I had been cleaning all day. The kind of cleaning you do for company. Removing books to dust shelves, wiping down picture frames on walls, hovering residual spider webs from the corners of every room. And then a phone call comes to change it all.
“I’m afraid there’s been an accident with your Grandmother.”
I thought the weather would be the biggest tragedy of this holiday. I worried about my husband’s recent bout of flu, the state of the house, the behaviour of my children. And then a phone call comes to change it all. There was an accident with my eighty-seven-year-old Grandma, touristing in London before travelling North to see her great-grandchildren (and me). She fell waiting for the lift and broke three ribs. So there it is. People make plans, but life makes other plans and we must chase the bouncing ball of chaos before it rolls into traffic.
Six years ago when my Grandpa lay dying there was nothing I could do to be with my family. Our patriarch passed and I was an ocean away. Last week it took me less than a minute to decide how to handle this fresh crisis. I couldn’t get on a plane to Iowa, but a train to London—that was something I could do.
Packing happened, tickets were purchased and four hours later I got lost in the A&E of St Thomas’ Hospital, Westminster. Good view of Parliament. At least Grandma would be able to get in some quality sight-seeing from her sick bed. And yes, Auntie Madge…it is the hospital which went to the moon in that one episode of Doctor Who. More importantly, it is a flagship NHS hospital which has been providing free health care since the thirteenth century.
“No one has asked us about money.”
My parents sounded worried rather than relieved, and a bit mystified. Of course, in an American hospital an eighty-seven-year-old patient in pain would not be hounded for their credit card before admittance, but someone with the patient, a friend or relative, would be taken aside and discreetly asked: “How do you intend to pay for this?” Yes, even in the Emergency Room they would ask. If you were bleeding from a bullet would they would ask.
My grandmother was given a bed, a dose of morphine and probably a cup of tea (right up there with morphine as far as the British are concerned). I’m not going to lie and say her bed was regal or that she had a fleet of nurses flocking to her side seeing to her every need, but she was cared for and given what she needed when she needed it. That’s the thing about the NHS. It’s there when you need it—for ANYONE who needs it. My grandmother was a guest in Britain, not even a citizen, but it didn’t matter to those who treated her.
After a few hours, she was moved into the Victoria Ward for acute medical conditions. It had an even better view of Westminster. They took x-rays and blood samples, fed her, counselled her, housed her over-night, gave her medication and a walking stick. Before her transfer, an A&E nurse warned us we might be asked about our insurance. Fortunately my grandmother is well insured, but no one ever asked. Not once.
Last week the taxes of Britain paid to treat a frightened, injured foreigner who came to their shores for a view of Buckingham Palace and a cuddle with her great-granddaughters. My dear, old grandmother so loved by her family and friends. Thank you St Thomas’ Hospital. Thank you, National Health Service. For all the frightened, alone people who come to you in need and receive necessary care, free of everything but their physical pain. Thank you for looking after her. My grandmother is worth every penny of tax and so is every other patient you treat.
America, I warn you. Four tax payers are coming home who now understand exactly how Socialised Medicine works. They know the truth. The NHS hospitals of Britain may not have the fanciest equipment but they don’t need it—I doubt you do either. They use what they have to treat patients in need. Any patient in need. It’s not a perfect system, no government system is. But it’s there when people need it—for anyone who needs it. My grandmother will not go bankrupt because of an accident. Four Americans are coming home who get it now. And they vote.