I’m longing to tell you how it came about that Bink is being treated in the Priory.
But we can’t enjoy all our miracles at once.
After all, we’ve had to spin them out pretty sparsely ourselves, sometimes, over the last eighteen years or so: if you are travelling with me (for which, much thanks gentle reader) you may need to wait too, from time to time.
So allow me to stall a little longer, by giving you a taste of what this miracle – for it is one – of her Priory treatment will mean.
It stands to reason that the difference between private healthcare and NHS will be infinitely more significant for mental illnesses than physical.
Not even taking into account that there has been no mental health treatment forthcoming for Bink from the NHS for agonising years and years. Not from the GP. Nor the local psychological services. Nor specialist hospitals we have appealed to. She might as well rot in a ditch. And Bink has family – and an MP – behind her, fighting her corner. Foxes have holes and birds of the air nests, but many suffering from mental illness don’t even have a bed to lie in. They are rotting in ditches, and on cold pavements, many of them.
Notwithstanding this – even if she were getting what she is entitled to – there would still be a huge distinction.
I have very little experience of private medicine. Last December, however, I was extremely fortunate in having my eyes operated on privately, thanks to the kindness of St Luke’s Healthcare for the Clergy and a dedicated and very generous surgeon.
And it was... well... wow.
From a medical point of view, being honest, it probably wasn’t very different. True, I didn’t have to wait till I was feeding Whiskers to the kitchen cushions and cooking string bolognese. I could have both my eyes done in the same fortnight, as soon as I wanted; throw away my contact lenses and reading specs; and end the humiliation of asking a random stranger in Sainsbury’s what are the ingredients in this tin, please... and finding I’d picked up a pencil case in WHSmiths. And was asking the display column.
But if I hadn’t been so blessed in jumping the NHS queue I could have gone to Specsavers, couldn’t I? For a year or two, until I had biked into enough lampposts to earn my place. Five years on, the results would have been much the same. All the surgeons I’ve ever met who do private work also put in their stint for the NHS for the other half of the week. You get the same – superb – quality of treatment at both.
From the psychological point of view, though, the experience couldn’t have been more alien... from any healthcare I’ve ever experienced. After my eye op, I made myself have a completely unnecessary five-minute bath to justify my private en suite. Our son Alexander, who came to meet and escort me out, didn’t need supper for a week after hoovering up all the beef-and-horseradish, egg-and-cress complimentary granary sandwiches I’d ordered for my recovery tea.
Haven’t felt so pampered in years. Still, I don’t suppose it will make much difference to my eyesight in the long term.
But if my mind were sick, how relevant those delicious sandwiches and that fresh pot of tea, the private bathroom and the beautiful grounds, the elegant building and the courteous and deferential nurses suddenly become!
(And yet the mentally ill are treated far, far worse than the physically ill. By a very long way.)
The first time we took Bink to the North London Priory was for her initial assessment in May this year. Gobsmacked is a very silly word. But even the daftest words need to get out occasionally.
The gates of the Priory stood open to a lane through soaring and drifting woods. The gravel drive led us through this silvan wilderness, to eventual startlingly hot pink rhododendrons rounding on a sweeping lawn. And there she stood, gracing the grounds, the neo-Paladian, four columned, John Nash stately mansion.
Even more coo was the coffee machine. Which worked. Sort of. If you could find someone with a degree in all the buttons. Ok, Bink doesn’t imbibe caffeine but that’s not the point. It was still jolly exciting to play with. Until she jammed it.
But there was another difference far more important than all this.
When we sat down in the dining room overlooking this gracious garth – with our free tea – to wait for her appointment, there were half a dozen people at the next table. Presumably a patient’s family. They weren’t in uniform, so they couldn’t be staff. They weren’t looking slightly harassed and running late, in white coats, so they weren’t shrinks. And they weren’t the dumb, shuffling, blank-behind-the-eyes vegetables we’d seen in the last NHS psychiatric hospital we took Bink to look round: I felt deep sympathy for those patients, but even I couldn’t argue when Bink said it wouldn’t help her to go there. (That was before the hospital refused to treat her anyway, because she was on Lorazepam.)
These people were talking, even laughing together. They were, like, normal: you know. Not "normal" as in boring and incomprehensible, an insult which Alexander (who is proudly Aspergic) reserves for neurotypicals. Normal as in, something in life to live for.
“Excuse me,” Bink said after a few minutes. I’ve often discerned that she has more discernment than I. “Are you patients here?”
They smiled and welcomed her, soon to be one of them.
More hope every step of the way...