Did I ever tell you about the time the National Health Service relieved me of my piles? It’s a painful story — and for many of you, no doubt, already far, far more information than you want. But I do think it goes a long way towards explaining our ongoing Eloi-like subservience to the great, slobbering, brutish NHS Morlock which we so rose-tintedly delude ourselves is still the ‘Envy of the World’.
Look, if you don’t want to read about piles (‘’roids’ if you’re American), I should skip on a few pars. The key thing to recognise is that from tiny beginnings, they mutate into an all-consuming misery. Enjoying a night in front of the TV? Yeah, but the piles! Having a relaxing bath? Yeah, but the piles! Fancy going riding? Eek! You can see why Napoleon — a fellow sufferer — felt compelled to conquer half the world. Anything to distract yourself from what’s going on down below.
So naturally when a surgeon relieves you of the buggers, you feel exceedingly grateful. I remember coming round after my op in my overstretched local hospital — King’s in south London — two or three years back, and thinking the thought that occurs to all British citizens at some time or another: ‘Gawd bless you NHS! You have saved my sorry arse!’
One reason for my gratitude was that the treatment was free. Gosh, I love being given expensive things for free, don’t you? I like it so much I think I’d almost rather be poor and get lots of free stuff than I would be rich and be able to afford anything I wanted. Free stuff — thanks, lovely Dan from Mongoose cricket bats — feels like a gift from God; proof that life isn’t quite as sucky and thankless and horribly unfair as you imagine.
Another reason for my gratitude was that I wasn’t dead. You do half expect it when you go into an NHS ward. You think, ‘Well if they don’t get my records mixed up with that of a patient marked “Incurable. Please put this man out of his misery now” (or, worse: “Penidectomy”), then I’m almost certain to contract MRSA, as virtually everyone does in NHS hospitals these days, and spend the whole of the rest of my life in a living death.’ (Not that I knew at the time I hadn’t got MRSA. I just took a lucky guess.)
And I suppose the final reason for my gratitude — as with my near drowning experience a fortnight ago — was the pure experience value. Lying in the beds either side of me were people you never get to share such intimate experiences with in the normal course of sheltered, middle-class life: people from the kind of families who mug you or knife you in a pub fight, only wearing their kindly, sympathetic human face because they’re ill in hospital and you’re ill in hospital and it’s all very bonding.
I think I might just have given you the three main reasons why so many British people are so infatuated with their beloved NHS: it’s free; it quite often cures you; it treats everyone equally. But does any of these put the NHS beyond criticism? I should say not, and let’s deal with them one by one.
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