‘Who even needs ice-packs?’ the school librarian muttered to me as we tried to squeeze a tub of Ben & Jerry’s along with some ice cubes for our G&Ts into an already stuffed freezer compartment. Apparently children do. About every ten minutes if my experience this year is anything to go by.
When I was a child, an accidental whack on the head or a scraped knee was rubbed or kissed better. If it was very serious it might have merited a plaster. Protocol now dictates that any bump on the head must be iced regularly, no matter how insignificant it might seem. The result is that the children see ice packs as a chilly cure-all for any ailment. I was once asked for an ice pack by a little girl who had accidentally had her hair pulled at break time, whilst others have wanted plasters to go on bruises, or temperatures to be taken when they just feel a bit tired. The placebo effect is alive and well in the British boarding school system. As a doctor’s daughter I had to be dead on the doormat to even have a chance of a day off school, always being fed the lie that, if I had a go until lunchtime, ‘Mummy will come and pick you up if you still aren’t feeling well.’ At lunchtime, the response would come that it was now only a few hours until home time, so I could probably manage a bit longer. As such, I have limited patience for all this Drama Queenery regarding medical issues, even though the aforementioned protocol insists that I adhere to policy.
For the children, the Holy Grail of medical treatment is a trip to A&E. To those of such young years this is a mystical place which only features in the equation when even the adults think the malady might be serious. A few weeks ago, during the unseasonal spring gales that April brought with it this year, an incident with a falling cricket sightscreen merited an A&E dash for one of the little girls. As the adult who stayed behind with the remaining children, I was met with a barrage of questions from the youngsters.
‘What does the A stand for?’
‘What does the E stand for?’
‘Do you get your first visit free?’
‘No, Sweetie, thanks to the Labour government and the Beveridge report, you get every visit free!’
Despite the sightscreen’s best efforts, the injury turned out not to be serious or lasting yet the fascination with A&E remained tangible amongst the children for the next few days. Every bump, graze and snotty nose was presented to me with the hopeful question, ‘Do you think I need to go to A&E?’ Eventually the furore died down and both the children and I forgot about it until, a week later, one of the little girl looked at me and asked, ‘Matron do you need to go to AA?’
‘Oh help,’ thought I, ‘she’s found where I hide the gin.’
And then it dawned on me that she’d muddled her acronyms.