In search of a second epiphany

When I go home to America next week for Christmas, I’ll go to church – the one my family and I used to attend every Sunday, a few towns over. I visit intermittently throughout the year when I’m back home, but I always go on Christmas Eve. The routine is the same: I sit quietly in the pews, sing along to the carols, and hope to have a second epiphany.   I had my first epiphany – that God exists – when I was a child. This, I’m sure, is the result of having two religious parents who raised me in the church. When I tell my British friends that I

Rishi’s smoking ban inspired me to light a cigarette

What has Rishi Sunak’s government achieved in its first year? The highlights include a renegotiated Brexit policy and setting more practical net-zero deadlines. But Sunak asked the country to judge him on his ability to deliver his pledges set out at the start of the year. If polls are to be believed, voters are preparing to do just that. Inflation is falling, but that’s largely due to interest rate hikes announced by the Bank of England. The economy is growing, but barely. The NHS waiting list keeps rising – 7.6 million now in England alone. On this last point, no doubt the six-figure salaried consultants who keep striking deserve part

How do I know I’m an adult? I’m given unsolicited feedback

Adulthood was once determined by age, but now we’ve extended childhood far beyond the teenage years. If the government gets its way, the next generation will never grow up: there are reportedly plans to ban cigarette sales to anyone born after 2009. This would mean that, come 2060, 50-year-olds could be begging their elders to pop into the local corner shop to buy them a pack of 20. We need a new metric of adulthood, and I have a proposal. The real mark is not an age or any particular milestone, it’s really when you receive your first piece of unsolicited feedback. It’s a grim but unavoidable rite of passage: having personal

Why won’t my British friends see a GP?

Having lived in the United Kingdom for almost my whole adult life, I like to think I’m well assimilated. I stopped trying to make pleasantries with strangers a long time ago. I skip dinner to stand outside the pub in the dark. Apart from my accent (though Americans tell me that’s changed, too) I think I can just about pass as British. But never for long. At some point, someone starts talking about a health worry or new ailment, and I tell them to see the doctor. Suddenly, the jig is up, and I’m an outsider again. I’m now very familiar with the British aversion to seeking medical care. Still,

It’s time to fix the NHS’s looming winter crisis

My patient has sepsis. The window for treatment is short; in less than an hour, he could die. In urgent care, the direct line to ambulance control bypasses 999: it lets the call handler know a doctor requires urgent attention for a sick patient. Ten minutes: no response. I’m on a second phone to central dispatch: what is going on? A critical incident has been called; the service is overwhelmed. Finally, after 15 minutes, the phone answers and help is on its way.  Worryingly, this is far from an isolated incident. Last week, it was reported that an ambulance service sent a taxi to a GP practice in Bristol to collect a

Sajid Javid is right to make the NHS more accountable

The health secretary has announced more money for the National Health Service. It’s a story we’ve heard time and time again – but this time the details are different. Sajid Javid has committed an additional £250 million for GP health practices to assist them in expanding their hours and upping the number of face-to-face appointments they offer. In-person appointments plummeted during lockdown and have never recovered: they are now hovering around 60 per cent, compared to 80 per cent pre-pandemic. So what’s new? In short, the money comes with more accountability. A league table is being created to rank surgeries on how many in-person appointments they offer. Patients will also

My medical embarrassments are my business and no one else’s

While we were looking forward to Freedom Day, the National Health Service was busy planning something extra special to coincide with it almost exactly. From 23 June, our medical records can be given by our GPs to other agencies and third parties for the purpose of that most ambiguous of all state activities, ‘planning’. While you thought they were busy planning Freedom Day, they were, in fact, planning Freedom of Your Information Day, in which everything you have ever told your doctor would become only marginally more secure than the information about your shopping habits that your loyalty card is collecting for the supermarket giants. Where your medical records are

Why I finally succumbed to my musclebound osteopath

‘You’ll come back when you’re in enough pain,’ said the osteopath as I walked out of his door. That was two years ago this week, so when I walked back through the door he raised his eyebrows and made a face. I had booked online as I lay shivering in bed with pain. Two years ago I ducked under a fence, my neck twanged and my head exploded. The GP saw me, doling out platitudes from ‘take paracetamol’ to ‘give it a few weeks’. After a few months, a friend recommended an osteo of some repute, but when I arrived at his surgery early and heard the bone-crunching sounds coming

Why do hygienists self-sabotage?

‘You’re meant to be having your dental appointment now!’ barked the receptionist, bringing my lie-in to an abrupt end. Very unusually, I had left the builder boyfriend to do the horses on his way to work and I was lounging about in bed. Coffee at the luxurious hour of 9 a.m., spaniels sprawled on the duvet, sun lighting up the room… everything was feeling marvellously laid back, until I realised I had forgotten I was supposed to be having my teeth poked about. ‘Don’t worry, I can be there in 30 seconds,’ I gasped, falling out of bed and scrambling for a pair of jeans. I live four doors down

My €25 Covid jab surprise

Around the time that poor M. Macron was casting televised aspersions on the AstraZeneca jab, I was offered one by Mme Michaud, our hardworking French village GP. Concerned about her bosoms, Catriona had visited for a routine appointment and while there had asked what the chances were of getting a Covid jab. By a stroke of good luck, Mme Michaud said she had a batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine arriving in a fortnight and would her friend like one as well? Consequently my name was pencilled on her list, but with a question mark against it. My busy oncologist at Marseille replied to my email within two minutes. He said

Shrieks, shots and broken china: a visit to my rural French GP

On a hard chair next to the waiting-room door, I sat for an hour defusing thoughts of my own demise, if all else failed employing conscious untruths. As is the custom here in the hot sweet south, a person entering a room greets it. Being nearest to the door, and the first encountered face, I felt responsible for setting the tone of the waiting room’s responses. Interrupting my morbid sophistries, I returned each new entrant’s greeting in a spirited, democratic, welcoming manner. In this I failed as usual to sound that exact native demotic note and suspect I came across rather as a psychotic waiting for his monthly depot injection.