My Gratitude to the NHS, Seven Years After I Developed A Rare Blood Disease and Nearly Lost Two Toes

19.3.18

Andy Worthington in St. Thomas's Hospital, March 23, 2011 (Photo: Dot Young).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.





 

Seven years ago yesterday, I was admitted to hospital after suffering for two months with severe pain in two toes on my right foot. As a human rights campaigner, it was, I thought, somewhat ironic that I was in such pain that I was suffering from sleep deprivation, unable to sleep for more than a few minutes before being jolted awake in excruciating pain, a situation that lasted for at least a month, if I recall correctly after all this time.

Eventually, doctors worked out that I had a blood clot, which was what was turning my toes black, but it wasn’t until I was admitted to hospital — and, specifically, St. Thomas’s, where I was taken on March 20, that specialists worked out what to do for me — or, rather, what they would try, to see if it worked — which involved me, for five days, having what felt like liquid cement pumped into me, in an effort to widen the artery that fed my toes and, ultimately, to save them. (I wrote about my experience at the time, in an article entitled, Intimations of Mortality — And Why This Is the View From My Bedroom).

Their endeavours, I’m very glad to say, were successful. After 12 days in hospital, thoroughly marinaded in morphine (a miraculous pain-killer that doctors work hard to prevent mere mortals from having access to on a regular basis, presumably to prevent the world from being overrun with morphine addicts), I returned home, to resume my life, to allow my toes to fully heal, and, eventually, to start a new life.

My illness led me to give up smoking after 29 years, which ranks as one of the great achievements of my life, along with giving up drinking, but not as great an achievement, I have to say, as being a husband and a father.

However, as I recovered (and threw away the morphine), I started bingeing on biscuits instead, so that, a year later, and much heavier, I realized that I was going to have to take up regular exercise. That led me to revive the love of cycling I had had since I was about four years old, but that had lapsed to a large extent as my smoking took its toll on my health, and as my obsessive Guantánamo work, for almost the whole of the five years before my illness, swallowed up what, with hindsight, was far too much of my time.

The revival of my cycling soon led to me deciding to cycle around the whole of London, taking photos (another enthusiasm that had largely lapsed in the Guantánamo years), a project that I soon gave a name to — ‘The State of London.’ I’ve continued the project ever since, covering all 120 London postcodes (as well as some of the capital’s outer boroughs), and last May, on the fifth anniversary of the day I officially started the project (May 11), I began publishing a photo a day from my archive on Facebook, and, a few months later, on Twitter as well.

Stopping smoking also enabled me to begin singing again, which is something that runs through my family’s history, but which, as with the cycling and the photography, I had let lapse as Guantánamo consumed my life. If you haven’t checked out any of the songs I’ve been writing and performing with my band The Four Fathers over the last few years, you can find our music on Bandcamp here, and please also check out the video of ‘Grenfell’, a song I wrote in response to the Grenfell Tower fire last June, an entirely preventable disaster in which over 70 people died.

Seven years on from my illness, I remain grateful to those who saved my toes, and also to the consultants and staff at St. Thomas’s partner hospital, St. Guy’s, who have continued to monitor my health. The year after my illness, via a bone marrow biopsy, they ascertained what disease I was suffering from — Essential thrombocythaemia (ET), if that helps — and prescribed me medication that is keeping me safe from any recurrence.

Their work, as with so much that is undertaken by the NHS (including how consultants and nurses at King’s College Hospital also saved my wife’s life and my son’s life when he was born prematurely in 1999) is remarkable, and paid for through general taxation, without the horrendous stress of, for example, the US system with its savage inbuilt inequality, but I can’t let this anniversary pass without reflecting on the fact that the NHS is very seriously endangered by the continued existence of a Tory government that is determined to destroy it through under-investment, and then to privatise it, as well as by the threat posed by Brexit, which, for example, would serious undermine the sharing of research across the EU that, in my case, the experts at Guy’s are currently part of, exchanging information about their progress dealing with blood diseases on a weekly basis with their colleagues thoughout Europe.

I have, at various times, worked in defence of the NHS — back in 2011-12, when the Tories first took an axe to it in their disgraceful Health and Social Care Act, and in 2012-13 as part of the successful Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, but the threat to the NHS only continues to grow under the vile and inept government of Theresa May and her muppet ministers, and the seemingly endless horror show that is the smarmy butcher of the NHS Jeremy Hunt as health minister.

I can only encourage readers to get involved in any way they can — via Keep Our NHS Public, for example, and by following NHS Million on Twitter and sharing their posts. I wish I could say that there was a mass movement to save the NHS that is poised to topple the Tories from power, as that is what should be happening in an ideal world, but this is a far from ideal world. I see Jeremy Corbyn as a defender of the NHS, but not unless Brexit is stopped, because if Brexit goes ahead the damage to our economy will be catastrophic and the NHS will be as shorn of funds as every other part of British life. As it is, however, one of the saddest results of the lamentable Brexit vote is that EU citizens living and working in the UK are leaving in droves, having been advised, in no uncertain terms, that they are no longer welcome here, and one area of the economy that is taking a serious hit is the NHS, which has long been a multi-national operation, reliant on workers from across the EU and the rest of the world.

