Getting more than an eyeful of fatherhood
I’ll be honest, Saturday didn’t go as planned.
I’d hoped to slide out of the back door when Mrs Canavan wasn’t looking and head for a lengthy walk, perhaps stopping for a lunchtime pint and a sirloin steak in a local hostelry, giving her chance to stay home and have some quality time with the children (I’m so thoughtful).
What happened instead was my two-year-old Mary awoke with a horribly sore-looking right eye which was filled with gunk and looked hideous.
‘Shall we do something about it?’ said Mrs Canavan.
“Do you mean in terms of her looking so ugly and grotesque? Yes, I’ll nip out and buy a mask,” I answered.
‘Daddy, eye hurts,’ Mary said, staring at me pitifully with her eye bulging.
“Do you mind not looking at me love, you’re putting me off my dinner,” I replied, as I shovelled some more beans on toast into my mouth while watching a very interesting item on Saturday Morning Kitchen about Rick Stein visiting an organic trout restaurant in Peru.
Eventually when Mary began sobbing and saying she was in agony, I decided it was unfair to delay taking her to see a medic any longer. Or put another way Saturday Morning Kitchen had finished and there was nothing else decent to watch on TV.
We went to the chemist’s, where I told the pharmacist I thought my daughter had conjunctivitis and needed eye-drops. He peered at her, agreed, but said he couldn’t prescribe eye-drops to a child of her age.
‘I’d advise getting it checked by an optician,’ he said, which I then did - but it was Saturday, they were very busy and said they had no free appointments, and suggested I go to a walk-in centre. I did not want to do this. I mean I love my daughter dearly and clearly her health comes first, but not on a Saturday afternoon when there is a Rugby World Cup to watch.
So to avoid this I went to three further opticians and asked if they could take a look at Mary’s eye, but each time the same thing happened - a sympathetic and smiling young girl would greet me with the words, ‘I’m so sorry but our opticians are tied up with appointments at the moment. Have you tried the walk-in centre?’
There was one more opticians in town. This was make or break. I had to get them to see Mary or I faced the prospect of spending the afternoon at a no doubt packed-to-the-rafters-with-ill-folk walk-in centre, so I pulled out all the stops. I limped through the opticians door, buried Mary’s head into my chest as if she’d just been involved in a dreadful accident, and said to the girl at the desk in desperate tones, ‘Help, I need help. Her eye needs looking at urgently. She’s been weeping for the last 24 hours and saying things like ‘daddy I can’t go on, the pain is too much’. Would you please potentially save this young child’s life and get an optician to look at her?’
She smiled politely and responded: ‘Sorry, we’re busy and have no appointments. Have you tried the walk-in centre?’
So defeated and with the heaviest of hearts we drove into town towards the walk-in centre. It was everything I feared it would be on a Saturday afternoon, so busy with the walking wounded and sick that there was barely a spare seat in the waiting area. It looked like some sort of emergency refugee centre.
I joined the queue to see a receptionist.
On the counter there were three signs. The first read, ‘we’re having a new computer system fitted today, this might cause a delay’.
The second said, ‘due to staff illness service there may be slower service today’.
Then, as if just to make sure we really were depressed as hell, there was a third sign which read, ‘Minimum wait today is 3 hours’. They’d bolded the 3, just to really emphasise it, as if saying ‘that’s right sucker, you’re going to be stuck here for what’s going to feel like forever. Better get used to it pal’.
As I ruefully mulled over the fact that flying to central Europe would take less time than waiting to see a doctor, I decided it wasn’t worth staying, after all I knew it was probably just conjunctivitis. But as I was about to turn and leave I caught sight of Mary’s disfigured eye and concluded that even I, a man with a heart so cold it would if touched give you immediate frostbite, couldn’t leave.
And besides what if it turned out it was something serious and she died in her sleep overnight? I’d have a tricky time explaining to people that I’d not waited for medical assistance because I wanted to get back to watch the England rugby game.
So I stood in line and waited until a receptionist to come free. “Is the sign correct, is it a three-hour wait?” I asked her, desperately hoping she’d smile cheerily at me and say, ‘no, ignore the sign – we just stick that on the counter for a laugh – you’ll be seen within 20 minutes.’
Instead she said, deadpan, ‘yes, it’s three hours’.
I squeezed into a seat in the waiting area between a man wearing shorts and a big plaster on his knee and a woman with a hacking cough who, thoughtfully, turned in my direction every time she let go another. If I’m not ill this week it will be a miracle.
Mercifully – and this is the one situation I’m a fan of technology – I had my mobile phone and was able to put on an episode of Paw Patrol to keep an agitated Mary entertained.
In the end we got lucky. Presumably because of Mary’s age, we only had to wait about 45 minutes (god bless the NHS) before we got to see a doctor, who checked her heartbeat, shone a weird light in her ear (I wanted to quip, ‘no, I think it’s her eye that’s the problem’ – but he seemed a little stressed so I thought better of it), and announced, ‘it’s conjunctivitis, she needs eye-drops’.
And so it was that about three hours since telling my local pharmacist I thought my daughter had conjunctivitis which required eye-drops, I was officially told my daughter had conjunctivitis that required eye-drops.
I laughed ironically, queued to get the eye-drops, which I then attempted to administer to a screaming Mary as she lay on the chair in the waiting room (this resulted in me climbing atop of Mary and pinning her down like a nurse in a mental institute trying to subdue a crazed inmate; it was somewhere between administering eye-drops and assault of a minor).
A few days on my daughter’s eye is a lot better, though my bitterness at losing a precious Saturday has yet to subside.