The Greatest Health Care System in the World?

As a Canadian, I was taught that ours was the greatest in the world, though now that I think of it, I’ve heard Korean children are taught theirs is the only country that experiences four seasons. I was lucky to have a GP who has only recently retired, so while I spent the last several years popping into downtown clinics instead of venturing out into the wild of the suburbs for check-ups, I technically had a GP, something a lot of people don’t have.

Finding a doctor willing to accept new patients is a challenge. It has been the topic of many a conversation, usually someone mentions that they overheard from a guy in a coffee shop that a friend of a friend of his was opening practice in part X of town and were accepting patients. If one were to actually figure out which doctor was admitting, by the time you made contact, his roster was full up of some 2,000 patients.

When I moved here. I knew nothing of the health care system so I stocked up on medical insurance.

Aside from the allergies I seem to have developed, from the pollution, and a brief bout of bi-yearly bronchitis to which I self-medicate, I’ve been all right. But then, I got a bladder infection.

So maybe I’m against paying 30p to use a public toilet. Perhaps the staff toilets are in basement 4 in my place of work. It’s possible I tell myself I will accept relief after I finish just this next task. I knew it was happening because I’ve done this all my life. Taking a piss feels like a waste of my time, like sleeping.

For a week, I drank more water and downed liters of cranberry juice. It would feel better, then get much worse. I had my “weekend”, forced to sit in the house alone, bored out of my mind, with nothing to watch but Absolutely Fabulous and Top Gear, because I had to piss every twenty minutes and at that point I could barely walk. But, you know, I kept telling myself, I’m sure I’ll be better tomorrow.

A hospital visit was considered, as there was one near by and I didn’t have a GP. But I was too lazy and very terrified of how costly a hospital visit would be.

Though C and I live together, we no longer work together, and thus never see eachother. She tells me there is an over-the-counter remedy sold by chemists, that treating things like that isn’t insane like it is in Canada. I pick up said remedy and cross my fingers. C and I sign up for GPs. You know what you do? You go to the NHS site, enter your postcode, and start reading reviews of all the GPs in your area who are accepting patients.  And guess what? Our search in little old Catford yielded 212 clinics. No. Shit.

To get a GP, you go to the clinic of your choice in your area, show them a piece of ID and proof of address. They enter you in their system and book a physical for you. That’s it.

Saturday morning I could barely lie still let alone walk. It didn’t seem the over-the-counter product had helped. I had to work just the same, as my mise list was gigantic and we had 50 for lunch alone. I miraculously pulled it off. But had to resign myself to going to the hospital that night.

After work, I went to Charing Cross station and looked at the departures board. I knew the hospital was at Ladywell, the station before Catford Bridge, but there wasn’t a train to Catford for almost an hour. Lewisham was my next bet. Dartford, which is way-the-fuck-out east in god-knows-where was the main destination of the trains, and Lewisham was on the way. I waddled to platform 2.

The train was packed. I take the bus most nights as the trains are unreliable and I don’t like walking from the station. Given this story is unfolding on a Saturday and in England, a majority of the riders were shit-faced. I sat, with a woman’s feet near my face, drunkards screaming for no reason apparent to a sober person, with or without a bladder infection, and tried to listen for the stops as there were too many people to clearly see the station board, and I realize the female station-calling robot’s volume has been turned down. This is very disconcerting.

I try to follow the trains route on my iPhone. Thankfully the GPS can find my location. Regretfully, the power of the interwebs is too poor and thus the map cannot load as fast as the train travels. I watch a blue dot move across a beige, uninformative grid.

Every time we stop, the drunk with her feet in my lap yells


and occasionally


thus muting the already quite announcer. I am not amused.

Eventually I figure out that out of the many trains to Dartford, I have boarded one that does not go to Lewisham. Unfortunately, I realized this in Belvedere.

Belvedere is just before Erith, top right on the map. I live near Lee, centre. My journey began left of the London marker, as that signifies Trafalgar Square and I work further than that. I alight at Belvedere in a mild panic. Everyone else scampers into the distance and I am alone at the station. There appears to be no more trains for the evening. Did I mention it has been SHITTING RAIN this entire time?

Yes, well…London.

I had a little cry after I read the information board that did not list trains or buses with destinations I knew or were near anything I knew. The maps yielded nothing useful. My phone told me I could walk to Lewisham but that it would take something like four hours.

Then I look up and see there is one last train this evening. It is heading away from everything, but at least I could get on it and go somewhere were there were things like bus stops and information booths. Maybe even a hospital.

At Erith, I intuitively weave my way from the trains through creepy underground tunnels and miraculously find a bus stop with a bus that read TRAFALGAR SQUARE.

I know where that is!

It took an hour, but the bus eventually rambled through Lewisham. It is still pouring rain. It is now 2am.

I walk around Lewisham, stupidly thinking that I would eventually find a giant H beaming  into the sky. No. After 30 minutes of walking in the rain, I see a tiny H on a street sign.

The University Hospital of Lewisham is open. Its doors are infact wide open, keeping the waiting lobby about 15 degrees, which myself and the other three people find torturous. The wait is 2.5 hours. At this point I don’t care.

I see a doctor. He prescribes me drugs. I am now in the system so I have an NHS number. The visit cost me nothing. The prescription cost ₤7, as do all medications in this country. The antibiotics are for three days, instead of the ten most doctors give in Canada. There are no instructions. Nothing says DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL, because the English would take the antibiotics with alcohol. It doesn’t come in a baggy of warnings and side effects and things to terrify you into reconsidering taking the meds because you might shit your pants at an inappropriate time or develop a bit of death. Just take 4 times a day for 3 days with food or milk.

Done and done.

And no word of a lie, I boarded the bus from the hospital and my street was three stops away. Trial and error…


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