Real life

The NHS is teaching me how to stand properly

10 November 2018

9:00 AM

10 November 2018

9:00 AM

If you are wondering, any more than usual, how your tax is being spent, you should know that I have been summoned to a Calf Stretching Education Group.

According to the letter from the NHS, it has come to the attention of my local hospital that I have tight calf muscles. ‘We would like to invite you to the Calf Stretching Education Group in order to give you the opportunity to manage your condition better.’

My condition is still a little unclear to me, but it has something to do with a lump on the side of my toe. I went to see a specialist about a bunion and she deduced that I am standing on my feet incorrectly.

It is uniquely depressing to learn that you don’t know how to stand on your own two feet after nearly half a century, but I suppose that as I do struggle to stand on my own feet metaphorically it should not be too surprising to discover that I’m making a pig’s ear out of standing on my feet in actuality.

I am collapsing into my arches, which has resulted in a bunion that is inoperable. I thought they could just saw a chunk off my foot. But the toe needs to be swizzled back round. I’m already sleeping in a funny little toe brace I bought on the internet from China — saving the taxpayer from providing it at least — which makes me feel like my big toe is falling off by morning.

But the specialist said I also need to do calf-stretching exercises every three hours for a month. Every three hours, I have to stand on a slanted block that I’m too embarrassed to ask the hospital for so have ordered one on Amazon for £20 plus p&p.

She suggested I put it by the ironing board or in the shower but of course this presupposes that a) I do any ironing which I don’t, and b) I am capable of standing on a block in a shower cubicle and not embroiling myself in a calamity resulting in a much worse injury than a wonky toe.


While I was zoning in and out of her explanation, the specialist said something about me having to learn how to stand at a special class held at the hospital, which I blocked out almost entirely because it was too absurd.

But a few days later, this letter arrived from the NHS informing me that I was being summoned to the Calf Stretching Education Group in order to give me the opportunity to manage my condition.

I love new opportunities, as you know, especially when they are overly bureaucratic and managed by the state. I am informed the session will last approximately 1.5 hours but I’m to allow additional time for parking and questions.

Following the session, I will be offered an ‘open appointment’ for three months. I don’t know what this means, but I assume they are going to be keeping an eye on my calf-stretching efforts to make sure that I don’t bunk off.

I am regaled with the usual patient information forms, including the ethnic data question where they have rather presumptuously filled me in already as White British.

How very dare they? I mean, I am White British, technically, but still, I might want to choose another option. For example, I am always tempted by ‘White — any other White background’.

I also like the sound of ‘Mixed — any other Mixed background’. And the last one ‘Any other ethnic group’.

A girl can tire of being White British, you know. It’s been going on for nearly 47 years now and I don’t see how much longer I can put up with it. Besides, according to the form, ethnic group ‘describes how you see yourself’. I see myself as Anglo-Italian Moon Child Horse Spirit — which I’m guessing is Other.

But I can’t tick an Other box this time as they’ve done it for me. I digress. The letter continues in a most forbidding tone to lay down the ground rules of the Calf Stretching Education Group, which it keeps writing in capitals, quite as though it is shouting at me about my stiff, belligerent calves.

‘You will learn how to perform calf stretches and will be able to start an exercise programme to improve your symptoms following the session…

‘There will be no discussion of personal details or individual problems in this session…’

All right, all right. I wouldn’t dream of inflicting my pathetic personal problems on you.

‘Please wear appropriate clothing (shorts, tracksuit bottoms).’ Really? You’re inviting people of varying ethnicities and Other to come to a hospital in November dressed in shorts?

‘Please note that if you do not attend you will be discharged from Physiotherapy.’

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