Greetings from London!
We arrived on Wednesday. Hanging out, so far, with a visit to the Tate Modern on Friday to see The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy. Before, we’ll be doing an Inn of Court walking tour, with a quick stop at Sir John Soane’s Museum to see a postmodern British exhibit. (The Tate Modern has a lovely bar on level 6, where one can purchase a fine martini. For a city steeped in gin, martinis are damn near non-existent, and when one can be found it’s often marginal. I expect that we’ll be enjoying a pre-dinner respite soon after we see the Picassos.)
The London Medical Architecture Tour
On Thursday we did a terrific tour of London health-related buildings, focusing on history and the nexus between architecture and health. Our guide, an owner of Discover Medical London, gave us three hours of brilliance, beginning at the Royal College of Physicians and ending at University College London, across the street from UCL Medical School. Fascinating! Truly.
On the walk we saw, among other treasures, Chandos House, owned at one time by Paul III Anton, Prince Esterházy. More recently, the Royal Society of Medicine used it as its headquarters. Now, the society operates it as a small hotel, which is why we think James Comey walked in while we were standing across the street. (He spoke in London on Thursday evening.)
LB noted Mr. Comey’s presence. (He’s a friend of a friend, he’s very tall, and she notices what I often miss.) Our fellow tour people—exceptionally well informed, so much so that LB queried, in my ear: Don’t you feel a bit dull?—did not recognize Mr. Comey’s name. When we explained they recognized the name but got excited not at all.
‘Tis a pleasure to be far from our unpleasantness. In London 13 months ago, Trump dominated conversations. So far—with a limited number of conversations, admittedly—he comes up not at all and that’s pleasurable, to be sure.
Our tour guide, with a background in the history and social sciences, and a working knowledge of health and architecture, noted with particularity a few health-related buildings which have nothing to do with medicine directly. A building which housed public toilets. Public swimming pools, which always had bath houses and laundries. Another building, being remodeled for luxury housing, which once served as public housing for men, with baths above the kitchen and the laundry below it. Rickettsia, pop on over to the kitchen and let’s deliver some Typhus!
Public Health and Universal Health Care
Public health made Londoners much healthier. Bathing. Toilets. Clean drinking water. Sewers. Better building designs. Etc.
Digressing from the tour momentarily, I saw a Facebook post from an old friend whose English adventure started days before mine. Unfortunately, he was reporting from hospital, where he was admitted for what seemed like a cardiac event. He’s fine, fortunately, and says he owes his life to the medical people who took care of him.
Or course, universal health care exists in England. For sure, if you don’t live here you do pay, but not for emergency services. Or, as well, for infectious disease treatment. (I don’t know what, if anything, my friend paid. Not my business. But he got treated quickly and well, without any worries about where he was from.)
And back home?
Public health sounds like socialism, and if my doctor takes care of me, why should public health matter? And on that: why does England provide free infectious disease treatment for everyone? Maybe, just maybe, the policy exists because those effing bacteria and viruses don’t distinguish between rich and poor, citizens and the vermin who cross certain borders, or regular people and people of color. (I don’t know about you all, but I only feel as healthy as the sickest person whose path I might cross.)
Universal health care? Socialism for real and let me tell you how long some doctor told me it takes to get a hip replacement in Canada. Again, if I can pay for it, let those Others get good jobs and take care of their own damn selves.
Jeremy Bentham pervades UCL, the end point on our tour. His utilitarianism focuses on the greatest good for the greatest number. No “greed is good” for him.
A Concluding Obervation
For sure, London thrives on capitalism and luxury, and there’s a grand divide between the haves and have-nots here. Still, the National Health Service celebrates 70 years on July 5, the day we leave to return home. We—Americans, collectively—can learn much from our friends across the pond. We won’t anytime soon, but we can!