Last month I had my second covid jab and my first heart attack. Astra Zeneca and atrial fibrillation since you ask. I turned up for my jab at the local cottage hospital at exactly 9:34 on a Thursday morning and was immediately ushered down a corridor by a volunteer into a large room. There sat an elderly gentleman with snow white hair and gold rimmed spectacles who looked twenty years older than me. When I sat down he came and sat beside me, patted me on the knee and said, “And how are you feeling today?” By the time he had filled his syringe I knew that he was a long-retired GP from Witney in Oxfordshire who had moved to Lyme Regis to study boat building, had built himself a motor-yacht and had come out of retirement to help in the pandemic. I emerged into the sunlight of the carpark seven minutes later fully vaccinated.

The phrase ‘under the doctor’ implied some close relationship with your family GP. That no longer applies. After shifting boxes in and out of the loft at Ash Cottage I felt unwell so I phoned the local surgery. “The doctor will call you back,” I was told. And he did. After a brief chat he suggested I get myself along to Accident & Emergency at the Royal Devon & Exeter hospital which I did.

In the movies, when the injured victim arrives at A&E they are immediately surrounded by lots nurses and orderlies shouting incomprehensible jargon and rushed on a gurney through glass doors down gleaming corridors into a trauma room where at least half a dozen doctors leap into action.

A&E at the RD&E is slightly different. Firstly, it’s not on the ground floor but up a flight of stairs then down several gloomy passages to a large waiting area at the rear of the building. Several dozen people in various stages of collapse sit patiently waiting to be called. My turn came and a delightful Irish nurse led me away to a quiet cubicle and stuck a chopstick up my nostril into my brain. She turned it round, tickled my tonsils with the other end and disappeared leaving me gagging and blinded by my tears. About an hour later she came back to say I was covid-free and could now be examined. The harassed junior doctor who did so explained that the results of the ECG meant I was to be admitted for observation and sent me back to the waiting room where I waited. And waited.

On my left were two prison officers chained to a young lad who was handcuffed. Seeing a man having trouble operating the vending machine with his credit card, the young offender offered to help, telling his guards, “Can I show him how to get in? It’s dead simple!” They refused.

On my right sat a middle-aged man listening to Country and Western songs on his mobile phone and sobbing uncontrollably. The nurses would occasionally ask him to turn it down and he would stop crying and tell them to fuck off as his wife had died two years ago and he was still upset. Then he would demand a cup of tea. “And two sugars!” he shouted after them.

A policewoman came in with a young girl wrapped in a blanket who sat on the plastic chair hugging her knees under her chin and rocking backwards and forwards humming tunelessly. The policewoman was phoning round trying to find the girl a place of safety for the night but the hostels were full. She had her phone on loudspeaker so you could here the abuse she was getting from the hostel manager at the other end demanding to know why she was calling so late and asking she prove she was a police officer.

I asked the nurse who brought me a cup of tea if it was always like this. She laughed. “With this being a Friday night, can you imagine what it would be like if the pubs hadn’t been locked down because of covid?”

Around midnight they told me they had no beds available and to come back the next day. Which I did. The Italian male nurse referred me to the Rapid Chest Pain Clinic who would see me in a month’s time. Meanwhile keep taking the pills. The brown pill had a warning not to be taken if you have glaucoma. Which I have. “Seek advice from your pharmacist”, it said. Which I did. I went to Tesco and the Polish lady said, “You have a choice, you go blind or you have a stroke.”

I can see well enough, thank you.

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