LIKE most people in this country, I’m a great believer in equality of access to whatever health services we’ve managed to build up in the century that has passed since we took control of our own affairs.
But I can’t be that great a believer, can I, since I’m forking out a small fortune every year to pay for private health insurance – in case I end up in the workhouse. For, like it or not, the workhouse mentality still prevails in a country which not only condones, but blatantly encourages, a two-tier health system.
Thank God, my beliefs have never really been tested, although I do see red every time I hear a rich medical consultant whinging about the state of the public health system and the interminable waiting lists, while his or her private patients get prompt attention and never have to wait too long in pain for an operation, or die on a waiting list.
Anyhow, I think my beliefs are about to be tested. I can’t make up my mind whether to go private or public for a small procedure – they won’t even give it the dignity of calling it an operation – which hundreds of people undergo every week without making even the slightest fuss. The trouble is that I’m a raving hypochondriac, and what may be a ‘procedure’ to others is a major operation to me, and might even require a team of top class surgeons. I could have it done immediately in a private hospital, courtesy of my health insurer, or I could ‘wait to be called’ to the Mid-Western University Hospital. No-one can tell me how long I’d have to wait.
Luckily, it’s not a life or death matter – at least not yet – but I can’t keep myself from thinking that if I go on a waiting list I could be dead before they get to me.
The thing is my vision has been clouded for some time now. This, I suppose, will come as no great surprise to those of you who never really regarded me as a great visionary in the first place. However, it may explain why I no longer recognise old friends when they salute me from the other side of the street, and why I’m so good at seeing the mote in everyone’s eye and missing the beam in my own.
I knew there was a cloud there alright, but I thought it was the infernal weather that was hanging over us all throughout the summer. The salutation that greeted me everywhere I went was not “lovely day” but “cloudy, isn’t it?” – as if I hadn’t noticed.
“You have a cataract,” the optician said calmly, when I went for an eye test, having sat down heavily on my best pair of spectacles a week previously. “A cataract?” I gulped. “I’m not old enough to have developed a cataract.”
“Actually, you are,” the optician replied impatiently.
At that very moment, the said cataract which was dormant up to then, began to act like Niagara Falls and very nearly overwhelmed me. But it was just the hypochondria setting in. Suddenly everything was grey and gloomier than before. Even the weather got worse.
I was over-reacting obviously. Over 50 per cent of Irish people over a certain age develop cataracts, I was told. But surely these are the ones who didn’t eat their carrots when they were young. I ate enough carrots in my time to ward off ‘the Deluge’, not to talk of a little cloud in one eye. I need this cataract like a hole in the head right now, and I don’t deserve it either, unless you can count my furtive reading of comics under the bedclothes with the aid of a bicycle lamp with a run down battery, when I was ten, as a possible source of the cataract.
Also, with the enthusiasm of Icarus himself, I once tried to view a solar eclipse with the naked eye, in case I missed something.
“What are my options?” I ask the optician, who is now quite flabbergasted at the extent of my apprehension. It’s a simple procedure and doesn’t even need a general anaesthetic. In fact it’s so common that I won’t even be able to boast about it at the coffee morning when it’s over.
But if it’s such a simple procedure, why are there such long waiting lists in public hospitals?
Anyway, I didn’t believe her. I went home and Googled cataract operations, and when I discovered that they will have to make an incision in the eye, remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial one - all while I’m wide awake - I had to go and lie down for a couple of hours to recover from the shock. I don’t know if the Health Service is even up to it.
But, while they say that you should never Google medical conditions, it did focus the mind, or, if you like, it resurrected the workhouse mentality. I’d like to be able to stand by my principles, dump the unwanted privileged status and ‘wait to be called’, like all the people who can’t afford private health insurance.
One way or the other, I’ll have to pay, but nothing would give me more pleasure than to be able to give the two fingers to the two-tier health service. Except that I’m a hypochondriac and a hypochondriac will always break under pressure - which is probably why I’ve compromised my equality ideals and gone and invested in private health insurance in the first place.