THIS year I have been witness to a trilogy of events that exposed the best and worst of our various health- care systems.

First, in January, we discovered that my wife needed a hysterectomy. This was done through Bupa. The service was good, the food excellent and she has made a superb recovery. All appointments were kept on time and we were surrounded by efficiency, although patronised to an extreme. We had to complete one questionnaire at the outset, discreetly assisted by the sister, who afterwards provided me with a fantastic telephone helpline on how to operate the cooker, the washer and the deep-fat fryer.

Then, in April, my son decided to run into a car. The result was a broken ankle that required surgery and all sorts of ironmongery.

This was done in a National Health hospital as an emergency. We arrived on the scene when he was already in a ward awaiting his turn in the operating theatre. We completed four questionnaires, aided by five different staff members; there was a shift change part- way through one of them. I can't be certain, but I think all four questionnaires were identical.

We were told that priority in the theatre was given to the most serious cases, which seemed sensible, and that we were fifth on the list but that our status could change if something more serious cropped up. We decided we had time to go home, get something to eat and return before our son went under the knife. In our absence he was told that he might not get into the theatre that evening and, as his ankle would shortly swell, he would probably not be in a condition to operate on for a week.

This didn't seem a good idea so I rang the Bupa hospital where my wife had been a patient - by now it was 9pm. I was told that an operating theatre was available, a surgeon could be found and a transfer was possible. I was advised 'to negotiate' with the National Health staff as the consultant in charge might wish to undertake the private work himself.

In due course a pleasant young doctor arrived and told me that the consultant would be pleased to operate privately if that was my wish, but that it would take several hours to move the patient and that the type of surgery involved was best not done half-asleep in the early hours. However, there had been some confusion about the queue for the operating theatre; they could do him straight away. The surgery was successful and our son has recovered well.

Next it was the turn of my dog, Eisenhower. One evening in May he ran out to greet my wife on her return from work. Like all males, his enthusiasm exceeded his physical abilities and he ended up doing ungraceful splits half-way up the garden steps, then falling in a heap. I thought he'd broken a leg, if not something more serious, and delivered him to our local vet. She arrived at the same opinion as me and, worse, suspected spinal damage. Eisenhower was sedated and confined to cage for the evening.

After a telephone discussion I was asked to assist the next morning in preparation for X-rays, my duty being to prevent dog from biting vet. She invited me to wait and discuss the results. I didn't like this. Would I have to give the old boy the thumbs down and then break the news to the family? As it turned out, nothing was broken; Eisenhower has arthritis and had suffered a bad spasm. He's taking tablets now, reluctantly, but he is alive and appears happy.

How much did it all cost? The dog was pounds 100, the hysterectomy ran into thousands, but in reality was pounds 80 a month family health cover. Heaven alone knows what the ankle job cost. I wonder if the NHS does?

I now know more about my dog's arthritis than I do about my wife's hysterectomy. I know more about my wife's hysterectomy than I do about my son's ironmongery. And by the way, I didn't complete any questionnaires at the vet.