Emergency surfeit

What's a medical emergency? Having your ears full of wax certainly isn't one by any stretch of the imagination and yet, I'm embarrassed to say, on more than one occasion I've turned up at a Spanish (and English, actually) A & E department to seek help in this regard.

"Good afternoon, what seems to be the problem?"

"Sorry, pardon? Can you speak up a bit, please?"


"Er, well, I've got waxy ears."

"Hmm, that's not really an emergency is it?"

"Yes and no. Well, no more than yes, obviously, but I've got an important concert tomorrow night and I can't hear a thing."

"Lord Almighty. Just follow him, up on the right."

"Yes, yes, tomorrow night."

"No, I said j... oh, I'll take you."

With doctors' surgeries everywhere creaking under the strain of impossible workloads, more and more of us are using A&E as a sort of drop-in centre for minor ailments. In my experience, they all have similar triage system which becomes a Top Trumps of affliction.

"I think we're in for the long haul here, love. That marble stuck up the nostril and the thumb the size of Madrid, well they certainly beat your mildly twisted ankle."

Some people are basically professional A&E patients, a bit like season ticket holders, if you like. I once saw a middle-aged couple produce a fold-out picnic table and proceed to fill it with a vast array of foodstuffs including chicken wings and a thermos flask of soup from the enormous carrier bags they'd brought. I'm not sure what their emergency was but I think we can safely assume it wasn't malnutrition related.

I'm not sure what the answer is to all of this. Waiting times to see your GP have become such these days that you need to plan your illnesses a couple of years in advance and, even then, you're obliged to run the gauntlet of the attack dog receptionist who wants to know every last detail of your whole family's medical history until she'll deign to squeeze you in two years on Wednesday.

Currently, Malaga's A&E departments are besieged by huge numbers of patients with the flu. Well, unless you're a very old person or a little baby and thus more vulnerable, I don't think there's much point in being there. The doctor can only repeat what your grandmother always said - stay in bed, keep very warm, drink hot drinks and lots of water and just wait for the virus to pass through its natural cycle.

Our doctors really do need to be devoting their time to more important matters - like blokes with waxy ears, for example.