rusty foot 2

…was a thick bandage on my foot.


What happened is I dropped a wooden board that had a rusty nail sticking out of it and the rusty nail landed between my toes, paring off the flesh the way a grater goes through cheese.

The reason I dropped the board, a two by four with a rusty nail sticking out of it, was because there’s a lot of competition for parking on my street. I live in one of those urban areas where there are an unaccountable number of hearty, oversized vehicles – Range Rovers and Cherokee Jeeps — as if my neighbours face a daily commute through the Himalayas instead of a weekly shop at the local Superstore.

On a practical level this means you have to be proactive if you want to bag a parking spot.  Which is what I’d been doing for several days, blocking off space on the street in front of my house so my builder, who was renovating the bathroom, would have enough space for his pickup truck. I created a barricade with stuff I had lying around — the wheelie bin, a couple of broken garden chairs, a length of rope I found in the bike shed and the two by fours the builder had already ripped out of the bathroom.

Every evening I set it up, every morning the builder dismantled it, every evening I reinstated it … and so on until by the third day my barricade, which had two by fours propped up against the wheelie bin like a post-apocalyptic tepee and frayed rope snaking through the garden chairs, had assumed the status of an art installation.

changeable art installation.

I was so taken with this idea that I forgot about the rusty nail factor and, inevitably, while lovingly reconstructing the exhibit one evening, I dropped one of the boards.

Just as inevitably, I was wearing sandals.

It was one of those accidents that seem to happen in slow motion. I watched the board fall, the rusty nail heading right for my foot, and I had enough time to think, simultaneously, O, no, along with, Let’s see how much damage this does.

 There was an amazing amount of blood but, oddly, no pain.

I think that was due to shock, which explains my next move, which was to go into the house, take the bottle of Grey Goose off the top shelf of the liquor cabinet and pour half a litre of pricey vodka over my toes.

This was instead of going into the kitchen and using the antiseptic spray that lives in the first aid kit.

I then wrapped half a roll of toilet paper around my foot and called the doctor.

Again, I was in shock, operating on autopilot. I wasn’t thinking.

The great thing was, I didn’t have to think.

I didn’t have to think twice about calling the doctor.

I didn’t have to stop to think if my insurance would cover the cost of a visit to her office.

I didn’t have to stand there with blood seeping through half a roll of toilet paper while I tried to remember my deductible in order to subtract it from the cost of a tetanus shot, sutures and a course of antibiotics.

Basically, I did not have to think about whether I could afford to get better.

This is because I live in Britain and in Britain we have the National Health Service, which provides free health care for every resident of the country, from birth to death. Correction: from conception til death.

And if you’re under 18, over 60 or pregnant, your prescriptions are free as well. Everyone else pays a nominal fee.

 I love the NHS.

It’s not glamorous. It’s not profitable.The doctors who are a part of it don’t make the kind of money they would in America, not even the surgeons. And it’s certainly not perfect. There are long waits for non-urgent care — hip replacements come to mind — and every few months the papers run photos of hospital corridors lined with rows of untreated patients lying on gurneys, their feet sticking out from under those cheap waffle-weave blankets.

Nonetheless – and this is a huge nonetheless — if you have a heart attack or cancer or if your kid comes down with an unexplained rash or if you’re goofy enough to get a rusty nail through your foot while fantasizing about a performance art career, the NHS will clasp you to its vast, overworked bosom.

Free of charge.

Whatever neighbourhood you live in.

 Admittedly, it’s not exactly free in that the cost of the service comes out of our taxes, which are not inconsiderable. Every year, X amount of tax revenue is allocated to the nation’s Social Care Budget and every year the medical professionals try to get an increase to the Social Care Budget and every year the government tries to block that increase to the Social Care Budget.

It’s an on-going, almost ritualistic tug of war, but what matters is that while they may argue about the amount of money required to maintain national health care, the starting point for that argument, the premise, is the indisputable existence of a national health care service and a budget to cover the cost. It’s a fundamental, a spending priority up there with defence, education and highway maintenance.

This strikes me as nothing more than common sense.

The physical wellbeing of a country’s citizenry is essential to that country’s wellbeing.

A healthy populace means a healthy work force. Government backed health care means employers don’t have to cough up for insurance  (although many do offer private coverage) and self-employed types along with the unemployed don’t have to take out a bank loan or sell a kidney if their child needs an appendectomy.

I still get homesick for America, still have days when I can’t believe how much I miss certain people and places. And then I think about the time I was visiting my parents in New York and realized I’d forgotten to pack my Epi-Pen – the adrenalin shot I’m supposed to jab into my thigh to stop myself from dying if I accidentally eat shellfish, to which I’m deadly allergic. My parents’ doctor was great about it. He wrote me a new prescription, free of charge, and I took myself off to the pharmacy to have it filled.

Six hundred dollars.

That’s what it cost me: $600 for a plastic syringe containing .3ml of adrenalin — the equivalent of 0.0105585 ounces.

Six hundred dollars is a good antidote to homesickness.