So as I celebrate my health, seven years on from my major illness, please do what you can to save the NHS, to get rid of the Tories, and to stop Brexit. Our health — in as many ways as you can think of — depends on it!

Note: For further reflections on the anniversary of my illness, see: As Armed Police Turn Up At A Peaceful Protest in Whitehall to Save the NHS, I Reflect on the First Anniversary of My Hospitalisation and Cure (2012), Intimations of Mortality Revisited; or Why I Will Always Fight to Save the NHS (2013), Save the NHS from the Tory Butchers: How Doctors Saved Me and My Family, and How People Forget That Insurers Don’t Cover Pre-Existing Conditions (2016) and My Heartfelt Defence of the Wonderful NHS, Exactly Six Years After My Major Illness (2017).

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

15 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Seven years ago, I was hospitalised with a blood clot that had turned two of my toes black, and doctors at St. Thomas’s Hospital (yes, opposite the Houses of Parliament, home of the Tories who want to destroy the NHS) worked out how to save my toes. I am forever grateful to the NHS, which never asked me for money or made me a pay a fortune afterwards, because the NHS is funded successfully through general taxation, but the Tories are deliberately under-funding it, to try and make it fail, so they can privatise it and hurl us into the horrors of US-style health inequality, and Brexit also poses a serious threat to the NHS’s continued well-being. If you’re in the UK, I can only say: whatever you do, please try to find ways to save the NHS and to stop Brexit!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Giddings wrote:

    They’ve always served me and my family extremely well. Wonderful staff who have to make the system work.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna. It’s very significant to me that the people who work for it believe that they’re working in a service for the people, not a business based on who can afford it.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Giddings wrote:

    Absolutely.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Sue Jones wrote:

    Last year I caught flu. Within just 4 days I had developed pneumonia and was in septic shock when the paramedics arrived that evening – luckily my son called an ambulance. The prognosis wasn’t good when I got to hospital, as septic shock is very serious, but the NHS gave me around the clock care and top notch IV antibiotics, breathing support, and other life-saving measures. I am still here after excellent quality care. I owe them my life – and the paramedics who quickly recognised the septic shock and gave me life-saving fluids and treatment on the way to hospital.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Anna Giddings wrote:

    Yes septic shock is a killer. Thank God for the NHS.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Sue Jones wrote:

    It can happen so quickly and insidiously. No-one had warned me that I am more susceptible to it because I have SLE. Now I know. I will never miss my yearly flu jab again.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    So glad the NHS was there for you, Sue. Obviously, we all have millions of stories, and I love the stories sites like NHS Million are putting out there, but we could really do with (a) getting rid of Brexit and (b) having a new government that puts the NHS centre stage as the priority of a responsible government along with genuinely affordable housing and an end to austerity as a war on the welfare state and the most vulnerable members of society.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Sue Jones wrote:

    I’ve dedicated a lot of my time and energy over the past 5 or 6 years campaigning for just that, Andy – against austerity, privatisation of our all of ourpublic services, from the NHS to welfare; against the authoritarian Tories’ policies of inequality, against neoliberalism, against the violation of human rights and erosion civil liberties and the general dismantling of our post war settlement.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Sue Jones wrote:

    Also, I voted Remain and remain for Remain.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    I know, Sue, and your reach is admirable, but I generally lament how we don’t have a permanent million-strong defence force for the NHS. It’s so incredibly important, and only those who have been very ill and have had dedicated care without anyone demanding money or assessing whether they are first class or second class citizens knows quite how significant it is.

  12. Tom says...

    Andy, I’m glad to know you’re feeling better. Re: no booze. I’ve been sober over 26 years. What’s helps me? Take a holistic approach to your heath (it’s one thing. Physical and mental. Not two seperate things).

    If the govt. continues to try and destroy the NHS, aren’t they violating the original law that set it up? It’s obvious what they’re doing. Instead of just stopping it completely, gradually starve its funding. Then introduce third parties to come in and bring more “efficiency” to the system. How can any sensible person argue with more efficiency?

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. Yes, it took me until I was 48 to recognise how important a holistic view of one’s self is. Sometimes it’s difficult for people to break out of bad patterns of behaviour because they then feel haunted by feelings of guilt or inadequacy about who they were previously, which is why, I suppose, many people are resistant to change.
    As for the NHS, sadly the goalposts seem to have shifted through legislation since 1948, so that, in 2012, the government abdicated its own direct responsibility for it, handing it to clinical commissioning groups (of GPs), who have essentially been freed up to be susceptible to commercial pressure. I think the only way to save the NHS is to get a government that restores its own responsibility for it, and I hope that happens sooner rather than later, obviously.

  14. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, has it been seven years? My hearty congratulations on quitting smoking!

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. Yes, definitely one of my better lifestyle decisions!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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