Regarding That Post On 13th May 2016

Dear Kiddiewinks,

Time for a follow up to what was posted last month.

In the week that post was made, there had been a second series of tests, concerning a mysterious burning pain inside the body without rhyme or reason. Attempts to link it to some activity proved fruitless, since whether walking or at rest it could set off without warning.

Now if Paul Carrick (Ace, Mike and the Mechanics, Squeeze and probably everything else in the World Explorers’ record collections!) was a Mare’s Nest reader, at this point he would of course be asking how long has this been going on?

rimshot  tomato

To which we’d dig out an old piccie of Martin Fry of ABC (now they’re back in the zeitgeist this week) which was used here back in the early days in response:

i don't know the answer to that question

A few weeks? Six months? A year? The fact is it had been that long it had become a semi-routine nuisance of an indeterminate genesis.

A particularly sharp episode at work back in November last year when it felt Satan’s little imps had decided to have an internal Guy Fawkes Night bonfire was the moment your humble narrator accepted this could no longer be ignored. Except they did, stupidly, by taking codeine and paracetamol to mask the symptoms during bad bouts. Struggling on through and hoping it will go away isn’t quite the bumnuggetry it seems when you have sundry real life commitments to oblige.

Come April however, matters came to a head after a protracted attack one evening that literally left your humble narrator in tears from the pain. Don’t you dare feel sorry – it was your truly’s stupid fault for ignoring the warnings and not taking action earlier.

One trip to the doctor the next morning and your humble narrator was promised a hospital referral to get an ultrasound scan for what was claimed by their local quack doctor to be a suspected hernia: ‘when you are breathing out, I can feel the point that’s causing you pain popping against my finger, that’s how I know.’

The prospect of surgery is of course never welcome. The strange part was when yours truly tried replicating what the doctor had done later, there was no such ‘pop’.

It’s moments like this which start to gnaw away at ones confidence in the National Health Service. Did the doctor know what they are doing  – would you trust a profession that every day is ‘practicing’? Joking aside, was your humble narrator being fobbed off with a plausible story to mask being sent for an ultrasound for something else entirely?

Now waiting times for out-patient appointments with the British National Health Services are a great way to recycle all those old Soviet repairmen jokes. So it came as a pleasant surprise to find a letter through in just under a week later asking to come in the following week and to telephone to confirm yours truly could make it –  ‘too damn right!’ came the answer.

But a week turnaround? In the NHS?

That would only be plausible had it been a private hospital or had one elected to take private treatment under the NHS (a topic which has since been explored during the course of this saga and proved a complete eyeopener ever since on such matters as fully private wards within ostensibly NHS hospitals being more common than admitted to, but that’s another topic for far better qualified observers to get your info from…).

Slack times can happen of course in hospitals as much as any other service industry where you can find yourself the only one in the queue the day before stretched to the pavement outside. All the same, that pleasure at a speedy turnaround was also met with a twinge of concern.

The hospital appointment proved bang on time to the second: for the first time your humble narrator can remember in their entire life. You could have set an atomic clock by it: although one wonders whether this may have been the result of minds being concentrated by a shocking assault on a staff member earlier that morning over a row about waiting to be seen. The result was the quickest route to that department was now sealed off by a police ‘incident team’, necessitating a magical mystery tour around the hospital (to a ticking watch fast closing on an impending appointment and a return to the back of the admin queue) to find a new route of entry. From Casualty to Richard O’Brien on The Crystal Maze shouting: ‘you’ve got three minutes before the automatic fuck off from reception…’ in the blink of an eye.

The ultrasound operator was as ice cold as the conductivity gel yours truly was covered with by the smiling chatty nurse as part of some sort of NHS Nice and Nasty routine. Honestly, for people in the middle of a prolonged dispute with the government, they can be as guilty at times of our government of regarding public support as a given right because of Who They Are rather than trying to earn it by their actions.

Fifteen minutes into the scan, without warning the disinterested rude old shit suddenly gave a very uncharacteristic ‘Oh!’.

Not a dull ‘Oh!’, one literally of finding something they did not expect, in a part they had not scanned before.

Nor were not intending to – until your humble narrator said that as they’d gone to all the trouble of gelling the living daylights out of yours truly it might save the NHS the expense of a return trip months later (and perhaps a more expensive treatment required…) if the symptoms still persisted.

