I’ve been lucky that almost everything I know about hospitals comes from fiction. But last week, having done something unpleasant to my Achilles tendon running, my local doctor sent me over to the local A&E (“accident and emergency”, the UK equivalent of the ER) to see if they could fix me up.

Having been healthy and not particularly accident-prone, this was the first time since age 6 or so that I’ve been to the hospital for myself, although I’ve accompanied or visited a few friends and loved ones over the years. Britain’s NHS is, of course, a remarkable institution: universal health care with outcomes that are overall as good as the much more expensive American system. But that very size means that patients don’t always get exactly the treatment they might like.

Before heading to the doctor that morning, a few minutes online indicated that I probably had something like insertional Achilles tendinitis, a pretty common complaint especially amongst runners. My GP couldn’t help much, but got much the same information from the computer on her desk, and decided that it required more work — possibly a cast — than she could handle there.

IMG 2982So after hobbling over to Charing Cross hospital, relatively nearby in London (and nowhere near Charing Cross), I was told to sit and wait, possibly for about two hours — and I was a lucky one, having come with a doctor’s note enabling me to skip the triage step and get directly on the list. So a couple of hours later, I finally made it in to see someone, a very nice nurse practitioner. I was surprised, however, when he looked at my heal and said that he had never seen anything like that before. He waved a nearby doctor into the examination room, but the latter clearly just wanted to go home after a long shift, and didn’t have much to add beyond the frankly strange suggestion of a “foreign body”. The pair were about to send me in for an x-ray when another nurse practitioner walked by, looked down, and said, “oh, that’s bursitis”, an inflammation of the bursa, the sac of fluid which keeps the joint between the tendon and the bone lubricated. This seemed altogether more plausible (although a condition I tend to associate with my now-101-year-old grandmother). And, fortunately or otherwise, the suggested treatment was just ice, anti-inflammatory painkillers, and rest. To facilitate the latter, I got a new pair of accessories, pictured at right (taken at my local, hoping that alcohol was not contraindicated).

As a not-terribly-old, not-terribly-infirm, male, I am used to deferring to pretty much everyone except teenagers for positions on lines (queues) and seats on public transport. So the crutches work a weird psycho-physical magic on me and the people around: lots more saying “sorry”, getting up or moving out of the way for me. I don’t like it.

Things are, happily, looking up. I can walk only a bit asymmetrically and without too much pain (and without the crutches for the last day or so). Let’s hope I’m running again before my next half-marathon.