Want some free advice about free healthcare in the UK? Get Very Seriously Ill or Very Seriously Injured before you attempt to use it. In a crisis, it’s fantastic. But if you have a minor ailment, here’s what is far more likely to happen to you:
1. Feel slightly under the weather for three weeks or so. You think you have a throat infection but don’t feel sick enough to stay home, but at the same time you never feel 100% well.
2. Get tired of feeling grotty, call up your local NHS surgery (where you are registered and forced to go) to make an appointment. “Our first available appointment is in 3 days time!”, but you need to shake this illness so you agree.
3. Get to the surgery on the appointed day and see a doctor you’ve never seen before in your life (because if you’d requested a specific doctor, you would have to wait even longer for an appointment!). Said doctor is running late and trying to get back on schedule. Explain that you’ve had a low-level throat infection for weeks and that you need antibiotics. From your medical records on the screen in front of her, she can see that this will only be your second course of antibiotics since 2000.
4. Docor peers into your throat, takes your temperature and says “you seem to be getting better [compared to… what?? Seeing as she hasn’t seen you before!]. You don’t need antibiotics – just go home and gargle with salt water.” Five minutes after you arrived you are back in the waiting room and the doctor is back on schedule. Despite this high-tech medical advice (!), your illness doesn’t really go away and you spend two more weeks feeling alternately slightly better and slightly worse.
5. Over Easter, when you are in Barcelona, you ask your wife to feel how swollen the lymph nodes on the one side of your neck are – she hits the roof and instantly starts fearing you are about to die. This could be due to the fact that your lymph node is gigantic. We are talking golf ball.
6. After running a temperature all night when you return from Barcelona, you eventually decide that more medical intervention is needed. When you awake the next morning, your entire neck from earlobe to clavicle is swollen and tender so that you can’t turn your head properly. Oh, and your loving wife spots that you have a red rash in the middle of your back. Not big, not itchy – just rashy and there.
7. No point in calling the local surgery, so drive yourself to an NHS walk-in centre where you wait for an hour, sick and uncomfortable. As soon as the nurse sees you she gets very agitated and refers you directly to an ear nose & throat specialist at a nearby hospital. More driving.
8. ENT doctor also perturbed by your Alien Freakshow neck and proceeds to mutter darkly about throat surgery. Nice. Takes a needle biopsy of the lymph node. Lovely. Then puts a scope up your nose to see the back of the throat. A laugh a minute. Oh yes, and an ultrasound scan to see if your neck is harbourig a tumour. Upshot is that you had a throat infection for so long that the bacteria had time to expand its business and decided to infect your lymph node. Welcome to the wonderful world of lymphadenitis!
9. Ear nose & throat guy prescribes (shock! horror!) antibiotics. You mention that you have a rash on your back but Dr ENT says it is unlikely to be related and does not examine it.
10. 24 hours later your lymph node is less inflamed… but the rash turned into blisters and has spread in a horizontal band from your spine to your sternum. Let’s think… what could possibly attack you when your body’s own defences are run down after weeks of low-grade untreated infection? Oh yes – shingles! Cue severe discomfort, no sleep and all the self-loathing that an unpleasant skin disorder can generate.
11. So… no antibiotics from the first doctor, which might have stopped all this in its tracks, and no diagnosis and therefore no Zovirax (or similar) from the second doctor, which would have lessened the severity of the attack had it been administered immediately.
Lesson learned? Next time Nick feels a sniffle coming on, I think I’ll just run him over with the car and take him to hospital – at least that way you know the healthcare system will sit up and pay attention to him right from the start!
This time, though, all I can give is tea, sympathy and chicken soup. I roasted a chicken the other night and it never ceases to amaze me how far it goes. One roast chicken dinner for two; one lunch of toasted chicken mayo sandwiches from the leftovers; and a simple yet nourishing soup – all from one bird! The soup is a great way to use up a leftover roast chicken as well as being wholesome and delicious, even on days when you aren’t feeling ill.
CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP (serves 2)
about 2 cups of good chicken stock
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, sliced
2 sticks of celery, sliced
extra virgin olive oil
about a cup of cooked, shredded chicken (or whatever you get off your carcass!)
about 150g noodles (I used mini elbow macaroni)
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves (less if using dried)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
I started by making my own chicken stock (easier than you’d imagine), but you could use good quality chicken stock like Kallo Organic. To make your own, pick the roast chicken carcass clean and cover with water in a large pot. Add 1 roughly chopped carrot, 1 rougly chopped stick of celery, a couple of black peppercorns and a bouquet garni. Cover and bring to the boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer (NB – not a rolling boil!). Let it simmer away until the stock is visibly reduced (an hour or two), then remove from the heat and strain, discarding the solids. If you still have too much liquid, return it to the pot and simmer some more until reduced to about 2 cups. Add salt and pepper to taste. Voila – chicken stock!
In a large pot, sautee the onions, and celery in a little olive oil until softened. Add the chicken stock, carrots, thyme, noodles and and shredded chicken. Simmer until the noodles are al dente (about 15 minutes) and the other ingredients are warmed through.
Put on best Florence Nightingale face and serve to sick husband