After spending nine hours on a plane flying to London, I spent nearly two and half days in bed recovering from gastroenteritis. Needless to say, my vacation did not get off to a good start.
After arriving at the hotel, I decided to rest for an hour before heading out to the day’s planned activities — the Victoria and Albert Museum. As each minute went by, I felt worse, alternating between hot and cold, and having an aversion to just thinking about having to eat any time soon. My friend headed to the store for some saltine crackers (which apparently don’t exist in the UK) and Gatorade. She returned with some buttery puff crackers and the British version of a sports drink (Lucozade). I spent the afternoon and evening watching a loop of the same few episodes of Friends, Scrubs, Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars on E4.
The next morning, I was determined to see the city. I managed to force myself to eat a cereal bar and drink some Lucozade, but by the time I met up with my friend to head out, I was feverish and feeling poorly again. She suggested we stop by a doctor’s office by the tube station, and they pointed us to the Parsons Green NHS Walk-In Centre a few tube stops away.
Because I’m a supporter of health care reform in the US, I was interested to see how going to an NHS clinic would stack up to receiving treatment in the US. Upon arrival, the woman at the front desk said that I could see a nurse, but that it would cost £25 to see a nurse because I’m not a UK resident. When I agreed to paid, she looked at me like I was crazy. I guess it’s a shock seeing someone else paying for something you normally get for free. Seeing my own doctor in the US would cost a $15 co-pay, and going to an out-of-network walk-in clinic or emergency room would cost even more, so this seemed like a nominal charge to me.
While waiting for the next available nurse (there were about five people ahead of me), an apparently very sick girl came in. Weak and pale, she could barely walk on her own. She was immediately seen by a nurse, who recommended she go straight to the hospital. The clinic staff called her a taxi, and she was gone within five minutes. Lesson learned — if you are ill and need urgent care, you do not have to queue up and wait. NHS will take care of you immediately.
Another woman came in, walked up to the counter, took a pack of free condoms, and left. Lesson learned — NHS will provide free birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancies, no questions asked.
After waiting about 20-30 minutes (less time than I had to wait in the ER in Austin when I was in severe pain with a kidney stone), the nurse called me back. She took my medical history, took my temperature and blood pressure, and gave me a quick abdominal exam. She said that I had gastroenteritis, and that I should be better if I took it easy for a few days, keep hydrated, and eat bland food when possible.
All in all, my experience at the NHS clinic was good, and not much unlike what would have happened in the US. There were no long queues. No one was denied treatment (even those who not covered by NHS). Those needing urgent care were triaged.
I returned to my hotel to spend another day in bed, hoping that rest and plenty of liquids would allow me to start my vacation the next day.