PC 95 Booking an appointment

When I was aged 8 we moved from the great Georgian city of Bath to a small village 15 miles north of here, in deepest Sussex. It was in an age when certain professions had defined status, an acknowledgment of the contribution they made to the community’s well-being. Teachers and doctors headed this list and their position in the village was well established and respected. Our local doctor, Doctor Hare, was an affable, middle aged chap with florid cheeks and a large laugh. If we wanted to see him professionally, we could make an appointment at his surgery or he would do a house call, complete with his black leather ‘Doctor’s bag’. My parents saw him socially at dinner parties and the like, and I held my 18th birthday in the large garage attached to his house. His daughter Belinda was the first girl I kissed!!

Sorry, I digress!

Back then, getting an appointment with the lowest level in the medical service, in the UK called General Practitioners (GPs), was relatively straight forward. Today I reflect on how backwards we seem to have travelled. I have had a crippling leg/back muscle pain for weeks, relieved occasionally by physiotherapy and massage, by visits to heated rooms, by some attempts at ‘hand on’ healing and with the application of oils – and with the constant use of a painkiller. I needed to check in with my doctor; so yesterday I called the surgery after the 9 o’clock watershed – for people like me, not an emergency, or so I believed with my amateurish knowledge.

You should be aware that before the Easter weekend my GP’s surgery was located in a large, rambling, rather decrepit Victorian house, once the home to a well-to-do family I imagine. Doctors had the old dining room, the square front room, or upstairs one of the old bedrooms as their consultation rooms, whilst the peripheral support staff like nurses and therapists had to make do in smaller rooms or spilled out into hallways and cupboards. Glimpses of the paper filling system did not engender any confidence and it is a wonder they managed to make it work. No! Really! It looked a real mess but this is how a lot of GPs currently interface with their patients.

So I was enormously pleased to read last year that the idea was to move into a deconsecrated church about half a mile away. A developer had had the vision to draw up plans to enable two GP Surgeries and a pharmacy to move into what was Holy Trinity Church. With new consulting rooms, a conference room, treatment rooms and the like it’s a huge step in the right direction. Needless to say Hove Preservation Society objected – to putting a building originally erected to heal the Christian soul and now no longer used, with maintenance and vandalism issues, to the use of healing the physical body, maybe as well as the soul? Fortunately the plans went ahead and it’s opened a couple of days after Easter.

Trinity Medical Centre

Tuesday – the day of the opening.

We are experiencing some technological problems with our systems and unless it’s urgent please try tomorrow.”


This is Trinity Medical Centre. We are experiencing high volume of call rates currently and you are held in a queue; if it is an emergency pleased dial 999 otherwise please hold (I put the telephone handset on ‘speaker’ so I can carry on doing other things) ……… We are experiencing high volume of call rates currently and you are held in a queue ……. We are experiencing high volume of call rates currently and you are held in a queue.”

For 10 minutes this went on until, eventually, I got as far as the options menu.

This is Trinity Medical Centre. If you want to change an appointment please press 2, otherwise please continue to hold.”


Hello. This is the Trinity Medical Centre, how can I help you.”

“I’d like to make an appointment with Doctor Mackinnon. I have been onto your website and I can’t book one.”

“If you ring tomorrow morning, I can book you an appointment with her in two weeks’ time.”

“Why can’t you book me that appointment now, rather than having me call tomorrow morning?

“Because that is not how it works”!

(and there is no point in getting frustrated because the person you are talking to didn’t decide these things, no matter how much you believe she (in this case and it could have been a male voice!) did)

Does she have any free appointments tomorrow?”

“Yes she does, about 5, but you would have to come in tomorrow morning at 0830 to book one.”

“I can’t do it over the telephone?” (Like …. Open the appointments page in the computer, put my name in one of the free slots, and tell me when)

No! You have to come in!”

“OK! So I will call tomorrow.”


A repeat of the first section with which I will not bore you.

“Hello. Trinity Medical Centre. How can I help?”

“Can I book an appointment with Dr Mackinnon today?”

“I can book you an appointment in two weeks’ time.”

“But I was told she has 5 free appointment slots today.”

“I could offer you a telephone appointment.”

“What happened to those free appointment slots?”

“I could offer you a telephone consultation or an appointment in two weeks’ time.” (spoken in a tone which suggests this is ‘take it or leave it and don’t ask any more irritating questions’.)

OK! I will take the one in two weeks.” (I need to see her for her to refer me for, Oh! I don’t know, an MRI scan, Ultra Sound, physiotherapy and I am sure she wouldn’t make that referral without seeing me.

So there you have it. A little snapshot on the difficulties today of making an appointment to see your doctor. I hadn’t thought about Dr Hare, or Belinda for that matter, for decades, but it seems that we haven’t made any progress from those halcyon days of 1950’s Britain.

Richard 20th April 2017

PS I was even approached by a complete stranger in local George Street this morning. “Excuse me! But you clearly have some pain in your leg” – my hobbling along is obviously very pronounced (!) – “Can I help you though the power of prayer?” I was on my way to stock up with fresh eggs from Dean at his market stall and didn’t want to be distracted, so I mumbled a quick “No! Thank You” and shuffled on my way. Funny life innit!



