Health Care in Civilized Countries

I’m a citizen of both  Canada and the UK, countries where universal health care is taken for granted.

What’s critical for universal health care is the principle that underpins it — all have a right to good health care.  No matter how much or how little you contribute, health services will be provided to you.  If you abuse drugs and alcohol, or eat your way into ill health, if you never pay a penny towards the National Insurance scheme – because your earnings are insufficient, if you have a chronic illness where you will require pricy care your whole life, or a disability that prevents you from working, if you have ten children that you can’t support and they have many health needs, if you develop an illness that has high treatment costs – doesn’t make a bit of difference, you will receive health care.

What is right and holy is how the contract recognizes that each of us is of value, that the physical and mental health of each separate one of us is the concern of all of us.  It’s John Donne’s no man is an island,  put into action.

I’m lucky.  Until last year I rarely saw my doctor.  My kids, growing up, were rarely sick – partly due to the NHS immunization program – free of charge of course.

But during the last nine months here is what I’ve received from our National Health Services :

An early hours ambulance ride to emergency;   assessment and treatment of a blocked bile duct; surgery — removal of the gall bladder; follow up care.

Two GP appointments for symptoms that led to investigations for cancer; blood screens, urine screens, xrays;  assessment and treatment by  a consultant gynaecologist  — minor surgery and  biopsies.  (BTW I got the all clear).

I should add to this list:

routine annual appointment with practice nurse for assessment of blood pressure

routine biannual test for bowel cancer

routine breast cancer assessment

annual invitation to avail myself of the influenza shot

and recently, invitation to come in for a (once in a lifetime) pneumonia shot.

I’m getting old.  The invitations are coming thick and fast.  I understand I can have a shot to prevent shingles.  I will accept the invitation. I should mention too that the health care I received during the last nine months was stellar — compassionate, efficient, effective — and free.

I receive no bills for any of the above.  I am post retirement age therefore any prescription medicine I require is free of charge.  Whilst in gainful employment,   had I needed prescription medicine I would have paid a small fixed cost at the pharmacy. No matter how much the product costs NHS,  the cost to the patient is fixed.

I no longer make NI contributions.  My measly offering to the treasury consists of small income tax deductions.  Long retired, my income, and therefore my contribution, is much reduced.  Luckily, especially at the peak of my career I earned good money, so was privileged to be able to contribute fairly to our social security system.  I hope I’ve paid in more than I’ll ever take out.  I hope I’ve helped those less fortunate than I am.

Thankfully the majority of Canadians and Brits think as I do.  We value our social security and healthcare system. We fight to maintain it.

We think the USA is mad.

Why don’t they be like us?

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I Nearly Died

I’m not dying, imminently.  Excepting if our house blows up tonight because there is a gas leak and bang! The explosion kills us both, instantly. Or a sneaky clot is making its slow way to my heart or brain, to fast-track me to oblivion.  God knows.

Death was imminent a couple of weeks back.  Oh, at first my doctor made soothing noises when I moaned about my chronic neck pain. He’d write me a prescription for anti-inflammatory cream.  Also, I said,  I can’t raise my left arm above my head and there’s a lump on my clavicle.

I know it’s called a clavicle as well as a collar bone because I like fortune cookie sized bits of knowledge from the google machine.

‘Oh,’ he said. He looked suspiciously at the lump, ‘Just to be sure,’ he said.

And innocently, ‘When did we last do a blood screen?’

To rule out cancer, of course, including bone cancer.  Also a special urine test to rule out lymph node cancer.   Also an x-ray.  I specialize in hypochondria but here was an honest to God symptom to worry about.  I was surely dying.  Ian demurred.  He said I was worrying needlessly because look how much energy I had and I didn’t look sick.

I was in a celebratory mood a week later.  Negative findings from the tests!  I was so happy to be not dying that I purchased shoes.  The following day blood leaked from my post menopausal vagina.

I’ve heard of political prisoners subjected to a method of torture called ‘mock execution’. It’s where they take you out to the firing squad or the gallows, but it’s a joke and they bring you back to your cell again. You go through the emotions attendant upon imminent death but you don’t die.  And then, later, when they come for you again you think. ‘Oh another gag!’ but this time they really take you out.

My doctor was on holiday but the triage nurse said I should come in right away anyway.  The triage nurse is the one who decides who can wait until tomorrow or next week to be seen and who needs to be seen immediately, that is, who is close to death. The duty doctor ID’d  a ‘lesion’ on my cervix.  ‘Lesion’ is a death heralding type of word.