The nurse announced (and was promptly and unprofessionally told by the scan operator to shut up) that it looked like an inflamed lymph node which could be cancer.

This is the moment you feel a large metal tin box full of screws, washers and nails has just been dropped from a height onto a stone tiled floor inside you.

Cancer of the lymphatic system is one that carried an ‘oh shit!’ rating for good reason: metastasis. Like bands when their egos go supernova, it has a nasty habit of throwing up dozens of side projects all over the place. And your lymph nodes are those little bean shaped gizmos that are the network of barracks of your immune system. If they’re in trouble – you’re in deep trouble.

What niceness or friendliness lingered of the appointment vanished from the two staff members, your humble narrator was told to breathe one moment, hold breath the next, over and over for another fifteen minutes or however long it was of scanning and further scanning, and being told to keep quiet throughout like some irate schoolmaster. Really, how that nurse put up with working with that obnoxious baldy bumnugget must remain one of the grand mysteries of the British medical profession.

The verdict? ‘The results will be sent to your doctor who will inform you in due course.’ From the nearby desk eyes fixed to the screen, no eye contact with the patient.

‘Can’t you tell me something… anything?’ After all sunshine, it’s not like one is looking for spoilers of your favourite TV show, a preview of a highly anticipated game or the first taster single from a favourite musician’s next album? Yes, you’re numbed to patient anxiety from the repetition of it all eight hours a day five days a week, but you owe me when you earlier f**king ‘oh!’-ed me.

‘As I have said, the results will be sent to your doctor who will inform you in due course.’

Said in a manner befitting a British death sentence appeal panel announcing ‘the law must take its course.’

Thanks, bastard.

Pause For Thought

It was not the fear so much that it could be Big C…

That part came as a surprise – the reaction.

It’s like when you see a ghost for the first time, and it’s nothing like the media portray it – an anti-climatic ‘is that it?’  You found you’ve just reacted it not like some screaming diva or frozen shock, more like seeing fleetingly some species of creature for the first time or some uncommon weather phenomena.

One in three Britons can expect to get it at some stage in their lives. Some will never know they ever had it. Some are benign. Some are killed off by the work of the lymph nodes, strangely enough. Your body’s a lot better at kicking the crap out of nasties than you will ever realise.

Besides, after what happened to Wilko Johnson, what the plumbob was there to be scared of? Times have changed, it’s no longer the case of catching a nasty cancer early enough and you’ve got a chance to live – more the case of bad luck if they catch it too late. Even then, you can get a terminal verdict (the official definition of which is no more than six months left to live) that’s little more than the NHS looking for you to sign away your rights to other treatment to save money.

If that sounds too horrifying to be true, read the tale of fellow WordPress blogger Anna Raccoon – all round scourge of just about everything whose blog can only be described as every complacent journalist’s nightmare – who get one of those officialdom sentences of death last year.  Suffice to say, this proved to be premature of Mark Twain proportions.

(Anna Raccoon, aka lawyer Susanne Cameron-Blackie aka Susanne Mundy, is one of those online writers you should make a point of spending at least one afternoon reading before you die. Approach with an open mind).

But back to the story.

And The Verdict Was…

The wait for the result felt like the longest week, followed by the longest day, and the next, and the next, until the silly sod at the doctor’s reception remembered that results were downloaded from the ‘Cloud’ these days, not posted. No, they couldn’t say anything over the phone about the contents.

Down to the doctors (as Wilko Johnson might have said had he not left Dr Feelgood by then…), only to be told that it would be best to see a specialist back at the hospital. It took some persuasion that it might speed up matters if they took blood samples there and then rather than booking a new appointment to see the practice nurse to do this, to which they clock-watching reluctantly agreed. Back on the list again.

Quelle surprise, one week later and there was an appointment for the week after. The Haemotology department this time.

This time the appointment for The Big Verdict was one hour ten minutes late. And yes, they called when and only when yours truly was in the toilet – which only needed a Vortigaunt chanting oh-ee-ah-oh-ee-ah-DIE! or a screaming headcrab to complete the resemblence to something from Half-Life.

(The vortigaunts always brought to mind TV chatshow host Michael Parkinson for some reason: perhaps because of the way they walked).

The verdict? ‘The scan was inconclusive. The blood tests were inconclusive. To be honest we’re a bit stumped.’

