If they gave out loyalty cards at the minor injuries unit, we would certainly be eligible for a free X-ray by now; or maybe a gift token for some paracetamol. Perhaps every 10 visits you might get to jump the queue or have access to a club lounge. Instead of a card with coffee cups there would be images of broken toes or, possibly, small stitch marks. You might worry that this could encourage people to hurt themselves, but I see it more as incentivising them to hurt themselves only in a minor way.
Monday saw our latest visit there after the boy got injured at karate class. He is gunning for his black belt, so the fighting can be fairly ferocious. Seriously, it’s like a Ukip meeting in there. He had been taking part in some kind of tournament in which, he assured us, he had done rather well.
“I got a medal,” he said proudly. “The purple heart?” I suggested. “Actually, no,” he replied smugly, brandishing a gold medal between his now strapped-up fingers. This was, I admit, a good result, although a silver medal with no injuries might have been more holistically satisfying.
But that was later. The first I knew of the affair was an exasperated call from my wife informing me that the boy had “probably broken his finger”. Ordinarily I would not have been too exercised; he has several more. But, not for the first time, he had managed to crock himself on the eve of an overseas visit. He was due to leave for a school trip the following morning, so any repair work would have to be done in a hurry. This meant another long evening in an NHS waiting room, either at the minor injuries unit or even in casualty.
The minor injuries unit, I can manage; but casualty is no fun with a broken finger. It just isn’t serious enough. You think you are nearing the front of the queue and then someone arrives with a real problem and you are back pouring coins into the vending machine for a watery hot chocolate and some Blue Riband biscuits. (I’ve never understood why hospital vending machines are the sole remaining outlet for snacks not seen since the 1970s. It’s as if the NHS made a bulk purchase during the Callaghan government and is still working through them.)
My wife was uncompromising. “You can bloody well do this one,” she said. This is the problem with teenagers: your threshold for sympathy is a lot higher than when they were seven. We require real damage to break through the ice of exasperation. Once a possible broken finger brought out the parental instinct to hug and comfort the injured spawn. Now we just think, “What a pillock.” Time was when my wife would have rushed to be with her wounded calf. These days she sees an opportunity for her husband to “lean in”. We had been even less sympathetic two years earlier when, days before a summer holiday that was going to involve a lot of walking, he managed to fracture a toe jumping on one of his friends at a trampoline park. There was little discussion of how he was. We moved straight on to a Cincinnati Kid-style high stakes poker game over which one of us was taking him to hospital.
This time the story had a happy ending in that it turned out the unit closed before I got home, so my wife had to take him after all. It is not, I recognise, entirely collegiate of me to see the event in these terms but you have to take your wins where you can.
I was still girded for the demand to drive him to casualty when he phoned to let me know that it was merely “soft tissue damage” — or a sprain as we used to call it — and they were on the way home. Not wanting to look like I had not done my bit, I stopped in at the Tesco Metro and bought him some Alka-Seltzer.
The boy himself was phlegmatic as usual, more interested in the victory than the injury. My wife was relieved both for him and that it had taken only 20 minutes. The staff at the MIU were lovely, she said. We’ll definitely go back. I must check if they do a club card.
Illustration by Lucas Varela