I take out Tadpole’s carnet de santé, the notebook which was presented to me at the hospital when she was born, in which doctors record the reason for every visit and the fill in the vaccinations she’s received. The entries within are sparse, to say the least. This is partly because Tadpole has enjoyed remarkably good health since she was a baby, and partly because I don’t feel the need to have every sniffle or short-lived tummy bug checked out, given that, in my experience, doctors here have an alarming tendency to over-prescribe. Especially antibiotics.
‘Any serious illnesses or operations to report?’ the school doctor asks, flicking through the pages and tutting when she sees that the double page set aside for a reporting the results of a general check up, aged four, remains blank. At a guess, I’d say the doctor is in her fifties. She’ll only ever see us for this one compulsory visit and apparently thinks this eliminates the need for niceties. Her manner is brusque, her voice clipped as short as her greying hair.
‘Um, she had a fall and split open her lip about eighteen months ago,’ I reply. ‘We were in England at the time, so there’s no record in the book. It was glued together at casualty… It seems to have healed really well.’
‘They used glue?!’ The doctor raises her eyebrows ceilingwards. I toy with the idea of ingratiating myself to her by making a snide comment about the NHS, pandering to her obvious feelings of superiority over English doctors. ‘It was surgical glue,’ I murmur instead, just in case the doctor thinks the incompetent English might have used pritt stick. But the doctor is already busy running her biro down the list of vaccinations at the back of the book, and gives no sign that she’s even heard me. ‘I have a prescription for her second MMR jab,’ I interject, seeing her frowning at the blank space next to the family doctor’s pencilled-in reminder that a rappel would be due in 2007/8. I can hear defensiveness creeping into my voice. I’m starting to feel like I’m on trial; my ability to bring up a healthy, happy child called into question.
During the hearing test, my heart sinks into my shiny ballerina pumps. Tadpole, dwarfed by a huge pair of headphones, repeatedly giggles and repeats ‘je n’entends rien‘ when sounds are piped into her left ear. The doctor inspects further and finds a large blockage. ‘There’s a lump of hard matter obstructing her ear canal and seriously impairing her hearing,’ she tells me, sternly. ‘Has your daughter ever had a serious ear infection?’ I reply that she’s only had one, that I know of, and she was one at the time. The doctor looks doubtful, and asks me whether I often have to repeat things to my daughter in conversation.
‘Well… sometimes,’ I admit. ‘But you know how it is at this age… It’s hard to differentiate between whether she’s not listening or she can’t hear. Half the time she’s caught up in her own little imaginary world and just ignores me…’
‘Well, you’ll have to get that obstruction removed,’ says the doctor, ‘and test her hearing again afterwards. We need to know whether this impairment is caused by the blockage or due to some other defect.’ I nod, mutely.
When it comes to the eye test, I feel more confident. After all, how many mothers have been taking their daughters to see an optician on a regular basis since the age of 12 months? Mindful of the fact that I got my first pair of NHS standard issue glasses at the tender age of four, I’ve had Tadpole’s eyes tested several times. At the end of our last visit, we were told there was no need for any action, and we should return in not one, but two year’s time.
‘Well, my test says she’s 9.5 in the right eye and 7.5 in the left,’ says the doctor, curtly. ‘When did you last visit this optician you mention?’ I leaf through the carnet de santé and realise the optician must have kept her own records in parallel. There’s no record of these visits whatsoever. It’s as though she never even existed.
We leave the school doctor’s office with two referrals. One to see an ear, nose and throat specialist and the other to see an optician. I feel utterly dejected. I walked into the room feeling reasonably confident in my abilities as a mother and walked out, half an hour later, feeling like I was guilty of criminal neglect.
I accompany Tadpole back up to her classroom, pausing just outside the door to give her a fiercely tight hug and whisper something in her left ear.
‘Did you say something, mummy? I didn’t hear you?’ Tadpole looks puzzled. I repeat myself in her right ear and she smiles.