Downton Anatomy

“Thank you, Jeeves,” I said as my butler left the room to give my lunch order — prosciutto with melon and scaloppine piccata — to the upstairs concierge, who would pass it to the house chef. Then the upstairs maid fluffed my pillow and tucked me back into the four-poster bed in my room with burled mahogany walls and gilt mirrors.

I could smell the fresh-cut flowers on my Louis XIV writing desk as I flipped through the channels on the 60-inch flat-screen TV. A rerun of “House?” That will never do. I slipped a Blu-ray Disc into the player and leaned back to watch a movie in super hi-def.

No, it’s not like being at home, but I don’t expect my hospital room to be as elegant as my penthouse. Sometimes we have to put up with inconveniences while recovering from minor surgery due to a polo injury.

I’m surprised more people don’t get hurt playing polo; after all, it is like playing hockey on horseback. My friends and I are real sportsmen who play polo for the love of the game, not for money. We don’t do things for money. We got ours the old-fashioned way: We inherited it.

Still, I’ve heard my grooms and the other help complain about our health-care system, about waiting for hours in emergency rooms and spending the night on gurneys because no beds were available. I wonder why they don’t do what my friends and I do — pony up an extra $1,500 or so a day, on top of whatever our insurance pays, and get one of the many deluxe private rooms most big-city hospitals have hidden away, like the one I’m in now. These rooms come with a butler and concierge service, marble bathrooms, a personal chef and real doctors instead of those young interns and medical students. Of course, I do have to share the library with other patients, but we all have to make sacrifices. (Actually, I’ve hired someone to make sacrifices for me. I don’t have the time to make them myself, but you get my drift.)

Then I realized that the people who work for me don’t even know these private rooms exist. Why tell them? They can’t afford it; it would just make them resentful.

My doctor told me the last person to stay in this room was a Middle East dictator with a liver problem. “See,” I said, “it just goes to show how good our system is. That guy could have gone to much closer countries like England or France, but he chose to come here to get the best health care in the world.”

“Well, yes,” said the doctor, “that’s true, but he would have been instantly arrested and charged with crimes against humanity in those other countries, so he really had to come here. Something about a ‘40-year-long reign of terror’ or something.”

“Do you get many people from his country here?”

“No, he’s the only one allowed to leave it.”

“Do you get any other famous people here?”

“My lips are sealed. But I can say we do get a nice mix of alcoholic movie stars, white-collar criminals, trust fund babies, suddenly wealthy ex-politicians and the spoiled children of Third World despots. It’s a profit center for us, like having skyboxes at a football stadium. Everyone has to buy a ticket to get in, but the more money you have, the better seat you’ll get. Why should medicine be different from any other business?”

I didn’t point out that everybody knows about the skyboxes, but almost no one knows about the deluxe rooms and suites that most big hospitals have for the super-wealthy. If the word gets out, everyone will want one.

The only unpleasant part of the whole experience was being wheeled past all those whining and wailing people in the emergency waiting room. What a ruckus. If noise could cure them, they’d all be back at home by now. I think I saw some people waiting who were there when I came in three days ago. There can’t be two people with hatchets in their foreheads, can there?

If I ever have to come back, I hope they’ll have completed that separate private entrance for patients like me, like the one I have for my skybox.

Jim Mullen’s book “Now in Paperback” is now in paperback. You can reach him at

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