A quick medical molestation on the couch later (which is like being groped on public transport or gigs with the added insult that it’s only for professional reasons…), and Dr Bony Fingers decided they needed to do a CT scan. One prefers the older name of CAT scan for obvious kitty-squee reasons. But they would have some more blood samples, just to be safe.

There was one small crumb of comfort – sitting in the comfiest chair in the history of the world awaiting the nurse to finish the fifteen minutes of paperwork before doing a two minute job. Seated far across on the other side of the room was the only other patient, a miserable looking late-middle aged man with a drip bag pumping what looked like luminous lemon curd into one arm, book held open with lost interest with the hand of the other. Whatever the treatment was, it appeared to be destroying his will to live. The assumption was this was some sort of chemotherapy.

For a brief moment, the man looked over and attempted a smile, and strangely enough, Writin_Reg’s eponymous avatar from Sims 3 came to mind – made whilst undergoing treatment for leukemia with a prognosis not good. That same weary, resigned look. Really Reggie, that afternoon you would have appreciated in the face of a stranger how much you couldn’t have captured that look any more perfectly.

Back on the list again. This time it took a fortnight for The Letter to drop through with a new phone number.

Shiny… Shiny…

Now for the big surprise – your humble narrator was sent to the posh new(ish) hospital that there’s been long dark rumours is more a private hospital pretending to be an NHS one for reasons touched upon earlier. It also has all the most modern equipment money can buy – paid for primarily by people with lolly-a-plenty paying to queue jump and get beyond heathboard budget treatments administered by public employees rather than having to wait or spending more money doing so with a proper private hospital.

A cynic would say it’s almost being run as a showcase ‘this can be the future, if you will only embrace it and give up the NHS to full privatisation’. Are there others like this throughout the NHS one wonders? But that’s another topic, once again, for others…

To say this was another world is to understate the case. The staff were officious, but polite. The building was years old, but every inch right down to the posters on the walls looked like it had only been opened the day before. And the hospital was clean. So unbelievably clean!

A CAT scan is one of those experiences everyone should go through once in their lives – the medical equivalent of a rollercoaster, except moving more like a photocopier sweep, whilst lying down on what feels like the bottom of a padded plastic hotdog microwaving tray with instead of sauce a drip shoved into your arm containing a clear dye that only shows up via the machine.

There are two distinct experiences to all this. The first is the noise of the machine, which sounds like the sort of cacophony Ministry would have looped and fired some guitar riffs and drums around back in their heyday. The second is the sensation of the dye. You get a strange burning sensation in your veins momentarily, followed by a warm rush to the shoulders and an unpleasant methylated spirits taste replaced by a marginally more bearable single malt whisky taste. Many don’t drink the pint of water before their appointment to alleviate the worst effects of this, and learn to regret it.

There was however one final curiosity. One minute later, your humble narrator’s bum felt like it was hot and glowing like a light bulb: one of those light bulbs used for sports stadium floodlights at that.

The subject of that more local hospital came up in the small talk with the staff. Several had been sent there over the year in secondments due to staff shortages. All described it as ‘a complete disgrace’. Some even suggested that there was plenty of money in the budget allocated to them by the local health board topped up with their own more modest number of private cash cases to make it far better – but wherever that money was going, it certainly wasn’t being ploughed back into the hospital. Every day a lesson in the school of life.

Results? To be sent to Dr Bony Fingers.

And the lymph node roared with pain all week.

And last (for now)…

A week later, the results. Eventually.

An hour of phone calls between the admin ghouls of Dr Bony Fingers’ Haemotology Department and yours truly’s doctors’ surgery to get first of all an agreement who was to give me the verdict, next where the verdict was to be found in the ‘Cloud’, and finally when to come in and get it.  ‘Tomorrow, if you can be fitted in.’

The result? CT scan negative. Blood tests definitely negative. Everything fine, except for a lymph node flared up and being a freaking arsebucket for reasons that could not be explained. They only do so for non-cancerous reasons due to some short-term illness or infection – certainly not for this length of time. But as this doctor cheerily told me, this sort of thing sometimes happens in medicine, not to worry.

After all that. The quiet facing up to the potential worst. Only to get this.

Oh well.

The lymph node, meanwhile, nags on…

rant banghead

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