When Girl came off the horse it didn’t look like a bad fall. More like an involuntary and rather hurried dismount. She’d landed on her feet, that was the main thing, so I wasn’t initially too concerned when she lay writhing and yelling on the grass. Nasty sprain I thought. Give it five minutes…
But five minutes later she was still on her back, still in pain, and I began to worry. Mainly for my darling Girl’s sake, of course, but partly for my own. ‘Oh God oh God,’ I thought. ‘She’s supposed to be going back to school tomorrow. I am going to be in such shit with her mother.’
Unfortunately for Girl — who I’m sure would have preferred an air ambulance, ideally piloted by Prince William — I managed to get the car into the field. As we sped home, trying to avoid bumps, Girl kept her spirits up by swearing at me, listening to Taylor Swift at full volume and occasionally calling up school friends to gauge their level of concern. Those who didn’t recognise the gravity and drama of the situation were put on a death list. I went on it too — and rightly so — for stopping at home to change out of my jodhpurs, grab some painkillers and make a cheese sandwich, ready for the afternoon of hell in casualty.
Still, what’s great about living in hunt country is that everyone knows the most civilised casualty centres. Round us, it’s Rugby for lesser injuries, and the teaching hospital in Coventry for the serious stuff.
‘My daughter has a suspected broken leg,’ I told the receptionist in Rugby, hoping that the pathetic sob in my voice wasn’t too obvious. ‘Dad, stop saying it’s broken when you don’t know it’s broken,’ said Girl, who was being much tougher and braver than me.
One good thing about when it’s your child, not you, is that you get seen quickly. Within an hour of arriving Girl had been X-rayed. (I disgraced myself by joking that the trolley was disturbingly coffin-shaped, by asking the nurses whether you could catch MRSA from eating a cheese sandwich in a hospital waiting room, and by leaving in the middle of her treatment to make an important work call. But I firmly believe it’s a dad’s job to behave inappropriately on all occasions.) Within another she had been diagnosed, with her X-rays sent to a top orthopaedic consultant in Coventry for a second opinion. Yes, it was broken all right. In two places. What’s more, it would probably need pinning.
Before the surgeon could operate, though, the swelling would have to come down. When the consultant examined Girl’s injury the next day — at Coventry this time — he was so appalled by the inflammation and blistering that he ordered her straight to the children’s ward, where she would have to stay for several days in traction.
That’s where she is now, as I write. I’d tell you how she’s doing but I’ve been banned from visiting for being too boring. ‘All you do is want to make tea, then get away as soon as possible. Mum actually has conversations and says interesting things.’
From what I can gather, the preferred topic is: how crap Dad is. Apparently, today’s crap-Dad anecdote was about how, instead of getting Girl’s stuff ready for hospital, I had forced her to hobble around her room, scrabbling for her bits and pieces, with her broken leg. Though the vile calumny is sort of true, it’s only because Girl had insisted on getting her stuff herself because, being a man, I wouldn’t know what to do or where to look.
Anyway, I did get to visit the adolescent ward at Coventry a couple of times before the ban and I couldn’t have been happier. Lovely, caring English nurses; clean, airy rooms with lots of creature comforts (tea-making facilities; a well-stocked library; video games); visiting teachers — because it’s now term-time, dontcha know?; superb consultants who are really, really good with horsey accidents (which are responsible for more injuries there, apparently, than even motorbikes).
At which point it is customary for the author to retract all reservations he may have had about the total bloody marvellousness of ‘Our NHS’ and declare it the best healthcare system in the world. But I’m not going to.
Yes, of course, I feel the temptation strongly. It is indeed wondrously satisfying to calculate the many thousands which such first-rate care would have cost had it happened in, say, America. (‘Dad, do you think you’ve got your money back yet for what you’ve paid in taxes?’ asked Girl.) You feel, as you do after you’ve overstuffed yourself at an all-you-can-eat buffet deal: ‘Yay! I’ve got one over The System.’
But this is precisely the problem. While it may be right and proper to be grateful — as indeed I am — for the superb treatment we most of us have on occasion received courtesy of our dedicated health workers, what it means is that our view of the NHS remains perpetually clouded by sentiment.
We rarely stop to consider, for example, that even were the NHS to cease in its current form tomorrow, it would not suddenly mean an end to decent, affordable health care. The same nurses and consultants would be doing just as brilliant work, only it would not be within the constraints of an outmoded state provision model which was launched in 1948 for a Britain that no longer exists; which is hamstrung by the inefficiencies which prevail in all state-run enterprises (I give you: North Staffordshire hospitals); which is economically unsustainable.
Update: Girl is out of the operating theatre and doing well. Thanks lovely doctors, nurses, cooks and cleaners — but I’m sticking to my guns. Broken healthcare systems deserve to be repaired with as much thought and TLC as broken ankles.