THE NHS has swung magnificently behind me this week after I woke on Saturday morning to a painfully swelling ankle.

At first I was content to lie on the sofa with a bag of frozen peas on the offending joint watching back-to-back football, but eventually I was persuaded this wasn’t a sprain mysteriously picked up through sleep and that I should seek medical help.

My GPs’ surgery in Darlington found me an appointment within two hours, where the GP suspected a deep vein thrombosis. A nurse took a blood sample immediately, and a scan was arranged at the Memorial Hospital for 12.15pm the following day. As I lay on the couch in the scanning room with a nurse smearing gel on my leg, I noticed it was 12.16pm – bang on schedule.

The results of my tests and scans all winged their way electronically back to my surgery so that when I limped in to the consulting room, they were on screen.

Probably not a DVT; probably an ankle riddled with a “gouty-type thing”. Very painful, but hopefully not life-threatening.

I had my first gout attack last autumn in my big toe. It was self-inflicted. We’d had a wonderful crop of apples and it seemed a shame to let them go to waste so I juiced them up and proceeded to drink litres of fresh, crystal clear, nutrient-rich, life-enhancing apple juice which must surely have been better for me than the processed, sugar-infested stuff I get out of a bottle.

No. The fruitiness went straight to my toe, which felt as if it had been squashed flat by a 1,000 ton truck, inflated with an industrial air pump until the skin was stretched as tight as a drum which someone was striking rhythmically with a hammer.

Once I kicked the apple juice, the toe quietened.

Now gout is back, but at least the marvellous NHS is helping me get it under control as painlessly as possible.


I only have to go to the Memorial once in a rare gout bout and I had forgotten that miseries of parking. Every one of the tight spaces was full and there were elderly people in continuous motion, driving round and round and round in hope.

The surrounding streets were full of cars and no parking zones and as I got further and further away from the hospital I realised I was welling up with tears. I eventually found a space that was probably further from the hospital than when I had set off for my appointment, and as I put my foot to the floor, an excruciating blast of pain gnawed at my leg from my gouty ankle.

It was too painful to walk on slightly sloping pavements; knobbly paving stones around drop-kerbs were astonishingly excruciating, like going barefoot across red hot barbecue briquettes. So I hobbled down the middle of the road.

How a true invalid copes, I do not know.

As I pulled my trousers up after my scan, a button flew off my shirt, so I began my weary trudge down the endless corridors trying not to look like a half-dressed hobo.

At the hospital door, I found it had started to rain a light, wet, horizontal rain that smothers everything.

I slowly slithered back through the uneven streets, soaked, chest hairs protruding, my shirt clinging to my back and feeling desperately, desperately down.