My Left Foot (Part Two)

One of my New Year Resolutions, alongside the trusty favourites of losing a stone; writing a song that people would be interesting in listening to; and generally being harder on Jr Emu#3 (a NYR shared by four other members of the family), was to write 12 blogs that people would actually read during 2016.

So far, so not so good, as the score currently stands at: Year Expectations – 4, Emu – 1.

As ever, I’m keen to blame others for my inadequacies, and in this instance, I’m placing part of the responsibility on the ever fragrant Mrs E, who imposed something of a super-injunction on my last draft. I’d spent a reasonable chunk of February preparing what turned out to be a combination of an open letter to Jeremy Hunt, and a love letter to Mrs E, who, as a nurse, is one of his most long standing and long suffering employees. As it turned out, putting the blog in front of her before pressing the ‘publish’ button was definitely the right thing to do, as it received a response along the lines of:

‘There’s no way on this earth that I’m letting you publish that. I’ll lose my job, you twat’

There are few things I really fear in life, but being married to an unemployed nurse who bears me a major grudge would definitely be one of them. Mrs E is already making noises about a third dog to continue her child replacement therapy, and had this episode gone wrong, I could just see her going down the ‘attack-dog’ route.

Anyhow, that was the blog you didn’t get, which was about as negative a read about the NHS as you could experience, and this, by contrast, is the blog that you do get, which, happily, is about the best experience ever, yesterday, also at the hands of the NHS.

For a bit of context, my left foot has been something of a burden to me in my efforts to be a vaguely adequate marathon runner. The big toe, in particular, was hurting like seven shades of hell when I went to my GP at the end of last year – he had a painful poke about and diagnosed an ingrowing toenail. An ingrowing toenail is one of those conditions that you think is way down on the minor list of ailments, but it’s not until you have one that you realise what all the fuss is about. It’s like having a really sensitive part of your foot constantly tattooed by a degenerate biker, so when the doctor said that I needed to have the toenail removed, and that it was a simple procedure, I could have jumped for joy. Obviously I didn’t as I had a fair idea of what landing would feel like, but you get my drift.

‘Can it be done quickly?’ I asked. ‘It’s just that I’m going into a sixteen week training plan, so I need to fit it in with that’

My GP has what I believe is called a ‘lazy eye’, and it’s often quite difficult to tell if he’s staring at you intently or looking up at the ceiling in a a state of disbelief. I like to think that in this instance he was doing both. Anyway, we agreed that I should save the NHS the bother and get booked in for a quick BUPA procedure in February.

Come the great day, and I pitched up for the appointment, had a fairly large needle shoved into my toe, then watched on in awe as the toe was cut open, part of the nailbed removed, and the whole thing cauterised with what looked suspiciously like the last soldering iron I bought in Maplins. (And which, incidentally, brought back some shuddering memories of my vasectomy. The smell of burning flesh will, I think, always remind me of that sunny afternoon in a surgery ten years ago, with my wife and the doctor merrily gossiping on the other side of a green cloth screen. I had naively expected her to hold my hand at the customer end of the transaction, but she mentioned something about ‘professional interest’ and that was the last I saw of her.)

Anyway, I rested up for a few days, got back to running, got the toe nicely infected by doing a twenty miler in the mud in March, got some antibiotics and took ‘constructive feedback’ from various healthcare professionals (see above), and by the start of April, all was reasonably well. Not the prettiest toe you’d ever seen, but vaguely functional.

Then, about a fortnight ago, it started hurting again. Then really hurting. Then ohmygodthatissof’ingpainful hurting. So I went back to the GP, who did the whole intense stare trick again, and sent me off with some antibiotics.

‘This will clear the infection up by the marathon’ he said, filling me with optimism.

I tried a run on Tuesday this week and pretty much had to hop the first couple of miles. It was really, really painful, and probably not that sustainable an approach for the marathon, so the next day it was back to the GP. He looked at me quizzically (I think).

‘I could drill it’, he said, ‘but I’m not sure that’s what it needs’.

Well, if he wasn’t sure, I wasn’t going to encourage him to experiment. So he decided to ‘phone a friend’. He called the podiatry department at a local hospital, told them what he was worried about, and said that this was ‘important, as the patient has to run a marathon on Sunday’. He genuinely said that, not because he necessarily thought it was properly important, but because he knew that it was to me. This was after 5, and whoever he spoke to said they’d have to see if anyone could help, and they’d call him back. They did:

‘Can you do 10 tomorrow morning?’

