About a week ago, while playing cricket, I got bitten by an insect. It wasn't a mosquito, cos it hurt, and when I looked where the hurt was, the damned thing had inserted itself halfway into my arm.
I can't imagine what its plan was, but it ended up leaving its head behind in a little hole that it had made in my forearm.
During the week, a weird rash spread out from the bite, until quite a lot of my forearm was blotchy red.
On Sunday, while playing cricket, I started to feel stabbing pains in my left knee. They were exactly like the stabbing pains in my right knee ten years ago that were the first sign that I'd torn the cartilage and I figured I was in for several years of random agony and sportlessness. My friend Beard lent me a knee brace, which originally seemed a bit superfluous, but as the pain got worse and worse the following day, it seemed more and more essential. (Thanks Beard!)
On Monday afternoon, while carefully not putting any strain on my knee, I noticed an article in the Times: 'The Bite You Should Never Ignore', reminding me in some detail of what I already knew but had been pretending not to know about tick bites and Lyme disease.
The pressure had built up to the point where I had to think about seeing a doctor.
I'm not keen on seeing Doctors. I only go to see one about once a decade, and it seems to involve a near infinite amount of form-filling and chasing round the country trying to find where your medical records are hidden, and then waiting for them to get posted to your GP.
Once that's done, you get an appointment, which will either be in two weeks' time, or at half past seven in the morning.
You turn up for the appointment, and are told that the Doctor is 'running late'.
This is a way for the Doctor to assert just how much more his time is worth than yours. You sit in a waiting room full of screaming, ill children, and disreputable looking adults breathing communicable diseases all over you for a couple of hours, at which point the Doctor calls you in.
The Doctor is invariably a harassed, beaten looking man who'd like to give a fuck about your problem, but who is only allowed to spend ten minutes with you, and has one eye on the clock at all times.
If you've got a sports injury, he tells you to give up sport. If you've got any sort of minor physical problem, he'll tell you to take aspirin. I'm told that there's a third treatment for minor mental problems.
But if it looks like there's any chance that something might really be wrong, he'll send you to Addenbrookes.
Addenbrookes is, by common consent, the best NHS hospital in the country. They have a special system devoted to making sure that your appointment is at the most inconvenient possible time, and another whole system devoted to making sure that it's actually up to five hours later than that. And another system devoted to making sure there's no way to guess how much later so that you have to stay close to the place where the eventual meeting might be.
For those five hours, the only thing you can sensibly do is sit in a horrid smelly room with literally hundreds of very ill people, at least four of whom are actively insane and either wish to communicate this to you, or keep looking at you as if you are a CIA spy who is going to kill them. The Lord knows that this is a hard thing to deal with one is on form. The Lord forbid that I should ever have to deal with it when I am ill.
In all fairness, when you do finally get to see the special doctors at Addenbrookes who do the bits of medicine that aren't aspirin or valium, they're invariably great. But I've only managed to get to that stage twice.
Five years ago I broke a finger (playing cricket), and had to go to Addenbrookes to get it X-Rayed. After waiting in Hell for three hours to see the broken-finger doctor, I stole my X-Rays, examined them, determined that I had a fairly straightforward fracture, looked up the best treatments for fractured fingers on the internet, and strapped my hand up with duct tape and ice-lolly sticks. You can hardly see the bend at all these days, and I consider that to have been one of my most satisfactory interactions with the NHS.
Over the years I've rather got out of the habit of going to the Doctor's. I never seem to get really ill and most sports horrors seem to get better on their own. It would be unrealistic to expect to be the same shape at forty that you were at twenty, after all.
But the grisly prospect of Lyme Disease and the agony of a torn knee cartilage were together just enough to persuade me to go through the process.
I do mean just. After I decided that I ought to, I sat around for about two hours thinking 'I really should'. And not doing.
So, at about 1645 I walked into the GP on Trumpington Street and explained my problems. The receptionist said that I'd need two appointments (gulp), and then asked if ten minutes time was alright. I must have looked a bit puzzled, because she explained "He's running about five minutes late, so you've got time to get a paper if you like, just make sure that you're back by five o'clock".
At five o'clock I got back, and spent two minutes in the waiting room reading my paper before being taken into the surgery of a lovely polite friendly doctor.
He asked questions and prodded my knee and bent it around and looked quizzically at it for about five minutes in exactly the manner of a competent engineer working out what's wrong with a mechanism. He told me exactly what was wrong, showed me how it all worked on a model, told me how to take care of it and how to tell when it would be OK to play cricket again. He even suggested a few fielding positions that I should avoid until I'm sure it's all better again.
Then he talked in some detail about where and how this bite and rash had happened, and said I'd need a blood test. At this point I was thinking 'Oh God, Addenbrookes'.
They asked me to come back at 1145 the following morning. I may have mentioned that I'm a bit scared of needles.
I turned up at 1145 on the dot and was immediately introduced to two nurses, one of whom kept up a friendly and distracting stream of chatter while the other took a syringeful of blood out of my arm so deftly that I was only barely conscious of it happening. And that was it. Blood in the post, test results expected in a couple of days time. They'll ring me.
I literally can't imagine how this experience could have been better.
What has changed?