【明報專訊】WHAT happens if you feel ill at a boarding school? Do you go to a private clinic or a hospital, or buy tablets from the pharmacy? Not really. At my school, each boarding house has a "matron", a kindly and typically middle‑aged lady who is in charge of housekeeping and looking after pupils when they are feeling poorly. Normally, if you have quite a serious cold, you would go to the matron and ask her to let you off school and sport. Unless you are in visible discomfort, the answer is usually no (although some matrons are ridiculously lenient). In Hong Kong if I was ill, all I had to do was get my mum to call up the school and say that I am not coming; over here, it seems that the English like to foster a sort of hardiness in their children, making them play sport come rain or shine, or illness. My matron has said to me many times that I should go to sport precisely because I am ill, to get some fresh air in my system. Then she would give me two paracetamols, or some olbas oil to soothe my blocked nose (they cannot give out much else as they don't have medical qualifications). And as much as I hate to admit, she is always right about sport making me feel better.
When it comes to more serious medical matters, the school has a health centre with nurses and doctors who work within the National Health Service (NHS). The NHS provides free healthcare to all students, including the medicine they are prescribed, though excluding dental treatment and optical care. For even more serious injuries and illnesses, students are often taken to nearby hospitals by matrons for treatment. However, this is quite rare, and I would say the matron's real job is to gossip with us and make us feel at home.
Alice Sze has been boarding in the UK for more than four years. She loves languages. Apart from Chinese and English, she studies Italian, French, Spanish, Japanese, Latin and Ancient Greek.