How long did I have? Why did I buy those shoes?  More stuff to sort through and dispose off before I jetted off to the netherworld.  Ian said I was not dying.  He said I was too pretty to die.

I’m not afraid to die.  It’s just that I’m not quite ready to check out.  I still enjoy singing, dancing, eating, etc.  And I do want to see how the Trump presidency plays out. Also I’d like to sell the flat, pay my debts, and tidy up filing cabinet drawers and my closets.  I think this might have been the ‘bargaining phase’ of dealing with imminent death.

I was placed front of the gynaecology queue. No. It’s not cancer the consultant said, it’s a polyp and she’d wheech it out right away.  Not exactly painlessly. Did I want to see it? The size of a small grape it was, and glistening pink in the jaws of the forceps, and since she was in there just a little sample of my endometrial tissue.  Ouch!  Holy!  I was expecting the little sharp twinge of a pap smear not specimen by melon scoop.

I’m not dying.  I’ve bought some really pretty harem pants, and a Chinese boudoir robe with embroidery to replace the one I’ve had for 40 years, because it was  soiled at the cuff edges and disintegrating with age.

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Six Traumatic Memories of Trump’s Inauguration

I  I was alone

and while it is hard for me to watch horrifying events at any time, being alone renders the experience more horrifying.

It was almost as horrid as Pasolini’s Salò   120 Days of Sodom.  You could have mistakenly thought the inauguration program had been written as an allegory for fascism — as Salò was.    A bit like Trump himself.  He’s hard to caricature or satirize because the real thing, Trump in action, is funnier and more terrible than any parody of him could be.   The inauguration was funny and bizarre, more funny and bizarre than a satirist could have written it. But I wasn’t laughing the whole time. My bowels were in an uproar. It’s what happens to me when I experience fear.

II  Rich American woman have big hair

I can’t say anything else about that other than Michele Obama is beautiful. Melania Trump is a beautifully proportioned hanger for designer clothes and make up. Michele Obama is real.  Melania, and Trump’s immaculately turned out children are strangely robotic.  I wondered if they have a family plastic surgeon in the same way we have a family doctor.

III Now We Belong

The Missouri state university chorale sung this piece.  I forgot to be traumatised during most of it.  It had a beautiful melody and the singing was very fine.   But the irony!

Here is the place of stranger’s welcome

We who once walked in stranger’s shoes

We were welcomed. . .

Now we belong and believe in this land.

Camera pans to Donald’s face — he appears unmoved.

IV  No less than six religious leaders spoke

One of them remarked on the fact that the heavens had opened just as the President Elect rose to swear the oath.  A mark of grace, he said! I suppose he felt called to say something about the rain and didn’t want to bring up about the flood sent by God to drown the  inhospitable people of Sodom and Gomorrah. *

Pastor Paula White spoke.  Paula is a TV evangelist who preaches the prosperity gospel   ie  true believers will be blessed, not just with eternal salvation, but also with great worldly success, including lots of money.  That would be news to Jesus Christ! The prosperity gospel practices a pay forward scheme.  Adherents are extorted, I mean exhorted to give money to the pastor.  I think it’s like the sale of indulgences  — a practice that got the Catholic Church in trouble centuries ago.

In his benediction, the fundamentalist, anti-LGBT minister, Rev. Franklin Graham read a Bible verse supporting the idea that Jesus is the only mediator between God and person.  That’s a bad choice of scripture, I thought.  And the timing was awful, coming as it did, back to back with words from a Jewish Rabbi.  The camera panned to Rabbi Marvin Hier. He is dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.  His expression was hard to read. Luckily no Muslim cleric was waiting to speak – and to have to swallow his bile with the slur.  I’m guessing none was invited.  (It’s only the second largest religion in the world and we all know that Trump’s a little antsy about Islam).

Cardinal Dolan of New York read from The Book of Wisdom. King Solomon’s prayer: Solomon acknowledges that God made humankind, to govern the world in holiness and righteousness and to render judgement in integrity of heart.  It goes on, Give us wisdom, for we are your servants, weak and short-lived, lacking in comprehension of judgement and of laws.   A good message for someone inclined to arrogance and bombast.  And Dolan represents Pope Francis, who tries to represent Jesus to us.  The pope’s not been subtle in his remarks about Trump. He speaks out about the plight of refugees and others impacted by homelessness and poverty and about our duty to act.  The Wisdom may have been lost on Trump who seemed to spend a deal of time slumped on his chair, his lips pushed out in that big Trump pout.

