Do charities really deserve my mum’s data?

A letter from Archie Norman, chairman of M&S, popped into my inbox after I complained that I had run over my foot with a changing room door. It wasn’t a personal letter, rather a generic response, and this was a relief because I would not have liked the actual Archie Norman to have actually seen the complaint email I sent with a close-up picture of my bruised black, grazed and manky-looking foot. When you complain to a chain store about their weirdly heavy and not-quite-coming-all-the-way-to-the-floor changing room doors, the last thing you want, really, is a reply from someone you once had lunch with when you were suited and booted

A meeting with my past in an NHS hospital

Pushing through a crowded hospital corridor behind my father, I heard a voice calling me. Then a nurse grabbed me and threw her arms around me. She had heard my father’s name and recognised me, her old school friend from St Joseph’s. As we walked and talked, she told me, ‘We all read your articles’ and I thought: ‘Oh dear I’m about to be exposed as an anti-vaxxer in the middle of A&E while my father’s having a heart attack.’ But she was smiling, pleased to see me. In fact, she was beaming as she said, ‘I remember Alma!’ referring to my maternal grandmother. People would come in for a

Will I ever get my HRT?

The novelty of living in a place where a policeman called Ambrose lives in a house whose door you can knock on if you need him will never wear off on me. I’ve asked around and no one here can remember any crime, aside from years ago they seem to recall there was a murder. But except for the odd murder, policing in West Cork usually consists of an old person having a broken oil burner and Ambrose taking them a portable heater. The doctor reminded me of Dr Meade from Gone With the Wind when he’s about to start amputating limbs It’s rather like an episode of Heartbeat, and

Are conspiracy theories just conspiracy therapy?

At the Centre for Rare Diseases, the car park was full and lots of people were milling about. I pulled into a private space I wasn’t meant to be in so that I could let my mother out of the car by the front door. I then sat in the car waiting, watching the rare people come and go. On further inspection of the website, it turns out that a rare disease is not necessarily something that happens rarely. A rare disease is a condition affecting less than one in 2,000 people. However, ‘with more than 7,000 individual rare diseases, their collective prevalence is about one in 17 of the

Am I having a heart attack? 

Nairobi Some of our medical practitioners in Kenya advertise their services on street corners. ‘Bad omens, lost lovers, broken marriage, BIG PENIS,’ say hand-painted notices nailed to telegraph poles. ‘Love potions, LUCKY RING, Do-As-I-Say Spells, business boosting magic, land issues, lost items, herbs from the underseas.’ I admit to needing help on many of these things, but on this day, my GP only wanted me to get an electrocardiogram. Feeling on top of the world, I skipped into a gleaming white clinic in Nairobi, paid the fee, lay down, got rigged up with electrodes and had a pleasant chat with the nurse. Within minutes my report arrived, explaining that my

Why there is more Omicron than we know

Yesterday the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced it had identified another 26 Omicron cases, and the total number of cases in the UK had reached 160. The rate of increase from zero in little over a week seems significant. But the one thing we know is these official figures are a significant underestimate of how many cases are actually in the UK. Here’s why. Omicron is already with us in much greater size than we know. There will already be significant transmission within communities. First, you will recall that last week I reported UKHSA’s statement to me that only 50 per cent of pillar 2 or community testing can

The joy of French hospital food

After checking me in, the receptionist, who was wearing an overcoat, said: ‘There is no heating in the hotel. The unit is broken. But it is not cold today so you should be fine.’ Room 357 was cold. Hoping to raise the temperature by a degree, I filled the sink with hot water, turned on all the lights, and switched on the massive telly. It showed drug squad officers busting dealers in a poor northern French town. After combing through a suspect’s text messages, they bashed down his or her front door and arrested everybody and seized their drugs and cash. Most often it was hashish in small amounts and

The art of negotiating with French nurses

‘Ça va, Monsieur Clarke?’ said a nurse when he noticed I was stirring. It was an effort to speak. ‘Thirsty,’ I croaked. He handed me a graduated test tube containing exactly ten millilitres of warm water. Incredibly, the big clock on the wall said six in the evening. I’d been gone for eight hours. While I was gone, a surgeon had snipped 30 centimetres off my colon, plus a valve, and rejoined the ends. I’d never had an operation before and was surprised by the severity of the pain. I couldn’t move an inch in any direction. A porter wheeled me back to the single room with a view over

