Judging by all the coughing and hawking I’ve witnessed around me this winter, many readers will be able to identify with the topic of this month’s column. As thousands of young doctors walk off the job in the UK, this is not the first time I’ve praised the Catalan health system, although here’s hoping that for my own sake it’s the last for a very long time.

After visiting the UK in mid-October, “that land of pestilence” as one friend recently described it, I returned with my first ever bout of Covid. Since then, I seem to have had what my GP described as “an accumulation of viruses”, possibly not helped by a bronchial infection. All of this means that for around 10 weeks I was coughing up all manner of disgusting sputum from my throat and chest. At times it honestly felt like having glue in my airways. Enough of that though, and on to the anecdote.

Due to the above, I felt it necessary to seek out some medication on Friday December 8. Poor timing of course, given that the long weekend had kicked in and the CAP was closed until Monday, but deciding I didn’t want to wait that long I duly headed off to the ER in the hope of picking up something to ease the congestive mass building in my chest.

Forty-eight hours later I was lying on a terrifyingly cold surface in an operating theatre having a tube pushed through an artery in my wrist to reach my heart. Not what I had expected when I’d jumped breezily onto my scooter on the Friday morning. The reason for this frankly quite traumatic experience? Elevated levels of troponin had been detected in my blood during my visit to the ER, meaning only one thing in Western medicine – a heart problem. Since it was a holiday, the only recourse was to admit me to the cardiology ward and wait for a heart scan to rule out any immediate danger.

This is where my praise for Catalan health professionals comes in. Firstly, for the young cardiologist whose job it was to persuade me to stay in hospital for the weekend. Because I was having none of it… I was fine, my heart was fine, there was nothing to worry about, just give me some meds for the congestion and I’ll be on my way. After much delicate cajoling, she eventually resorted to the only thing that was going to get me to stay, “Well, we can’t keep you here, but if you go home and have a heart attack, your family will not be able to deal with it in the same way we can here at the hospital, and you might actually die”. Gulp. Ah, well, in that case, maybe I’ll stay, I muttered, slightly embarrassed that I’d forced her to this point.

After two days in hospital, I was fortunate that the team in charge of doing the heart procedure was called in on the Sunday morning (although sadly suggesting that some other person may not have been so fortunate), and they were able to give me the all-clear and send me home on the Sunday evening. More praise is due to those who conducted the procedure, whose professionalism around someone who was starting to feel quite panicky about the possible outcome was exemplary, culminating in the words “You’re fine!” while the tube was still there deep inside me. In other words, as soon as it was possible to alleviate my concerns.

It was at this point that, to my great surprise, I broke down in tears, releasing all the anxiety that had evidently built up since they had told me about the heart issue. I will need further tests to determine just why these levels are or were elevated, but I rest assured in the knowledge that, whatever my physical condition, I am in the best possible hands.

On a final note, a friend later asked me whether it was now “business as usual” or whether the whole experience had changed my outlook on life. “Very much the latter”, was my reply, and I enter 2024 not only with a feeling of gratitude for all that life has brought me so far, but also a first ever bucket list of things to do before... well, you know. A Happy New Year to all.


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