Darcus Howe suffers a plague of boils

I am struck down by a plague of boils, but saved by a free health service

I am currently very ill indeed, so much so that, if there is any lapse in care, I shall be headed for disaster. As you may recall, I went on holiday to the Caribbean island of Tobago. Now I am in the island's only hospital, in Scarborough, the capital - though, as I lie in bed, I am barely able to distinguish between Scarborough, Yorkshire, and Scarborough, Tobago. I arrived here last Monday, my entire system poisoned by a marauding pack of boils. They had latched on to my left buttock, and spread from there, causing havoc throughout my physical system.

I have spent nights in howling pain. I applied a local remedy of pepper leaves and soft candle. But the boils appeared to thrive on these local medicines. I turned to a professionally qualified pharmacist, who drew up a poultice according to modern medical practice, but again to no avail. What began as boils turned to abscesses and finally to carbuncles. Mrs Howe worked tirelessly to find remedies from all over the computerised globe.

After 14 days, including Christmas and New Year, I had lost so much weight that I was hardly recognisable. To Mrs Howe and me, the abscesses had assumed a collective social personality - a Norse god, Viking maybe.

Finally, there was no avoiding the surgeon's blade. My friends, all of them, warned me against the local health service. The local hospital was a death trap, they said. Yet on every occasion I probed their complaints to get more precise details, the truth dissolved into thin air.

A Victorian hospital it certainly is, and ramshackle, too. Asbestos predominates in the architecture, and everything that is backward in third-world hospitals exists here. But I am an NHS man. I called the dingy place and got an appointment for three hours later. I arrived on time. After a few questions, an examination of the crucial organs was carried out immediately. Mrs Howe, who works in middle management at a hospital in London, confirmed that the pre-operative procedures were fine. Within half an hour of arriving, I was being wheeled into the theatre and an anaesthetist was stroking my face into oblivion. Ten minutes later, the mother of all battles against carbuncles was won - under the local health service, all for free.