The curse of surgical stockings

The porter rolled me off the trolley and on to the bed, wished me a good day and departed. My previous neighbour in the two-bedded ward — a frail, aloof, slow-moving African man — was gone. In his place was a visibly vigorous man of about my age with a charismatic, masculine face reminiscent of Anthony Quinn’s Zorba the Greek, except he had no front teeth. The wiry grey hair was closely scissored and he wore a sportive white polo shirt and black jog pants. Even in repose he looked dynamic. A nurse entered to take my readings. Now I must drink plenty of water, she said, to flush out

My clairvoyant GP

‘Willie or bum?’ I said to Catriona on the motorway. Everything in my recent medical career has been introduced via the former: cameras, cutters, stents. I naturally assumed it would be the same choice of pathways for exploring and snipping off three pieces of my liver. At the wheel, Catriona laughed at my idiocy and explained where my liver was and that there was not a pathway from it to either of those entrances. ‘They’ll go straight in through the side with a needle,’ she said. ‘Ow,’ I said. While I undressed in front of her, the admissions nurse scanned my written forms. ‘Anglais? I only take cash,’ she said,

The beauty of French nurses

I was supine on the slab and a nurse was rigging me up via wires and tubes to machines and monitors. She was an exemplary old-school nurse combining human kindness with efficient manual dexterity. Had she been vaccinated against Covid, I asked her? Oh yes, of course she had, she said. And what about you, she said. Have you had the mandatory pre-treatment Covid test? ‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘I had it tomorrow.’ (My automatic confusion of the French words for yesterday and tomorrow could, I suspect, be explained in psychoanalytical terms.) Now another, younger female nurse appeared by my side. She was lovely and reminded me of a young

The magic of Anthony Powell

Every few years I’ve picked up one or other of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time series and laid it aside after a few pages. Too wordy. Earlier this year I glanced again at A Question of Upbringing, the first of the 12 novels. A light came on and I was captured — providing yet another example of a novel repelling or attracting according to age, circumstances or mood. After that I tittered my way through the series, wondering at my previous humourlessness. I had one volume to go when I went into hospital last week for a minor operation, Hearing Secret Harmonies (1975), which I packed

Children who died of Covid-19 were already seriously ill, new study shows

It has been clear from the start of the Covid-19 crisis – from Wuhan’s experience, before cases were confirmed in Britain – that it was a disease with relatively little impact on children. A broad study led by Liverpool University and published in the British Medical Journal today confirms that – and sheds a lot more light on how Covid-19 affects children. The study looks at data from 260 hospitals in England, Scotland and Wales, to which 69,516 patients were admitted with Covid symptoms between 17 January and 3 July. Of these, 651 were aged under 19 and 225 were aged under 12 months. Serious underlying medical conditions were present

In praise of French doctors

From my hospital bed in Hyères I could look out of the window and see the old town and Edith Wharton’s old house, the Castel Sainte-Claire, away on the hillside. Christophe, a male nurse, came in to welcome me and take my temperature, pulse and blood pressure. He was masked and gloved against possible infection from the old Covid Dix-Neuf and he spoke English. As he slipped on the finger thermometer and inflatable sleeve, he reminisced about his rugby-playing days. Thirty-five years ago, he said, he had competed against an English team who played rugby with a violence that was incredible. His opposite number on the English side had sharpened

Is the PM an example of why those with Covid-19 should be hospitalised earlier?

There is so much to ponder in the prime minister’s interview about how Covid-19 almost killed him. But, in respect of the effort to protect us all, what stood out for me was how and when he was persuaded to move from Downing Street to St Thomas’s Hospital. ‘I wasn’t struggling to breathe but I just wasn’t in good shape and it wasn’t getting better,’ he told the Sun on Sunday. ‘Then the doctors got anxious because they thought that my readings were not where they wanted them to be. ‘Then I was told I had to go into St Thomas’s. I said I really didn’t want to go into

I was relishing the lockdown a week ago, but now I need urgent hospital treatment

In France the rule for going for a walk stipulates an hour in duration or a kilometre in distance. We are fortunate here in having a 40-minute circular walk that starts at the front door, most of it on a footpath, though beginning with a steep climb that makes me pant like a greyhound after a course. Then the path levels and runs pleasantly through olive groves and vineyards. One is never out of sight of houses and at three points along the route house dogs — in order: a pair of Weimaraners, a Jack Russell and a pedigree sheepdog — enjoy intimidating passers-by by throwing themselves in a frenzy