Quiet weekend? Mine was, until about 3.15 on Saturday afternoon when the chest pain started. Nothing to worry about, I thought at first. Then it spread to my back and up towards the right side of my jaw.
That’s when we phoned 111. And after a very short conversation with the call handler, he said the words ‘the ambulance is on its way’.
Enter the freelance paramedics
The arrival of male and female, green-clad, machine-bearing wonderbeings made me start to feel better (Brexiters look away now: one was Irish, the other had an indeterminate Spanish/Italian accent – both were utterly incredible). Getting rigged up to the ECG machine took minutes, and the print-out was clear, so I was assured. This first bit of good news was followed by blood pressure check and a once over with a stethoscope.
I was then presented with a choice; go to hospital for a blood check to search out an enzyme that usually lives in the heart but tends to leach out if you’ve had a heart attack (cardiac event, in medical-speak – which I was rapidly becoming fluent in) or stay at home and avoid the late afternoon queue in A&E. No brainer, I thought; then I was put on to the paramedics’ controller, who very efficiently scared the ‘bejeezus’ out of me, according to the Irish paramedic (not being stereotypical: that’s really what she said!).
In the ambulance, I learned that my paramedics were self-employed contractors working for Falck, a rather strange concept and one that – although grateful for at the time – does make me wonder, yet again, about the extent of privatisation in the NHS.
So, were away to A&E with my wife following on behind. At A&E, the service was so swift I’d had blood taken and been chest x-rayed before my wife had parked the car and found the cubicle. The chest x-ray was delivered to the supervising medics virtually instantaneously, but the blood test result took a little over two hours. But an all-clear, accompanied by the instruction to see my GP as soon as possible after the holiday weekend was worth the wait.