Yes, I very much could. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but anything was going to be better that the current situation, and so I pitched up at the hospital on time the next day.

And was seen, on time. By two lovely people, who, if they weren’t in the podiatry business, could probably have eked out a living in light entertainment.

Within 2 minutes of me taking my socks off and giving them a brief rundown, they’d agreed on the problem – the nail bed hadn’t been killed off and the nail had grown back, in spikes, back into my toe.

They’d also agreed on a fix.

‘We’ve got two options; either we do the procedure now without an anaesthetic’

<pauses for patient to take this in>

‘Or we do the procedure now with an anaesthetic.’

I don’t think it was the first time that the joke had been told in that room, but I guess that’s ok as long as it’s new to your audience. Which it was. Anyway, we settled on the second option, which involved the familiar big needle being shoved in.

‘This is going to hurt quite a bit. We encourage you to swear’

Yep, it did and I did. And then various bits of jagged nail were poked about, cut off, dragged out, and waved in front of me like fishing trophies. The whole thing was over in a few minutes and pronounced a big success.

‘That should be fine by Sunday, we’ll watch out for you’

Hurrah, I thought, quickly adjusting my race plan.

‘But you’ll need to have the nail bed cut out again.’

Uh-oh, I thought, expecting a three month wait.

‘We’ll do the paperwork now so you don’t need to come back for a consultation, and we’ll send you an appointment for May’

Time to take that uh-oh back then.

I know that all of this doesn’t say anything about the resources and the queues and the beds and the cuts and the overcrowding, and all the other awful things that are happening to the NHS at this time. And I know, that, in the scheme of things, removing an recalcitrant toenail from an otherwise fit bloke primarily so he can indulge himself in a running race doesn’t really stack up against the need for ECG monitors, or decent treatment for Alzheimer patients, or reasonable salaries, or meaningful community care, or any other of the big issues.

But, on the other hand, some really lovely and caring and professional people went out of their way to help me this week. They understood the person they were helping, they stopped the horrible bit from hurting, they could see exactly the problem and the solution, and even told a few jokes to ease the pain. When we shout (and we should) about losing what is dear to us in the dearest of our institutions, we shouldn’t forget that the little things define it as much as the big things. So let’s shout about those as well, ok?


PS: Had a bit of a setback on Thursday night as I managed to run over my own left foot while taking the bins out. In my profession, we’d call this user error.

The Doctor Is In

Like any other sane person living in the United Kingdom, I spend a reasonable amount of my time worried about the state of health in the country, and in particular the perilous condition of the National Health Service. I feel fairly well informed in this area by Mrs E, who qualified as a nurse over 25 years ago and has returned from almost every shift since with either a) a shake of the head in a ‘you couldn’t make it up’ style or b) a story about something so inspirational around life and death that makes you think that really, the rest of us are just playing bit parts to the Doctors and Nurses that really make the world go around.

So, it was with a genuine and non-sarky interest that I read of the government’s new initiative to get 5,000 new GPs on the NHS register. In fact, I went straight to the GMC website to check what sort of a difference this would make. If you’re of a similar mindset, head for and have a look for yourself. You’ll see that if Dave’s big plan is to announce 5,000 more GPs before the next election, then he doesn’t actually need to do anything more than for the last five years.  If, however, he wants to get 5,000 in the next (say) twelve months, then he’ll have his work cut out, particularly given the number of grads qualifying each year as doctors.

Fortunately, the Emu exists partly to right these political challenges, and using simple principles of supply and demand, proposes an innovative method of getting more doctors into GP practices. It seems to me that there are more than enough individuals wandering around, calling themselves Doctor, that we should just start asking them to step up to the mark and start to save the NHS.  Here is my starter for 10:

1. Dr Dre

Let’s face it, it’s time for the good doctor to leave his past of Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube endorsement and the production of ridiculously expensive headphones, and return to his previous occupation, which, as very few people know, was as a junior GP in a small surgery just outside Sheffield. Rap fans will know that Dr Dre’s son Curtis is now known as ‘Hood Surgeon’, so there’s a great opportunity for the two of them to work together as a family practice, possibly under the banner “Get Well or Die Tryin'”.

