He might have been a power-mad despot but he knew a thing or two did "Old Boney", and I cannot help but think it was fate which led to my first encounter with the New Zealand Health Service.
And so begins the story.....
I must apologise in advance for labouring through the circumstances leading up to my chance encounter with the medical services, but I feel these events themselves are worthy of mention before I take you to the Medical Centre.
Firstly fate conspired to match an early-finish meeting with an unusually low tide, which provided ample time and opportunity for a spot of evening rock fishing - not the easiest or best way to catch your dinner but usually a bit of fun and a chance to watch a fantastic sunset and catch up with a couple of mates. So me and a mate head off down to the local beach for a couple of hours.
Not a hugely successful haul - two undersized snapper that had to go back - but it was certainly worth the effort and, after a couple of hours we head back to his place to to sink a quick beer and tell a few fishing lies out on his deck. After one beer - note that well, one beer - it was getting too dark and we both had work the day after, so it was time to head home. We had plenty of stuff to carry (including tonnes of plums for an imminent wine brewing venture) so my mate offered me a lift home. He gathered some stuff together and headed across the back garden towards the car. Chipshaker Junior, true to form, followed him carrying as little as possible, leaving me to gather up a tackle box, two pairs of wet jandals and an 8ft fishing rod.
With no outside lights I headed barefoot for roughly the point where the steps down from the deck should be. Having successfully negotiated the four steps I thought there should be, I set off walking to head round the side of the house. Unfortunately, the existence of a fifth step mean that my mind and body, geared to travel in a horizontal direction, were not prepared for the remaining six or seven inches of vertical drop that followed! Now I have no idea how spectacular the fall actually looked but, if it is proportionate to the pain that followed, it would have been impressive. Truth be known I don't really know what happened, except for a couple of things that were immediately apparent - the amount of blood coming from my knee meant that it had come into contact with the concrete pad at the bottom of the steps, the pain in my right foot meant that I had definitely not landed smoothly, and the air rushing out of my lungs, combined with the excruciating pain in my right testicle meant that the butt of the 8ft fishing rod had tried to break my fall...unsuccessfully. Completely unable to cry out, I lay in a ball for a few minutes, listening to my mate carrying on a conversation with me from round the side of the house that I had no hope of participating in. Eventually, I recovered enough to test out the extent of the damage and managed to hobble round to the car, where I had to try to explain what had happened.
Anyway, to cut a long story a little shorter, I was delivered home where, after packing up the fishing gear, I advised Chipshaker Jr that all I wanted was a beer and a sit down. "I'll get you the beer Dad........CRASH!". I turned round to see the puddle of beer expanding across the garage floor, with Jr stood in the middle of it, the blood slowly mixing with the beer and broken glass.
I then eased myself into a sitting position, and helped Jr sit down in a dry patch, so as to avoid standing on any more glass. I then began to pick up the larger pieces of glass, after first establishing that Jr had only nicked his foot.
And that was the point Mrs C returned home, to find us both sat on the floor, bleeding, in a pool of blood, beer and broken glass!!
"What the hell is going on here?!"
And so we come to my encounter with the local Medical Centre.
After cleaning up my knee it turned that, whilst being the most painful of the various injuries, it was in fact the least serious and was now being overtaken in the pain stakes by my rapidly expanding big toe! Having broken a few bones in my youth, I was familiar with that special aching, throbbing pain that comes with broken bones, and I was fairly certain I had broken the toe. I also knew there was bugger all that could be done for broken toes, so I gobbled down a few painkillers, had another beer and went to bed.
That was Thursday night and, faced with a number of meetings and a huge "To Do" list, I headed off for work on Friday morning, armed with enough painkillers to hopefully see me through the day. However, by lunchtime it became very apparent that this was probably a very silly thing to have done and by 4pm my left foot was its usual size 7 whereas the right foot was a size 9, with unattractive shades of blue and purple. On arriving home, I succumbed to the pressure and agreed to let Mrs C take me to the medical centre.
And what a truly glorious experience it was!!!
At first, it seemed like any other emergency waiting room - rather sterile, the walls decorated with posters warning me about sexually transmitted diseases and the dangers of sneezing on people, and a TV playing to itself in the background.
Then gradually, you realised that, along with everyone else in the waiting room, your attention had subconsciously been drawn to the TV.....
"and so now we are going to perform an incision around Maureen's scalp, draw back the forehead and incise around the ears. We pull up and staple into place........CLICK, CLICK, CLICK"
"Two weeks later Maureen visits Dr Smith's dental surgery.......and we remove the fillings like so, drill around the teeth [weeeeeeeee, weeeeeeee, WEEEEEEEEEEE] and insert the new caps over the top"
As if the TV wasn't enough, the nurse on duty then felt compelled to compete with these outside influences and picked up the phone...
"Yes, this is the Medical Centre, I have a woman with an amputated fractured finger and I called for an ambulance a while back......well do you know how long it will be?.......well yes, it's just hanging on by a scrap of skin....it's on it's way? Okay, thanks"
Then, turning to the gathered crowd of pale onlookers, she addressed us collectively, seeking out her next victim....
"Darryl? [big bloke with bandaged calf (the bottom bit of his leg, not a young farm animal) stands up nervously] Yes, can you come this way please....[heading down the corridor] it's just a tetanus is it? Righto. And it was a shark bite was it? Dear me, how many stitches?......27 STITCHES! My word!"
Now that's what I call health care! No drawn curtain, no patient discretion, just full-on graphic commentary for the enjoyment of all.
I went in feeling very dejected and in a great deal of discomfort, but I came out extremely uplifted, having enjoyed perhaps the greatest moments of unintentional comedy I have seen for a very long time. I was also resolved to never go there with any kind of ailment I wouldn't freely admit to others, for fear of walking down the corridor to the loud accompaniment of..... "so, it's just the penis suppurating profusely is it? We'll soon get that sorted"
And the best thing of all? The whole experience, glorious as it was, lasted less than an hour and the nurse even put some cream on my grazed knee!!
As a post script to this wonderful experience, I went back to the medical centre yesterday morning for an X-ray to confirm the extent of the damage. It is indeed broken as suspected but most impressive of all was the way the doctor nonchalantly took down a book from the shelf entitled "Practical Fracture Treatment", which he proceeded to flick through before writing up his treatment notes. Now I know these guys have to learn a lot, and they can't possibly know everything, but I'm not too sure they should be learning on the job!
If we think about this carefully, I diagnosed a broken toe on the Thursday night, which was considered to be a correct diagnosis when viewed by a doctor on Friday night, confirmed by an X-ray on Saturday morning and treated by reference to a text book and use of multiple strips of Band Aid. In the past, I have also correctly predicted tonsillitis in myself and my children and successfully treated it with salt water gargles, convinced Mrs C that the children have a heat rash not meningitis, identified chicken pox, and have treated several deep wounds (in myself and close friends and family) with home-made butterfly stitches, thus generally avoiding a four hour sojourn fighting off the unwanted attentions of drunks and drug addicts in British hospital waiting rooms .
I can't help but feel I may be somewhat wasted in my current job and can see a future with the Chipshaker Travelling Medicine Show. After all, it doesn't really seem that difficult and, if anyone in New Zealand can be an estate agent, surely the conditions for being a doctor can't be that rigorous?