I am completely intrigued by a familiar concept enjoying a renaissance in the Times. That paper is currently obsessed by "health tourism", the bizarre phenomenon whereby every sick person on the planet makes their way here for free treatment. As with non-health tourism, the obvious question is why anyone would want to come here when there are so many obviously superior countries in Europe.
And yet people do choose England for their holidays. We do, at least, and tomorrow, I am off to join the family in a cottage in a part of Devon which, although absurdly exquisite, is ill-suited to health tourism. I doubt there's a hospital within a 30-minute drive, and God alone knows where the nearest MRI scanning machine is located. Please God I hit a rare patch of wellbeing.
Twenty minutes before I am scheduled to leave, the vision on the periphery of my right eye is assailed by dancing psychedelic shapes, while I also feel nauseous and start mumbling. This could be a transient aeschemic attack (mini stroke), an early indication of a brain tumour or possibly a migraine. Two pain-killers stifle the symptoms, but residual thumping behind the eyes makes a long drive in my tiny car too hideous to contemplate, and - postponing my departure until first thing tomorrow - I take to my bed.
My annual holiday - all three days of it, because I have to go home on Sunday - gets off to a worrysome start when, within minutes of unloading the car, I am riven by classic symptoms of lymphatic cancer... exhaustion to the point of dropping off over lunch, a nagging ache in the lower back and a peculiar stiffness in the neck. When I tell Rebecca, she launches into her beloved Socratic mode. "What time did you get up?" she begins. "Just after 5am." "Why?" "To drive here from London." "And how long did that take?" My patience is thinning, but a caustic glance thickens it up. "Five and a half hours," I answer. "In a big, comfortable car?" "No, a small, extremely cramped one." She pauses in the portentous manner of a leading silk poised to ask the killer question. "So then," she resumes, "why do you think you are tired with backache and a stiff neck?" "Hodgkin's disease?" Remembering that nothing in this rented cottage is ours, she thinks better of assaulting the crockery and heads for the bedroom.
This, the only full day of my annual holiday, is spent sheltering from driving rain under a parasol in Torquay, eating fish and chips that might have been more effectively deployed in biological warfare. What I really need now, I reflect as we drive home across Dartmoor, is a fortnight's health tourism - in a French hospital, ideally, having tests on my blood, kidney, colon, brain and testes.
Back in London, I am overwhelmed by profound fatigue. It could mean anything from too much Jack Daniels or a nameless virus all the way to acute myeloid leukemia. Since I have no coherent set of symptoms, my physician Sarah Jarvis would doubtless advise less drinking, proper eating, exercise, etc, rather than refer me. But what I want is a blood test, and it occurs to me that going abroad may be the only way to get one.
"Haematology, g'day. How may I help?" It is late Monday night in London, but early Tuesday morning in Australia when I get through to a Sydney teaching hospital. "Ah yes, a very good day to you too. I'm a health tourist from England coming over next month for the Olympics, and I'd like to book a blood test." "I'm sorry I don't understand. Health tourist?" Briefly, I outline the concept, and the perplexed-sounding young woman says she needs to transfer me. The phone rings again. "Psychiatric out patients, g'day. How may I help?" I replace the receiver, and reflecting that this health tourism lark isn't as easy as it sounds, I make a mental note to call Thomas Cook's medical department and retire disconsolately to bed.