Wart-charming on the NHS?

28th December 2010 by Judith Harvey

At the beginning of term, a booth would be set up in the school gym. Stripped to the waist and hunched with cold and embarrassment, we stood waiting for our turn to enter the booth so that the games mistress could watch us bend forward to touch our toes. Then she inspected the soles of our feet. I don’t know if she ever picked up an incipient scoliosis, but each summer verrucas condemned several girls to sitting by the swimming pool while the rest of us practised our breast stroke.

I was in my twenties before I discovered plantar warts of my own. The first crop and I co-existed for ten years. I was working in Cornwall when they spread to my hands. The nurses at the cottage hospital advised me to phone the local wart charmer. I had lived in Cornwall long enough to appreciate belief in the supernatural, and I was fed up with the warts, so I did. The telephone consultation was brief. She didn’t ask many questions. A meeting was not required. My offer of payment was declined. “Leave it to me, my ‘andsome” she said. I did. Within a month I was wart- and verruca-free.

I left Cornwall behind, but not the papilloma virus. A subsequent verruca resisted trial by chemicals, fire and ice. As I was walking on the edge of my foot even in shoes, I stopped telling patients that verrucas are painless. Eventually a podiatrist lasered it. Three years later, same again. Even the up-to-the-minute immune response modifier imiquimod achieved nothing. The plastic surgeon’s laser generated a lot of smoke and a very large hole, but did the trick.

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