‘A race through the subways and streets of Paris anuses.’ Startled, I reread the sentence. Surely that couldn’t be right. To pass the time I was flicking through a programme of December’s films at the local art-house cinema. The sentence came in a synopsis of a French crime thriller. Then I realised it was a misprint and should have read, ‘A race through the subways and streets of Paris ensues’. I was about to jab my friend with an elbow and point out the misprint to him, when his surname was called.
Five minutes before, he and I had taken the only two available seats in the hospital waiting area, among a crowd of maybe 50 or 60 other outpatients. As we sat, that Bible verse came to mind about tarrying at Jericho until your beards be grown. Hearing his name called so soon made us goggle at each other in amazement. ‘That’s me!’ he said. ‘It must be a mistake,’ I said contemptuously. Confirmation came in the form of a fearfully and wonderfully made nurse wearing festive antlers moving briskly through the crowd and bellowing his name again and again.
My friend has recently returned from the US, where he’s been receiving polite, efficient, intensive and effective treatment for the past three months. Now stabilised, and back at home in Britain, he’s continuing his treatment with visits to his nearest NHS hospital. He was perfectly optimistic about the prospect at first. In-patient care in Britain might in places have fallen back to pre-Crimean war standards, but the actual treatment end of the business still appears to be pretty good. Unfortunately, his first meeting with the consultant did not go well. This man seemed to hold it against my friend that he’d sought treatment elsewhere.