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Robert Houk

Opinion Page Editor
rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com
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Getting royal treatment at St. Mary’s Hospital in London

July 29th, 2013 9:16 am by Robert Houk

Getting royal treatment at St. Mary’s Hospital in London

Editor’s note: Portions of this column first appeared on June 10, 2012.

Watching the non-stop coverage of the birth of Prince George in London last week reminded me of my own visit to the hospital where the infant who could someday be the king of England was born. St. Mary’s Hospital, located near Paddington, was surrounded by crowds of well-wishers and throngs of news reporters awaiting word of the royal birth.
I got to tour St. Mary’s Hospital last year when my wife, Stephanie, suffered an injury while we were on vacation in the United Kingdom. We had just landed at Gatwick Airport outside London and were walking down a long ramp that led from the international gate to customs when Stephanie pulled a ligament in her knee.
Every step she took was pure agony. I don’t know how she made it through customs.  
When we finally made it to our hotel in London, a merciful bellhop said he would find her a wheelchair. He returned with what appeared to be a medical apparatus from Queen Victoria’s reign.
After consulting representatives from the hotel, we decided to visit the emergency department of St. Mary’s Hospital, which was just a few blocks from the Hilton London Metropole. The hotel’s concierge said it would be very easy for me to push Stephanie in the wheelchair to the hospital. The only thing, he told me sternly, was that I “must not forget to return the wheelchair.”  
I had a lot of ideas of how we might spend our first day in London, but pushing Stephanie down a cobblestone street in an old wheelchair was not one of them. Thankfully, it was excellent wheelchair-pushing weather: Sunny and warm, with a light breeze.

Finding St. Mary’s Hospital, which was founded in 1845, was more difficult than we had anticipated. There were no animated signs, no zen gardens or a fake waterfall to identify the hospital where the likes of Prince William, Prince Harry and Elvis Costello were born. (The later certainly merits some sort of historical marker.) We finally discovered a simple kiosk that pointed the way to various departments of the hospital.
When we arrived at the hospital, we were pleasantly surprised to find it quiet and well organized. Stephanie explained to a receptionist that she was an injured American on holiday. The St. Mary’s staffer told her to fill out a form that only asked for her name and where she was staying. That was the extent of our paperwork at St. Mary’s.
We took a seat in the waiting area. The chairs were not modern, or very comfortable, but there were plenty of them. I noticed a number of National Health Service posters scattered on the walls of the hospital urging people to get their flu shots and to follow proper hygiene procedures. There were a few other patients in the waiting room — all suffering similar emergencies. One man had injured his hand in a motorcycle accident. Another said he sprained a leg playing soccer.
We waited less than 30 minutes before a physician’s assistant called Stephanie’s name for triage. He took down information about her injury, examined her leg and gave her something for the pain. He also offered reassurance. When Stephanie said she feared the injury would force us to cancel our vacation, the PA told her in a delightful Scots accent: “Oh now, let’s not start talking about amputation yet.”
Less than 40 minutes later, Stephanie was seeing the doctor. After a thorough examination, he told Stephanie she had pulled a ligament in her knee. The doctor told her she needed to keep her weight off the knee as much as possible.
She explained the predicament with our vacation, which included walking tours of Stonehenge, York and Edinburgh, and asked the doctor if such activity would be possible on her bum leg. It should be, he said, if she used crutches. And that’s when Stephanie received what we now refer to as the Diamond Jubilee crutches (named for the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s reign). The doctor even took time to show her how to use them correctly.
A few minutes later, we were on our way to the hospital’s pharmacy to have a prescription for painkillers filled. The pharmacy was located in the basement of an adjoining building that had served as a shelter during the Blitz. While Stephanie remained outside chatting with a patient from St. Mary’s, who was enjoying the unusually warm spring English morning, I went downstairs to have the prescription filled. That took less than 30 minutes, and again no paperwork was needed to get the job done.
I did, however, have to pay for the prescription — 7 pounds to be exact. As a result, the entire cost of our visit to the emergency room at St. Mary’s came to roughly $11. And we got to keep the Diamond Jubliee crutches as a gift from the NHS and the taxpayers of the United Kingdom.

Robert Houk is Opinion  page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.

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