You know those people who say: “I’ve never been in hospital”? I’m not one of them.
In fact, as a kid I think my mum should have got me a season ticket for the infirmary.
It was a heady mix of being a clumsy child along with a 60s approach to childhood ailments – and one case of a spectacular attempt at skiving school gone badly wrong.
The clumsy part accounted for two of my trips to A&E.
In a Primary 5 PE class we were all told to run around the gym as fast as we could, picking bean bags off the floor in a relay race thing. I was haring towards the finishing line – all ready for my team to grab victory – when suddenly I hit the deck.
Now, I’m pretty sure Craig Jack stuck his foot out from the sidelines but, in truth, I probably tripped over my own feet, as I was want to do.
Whichever it was, I hit the floor at speed. This would be the floor the jannie had just polished. So there was no friction to stop me sliding with a fair degree of velocity into a pile of chairs stacked at the side. I was lucky though. My nose broke the impact.
I still remember the shrieks from the girls as I sat up dazed with a geyser of blood spraying the immediate surrounds. I was not popular with the jannie.
Anyway, it was serious enough for Mrs Tulloch to put wads of paper towels around my nose and drive me to the hospital in her own car. Trust me, in those days that was unheard of.
Turns out I had gashed my nose, not broken it and was stitched up then told to sit in the waiting room until my mum arrived on the bus. No molly-coddling back then, I’ll tell you.
My next mishap wasn’t so much clumsy as daft. I was dared to jump off a neighbour’s shed, but declined. Then I was double-dared. No one refuses a double dare. Besides, a Tarzan call and a leap of faith will always see you right.
Until you miss the grass, hit the side of the concrete slab, with an audible crack that had my cheering and jeering mates silenced. I stood up, went white, fell over.
I was actually carried to my mum’s door with two mates making a hand seat for me, between them. Deposited with a “he fell, Mrs Begbie”, they scarpered. And that was me back on the bus to the infirmary, with a bit of hobbling involved all round.
An X-ray later, I was told I had chipped a bone, it was going to hurt, now go home and don’t be so stupid again. Ah, the 60s.
Although I do blame the 60s for my next close encounter with a hospital ward. It was the sore throat that did it.
The doctor came round, shone a torch in my mouth and said: “His tonsils are a bit inflamed. We’ll get them out.”
Because back then, the first sign of tonsillitis meant they were outta there. Cue a trip to the hospital in the bus (you might have figured by now we didn’t have a car because neither mum nor dad ever learned to drive).
Back in the day, they had wards more or less devoted to kids getting their tonsils cut out. It was like a holiday camp, with some over-excited urchins running around creating bedlam and others greeting in their beds for their mums. I was in the bedlam faction until a very stern nurse went Sergeant Major on the lot of us.
I can still remember her. Big, spotless, and starched and with a look in her eye that would fear grown men, never mind wee boys. Think Hattie Jacques crossed with Hannibal Lecter and you’re in the ball park.
As I was wheeled away to the operating theatre, I had a touch of the fear. Especially when that big gas mask descended over my mouth and nose, started to hiss, there was a weird smell and then all these dayglow swirling spirals and triangles broke out. And don’t forget the echoes… echo… echo.
Next thing I know, I’m rolling over in a bed, puking and greeting for my mum. Still, ice cream and jelly had me sorted out. Eventually.
In those days you got a job lot with the NHS. If your tonsils were coming out, so were your adenoids. I have no idea what they are or what they do, but they were away. Except in my case they weren’t. Apparently they were not excised sufficiently and grew back and I started talking like the bloke in the Tunes advert, not that I ever asked for a second class return to Nottingham.
These days, there would be talk of malpractice and demands for an apology from the NHS for putting me through so much suffering again. Back then, it was just back on the bus, back on the ward and ice cream and jelly time.
Which brings us to my final childhood trip to the hospital – and one for which I only have myself to blame.
I was in second year at High School and really did not want to do double French.
For a couple of days I had been getting a stitch in my side when I ran, so rather than getting up I cried at my mum about it being so sore, with lots of ooyahs and sharp intakes of breath.
She was convinced enough to put me back to bed and call the doctor (house calls, how retro).
Said GP arrived and asked me to tell him all about it. So I described the grumbling pain that was sometimes really sharp and had me doubling over (pack of lies, by the way. I just wanted a day on the couch with Lucozade and tomato soup and no need to remember French verbs).
Anyway, he looked me over then pressed sharply down on my right side. I yelped (give the boy a BAFTA). Then, the doctor lifted his hand away really quickly and looked at me intently. I twigged he was looking for a reaction so I gave him one. I screamed in (kid on) agony. Give the boy an Oscar.
He looked at my mum and said in serious tones: “We need to get his appendix out. Now”.
Next thing an ambulance was at the door and I’m being blue-lighted into hospital. Oops.
Once on the ward, it was the same round of questions, the same pushing and prodding, the same test of my acting skills. Then I was being prepped for surgery.
As I was being wheeled down the corridor towards the operating theatre, I thought: “I’ve taken this too far.”
But it was too late by this time to jump off the trolley and shout: “Just kidding.”
Can you imagine the hiding? Far better to face major open wound surgery (keyholes were for keys in those days).
I spent several days in a hospital ward with a stitched up side, followed by three weeks off school.
For. No. Reason. At. All.
Still, I did get the day off I wanted and a bit more. The irony was, the school sent homework to the house for me. The first batch was French. Merde.
I never, ever confessed to my mum about that. It was a close secret among trusted friends at the time and years later a good yarn to tell. Except to mum. She was none the wiser.
Then, literally decades later, my missus and I were visiting my mum for Sunday lunch and having a laugh about the old days, when my wife piped up: “Like that time you had your appendix taken out for a skive.”
Silence. A Paddington extra hard stare from mum. Then gales of laughter as the story unfurled. Phew.
So, what have I learned from my time at the tender mercy of the NHS? Cherish it. Be proud of it. We’re so lucky to have it – especially when you’re a daft 13-year-old with a dislike of French.