new book to plug (Burke and the Bedouinis
now out on Kindle), now might seem an odd time to be writing a post that has
nothing to do with my books at all, but please bear with me.
my mother and my sister suffered from glaucoma, so I'm probably more careful
about getting my eyes checked than most. Because of the family history, I don’t
pay anything for a thorough examination every year.
Something over a year ago, I was told that I had the beginnings of a cataract
in my right eye. Both the optician and I were surprised: I'm not that old. But it was, she assured me,
just the beginning. It might not cause a problem for years.
A year, later, though, it was getting worse. I could still see well enough for
daily life. (Unusually, the other eye was fine.) But the sight in my right eye
was deteriorating quite fast. The optician suggested I consider surgery.
There was a hiccup at this stage, because the National Health Service isn’t set
up for younger people with a problem in one eye. I didn't actually need surgery. Having just one eye (and
that one short-sighted) wasn't crippling, just inconvenient. But I went to my
doctor and pointed out that I have an active lifestyle and two eyes are useful.
Because I was younger and the eye was deteriorating, it would need surgery
eventually. Surely it was better to have it done now.
my doctor agreed and referred me to an eye clinic. Again, I was lucky in living
close to a specialist eye hospital. A few weeks after I had seen my doctor, I
visited a consultant at the hospital who agreed that surgery was appropriate.
Last week, I attended the hospital and, a couple of quite scary, but painless,
hours later, I walked out, cataract free.
write this, there’s a certain amount of discomfort, which is already
diminishing. More to the point, the screen is back to being a convenient
distance away and I am writing without spectacles.
true what they say: sight deteriorates slowly, and you only realise how much
once you get it back.
I have a lot of American readers on this blog, so I need to point out that this
entire process has, literally, not cost me a penny. I had a cataract, which can
happen to anyone. The NHS fixed it, as it would do for anybody in the country.
That is one of the things I have paid taxes for all my life.
– even minor surgery like this – is always a concern. There are lots of things
that you worry about. Whether or not you can afford it shouldn't be one of
is a lot wrong with the NHS. There is room for improvement. But the basic idea
of a system that heals the sick, which we all pay for through our taxes, is
really important. There have been lots of attacks on the NHS lately, and many
of us wonder if some of this is motivated by a political desire to change the
basic model of UK health care: universal medical treatment, free at the point
of delivery. It’s easy to forget, as we go about our daily lives, just how
important this is. It’s amazing how quickly the need for medical care can
change your perspective.
So, I’d like to finish by saying three things.
(though I doubt they’ll see this): a big thank you to my optician, my GP, my
surgeon, the nurses, and everybody else who made this as easy as possible, and
thanks to whom I now have two good eyes.
to readers in the UK: however fit you are, however young you feel, one day you,
or someone you love, will need medical care. When this happens, you don’t want
to be worrying about whether or not medical insurance will cover it. (I doubt
it would have covered me, as my problems didn't even meet written criteria for
the NHS – hence my pleading to my GP.) The NHS is a wonderful British
institution. Be prepared to fight for it when politicians threaten it.
Finally, to my US friends: free medical care does not make this a communist
country. Yes, it puts up taxes – but it costs much less per patient treated
than most other health care systems (and much, much less than the US system).
Looking after sick people is something that a civilised society just does. I
think that those who see it as a threat just can’t imagine how much better life
would be if you had it. Like my newly restored vision, it’s a shock how much
difference it makes once it’s there. Don’t be afraid of socialised health care.
Next week I’ll be back to writing about 19th century history. Until
then, take care and (if you have been) thanks for listening.