“Stop the coach! Dial 911 – he’s stopped breathing!” This is what all tourist guides and tour managers dread hearing. “He” was one of the passengers on a sixteen day tour who had caught a particularly virulent bug that was going around the group. No matter how clean you keep the coach, the close proximity of around fifty people in a two week tour inevitably leads to the spread of infections and several people had come down with a nasty dose of it.
I did not actually stop the coach or dial 911 straight away (999 in the UK) but told the driver to turn off at the next exit. We were on the M3 and heading back to London, barely an hour from the end of the trip, and stopping on a motorway would have made it harder for an ambulance to reach us. Instead we found a suburban street where we could park, endeavoured to find out where we were exactly and then dialled the emergency services so they could get out to us. Fortunately one of the group had a breathing machine, which helped the passenger, who had not in fact stopped breathing but was looking pretty sick.
In the end the ambulance arrived promptly and took care of the passenger (who I will not name) and took him and his wife to the nearest hospital. I had told her that, as her husband was ill, they should go to St Thomas’s Hospital in London, which was not far from their hotel and is one of the best hospitals in the world. A friend and colleague of mine had a heart attack while taking a group to the theatre and was taken there. His wife, who is a nurse, said she was glad it was there as he would be looked after properly. And he was.
All this comes courtesy of the National Health Service, which has been celebrating its seventieth birthday recently. I usually point out the statue of the man usually credited with its establishment, Aneurin (‘Nye”) Bevan in Cardiff and sometimes jocularly say that Britain is a good place to get sick because the British taxpayer will look after you free of charge. Many Americans are dubious about what they called “socialised medicine” but are normally quite happy with it when they come across it. Let’s hope they spread the word back home.
And what happened to the passenger who had fainted? I telephone the hospital later that evening and they said he had been discharged at 8 pm and he and his wife had then gone back to the hotel where we had left their bags. They will be on their way back home now, I should imagine. Bon voyage and don’t forget the value of a free National Health Service.