V  Trump’s Inaugural Address

The pugnacious set of the jaw, the narrowed eyes, the repetition of slogans,  a recital of the many   miracles that can be accomplished ‘ right now’.   He is Elmer Gantry and Hitler and that creepy guy in the used car lot who smells of cheap cologne and chewing gum.  And he’s the Commander in Chief! He has the codes that will permit him to launch a nuclear attack. But for now he’s laying out his manifesto, one that’s in effect as of ‘right now’. No debate or discussion.  He’ll eradicate terrorism from the face of earth, along with drugs, and gangs,  and homeland crime, protect the borders,  make roads, airports, railroads, jobs, happiness appear as if by magic.  We are ‘protected by God’ he said!  The camera panned. The audience appeared as stunned as I felt.  Obama looked grave.  It’s hard for me not to think of the Gulag Archipelago and how much labour it will actually take to set up those many miles of wall between the USA and Mexico and how this man will be loathe to hear a dissenting voice or consider a different opinion.  I live in Scotland.  He’s definitely not my president.

VI  Jackie Evancho and the Star Spangled Banner

16 years old Jackie was ‘discovered’ in the show America’s Got Talent when she was about ten.  She may have been nervous on the day or put off by the band.  The rendition was painful to listen to: off-key notes, a shaky voice, poor breath control and diction.   I imagine she’d have been mortified.  I was mortified for her.  Yet somehow Jackie got it exactly right: an execrable performance of the national anthem for the inauguration to the highest office in the land of a  vulgar, abusive,  bigoted,  hardly literate, reality show host.  The age of celebrity has sunk to its nadir.  Even the high note Jackie forced out on the word ‘free’  –   sounded  curiously like the sound a  mortar makes before impact.


*I practice my editorial freedom today by correcting my blog.  In actual fact God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, not, as I incorrectly stated,  by flood — he’d tried the flooding earlier, at the time of Noah.  After the waters subsided,  he  promised Noah not to flood the entire earth again and he sealed his promise with a  rainbow.   So he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with earthquake and fire.  Oh.  And then he sent Trump.

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Another Death

2016! What a bloody awful year!  Too many celebrities shocked us by dying.

People are going hungry on this day – some are literally starving to death, some are being tortured, imprisoned, executed, some are in refugee camps.  And the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen.

Meantime, we in the west, it being after Christmas,  are raking through the sale counters for more tat, more toxic shit, enjoyed for a day or so, and then dumped in the landfill.  Except for those amongst our number who are unemployed, or on zero hours contracts, those who barely manage to put food on the table, and whose function in the economic system is that of scapegoats for  the Alt Right, along with the  refugees and immigrants.  And I hate to sound prejudiced but it occurs to me as I scroll down on the social media pages, that the Alt Right have a high proportion of bad spellers. The Alt Right seem to be falling into an ‘unpresidented’ sinkhole of illiteracy.

To the litany of injustice, brutality, terror,  hatred and ignorance (and bad spelling) add  the recurring Headline News —  (name the celebrity) has died! Then biography, discography, et al, and quotes from other celebrities about the deceased.    An inside page chronicles all antecedent celebrity deaths of 2016.  In case we’d forgotten.   It’s a lot of paper and ink.

Please make it stop.  I don’t mean the deaths.   I mean when a singer/songwriter/actor ceases to breathe, can we please have an announcement and a modest obituary?  How about five to eight hundred words?  On the back pages?

Yes. Even for Leonard Cohen. I was a big fan of Cohen.  But his death is not headline news, nor a cause for international mourning.  Exact same goes for the many other celebrities who died in 2016. God rest their souls.

We don’t need circuses.  We need to get better at sharing our bread.

Many Humans were Born Today.  Many Died.  None Went Hungry.   That’s a headline I’d like to see.

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We Hate Trump in Scotland

We hate Trump in Scotland.  In the 600,000 signatures-strong petition to ban him from visiting the UK, Scots were in the highest percentage of signatories per 1,000 population.

Last night I watched his speech accepting nomination for candidacy . The team that wrote it includes a Dr. Mesmer, as well as the fellow who writes jingles for the best selling soft drink in the world –the drink that rots your teeth.

I’ll restore  Law and Order – to the USA!’  

