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13 May 2023

Thanks to a shoulder in agony I meet Dr H—, possessed of a lively mind and deep humanity

I tend to get on with the medical profession, but her demeanour suggested an even broader hinterland than usual.

By Nicholas Lezard

And so off to the Royal Sussex County Hospital to see how they’re doing. After all, it’s been a while.

Actually, the real reason is my shoulder, which had been annoyingly painful, from time to time, for months. Then over the weekend it became acutely and permanently painful. I couldn’t sleep; I would groan aloud involuntarily. I went to Boots to buy Solpadeine Max, the Big Daddy of over-the-counter painkillers, and for all the good they did they might as well have been Smarties.

So, naturally, I assumed arm cancer and went to A&E for an X-ray to determine how far it had progressed, and how long was left to me. I charged up my phone and brought a book, for the last time I was there it took four hours or so, and that was with alarming chest pains. A hurty shoulder? I could be in A&E all week.

[See also: A train to Oxford means either a broken heart or the middle class at its most benign]

The waiting room was packed as usual when I got there, but they took my blood pressure quickly enough.

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“How is it?” I asked the nurse taking it.

“Better than mine,” she said. Which I must admit came as a bit of a surprise.

I was then handed a piece of paper and told to go to the Urgent Treatment Centre (UTC). Yikes, I thought, even the junior sister could see the gravity of the situation. The waiting room at the UTC was empty apart from a receptionist with that flicky-up eyeliner that makes you look like Cleopatra. A couple of women walked in.

“My friend here thinks she might have broken her arm,” said one.

“She’ll have to get a slip from A&E,” said the receptionist.

“But we’ve just come from there!”

This conversation went back and forth but in the end the women left, disgruntled.

“So rude,” said the receptionist, either to me or the empty air.

Eventually, a GP in scrubs called my name and took me to a consulting room. As it happens, while those medical professionals whose job includes calling out people’s names generally have little trouble with the “Nicholas” part of my name, the “Lezard” is open to a wide range of pronunciations, none of them, ever, correct. This doctor, however, got it right. She asked me what I did.

“I’m a useless layabout,” I said. Actually, I didn’t. I said, “I’m a writer,” which amounts to more or less the same thing, at least in my case.

“Ah, I thought I’d heard of you,” she said. “Don’t you write for the Guardian?”

“I did, for 25 years, until they sacked me.”

“Oh no! Why?”

“The closest I got to an explanation was ‘we’ve been looking at the metrics’.”

“What does that mean?”

“Search me.”

We discussed my symptoms. I tend to like and get on well with the medical profession, but something about Dr E— H—’s (for that is her name) demeanour and vocabulary suggested an even broader hinterland than usual.

I raised my fears of bone cancer and to her great credit she took my suggestion seriously, and without pooh-poohing. She explained that such a condition would present very differently, and described how. She diagnosed instead a frozen shoulder – or adhesive capsulitis – whose causes are unknown and for which there is no treatment except maybe steroid injections, which are not guaranteed to work. The condition itself lasts for months, if not years, but eventually just goes away.

I couldn’t think of anything to say except, “I now write for the New Statesman.” I was going to add that this is a highly regarded and influential politics and arts publication but she cut me off by saying: “Yes, I read that on the train. That and the London Review of Books.” Thus was her lively mind and deep humanity explained.

“Yes, they’re good for the train,” I agreed lamely.

“So, what do you write about for them?” she asked, while printing off a leaflet about Frozen Shoulders.

“Oh, just my life, really. I’ll probably be writing about this.”

“Well, be nice about me.”

So, readers: let the record state that Dr E— H— of the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton, is not only a credit to her profession, but a deeply rounded human being who also seems like someone who would be fun to go to the pub with, and if there were more like her the world would be a better place. I wonder if she could score me some morphine, as this shoulder is driving me nuts. There could be three years of this. Three sodding years!

[See also: A breakage means I might soon be drinking wine from a jam jar, like an effing hipster]

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This article appears in the 17 May 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Left Power List