Spectator: Lucy Baring goes to the doctor

Living with a hypochondriac who never goes to the doctor is exasperating, and Zam was looking increasingly worn. It was, therefore, as an act of kindness that I decided to make an appointment, although I remain convinced that this is like calling in an electrician to mend a light fitting. The next thing you know, the whole house needs rewiring. When I rang the surgery, the receptionist gave me the next available appointment, in a week’s time. She could clearly tell (entirely correctly) from the way I said hello that there was nothing urgent going on.

Later that day, my daughter came home from college and said ‘This is really weird’ as she showed me a swelling on her leg that meant she could hardly bend her knee. It had started with a bite and had made her leg swell to twice its normal size. I dished out an antihistamine, but also thought it looked worryingly like the one last summer that turned out to have been infected with Lyme disease.

We were on holiday on the west coast of Scotland when she appeared one morning with a bite that had rings round it exactly as if someone had drawn a 4in-wide bullseye with a biro on her leg. A red biro. A long-suffering receptionist at the nearest surgery (about an hour away) told us to come straight in. I knew she thought we were loony tourists- Lyme disease had had a great deal of publicity.

In we went and had a consultation with a Spanish doctor whose impeccable if arcane English was pure Austen. His lisp was so strong that, within seconds of him thaying that he thought it wath Limeth ditheath, and that without antibioticth immediately, Olive could thuffer ‘heart failure, liver failure or death’, we both got hysterical giggles. But he was so nice and thorough and concerned because it was Lyme disease and we weren’t neurotic tourists that we all parted friends, armed with antibiotics, notes to our doctor at home and instructions to have a blood test in a couple of weeks.

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So, on Tuesday, I barely hesitated. I put her in the car and headed for A&E. It was 7pm and I didn’t want to leave it any later in case a) the department filled up with drunks, b) the bullseye spread, leading to the symptoms described above and c) if I left it until the morning, she wouldn’t get an appointment at the GP’s surgery for a week. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at the hospital, the antihistamine had worked and a pitifully small bite was the only evidence we could produce while stuttering our explanation of why we’d wasted the time of the over-worked triage nurse. Olive tried to reassure me that we’d done the right thing, but the truth is my common sense had gone out of the window. I really wanted to show the nurse my own symptoms, but realised, just in the nick of time, that this would be inappropriate behaviour

We came home and turned on the news. There was a Government health spokesman saying that A&E departments all over the country are entirely overworked because idiots go there instead of their surgery (not his exact words) and I slunk ever lower in the chair. The next item related to Dame Sally Davies’s apocalyptic report that the lack of new antibiotics is a ‘ticking time bomb’ as diseases become more and more resistant to the ones we have. My own symptoms have disappeared over the days, and when I rang the surgery this morning to cancel the appointment, the receptionist was touchingly grateful.

Thank you for letting us know, she said, as if I’d just handed her a winning lottery ticket. Now, I’m in a panic that the antibiotics last summer didn’t really treat Olive’s Lyme disease, as she shows plenty of the other symptoms, including fatigue and loss of memory. But perhaps that’s because she’s a teenager up to her ears in revision and my common sense has gone out of the window, again?

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