Monday, March 15, 2010

Wheel Me Up, Scotty 3/15/10

There are many things I fantasised about doing in the heady, showbiz city that is LA, but being driven around LAX airport in a wheelchair wasn’t one of them.

In fact, until this week, I had never even touched a wheelchair, much less sat in one, and my admiration increased a thousand-fold for people who have to view the world from that level and constantly be subjected to the bullying of the mobile chaos around them, not to mention being at the mercy of the pusher with delusions of Formula One.

The problem started the week before last when I woke one morning, completely unable to move. I had made a joke about falling off my Jimmy Choos in the excitement of my finally having met the actor Matthew Rhys, but it certainly hadn’t been enough to incapacitate me to the degree of pain I found myself in two days later.

It was so bad, I couldn’t even reach out to my bedside table to my phone and, living alone, there was no one I could call even to ask for a cup of tea.

This is how I was going to die, I thought. It was The End. At just 51, and having been blessed with a relatively healthy life (apart from a bout of glandular fever when I was seven, I can count my bedridden illnesses on one hand), I was now going to rot to death.

No food, no water, and, worse, no TV, because the remote was on the chest of drawers several miles away from where I was lying. If I could have passed on with CSI comforting me during my final hours, it would have been something, but dying to the accompaniment only of your own screams isn’t much fun, I can tell you.

It took me four hours to roll, inch by inch out of bed, onto the floor, and over to the kettle in the kitchen, by which time I had lost roughly three stone in the effort.

Then I remembered my black, Centurion American Express card, the all-singing, all-dancing bit of titanium I wrote about some months back, trying to decide whether it was worth paying the increased annual fee of £1800 (up from £650) for all the benefits that I could never see myself either wanting or needing - three million points for a pink Pringle sweater; etiquette evenings, where you learned how to hold a fork, that kind of thing.

D Day was imminent, and as their concierge service had still not provided me with anything that I had not been able to get myself for considerably less money, I was pretty sure I would not be renewing.

But I remembered the travel insurance, allegedly one of the most comprehensive in the world. I phoned them (another eight miles to my handbag, in which the card resided); they had AXA, their delightful, impressive insurance people on the phone within three minutes, and I was offered a house call (in the UK, I’d have to book one now if I wanted to have a doctor’s home visit in 2014). I was also told that all my travel arrangements (I was due to fly back to the UK) would be taken care of, if the worst came to the worst.

In the end, I had to take a trip to a local clinic, all paid for upfront by AXA and Medical Express. I was seen instantly, given an injection for the pain, and a couple of bottles of painkillers and muscle relaxants.

Now, the only thing I know about prescription painkillers in the US is that you die not long after taking them.

It’s the reason I was once very reluctant to have a general anaesthetic, because everyone who has one on Casualty or Holby City never wakes up. Having been reassured by the pharmacist that I was not en route to becoming the next Michael Jackson, I went home to recuperate.

And got worse.

A week later, and still rolling to the kettle, I had a proper home visit, and this time was told I would have to be treated more “aggressively”. And I mean aggressively. Methylprednisolone, Motrin, Norco, Soma, Diazepam – or, for those of you not in the know, the latter four are Ibuoprofen, Hydrocodone, Carisoprodol, Valium. Any clearer? No, me neither.

All I can tell you is that I had no pain – the reason being that I was unconscious. Out cold. I missed the whole of the first half of the Ireland/Wales rugby match on the telly, the second half of the Scotland/England game, and eventually came to in about 1971, thinking I was on the Lions tour.

The doctor insisted I be upgraded to a Business Class on my flight home, which would ensure me of a bed in which to relax, and the insurance came through with everything they had promised, including ground transportation and a wheelchair at both airports.

The wheelchair rides were more terrifying than the drugs had been. Blimey, those things can whizz along. I needed another bottle of Valium, just to get me over the trauma of the rides.

I’ll need another bottle when that Amex bill comes through, too, asking me for the £1800 annual fee.

But even with doctors’ fees and medication, I’m still not sure the titanium card has earned its full quota (I’m also not sure that the pills they provided did much more than a pint of Stella and a couple of aspirin would have done).

When the drugs finish me off (which I have no doubt they will do), maybe Amex will make up the deficit in a nice floral arrangement for my funeral. That may be their only option, as there isn’t a stonemason in the world who could find enough room on my stone for the names of those damned drugs.

But at least I can now say that I have experienced the US healthcare system, and have joined the long list of Hollywood celebrities on prescription painkillers.

It’s my biggest leap up the showbiz ladder so far.

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