Harriet Walker: I was broken – the NHS put me back together


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Independent Voices

If you think the Coalition is being inflexible over public-sector pensions, that's nothing compared with the rigidity of the ankle boot that broke my left leg in three places last week. I'd never spent time in hospital beyond visiting hours before, so I had no idea what to expect. But I'm writing this from home, encased thigh-high in fibreglass, so something must have gone right.

In fact, I was impressed, relieved and reduced to tears at times by the sturdy resilience of the NHS, the flexibility and pragmatism of which has something to teach the Coalition and bootmakers alike.

In all, I met about 12 different doctors during my five-day stay, talking to each of them once; there was no pater figure who oversaw my case from crack to crutches. I hadn't a clue what was going to happen next, but they did. Bewildering and frustrating as it was, I realise now that the system doesn't have time for the personal care one might expect – this comes from the nurses and healthcare assistants rather than from on high. You just have to trust the experts.

There were delays (I waited two days for an operation) and mistakes (A&E missed one of the fractures), but here I am, with an impressive seven-inch rod in my calf to hold everything together forever.

People complain about sloppiness in healthcare. I can only say thank God I don't live in America. It doesn't seem fair to examine the NHS with the usual microscope of customer satisfaction, because it isn't something you pick out like a decorative cushion. It's something you don't think about until you need it. And when you need it, you really need it.

There were dark moments: the sociopathic nurse who left me drugged and crying in the dark, placed my handbag on my chest and told me to phone my mum; that same Nightingale told my neighbour she was sick of her and would rather be "down the pub". But that was one person – and she was outnumbered by abusive patients.

Hospitals are not very nice places; any sense of comfort comes from bittersweet poignancy and selflessness. I wouldn't choose to spend time in one, but I'm grateful some people do. We're all as sick of waiting lists and bureaucracy as I was of seeing Andrew Lansley's face on my pay-per-view television every day. But the NHS has become so political a topic that we've forgotten the human brilliance of it. I was broken and now I am fixed. Yes, it costs a lot of money but it also requires something that is free: trust.

Get real about the effect of ads

It's been a turbulent week in ad-land, with Benetton removing the Pope from its campaign and the banning of two campaigns – aftershave brand Lynx, fronted by a page 3 girl in various hyper-sexualised scenarios; and fashion label Miu Miu, which had teen actress Hailee Steinfeld sitting contemplatively on railway tracks.

One was offensive, the other promoted suicide, the ruling said. But really, which is more harmful? Miu Miu's imagery is a portrait, and a thoughtful one at that. There is nothing violent or foreboding about it; Steinfeld has all her clothes on.

Lynx should have been stopped long ago; castigating Miu Miu is a case of shutting the stable door long after the clothes-horse has bolted.