A few weeks ago, I had that moment that every woman over 50 dreads. I felt a small lump in my breast. Within 14 days of seeing my GP about it, I was in the John Radcliff Hospital where the receptionist had all my details ready. Within minutes I was seen by the duty nurse who did a check up and recommended an x-ray, ultrasound test and needle test.

I wondered how long I would have to wait for all that lot – and how much longer than that I would have to wait for the results. Uncertainty—I heard recently—is what humans fear almost more than the worst news.

But she told me to go back to the waiting room and within two hours, I had had all the tests—moving from one clinic to another down gleaming blue and white corridors, my details miraculously popping up—with the newest gleaning of information attached—in each new clinic, and finally back to the duty nurse who gave me the results then and there. Everything was absolutely fine.

This is a miracle.

Not that everything was fine (well, that too), but that I should have had access to this vast, efficient, clean, machinery so quickly and effortlessly, without having had to spend a penny more than my taxes.

Miraculous that the doctors, while delivering this life preserving service to a vast waiting room bustling with people, should be able to take the time to notice that I was terrified of the needle (my childhood reflex to run at the mention of the word is still only barely controlled) and stop and talk me through it calmly and soothingly (you hardly feel it, incidentally).

Miraculous that while waiting I could have a cup of tea in a clean, bright café staffed entirely by volunteers. And that despite offering us all this, the hospital staff and signboards kept apologising to us… for keeping us waiting.

I met a guy in India earlier this year who worked for an ambulance service there. There is no welfare state in India, so nothing is free, but if the injured person asked to be taken to a ‘public’ (government) hospital they charged them a lower rate than if they asked for a private one—the assumption being that nobody who could possibly afford private care would set foot in a public hospital. Despite some of the world’s best hospitals and doctors being in India, many fear that a stay in a public hospital will leave you sicker than when you went in.

Miraculous that I do not have to make a choice like that.

I cycled away from the main hospital, past the maternity ward and wondered if the blackbird that was decanting pure, mellifluous poetry into the afternoon sky was a descendant of the one I had heard at the same spot 18 years ago, waiting for my daughter to be born. Safely, cleanly. I cycled back to my office in the University where students are given loans to get a superb education. I cycled home through a council-maintained park full of flowers and more birdsong. And I thought to myself, what a wonderful world. If only everybody’s world was like this.

[Photo: Light at the end of the corridor by Jean-Ettienne Poirrier http://www.flickr.com/photos/jepoirrier/3597587304/]


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