The English speak about the NHS with pride. At a pub, a Hagrid look-a-like overheard my American accent and then screamed, “Your medicine is screwed! You have to pay for it! We have the best medicine on earth!” But bragging about the NHS is the medical equivalent to saying you own a Lamborghini that lacks windows, wheels, and an engine.
Within a week of breathing cold English air—I’m studying abroad in Oxford—I contracted a bacterial infection.
I tried to make an appointment at the surgery closest to my apartment, but Oxford students can only receive treatment at a facility thirty minutes from my flat. I pre-registered online, but the general practioner’s computer lacked my information. The secretary claimed I wasn’t a person. Once I showed them my passport and student Visa, they directed me to a doctor’s office in carpeted basement.
I told the doctor I needed antibiotics because I have an immune deficiency. “Your body can handle it,” she said.
“I’m going to end up in the hospital if you don’t give me penicillin. I need treatment for my immune deficiency.”
“Have your American doctor fax me what she wants me to do about your immune problem, and then I’ll take care of it. You’ll be fine. You’re young. Your body will take care of it.”
Five days later, a lump grew in my throat, and I started coughing green mucus.
I called a cab to take me to the hospital. As I walked into the emergency room, a cracked out skinhead tore off his bloody bandage, revealing his blood soaked hand. He threw the bandage at my face. I gave the secretary my name; once again the system had lost my information.
When I finally saw the doctor, I explained my medical condition to him. I handed him paperwork detailing my immune deficiency. He left the room and then returned an hour later. “I had to Google your disease,” he said. He drew my blood and discovered I had a blood infection. Shockingly, he prescribed me penicillin. Because of a budget cut, he gave me five days worth of antibiotics instead of the standard seven-day treatment. Two weeks later, I’m still sick.
The NHS sounded great, but it functions like the DMV. Socialized medicine is only worthwhile if you’re looking for a free way to die.
Mitchell Sunderland is freelance writer and digital copywriter in Oxford. His work has appeared in VICE, Rookie, Emily Books Quarterly, Huffington Post, and Thought Catalog. He tweets and tumblrs regularly.