Monday, June 28, 2010

Close encounter with socialized medicine blustery London breeze knocked a large wooden plank loose from a construction site and into a heavy steel barrier, which in turn fell over and hit me on the right side of my head, sending me crashing into the stone wall of a British government building.

At least that's what the onlookers who witnessed the incident and pulled the barrier off me said as I lay on the ground, bleeding from head and knee on King Charles Street, only a block from 10 Downing Street and just outside a museum honoring Winston Churchill and his World War II Cabinet.

Still conscious but a little bit woozy, I hadn't yet realized I was about to have a close encounter with the National Health Service, a.k.a. the United Kingdom's form of socialized medicine.

My wife, Karen, and I were in London on vacation, visiting the usual tourist attractions, including the Cabinet war rooms where Churchill and his advisers gallantly organized the defense of their country against Adolf Hitler's rampaging armed forces. Getting injured in a freak accident on a Saturday afternoon was not part of our vacation agenda.

I kept telling my worried wife and the gathering crowd that I was OK, despite all that blood. Another tourist, a doctor from Florida, assisted Karen in applying facial tissues to the gash in my head.

He began asking me questions: "Who is the prime minister?"

Before I could answer "David Cameron," he realized I was an American and changed the question to, "Who is the president of the United States?" adding, "Not that you have to like him."

"But I do," I replied, "for the most part."

The good doctor was trying to find out how badly injured I was, and when he could see that I hadn't lost either consciousness or most of my blood and marbles, he jokingly informed me, "I am indeed a doctor, but I'm a gynecologist." He said I probably needed to go to the hospital, but warned – with an unstated but obviously negative attitude toward what the Brits call the NHS – "you'll most likely be there for seven hours (before they get to you)."

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