PC 94 Sight and Eyes

Do you recall the first time you wore glasses? OK! If you are long-sighted it may be a treat in store, depending on your age; but if you are short sighted …… I must have been about 8 or 9 and I remember walking up the street from the opticians in the great Roman and Georgian city of Bath, where I was born. Clearly I must have needed some sight correction for a while, as it was like seeing buildings, people, traffic as if for the first time!!


This was how it was!

In the Army of the 1970s the threat from the Soviet Union was very real and we imagined any attack across the inner-German border would include nasty chemical agents. Consequently we spent part of the time on training wearing a respirator and chemical-resistant suits (not Pierre Cardin I assure you!). Having a gasmask on your face is quite incapacitating simply on its own, with vision restricted, breathing more difficult, so we all had to suffer a yearly test, in a way to remind us how wearing it kept us alive. We all trooped into a gas chamber and put on our respirators. Some CS Gas Pellets (see note) were dropped onto the floor and, after sufficient time for the gas to build up, one by one we took off our gasmask, shouted out our service number (in my case 24067711 – amazing how some numbers are instantly recalled), rank and name ….. before heading rapidly for the door ……. and most likely to vomit on the grass outside!! The frames of my normal glasses didn’t fit inside the respirator so I was issued with a pair of the type much loved by John Lennon.

in focusand this is how it became!

Not sure why one keeps old spectacles but I seem to have a collection, of ones with small frames, a pair with large smoked glass lenses, some with ‘no frame’ (!), memories of sunglasses which had a coating making the world look rather blue, and those yellow ones now at the bottom of Sydney Harbour as the strong wind took them off on some ferry trip! Since 1970 have also used contact lenses. My regular readers will know that I spent a lot of my ‘Army’ life sailing. (See second note!) Mostly in keel boats but occasionally I was encouraged to jump into a dinghy ……. and if you wore glasses you soon couldn’t see once they had got covered in salt water. The problem is salt water and glass. It’s almost impossible to keep your specs clean ……. and when there is a lot of spray around, the handkerchief that is tucked into your pocket and which could be suitable soon becomes damp with salty water and simply smears the glass. In 1970, after a number of long offshore races and cruises to the Chanel islands, for example, I ventured into the fairly new technology of contact lenses.

I went to get fitted and came away with a pair that I cleaned and soaked overnight; they were to last one month. They are made of hard plastic. In additional to the little storage container, I was given what I can only describe as a miniature sink plunger, for that’s what it looked like; a little rubber tube about 2 cms long with an open cup at one end. The idea was you could place it over the lens in your eye and suction would help its removal. Needless to say I only used it once.

These new contact lenses were an absolute boon. Seeing and sailing became so much easier. The only trick was to make sure when you removed the lens it didn’t fly out …….. somewhere. Grubbing around on the wet and dirty floor of a yacht looking for a piece of clear plastic barely a centimetre in diameter was never easy. On one offshore race from Cowes on the Isle of Wight to Skagen on the northern tip of Denmark in 1972, we had some fairly inclement weather ie it was raining heavily and blowing a severe gale. I didn’t dare take my lenses out below decks and they stayed in for three days; my eyes felt that they had been rubbed by sandpaper when eventually oxygen got at them!

And once, in a hotel in Zurich, I was putting them in, leaning over the sink  …….. with the tap running. The left lens didn’t go it first time and dropped into the sink ……. and my attempt to turn the tap off before it disappeared down the drain was not successful. I didn’t have a spare so I had to unscrew the U Bend beneath the sink ……. and rinse it through in the bath, with the plug in I should hasten to add. You can imagine that no one had cleared out this particular U Bend in this particular hotel room since …… well, probably since the hotel was built. But in amongst the human detritus of decades that washed out was my left lens!!

Jade 0166 (2)An early pair!

Gradually technology improved contact lenses and along came ‘gas permeable’, both daily and weekly and monthly wear. I am short-sighted so as I get older my uncorrected eyes can read books, papers etc without glasses, although wearing contact lenses I additionally needed to have a pair of those half-moon ‘granny’ glasses. About twenty years ago I stumbled on another option. I think I was extremely hungover from some entertainment the night before and was on semi-automatic pilot in the morning when I attempted to put my contact lenses in. I put one into the wrong eye; I could still see, but not quite as well as normal. However I realized I could get this to work. In my left eye I correct to about 9 ft, so that that eye dominates; and my right eye I correct from 9 ft to infinity. Amazing how the brain can adapt and I have got so used to it it’s only when an object is at the cross-over distance I notice it.

So there you have it, see what I mean, illuminating scribbles about eyesight!!

Richard 10th April 2017

PS This old joke fits well in a PC about eyes. “The science teacher asks: “Which human body part increases to ten times its size when stimulated?” A girl complained this was a very inappropriate question and said she was going to tell her parents. The teacher repeated the question and Billy answered by saying it was the pupil of the eye. After congratulating Billy, the teacher turned to the girl and commented:

“As for you, young lady, I have a couple of things to say: firstly, you have a dirty mind and secondly one day you are going to be very, very disappointed.””


CS or tear gas is a riot control, de-capacitating agent, the defining component being 2-chlorobenzalononitrile. (The ‘CS’ simply refers to the surnames of the two scientists who first synthesized it in 1928!)

There was a trio of car bumper stickers:  ‘Fly Navy’ and ‘Sail Army’ and for the Royal Air Force ‘Crab Air’ as they had a reputation for going sideways!