I’ll be honest, Saturday didn’t go as planned. I’d hoped to slide out the back door when Mrs C wasn’t looking and head for a lengthy walk.
What happened instead was my two-year-old, Mary, awoke with a horribly sore-looking right eye which was filled with gunk.
‘Shall we do something about it?’ said Mrs C.
‘Do you mean in terms of her looking so ugly and grotesque? Yes, I’ll nip out and buy a mask,’ I answered.
Eventually when Mary began sobbing and saying she was in agony, I decided it was unfair to delay taking her to see a medic any longer.
We went to the chemist, where I told the pharmacist I thought my daughter had conjunctivitis and needed eye-drops. He peered at her, agreed, but said he couldn’t prescribe eye-drops to a child of her age.
‘I’d advise getting it checked by an optician,’ he said, which I then did – but it was Saturday, they were very busy and said they had no free appointments, and suggested I go to a walk-in centre. I did not want to do this. I mean, I love my daughter dearly and clearly her health comes first, but not on a Saturday afternoon when there is a Rugby World Cup to watch.
To avoid this I went to three further opticians and asked if they could take a look, but each time the same thing happened – a sympathetic and smiling young girl would greet me with the words, ‘I’m so sorry but our opticians are tied up with appointments at the moment. Have you tried the walk-in centre?’
Defeated and with the heaviest of hearts we drove to the walk-in centre. It was everything I feared it would be, so busy with the walking wounded and sick there was barely a spare seat in the waiting area.
On the counter there were three signs. The first read, ‘we’re having a new computer system, this might cause a delay’.
The second said, ‘due to staff illness service there may be slower service today’.
Then, as if just to make sure we were depressed as hell, there was a third sign which read, ‘Minimum wait today is three hours’.
As I ruefully mulled over the fact that flying to central Europe would take less time than waiting to see a doctor, I decided it wasn’t worth staying, after all, I knew it was probably just conjunctivitis.
But as I was about to turn and leave I caught sight of Mary’s disfigured eye and concluded that even I, a man with a heart so cold it would, if touched, give you immediate frostbite, couldn’t leave.
So I stood in line and waited until a receptionist came free. ‘Is the sign correct, is it a three-hour wait?’ I asked her, desperately hoping she’d smile cheerily at me and say, ‘no, ignore the sign – we just stick that on the counter for a laugh – you’ll be seen within 20 minutes.’
Instead she said, deadpan, ‘yes, it’s three hours’.
I squeezed into a seat in the waiting area between a man wearing shorts and a big plaster on his knee and a woman with a hacking cough who, thoughtfully, turned in my direction every time she let go another.
In the end we got lucky. Presumably because of Mary’s age, we only had to wait about 45 minutes (god bless the NHS) before we got to see a doctor, who checked her heartbeat, shone a weird light in her ear, and announced, ‘it’s conjunctivitis, she needs eye-drops’.
And so it was that about three hours since telling my local pharmacist I thought my daughter had conjunctivitis which required eye-drops, I was officially told my daughter had conjunctivitis that required eye-drops.
I laughed ironically, queued to get the eye-drops, which I then attempted to administer to a screaming Mary as she lay on the chair in the waiting room.
A few days on, my daughter’s eye is a lot better, though my bitterness at losing a precious Saturday has yet to subside.