Friday, October 01, 2004


The visa medical is an odd experience.

It's not at the Embassy itself; it's at the surgery of the Embassy's panel physician. By the look of it, he's got himself a comfy little number there: a nice steady stream of customers at £125 a go.

I'm not the only one who had a quick interview: we arrive at the same time as applicant 002, and inside applicant 003 is already waiting.

Anyway, his waiting room is quite plush: certainly much nicer than my local GP surgery, but then again I'm not paying my GP to attend to me. They take from me my medical questionnaire, my vaccination records, yet another photo (good job I had plenty done) and my passport—hold on, the Embassy has my passport! Apparently the Embassy should have given me a photocopy of it. They didn't; but I'm well-prepared and I'm carrying my own backup copies of all my documents. I'm sent back to the waiting room until its my turn.

I'm called! I pay the £125 (ca-ching!) and sign permission forms for the examination and blood test. I'm handed back a folder with my documents in and I'm sent downstairs where there is...

...another waiting room. The documents go in a holder on the wall and I wait my turn. In a few minutes I'm called into a side office to have my blood drawn. No problem: I give blood so I'm used to needles in the arm, and this is a comparatively small one.

Back to waiting again. Applicants 002 and 003 get called for X-Ray; and soon enough so am I. I'm given a cubicle and told to strip to the waist; and I wait. And wait. It's not very interesting in the cubicle, and the decor down here is much more functional than the plush waiting room upstairs. I notice a handle on the wall of the cubicle and give it an experimental tug: it's an under-stairs cupboard containing cleaning materials and telephone wiring. I hear movement outside and quietly close the cupboard door.

X-Ray. It's a chest X-Ray and I have to assume a position rather like a chicken; hands behind me at kidney level so I can hold the lead sheet which protects my lower body.

Oh no! Back to the boring cubicle again. I've been told to keep my shirt off, and I'm starting to feel a bit chilly. People come and go from X-Ray; eventually, I'm called to the doctor's office for the examination.

It is without doubt the quickest and most perfunctory medical exam I've ever had. He races through the form ticking boxes and moves me around the office like a rag doll: blood pressure, say "ah", left ear, right ear, breathe in, breathe out, lie down, get up, cover your left eye and read this — a comedy moment, my trousers fall down as he hasn't given me time to fasten them. It all seems to go all right, but I'm left wondering: I know I'm healthy, but with an exam this quick how can he be sure?

I'm handed back my vaccination records, which have done the trick: I'm up-to-date and don't need to pay nosebleed prices to have the vaccinations done there and then.

And back, yet again, to the boring cubicle. At least now I can get dressed again. Finally I'm called one last time. I can go. I'm handed my X-Ray in a rolled-up brown envelope; I'll need to give it to Immigration when I enter the US. And I need to come back at 1:30 to get my blood test results.

Phew. All the hard stuff is done. Time for lunch and a wander round the shops on Oxford Street. We poke around the Selfridges food hall a while — £5.99 for a packet of Oreos?! — kill some time at the HMV sale, and hop on a bus down to Piccadilly Circus to check out the new Virgin megastore. (Tower Records is no more, which feels rather sad — it was a fixture on Piccadilly Circus for as long as I can remember.) It's disappointing; it was always a cramped building and still is, and their sale is more lame than mega.

The results are clear; I'm healthy. We head home.