This year, we had, it must be said, the Christmas from hell. The Friday before the big day, my eldest daughter Caitlin came down with an earache which ended up keeping her awake and in terrible pain for 10 days. The baby, meanwhile, developed a dreadful impetigo-like infection on Christmas day, which covered her face in crusty sores that bled. Then my husband, who'd had flu several days before Christmas, put his back out carrying presents and other heavy objects he'd moved to make way for the Christmas presents. Each night, the children took turns waking up on the hour, and we took turns ministering to them - that is, when my other half could manage to crawl out of bed.
Although we do use medical doctors when appropriate, for these types of everyday problems, we tend to prefer alternative practitioners. But try as we might, we couldn't get hold of any. The children's homoeopath, who has an excellent track record for sorting out each problem confronting us, was away in Portugal for three weeks. Our naturopath was in France. Our osteopath was incommunicado. Our nutritional doctor was in Australia. Our alternative pharmacist, always an excellent source of information, had left London. Every last one of the network of wonderful advisors we'd built up over the years was away enjoying his or her Christmas break, planning to resume his or her healing work the Monday after the New Year. At the time when we were hit by our various crises, that was a full 12 days away. In my sleepless and increasingly fretful state, it may as well have been the year 2000.
So worried was I about the baby's infection, which began spreading around one eye, and the state of Caitlin's ear, that we were forced back on ourselves to the only medical advisors we could get hold of - our local GPs.
On Christmas eve, I took Caitlin to the GP to have her ear checked out. His was a model of reasonable, cautious advice (no antibiotics, just painkillers; don't worry if the eardrum bursts). On Boxing day, worried about the baby's spread of impetigo (which can be dangerous in newborns), we were forced to call out an emergency private doctor's service. Although we discounted his advice, which smacked of incredible overkill (multiple antibiotics for both children, eardrum lancing for Caitlin with an ENT specialist), he did arrive within the hour we phoned, confirmed our diagnosis and left us with the reassurance that the baby's situation was nothing serious.
One day later, I took Caitlin, who was still suffering badly, to our GP's emergency surgery. We were met by a young doctor who'd obviously drawn the short straw and had to work Christmas weekend. Nevertheless, this did nothing to dampen his cheery spirit, and although we'd never met before, he'd made sure to brief himself about the children's names and progress so that he was prepared before he'd called us in.
It must be said that nothing in the armamentarium of any of the GPs worked very well. The antibiotic cream the doctors gave the baby only made things worse, and Calpol didn't help the pain as much as a hot water bottle. And once our homoeopath returned on the Monday, and kindly paid us an emergency housecall, both daughters were right as rain in 24 hours.
But if the doctors had the wrong tools, they had dedication and the tacit understanding that bases must always be covered, even on Christmas. It turned into an interesting object lesson for us. Until the alternative community recognises this as well, and provides locums and back-up support for every day of the year, they will always be considered by the medical profession to be dabblers in healing, the poor cousins of the 'real' thing.