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Mary Dejevsky: Does A&E have to be quite so painful?


It comes to something when the most considerate individual you meet in an excruciating couple of hours is a London cab driver. He helped me out of his taxi and asked if I was OK. As he had dropped me off at the A&E department of a major hospital, I (foolishly) assumed I would be.

Lesson One. If you have slipped when getting on to a bus and one of your legs can no longer bear your weight; if you have swung yourself off said bus in acute pain, wolfed down a couple of aspirin that by happy chance lurked in your bag, clung to the bus stop for support and pathetically winched yourself into a cab, you shouldn't have tried to save the ambulance service the trouble. If you arrive at this particular London hospital's A&E under your own steam, they command you to carry on "walking". No, you can't have a stick, or a crutch, or anything else to get you from the door - "you have to be measured for one first". You see, they said, as I fell on to a chair, you can do it.

Lesson Two. If you don't want to have to shout out your personal details so loudly as to invite identity theft (largely because the other reception staff are bitching fortissimo about their bosses), mime a bad case of laryngitis and you will be given your own form to fill out.

Lesson Three. Always carry something to read. I don't know who selected the poems they have thoughtfully inscribed on the ceiling, but I could have done without Lynn Peters' I suspect. It reads:

"I suspect,

There would be more poems

About Sex

If it rhymed with more than,

Pecks, Necks, Erects and Ejects,

This begins to sound promising,

I may write one."

After I staggered through to be examined – on the arm of one of the reception staff who still insisted that I could walk quite well without her aid – everything looked up. The nurse practitioner on duty took one feel of my foot and summoned a wheelchair; I was X-rayed, put in plaster and duly measured for crutches. I must, said the nurse – unhelpfully, I felt, in the circumstances - have a high pain threshold. No, I wanted to yell at her, just a combination of willpower and no choice.

I asked why no one would give you a stick or a crutch in reception. She said it was to stop people leaving without getting treated. If I felt strongly, I could lodge a complaint...

To the lessons I've learned, I'd like to add two for A&E – aside from suggesting that a hand rail might be a better investment than a permanently-off flat-screen TV. One: professional women of a certain age may be a pain in the neck because of their air of self-reliance. But that doesn't mean there's nothing wrong with them. Don't be fooled. Periodically, far, far more serious cases than mine come to light of women who are fobbed off at A&E, and turn out, too late, to be critically ill. Believe me, it's not about superior pain thresholds, it's about willpower and having other things to do. We only go anywhere near an emergency service in utter desperation. And Two: to borrow Michel Roux's quip about service – "A great restaurant deserves a great front of house" – so too does a great hospital.

One Hyde Park – why all the compliments?

In a helter-skelter week for political and other news, the British media still found ample space to cover the completion – at last – of One Hyde Park. (Well done the PR industry.) If you really still don't know, these are the lavish flats designed, on the outside, by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners and, on the inside, by the Candy brothers, which occupy the corner of Knightsbridge where the Bowater office block once stood.

But my relief that the works are over – anyone travelling regularly between West and Central London will have had plenty of time to contemplate progress, caught in construction-related lane-closures – has been tempered by the overwhelmingly benevolent reviews. Even a critic bold enough to seek a second opinion from passers-by failed to elicit much more than apathy.

Well, they should have asked me. I hate this building – and not because only the global super-rich will live there. I hate it because it gives barely a hint of the park behind; I hate it because it fills this prime site to its limits every which way; I hate it because of its dark glass and steel brashness. Above all, though, I hate it because – like so much new building in London today – it is so completely out of sympathy and proportion to its surroundings. Whoever signed off on this monstrosity? Might they have been seduced by the Rogers and Candy brands? Where was Prince Charles when his country needed him?

Americana that travels

Determined not to let injury stunt pleasure, I settled in happily for the Radio 3 relay of Rigoletto, live from New York's Met Opera, on Saturday evening. These broadcasts – even with the mannered presentation that the American broadcasters provide – offer at once a sublime example of what technology can do and the most wonderful window on another world. Heard from this side of the Atlantic, these productions – I've never been, though I was tempted to get on the plane after hearing Don Carlo in the same series last month - invariably seem lustier, more full-blooded and more risky than those at our own Covent Garden. Tannhäuser broadcast recently from the Royal Opera House, seemed a particular case in point.

But not everything American travels. A while ago, at the museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, we luxuriated in the down-home work of Norman Rockwell. In its context, it's perfect – as is listening to bluegrass while driving on the turnpike. But just as I wouldn't relish bluegrass on the M1, I'm not sure that the Dulwich Picture Gallery is quite the place to savour Rockwell's western hemisphere Socialist Realism.