Martin Hesp: Hospitals are for people - not to make profits
In the "what gives middle-aged men heart attacks?" stakes there's nothing quite like a letter from a cardiologist which asks you to come in for a consultation and in doing so uses a big long word you cannot understand.
I got one of these this week after my annual heart scan, and nearly dropped dead on the spot.
After an hour of feeling physically sick while gazing at the surrounding hills thinking how much I was going to miss them – miss everything, in fact – I somehow found the energy to fire off a salvo of emails and phone-calls to the hospital asking for some clarity – and also if I dare take my dog for a walk or would the physical exertion be the hair that broke the poor old camel's back.
To give the cardiologist his due – and believe me, I really, really did appreciate this – he emailed me back with the assurance that I was not about to fall off the proverbial twig and also that he'd phone me later.
Buy one get one free on main course and specials excludes fillet steaks and beef Wellington
Must book to qualify 01209 860332 and present voucher on arrival
Mon- Thur 6-9pm
Contact: 01209 700617
Valid until: Saturday, December 21 2013
Ludicrously busy bloke that he is, this kindly doctor found time to ring me as he was leaving work – and we had a most heart-warming (from my perspective) chat.
The Westcountry hospital in question has been in the news this week facing a bout of criticism – which got me thinking about how such places are more susceptible to individual responses and impressions than anywhere else on the planet.
The opposite, say, of visiting a football stadium where the experience is all about being part of a communal mass. Even in a shopping mall you are somehow part of a crowd, albeit one that has the rather shallow goal of consumerism.
In a hospital, it's only about you. It's your internal tubing or scaffolding that's gone wrong – no one else's – and the learned people who work there are going to try and fix it. Or, at least, you're hoping they will. Because there's another time in life that's all about you and nobody else – and that is the very individualistic moment when you kick the bucket.
Which, I imagine, is the most alarmingly bleak, uncosy and lonesome thing any of us ever get to do unless we're in the strange position of actually looking forward to an after-life.
Hospitals are all about putting that moment off for each of the individuals who walks, or is dragged or pushed, through the doors. They are beacons of hope. They are the crucibles which help forge our impermanent futures.
And as such, please God, they should not be handed over to a bunch of greedy capitalists who see them merely as places in which to make money.
Funny, isn't it, here's me ranting on about hospitals because I've had a brush with one. Normally, for most of us, they are out of sight, out of mind.
They shouldn't be, because National Health Service hospitals are the very pinnacles of human achievement. Not only in what they do, but what they stand for. They are miracles of collectivism. Emblems that show how the power of community can be good for – no, vital for – we tiny, anxious, individuals who are worried only about ourselves.
My little heart problem started in a cave in the oldest jungle on Earth. I was covered in bat-poo – when I came out and washed it off under a waterfall I discovered I was also covered in leeches. They injected bacteria from the bat-poo into my body and some microbes went to live in the nice warm place that is my heart (some people won't believe that bit) and in doing so started to eat it away.
I came home from the wilderness and was diagnosed by my brilliant GP and cured at Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton. Instead of being dead – which I most certainly would have been – I live and thrive, like several hundred thousand other people, with a bit of a leaky heart valve.
Back in the jungle with the bat cave, the few indigenous people who live there kneel to pray at the shrines of their forest gods. They do so because they believe the deities are powerful enough to help keep them and their families alive.
If I had to, I would kneel before a shrine representing the NHS. Yes, it's a monster of a machine and as such is rife with mismanagement, wastage, red-tape and countless other problems.
But it's a lot better than the law of the jungle. I know. That wild, untamed, uncivilised world tried to kill me.