We are currently sitting on a hard wooden bench looking at the television. Captivated by the test card on the screen. Don't see those very often nowadays. But here it is, in full Technicolor, a good ol' test card. It is accompanied by a sound track of euro-pop. And in the centre of the screen a clock appears. It is 11 am. I've just enquired and have been told we will be looking at this test card until at least 1pm. Probably later. Waiting for a specialist. In a large hospital in the Stockholm suburbs. In the ear nose and throat department. There are eleven patients to be seen before us and the doctor takes his lunch for an hour at noon. Hmmm, after the nurse has told me this I pass comment that it looks like we will be unable to see much of her lovely city today. She smiles, hard luck mate. Looks like Stockholm sightseeing is no longer on the agenda for today. Ho hum.
Infected with a virus
Lindsey has been in pain for a couple of days, a sore throat has developed into a painful infection, lots of inflammation and her glands are up. This morning we decide that it needs the attention of a doctor. The doctor will giver her a course of antibiotics (I suggest that we have hundreds of antibiotics in my pack, premium doxyclicnine as an anti-malarial: three a day for five days will clear it up, the ol' doxy is a broad spectrum antibiotic... but who am I trying to kid. She's having none of it and I suppose she is right really, better get the expert opinion of a European quack before heading into the unknown east. Chinese medicine per chance Linds? NO WE ARE SEEING A DOCTOR HERE!)
Morning surgery please
I am asking the receptionist in our hotel (a converted prison block- now there's a thought how many murderers, fraudsters, burglars, criminals have slept in our cell before it was turned into hotel/ hostel), I'm asking her where we can find a doctors surgery and she's saying we must go to the hospital, but no I say, it is not the hospital we need it's not that serious, but she tells me that this is Sweden and the hospital is the place to go. It doesn't need to be an accident or emergency to go to the hospital (yeah well it does in the UK) and I'm sure she just wants to rub it in how crap the NHS is and how great the Swedish system is. So we jump into a taxi and go to the hospital. And drive into the ambulance bay and the A&E department. We are seen by various administrative people before being led to the bench we currently sit on by a hospital porter with a huge gold looped earring, a fringe that ends millimetres above his eyes and wearing sandals. Sandals? One of the worlds last true fashion disasters? The only people who wear leather sandals are aging hippies, environmentalists with their Birkenstocks and priests, men of the cloth. And this Swedish hospital porter dude. And that nurse over there. And that doctor, and bloody hell, the whole bleedin' hospital's wearing them.
Still waiting then
One o'clock. The doctor has just returned from lunch. He is alone today. And there are seven patients to be seen in front of us.
If this were a short trip I may be slightly bothered by this lack of activity. Reading is becoming a frustration, I started a new book this morning, 'Atomised" by some French geezer, Michel Houellebeq and it is beginning to piss me off. 'Very moving, gloriously, extravagantly filthy and very funny" is the praise the Independent gives it on the front cover. Very funny? Bunch of arse. Half way through and I have yet to find anything of amusement, let alone use my facial muscles in a smile. "Compelling" the critic adds. Compelling? Compelling me to find a bin to ditch the dreary read into. Only then I'd have nothing else to pass the time with. Lindsey is too engrossed in her book to engage in conversation, and besides, it hurts her to speak. I look around. The waiting room could be a waiting room in any hospital in the western world. The same notice boards, large signs with clear Arial font, the same heavy duty linoleum flooring. And the same clock that moves more slowly than it should. Five past one. HURRY UP. All that suggests we may be in Sweden are the clean lines of the birch furniture. That Ikea look again. But why should we be bothered about a day's loss of sightseeing. We're not going to be here forever. This isn't the NHS, we will be seen soon. And besides, it is not as if we have limited time on this trip. Yes, only a day and a half in Stockholm, but think of the bigger picture. And we can always come back here again. And time spent with an ENT specialist with Lindsey in pain, unable to sleep, swollen glands and throbbing crimson throat; in these circumstances is time well spent.
I've been thinking about this for a while and finally think sod it, and walk to the phone and give my brother a ring. I was an arse before I left, the E111 form that entitles us to hospital treatment in Europe was sitting on the table waiting to be filled in and stamped at the post office, but we never got round to filling them out and besides, we 're not going to be spending much time in Europe and we've got insurance.... And now here we are in a hospital in Stockholm and they want £120 for a brief consultation which will result in us being sent away with a prescription for an antibiotic that we already have and WHAT ARE WE DOING IN A HOSPITAL ANYWAY? I do not believe that the Swedes do not have surgeries that any old joe can see a doctor in. But we have been here for three hours so it is not worth thinking like that and my brother has just agreed to pop round to the local post office and fill out an E111 for Lindsey (but he doesn't have her signature) but we make do and thank the Lord for fax machines and Lindsey gets to see the specialist For (almost) free.
Four hours, fifty four minutes, and twenty four seconds
"Lindsey McNeill" the nurse calls. I look at my watch. I've had the stop watch running for this moment. four hours, fifty four minutes, and twenty four seconds. Hmmm. You can cut it two ways. We've been here for almost five hours, I'm sure if we'd popped into Kingston General we would've been soon much quicker. But if it was an ear nose and throat specialist we wanted to see, we'd be talking about five months, not five hours.
The doctor is a pleasant man of eastern European origin. He wants to engage in small talk with Lindsey, to put her at ease, to find out about her - where are you from , what are you doing here, but Lindsey goes straight to the point. "It's my throat... and glands..." and the doctor is asking the probing questions and opening her mouth and sticking instruments into it and then he uses his microscope and asks Lindsey to lean back and he sticks it up her nose and starts inspecting the insides of her snout. I can hear Lindsey's thinking from here 'oh please don't let there be any bogeys up there'. Like the old professional he moves on to her ears. It must be the same old routine for him, throat, nose, ears- well he chose to specialise in this stuff, and here is a particularly unchallenging patient. He already knows he is going to pack Lindsey off with a course of penicillin, clear up the infection, but now he is looking at her ears and the left one is getting his full attention. Oh yes, this is more like it. And he is getting out a whole plethora of surgical instruments and is probing away in her ear. He starts with a crude looking instrument that has a huge handle like those of garden shears, but with a tweezer like point. He's sticking this in Lindsey's ear and she is grimacing in discomfort and then he swaps the shears for a more delicate tool, a long stylus with a small, thin loop at the end. In he pop's it into her ear canal, moving it around, scraping, digging, pulling it out... He is mining, a lamp is strapped to his head, with a magnifying lens over his ear. In full concentration he deftly twists the tool into Lindsey's head and then with a flick he whips it out. bingo!! To see it made the five hour wait worth it. A globule of ear wax the size of a large ball bearing glistens at the end of the stylus. He shows it to both of us with pride. Job satisfaction for the ENT specialist.
Congratulations, you score 63 on the infection scale See the nurse on the way out for a blood test. You'll get the results in the morning - just to make sure it is nothing more that a viral infection.
Lindsey is currently on the phone to the hospital. "...so you are saying the first test was clear, the second one - no mono somethings, yes, and I would score ten on this virus scale but I my score is sixty three.... thank you very much. And I'm thinking here we go, and right on cue she puts the phone down and says "see - I told you there was something wrong with me.
Half a day to do the Stockholm sights then we sail to Helsinki. Getting better with every step.