Sunday, April 20, 2008


It’s nearly midnight when I arrive at A&E at the Royal Free. It is mercifully empty, but somewhere a baby is endlessly screaming. I approach the glassed off receptionist as my dad sits uncomfortably on the bent grills that double for chairs.
“Excuse me,” I begin once, after a good five minutes, she acknowledges me. “I was wondering if I could see a nurse as…”
“What is your surname?” she interrupts me testily.

We run through the whole gamut of personal information, my irritation over the whole process being far outweighed by hers towards my entire existence, a situation my prior experience with ladies prepares me for. Matters are not helped when I accidentally and surprisingly give the last three digits of Tufnell Park Towers’ postcode instead of my current address’s, causing her to angrily flash eye-contact for the first time and for a moment I think she might go into meltdown. I made a note of the time when I first arrived, and despite there being no other prospective patients it has taken twenty minutes by the time she has finished with me. She cannot see me below the chest, and I could conceivably be stood in a sizeable pool of my own blood by the time she actually asks what is wrong with me.

I sit and study the vending machine as I wait: bars of chocolate and packets of crisps for a pound a go are the healthy offerings at this hospital. A Polish couple fluster in, and I switch my attention to them, the pregnant woman wincing as she leans against the rows of seats and the panicky large man fruitlessly trying to speed things up by rapping on the receptionist’s glass fortress.

Five minutes in, he explodes.
“Why are you asking me these stupid questions?” he frantically screeches. “My wife is pregnant! Who is caring what my mobile phone number is?”
“You tell her, big man!” I cheer. Telepathically.

Later, Dad and I depart. As we near the door, my dad commences on a monumental powerslide through a large puddle of carroty vomit. The feat of balance he displays to stay vertical is phenomenal. In the car I cruelly don’t stop laughing for some ten minutes and try to sing the Hawaii Five-O tune inbetween guffaws describing, had his stability not been so good, an imaginary scenario sort of reminiscent of the beginning a Pepé Le Pew cartoon.


deanne said...

Oh man. I like most free things, therefore automatically like the NHS, but after hearing so many stories along these lines,I just pray I never fall ill in this country.

Laura Willows said...

I hate falling over in sick

anonymouscoworker said...

Not to make things political, but people over here in the US rail against national health care without realizing that the process for us is the same as you just described... but at the end we have to stop and pay a bill and try to figure out if our insurance covers the trip to the doctor.

I guess what I'm saying is, we have to see that horrible woman twice.

Also, I thought you'd like to know I'm doing another "ask the acw" thing and you asked me to let you know when I was doing it again.