Rushed? Take a London ambulance

The Jewish Chronicle Online, 3/12/2009

It’s amazing how fast one can zip across the city with the help of a minor ailment and a £20 note

The cardiologist was just threading 25ft of tiny Dyno-Rod plastic piping into my coronary arteries when he asked: “How much would a £1m life insurance policy cost me?”

“Just concentrate on what you’re doing, doctor,” I said. “Right now, the only life insurance policy likely to be paying out is mine.”

“You’re totally normal,” he said.

I was flattered — I’d never been called that before.

He asked me if I wanted a photo of my arteries.

“No,” I said. “I’ve still got the one from my colonoscopy.”

(What did they think I’d use that for? A Chanucah card?)

I grew up surrounded by sick people. My father was a GP and we lived with the practice. But I’ve never even had a headache — I’ve given a lot of people headaches, though.

Whenever one of Dad’s patients, Mr Bernstein, a tiny Hatton Garden jeweller, came for his prescription, and Daisy the cleaner walked through to the surgery to get it, he’d always jump up onto her back.

So she’d be walking across our lounge with this tiny Jewish man on her back. I always thought he was just a frustrated jockey.

When my daughter, Lily, was 6, we were at Club Med in Tunisia, when I suddenly got a torn retina (no, I have no idea how you get one) and had to fly back immediately for treatment.

At Charles De Gaulle airport for the connecting flight to London, we were met by an Air France attendant with a wheelchair.

“For him?” I asked, pointing to a blind old Arab man wearing a long white robe.

“No, you.” He said.

We set off on our journey across the terminal. Up front was the Air France man, holding Lily’s hand; she in turn held on to mine. Behind me was the blind old Arab man, his hand on my shoulder; and bringing up the rear, an American teenager on crutches. We were quite a group.

An ambulance was waiting at Heathrow to take me to Moorfields Hospital. It was 9.15 pm. I had to be there by 10pm. We got stuck in a traffic jam on the M4.

“Want to switch your siren on?… Flashing lights?” I asked the driver.

“I’m not allowed to turn my siren on sir. Unless it’s an emergency,” he said.

I’d never even seen an ambulance that wasn’t doing 75mph, siren on, lights flashing.

Now I’d got the only driver who wouldn’t even turn his siren on.

A £20 note later, and we were suddenly an “emergency”; siren wailing, lights flashing, and we took off like a rocket.

As the cars in the Euston Road underpass parted like the Red Sea, I knew just how Moses would have felt leading the Jews out of bondage from Egypt. If only he’d been in a London ambulance.

At 9.59pm we roared up to casualty. After a small technical delay (the doctor couldn’t find the plug for his £10 million laser machine. “The nurses probably borrowed it for their TV,” he said), he lasered my retina back together.

Twenty-four hours later I was back on the beach.

So the next time you need to get to Heathrow in a hurry, forget about taxis — call an ambulance. And if you want all the extras — siren, flashing lights — just remember, tip the driver in advance.