2. Dr Who

When I was growing up, our family went to the same doctor for about twenty years. Which was great for continuity and relationships, and Dr Who could offer the same sort of service, what with him being over 900 years old. There would be a problem with him regenerating every couple of years, but that would probably be ok as long as you didn’t get Peter Davison while pregnant. You’d worry about him slipping out of character and into ‘Young Mister ‘Erriot’, and delivering the new born with nothing more than a bar of carbolic soap and a winsome smile.

3. Doctor and the Medics

Looking at the pictures of Doctor and the Medics, it’s quite hard to believe how they’d work out at some of our quieter GP practices, but, on the other hand, how many Doctors will actually come fully equipped with a full set of medics to assist their procedure? In any case, they might be just the tonic for some of the more depressed goths that you find hanging around waiting rooms.

4. Doctor Spock

Not to be confused with Mr Spock (see 5. below), Doctor Spock managed to turn American baby and childcare on its head in the 1960’s by psychiatrist analysis of family behaviours. Something that might not be a bad idea to revisit, given some of the things that you see every day. He also wrote a book called ‘Why Babies Suck’, which might be of interest to the goths currently waiting to be see by Doctor & The Medics (who are, of course, running late again).

5. Doctor McCoy

I don’t know that much about Dr McCoy’s actual medical qualifications, although, on reflection, you never saw the actors in Star Trek with coughs or colds, so I reckon it was a pretty healthy place if you ignored the weekly alien predators. But the overriding reason you’d have Dr McCoy as your doctor would be so that he’d be around to lighten the mood during a family death. You’d ask him (say) if your grandfather was ill. “It’s worse than that, he’s dead, Jim”, he’d say. Even if your name wasn’t Jim, you’d ask him to say it again, and again, and you’d have skipped right to the acceptance part of the grieving process.

6. Doctor Zhivago

Let’s face it, if Omar Sharif was your GP, AND he was a poet, AND a left wing radical who’d been wronged by the system, AND you knew that all he ever wanted was to live a peaceful life thinking wistfully of the woman he loved….well, he could tell you anything really. Terminal illness, high prescription charges, permanent deformities, anything really, as long as there was a bit of soft balalaika going on in the background.

7. Dr Evil

Just along the corridor from Doctor Zhivago, with his soft eyes and gentle touch, is the slightly less popular office (inside a hollowed out volcano) of Doctor Evil. Fans of Austin Powers will remember that the bad Doctor went to Evil Medical School in Belgium, before graduating and embarking upon despicable plans to take over the world. He could at least be relied on to be fairly direct when delivering bad news, and , failing an immediate cure for your ills, could help you to be cryogenically frozen.

8. Dr Indiana Jones

By day, Dr Jones is a renowned lecturer on early history, with a penchant for tweed jackets and an apparent need to employ a butler. In his holidays, he likes to go exploring ancient civilisations and battling with Nazi throwbacks. None of this comes for free, so he’d be an ideal candidate to moonlight at a GP surgery of en evening. Much like Dr Zhivago, he could tell you most things while you melted in his eyes, but with the added bonus that you’d be talking to an expert lasso enthusiast at the same time.

9. Dr Hook

Most people will be surprised to hear that Dr Hook was qualified as a medical doctor, but his was nothing if not a life of contradiction, given that  he didn’t actually have a hook either. Which was just as well, given some of the delicate keyhole surgery he had to perform early in his career with the Medicine Show. Dr Hook was also known for his bedside manner and good nature with relatives, for example with Sylvia’s mother: “Please Mrs Avery, I just want to tell her goodbye…”

10. Doctor Seuss

Doctor Seuss is my outside candidate for greatest American author of all time, so I’m slightly biased, but I really think if every interaction was in the style of ‘The Cat In The Hat’ then even really bad news would be fun:

Would you, could you, step this way

Your blood results are back today

Not, alas the ideal answer

Son, you have pancreatic cancer

On the rare occasions that I visit a doctor, I’ve forgotten the diagnosis about 5 minutes after I leave the surgery. Maybe I need to go to a GP to check my memory loss, but I think it’s more that complex medical terminology and me have never really worked well together. But if Doctor Seuss told me the diagnosis, I’d never forget.

Given the challenges faced by the NHS, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we had some of these Doctors facing off to the Great British Public before too long. As one of the GBP, I’d be delighted.