Magazine article The Spectator

From the Horse's Mouth

Magazine article The Spectator

From the Horse's Mouth

Article excerpt

There are many greetings one might grudgingly accept as adequate when one arrives at a hospital emergency department. But a sign saying 'Helpdesk' is not one of them. 'Reception', 'Report here' or even 'Check-in' would have been a tolerable overture from King's College Hospital when I pitched up with my hand crushed and bleeding.

But Helpdesk? Helpdesk is what you thrust in people's faces when they are queuing for IT support. Helpdesk is what you tell people they are getting when they want to make backup files from their hard drive.

Helpdesk is not what you offer people who are hoping for their broken limbs to be treated.

I suppose I was asking for trouble going to a south London A&E after getting my hand stuck in a horse's mouth. But as I ride in Surrey and live in Balham, I had not wanted to go to a hospital miles from home in case I was detained overnight. So I got myself back into town. Wrong decision.

It took me 20 minutes queuing behind people wanting free dental work just to reach the 'Helpdesk', and when I did a man with all the communication skills of a piece of stripped-off wallpaper looked at me and grunted. No 'hello', no 'can I help you?'

When I offered the information that a horse had bitten through the middle of my hand he said, 'Uh?'

'Horse bite, ' I said loudly, and mimed a set of jaws clamping down. Nothing.

'Horse?' I said. Blank. There's your problem, I thought. 'Hand crushed, ' I said.


'You bin 'ere before?' he mumbled.

'What has that got to do with it?'

'I need a lot of information to register you on our system.'

So I pretended to faint from the pain, which, to be fair, I had done three times earlier. This earned me the privilege of a 30-second consultation with a cheerful girl who took off the bandage, called me 'hon' and confirmed that the bruised mass would need X-raying. It would be a two-hour wait.

She gave me two paracetamol and some leaflets and turned me loose in the waiting area to be coughed over.

With nothing to do except catch flu and throb, I read my leaflets. One was called 'Animal and Human Bites' and bizarrely concentrated on advising me to give up smoking. The other was called 'Rice' but should have been called Riceep because it called for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, Exercise and Painkillers and mostly insinuated that I had fallen over while drunk. …

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