a rib in bicycle accident and loses his main act

Martin Soan yesterday with unexplained moustache

Martin Soan yesterday with moustache

Yesterday, my eternally-un-named friend and I went to spend Boxing Day at Martin & Vivienne Soan’s home. They run their Pull The Other One comedy club at two venues every month in South London.

I did not know that, four days before, Martin had broken a rib in a bicycle accident and also had a broken leg.

The broken leg was the leg of his spectacles.

The rib was his own. He was in a lot of pain and, since the accident, he has had to sleep overnight sitting upright in a chair because he cannot lie flat on a bed.

He also wore an unexplained false moustache.

“Have you had an X-ray?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

“Why?” I asked.

“I will have one when I feel better,” he replied.

“Don’t you think there’s a logical flaw in that reasoning?” I asked.

“No,” he told me.

“But you have a broken rib,” I said.

“I know,” he replied.

“How did it happen?” I asked.

“I went arse-over-tit over the handlebars,” Martin explained. “I was on a lovely bike and was drifting from lane to lane at three o’clock in the morning, coming down to the north west corner of Peckham Rye Park.”

“You were coming down a steep road,” said Vivienne, “and I bet you had not had to push a pedal. I reckon you went down the hill and, because there was no traffic, you had a straight run and you would’ve been seeing how far you could get without pushing a pedal”

“Probably,” said Martin, “I went up a couple of pavements, just because I wanted to glide, and I went up this one and it had a nobbled surface for blind people…”

“And that’s what caused it?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin.

“There was a blind person and you ran over the blind person?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin. “I just carried straight on, but they had nobbled the piece of kerb. And they’d also cut into the kerb to give access for wheelchairs. The edge of the other kerb was about six inches straight up vertically. I went into it. Didn’t even see it. I went straight off. Projectile. The bike stayed where it was. I went straight over the handlebars. I landed on my front with the side of my head on the ground and I must have been knocked-out for a little bit.

“I was in a big puffer jacket and there was no-one else about and I could hear myself going: Ah! No no no no! Alright. OK OK. Aaaaaahhh! No. I remember doing all that nutty trauma talk. You’re gonna be alright. You’re gonna be alright. You’re gonna be alright. Breathe breathe breathe. Where’s the cameras? Why am I talking about cameras? Help me help me help me.

“I managed to roll over and there were some railings. I pulled myself up and banged the side of my face. I had landed on my rib cage. I could hear myself say: I’m standing. I’m standing. The bike’s there. The bike’s there. You’re gonna be alright. But it’s going to be tough,” said Martin, “because I can’t do any lifting.”

“And you’ve got a Pull The Other One show this Friday…” I said.

“Me and Vivienne,” said Martin, “decided we’d spend these two days not talking about it.”

I looked on the wall where future Pull The Other One shows and acts were listed on a whiteboard.

“Oh,” I said. “Well, at least you’ve got Aaaaa Bbbbb on 11th January . He’s good.”

“He’s let us down,” Martin said.

“We don’t normally book people through agents,” explained Vivienne. “We do it through our contacts. But, after Eddie Izzard performed at Pull The Other One, we suddenly got loads of e-mails from agents saying Oooh! Maybe you’d like to book this comic or that comic. So we booked Ccccc Ddddd through an agent and he let us down after we’d done all the publicity.”

“Ccccc Ddddd let us down,” said Martin. “But who did we get to fill-in for him at the last moment? Omid Djalili. And he filled the whole club on word-of-mouth.”

“So that was great,” said Vivienne. “We got Omid. But Ccccc Ddddd letting us down was not funny, really. We managed to get Omid on the printed bill, but this time with Aaaaa Bbbbb it’s too close. The second time we booked a comedian through an agent was Aaaaa Bbbbb who has now let us down and we’re desperately looking round for somebody who can fill the club on a word-of-mouth on 11th January. We haven’t got the money to spend on reprinting the posters and flyers because we’ve already spent it on printing the posters and flyers which are now wrong.

“How can we ever trust an agent?” she continued. “If you go to an agent – as we did – and you say Here’s the publicity. Are there any glaring mistakes here before we go to print? and they say No, absolutely perfect. And we send another e-mail saying So Aaaaa Bbbbb is definitely booked for 11th January? And they tell us Yes. And then you send one more e-mail saying Are you sure? Because rumour has it he’s booked for another comedy gig…? And they reply No, no. He’s definitely on at your club. And then, because we do not want to be left at the last, last minute, we say Actually, we know he’s doing a specific gig we know about and the agent goes Oops! Yes. Sorry. So that’s an agent. So what’s the point? Aaaaa Bbbbb blames his agent; his agent blames him.”

“What can you expect?” said Martin. “The word ‘agent’ is a derogatory term – estate agent, publicity agent. Then there’s…”

“What about that story you refused to tell me a couple of weeks ago?” I asked Martin. “The one about the NHS. The Social Structure is Alive and Well in the NHS.”

“You’re never going to get it,” Martin said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you’re recording me. I won’t get it perfect if you record me and there’s no point if I don’t get it perfect.”

“It was about exploratory anal surgery, wasn’t it?” I asked.

“How is your moustache held on under your nose?” my eternally-un-named friend asked Martin. “Is it with Sellotape?”

“Double-sided tape,” he told her.

“So why won’t you tell me?” I asked Martin.

“Because being recorded is…” he said, “If I say it and it’s recorded, it’ll sound like I’ve made it up. But it’s true… It actually happened to me.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“You’re recording it…” said Martin.

“I was creasing up this morning,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “at John’s blog about how he likes to be depressed at Christmas and…”

“A mis-representation,” I interrupted.

“…then he turns his iPhone on because I’m laughing my head off at it…”

“It wasn’t meant to be funny!” I pleaded.

“…and then,” my eternally-un-named friend continued, “I couldn’t quite laugh as naturally as…”

“You were laughing like a comedy drain,” I told her.

“So what was your…” my eternally-un-named friend asked Martin. “I’ve forgotten what it was… It was a National Health story?”

“I was in a situation,” said Martin, “where they had to put us out. A general anaesthetic. You were taken off to the theatre and knocked out and came to and…”

“So how could you remember anything that happened,” asked my eternally-un-named friend, “if you were unconscious?”

“No,” said Martin, “it happened before.”

“What? What?” urged my eternally-un-named friend.

“There were three guys in there,” Martin explained. “One was a Jamaican. One was me. And the third one was a rather suave and well-to-do man… We were all in cubicles and had surgical gowns on…”

“And?” I asked.

“And I’m not going to tell you,” said Martin. “I am not going to tell you.”

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