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A swollen and tender scrotum might be seen as something of an embarrassment, not a subject to write home about. I don’t think I would have made a visit to the Royal Melbourne Hospital on a Saturday morning if my wife hadn’t insisted, going so far as to phone me Friday night from Mauritius. The swelling came on suddenly. It was puzzling but I am reaching an age when bodily breakdowns (both major and minor) are not unknown. I have generally been blessed with good health so sudden aches and pains are somewhat alarming. My wife was concerned about my heart condition. She could visualize a blood clot ascending from my leg straight into the aorta. I know better than to argue, so I assured her I would make my very first trip to an emergency ward in Melbourne.

I had no idea where that might lead, so I packed pajamas, a couple of books and a toothbrush, just in case. Then I bought the newspaper and hopped on the tram. We don’t have our medicare cards yet, but we have taken out private insurance. Australia has a two tier system– a state-run medical system as well as a host of private insurance plans. What is strange is that the state subsidizes the cost of the private insurance. The private plans offer choice: you can see the doctor you choose in the hospital where you wish to be treated, get a private room, etc.

I was visiting the emergency room of a public hospital, so there was no choice. In the US or Canada, I would expect to wait for a long time before being seen by a doctor. I was mentally prepared to wait. Fortunately, the attendant at the admitting window was male, so I felt comfortable explaining the “problem.” I was given the clipboard with the sheet to fill out. There was hardly anything on it! No request for the last ten years of medical history (please explain every visit to a hospital) complete with box after box to check or leave blank covering every conceivable medical condition. I turned it over thinking I was missing something, then turned it, feeling guilty. I had failed a final exam because I couldn’t see the questions.

I was stunned to discover that a male nurse was ready to see me straight away. What was going on here? He checked out the nether region as I explained what I think might have caused it, a sudden cramp in my leg that was so painful I threw myself to the floor. It was as if someone with a voodoo doll (of yours truly) had grabbed my calf and squeezed, very hard. I didn’t actually mention the voodoo doll to the male nurse, hoping to give him the impression that I was actually normal, not given to hallucinations. Not a writer, in fact.
After one more brief visit to the waiting room, I was called in for an EKG. The doctor slipped in while that was underway. Aside from his interest in my prostate gland (since it could be related to the swollen sac) the doctor was great. He was personable, informative and reassuring. He told me that a blood clot in my leg wouldn’t end up blocking my aorta. He concluded that this may have been triggered by a four hour bike ride I took the previous week, possibly compounded by the onslaught of the cramp that literally threw me to the floor. He prescribed and gave me a course of antibiotics and the name of a cardiologist for future reference.

I was in and out of an emergency room in an a little over an hour! I shook myself on the tram ride back home. Where am I? Down under? Have I died and gone to heaven?

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