Thunderous applause and chanting  —   USA USA USA

I’m extremely suggestible.  After several repetitions of ‘I’ll  restore law and order to the USA’  he had me convinced.  I live in sleepy SW Scotland but, by God,  I want Law and Order in the USA.   And tubby, bull-necked, red-faced, megawatt Trump will deliver it to me.  My consciousness intrudes for a second and asks:  How exactly is he planning to do that?  But that chant – USA USA  –has a hypnotic quality. Like the dumb animals in Animal Farm, mindless,  clueless,  I join in:  USA USA USA,  I chant

I’m similarly convinced when he vows to stop murderous mayhem in the USA  by not letting them in. Hang on a mo. Who are they?  I seem to remember a mixed bag when it came to perpetrators of gun violence in the USA.  And were most of them not born there? Send Them Back Send Them Back Send Them Back goes the audience, and I can only feel joy that the major problems are soon to be resolved.  Send Them Back Send Them Back Send Them Back.

And Hillary!–  ‘the criminal’. What to do?  Four Legs Good Two Legs Bad  Lock her up Lock Her Up Lock Her Up    And I’ll knit as her head rolls!  I mean, as they turn the key of her jail cell!  Lock Her Up Lock Her Up  

It’s looking good for Trump.  The USA’s new head of state!  They’ll have to welcome in him at Westminster!

Not necessarily in Scotland though.

We might build that wall.



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From Opera Singer to Busker in One Afternoon

One of my unrealized, (unrealistic) ambitions was to be an opera singer – a prima donna. The soprano gets the starring roles,  stunning arias,   high notes,  best costumes,  cleavage,  diamonds,  adoring audience,  bouquets and  curtain calls.

I have a contralto voice.

I am a street performer.

On Saturday Ian and I busked for two hours in High Street, Dumfries.

I hasten to assure my family and friends that in spite of the exchange rate (Canadian dollar – GB pound) and the impact of plummeting oil prices I am not insolvent nor yet reduced to eating mouldy bread. I don’t need to sing for loot.

Our Saturday late morning shopping crowds recital supported the Trade Unions Council’s efforts to draw attention to the evils of ‘zero hours contracts’, and the impact of a government-sanctioned policy on the living standards, and the social and financial security of low-income, often unskilled and under qualified, often young, citizens of the UK.

One dear soul dropped money into my upturned bodhran. I thanked him and returned his money, along with a yellow leaflet, the text of which castigated the Tories for their heartless disregard of the plight of low-income workers.

We were asked if we had a CD. This surprised me. We’re actually not that good. However, that being said, I noticed very many young children standing as though entranced; captivated and delighted by us and our performance.

So this is our niche audience, people age 3-6 years; people able to appreciate the rich combination of vocal harmony, fine guitar work, our repertoire of heart-felt protest songs; and, our undoubted visual appeal — greying locks glinting in the weak March sun, lined faces, our stage dress — the habitual winter-wear, including the tartan scarf and classic fingerless mitts. All rather the worse for wear at the tail end of a long Scottish winter.




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David Bowie – on his death

I’d never seen him live or listened to his music. But I recognised the name and the made up face.  I couldn’t have missed the news of his death had I wanted to. The coverage was huge – not just on my facebook page with numerous memes and heartfelt RIPs– but on the BBC and in all the newspapers.  How had I missed the musical contribution of this enormously gifted man?   A genius!  Better late than never you tube:   I start with  Space Oddity:  Is this a nod to Space Odyssey and Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra?  OK.  That is unfair.  I’m beginning to sound prejudiced.  But Kurt Masur died December 19, 2015 with a barely heard fond whisper of sadness at his passing and about the same for Pierre Boulez who died just two days ago.


Absolute Beginners, Ziggie Stardust, Starman, Lazurus, ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore: Not a great voice, banal lyrics,  simplistic and repetitive melodies. The back up tracks  lack nothing,  unless you subscribe to the philosophy that  less is more.  To discover if repeated exposure to his style is necessary in order to appreciate him, I listened to Absolute Beginners four times and watched the accompanying film-noire styled video that begins with Bowie in trench coat and fedora, miming disgust  (he has run out of cigarettes). He crushes the empty package, chucks it, leaving it for the street cleaner to pick up next morning.  May he rest in peace.  I have nothing against the man, and to be clear, my own musical efforts are mediocre to risible.  I’m deeply curious though about the outpouring of grief at Bowie’s demise and his sudden elevation to icon for the age.   And how did I live without him?

One survivor tweeted:

If you’re ever sad just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.

Yes.  No doubt that thought will see me through my annual winter depression.

And there are quotes – ideas and thoughts that David Bowie actually expressed!
Don’t you love the Oxford Dictionary?  When I first read it I thought it was a really long poem about everything. 

 I say stupid things too.  About one hundred times a day.  And while we’re on the topic — please don’t quote me after I’m dead.


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