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13 February 2023

In my broken state, the very last thing I need is to tour Brighton in search of meds

I was more wreck than human being, but at least I was less of a wreck than some of the customers in the chemist.

By Nicholas Lezard

It’s the little things that get you in the end. Maybe it’s having your broadband cut off for non-payment when you were pretty sure you’d paid. Maybe it’s being unable to move one’s right arm. I don’t ask for much: is it outrageous to think it would be nice to fold your hands behind your head while staring up at the ceiling?

Or maybe it’s that the freezer compartment and main body of the fridge have decided to swap functions, so that the bread you normally keep in the former to prevent it from going stale is now flabby, while the milk for your tea is a solid block. (The bright side to having a freezing kitchen is that you don’t really need the fridge.) Or is it the infection that means you feel the urgent need to pee every five minutes, or when you stand up, or when you’ve been lying down, so that you can’t sleep for more than an hour at a stretch?

It was picking up the prescription for the latter that finally sent me into the deep end of despair. The GP sent a text saying that my prescription was awaiting me at Chemist X. This was good news: Chemist X is much nearer to me than Chemist Y, where I used to pick up my meds, and Chemist Y is also up a steep hill, and I did not want to walk up any steep hills if it could be helped.

On the Friday I received that text I was too ill to leave the Hove-l, so left it until Saturday. Even then I was more wreck than human being, but at least I was less of a wreck than some of the customers in Chemist X. I’ll get back to that. But waiting until Saturday was a mistake. For when I got to Chemist X and gave my name they had never heard of me. Did I know my national health number? Of course not. Does anyone know their NHS number? I don’t recall being given one. I know my National Insurance number because that was handed over at school with some ceremony, and the injunction never to forget it. I have not.

I gave them my date of birth but they couldn’t find me on any system. Great, I thought: I am fading out of existence. A man with grey skin, like a ghost, drank up his methadone and left. He looked a bit embarrassed for me. Chemist X is that kind of place.

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Chemist Y is only a mile up the hill but it is in a posh part of town and the last time I was there my name was called out and a nice woman behind me said, “Oh, are you Nicholas Lezard?” and it turned out that a) I was, and b) she had been a BBC publicity person who used to send me press releases when I was a radio critic. We had a lovely chat.

There’s a Chemist Z further down the road which is part of a national chain and is so full of eyelash curlers and lipsticks and perfumes and hair products and nail varnishes and whatnot that you are surprised to see anything medical on the shelves at all. But Chemist X has almost nothing on its shelves apart from Gaviscon, and those things you put in your shoes to stop you from getting blisters. I imagine this is to stop the heroin addicts from supplementing their finances by pinching things anyone would want.

On the Monday I rang the surgery and asked, “What gives, man?” And they said, “Your asthma medication is at Chemist Y and your antibiotics are at Chemist Z.” “So why,” I asked, “did you tell me they were at Chemist X, one of the very few chemists in Brighton which has nothing waiting for me?” They could find no explanation but, far more aggravating, no words of apology either.

As for getting broadband reconnected, I am sure that if you buy it from a company whose name begins with V I do not need to describe the feedback loop from hell that you suffer when trying to speak to a human being, nor the frustrations that arise when you actually do. “What is your memorable word?” being one choice security question. My mind reeled with inappropriate replies but I didn’t want them to ring off, so merely said “I’ve forgotten”.

In the end I managed to get a number that connects you to someone straight away, without having to press one, two, three or four. I have written this number down and put it in a safe place. I will sell it to you: it was dearly bought, after all. With the proceeds I am going to buy a nice pot of methadone, which should take the edge off. But that assumes I can get to the chemist’s without having some kind of accident. I suppose once I’ve had my methadone I won’t care.

[See also: How to save the NHS]

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This article appears in the 15 Feb 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Why the right is losing everywhere