My Heartfelt Defence of the Wonderful NHS, Exactly Six Years After My Major Illness

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

 

Exactly six years ago, my life changed drastically when I was hospitalised, for 12 days, as doctors with the NHS tried — and eventually succeeded — in working out how to save a number of my toes, which, over the preceding months, had gone black and were causing me truly extraordinary pain. It is also important because, as I prepared to admit myself to hospital, at noon on March 18, 2011, I smoked the last cigarette in 29 years of enthusiastic addiction, a move that counts as one of the single most important things I have ever done on my life. As a chain-smoker of roll-ups, I was, very genuinely, killing myself by the time of my illness, and I am thankful that I not only carried on living, but also recovered my lung capacity, and began singing again (I come from a long line of singers, stretching back as far as my family’s memory reaches).

As for my illness, at the start of the year, I had first noticed what appeared to be a painful bruise on the big toe of my right foot, although I had no recollection of hitting it on anything to cause such a bruise. I then made a visit to the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo (for the first time on the anniversary of the prison’s opening), where I was in pain but still able to function, and, at the end of the month, I visited Poland for a week, to show a Polish-subtitled version of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the film I co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash, where the pain grew much more severe.

On my return to the UK, my big toe was turning back, and was soon joined by my middle toe, and yet I was failed by both GPs and doctors at my local hospital, who didn’t understand the severity of what was happening to me. For the entire month before I was finally hospitalised, at my wife’s instance, when I was finally given morphine, the only effective painkiller for truly severe pain, I suffered the most horrible sleep deprivation, unable to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time, as every time I managed to fall asleep the pain would wake me up just minutes later. Just once, I managed to get locum doctors to give me two painkillers stronger than over the counter medications, and on the first occasion I actually got one good night’s sleep, but by the time I took the second its strength was insufficient to combat the ever-growing pain. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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