#12 Big Girl’s Blouse
My head hit the wall just above the toilet roll holder and the shock woke me up, kickstarting me back into life. I must have blacked out briefly and the collision was just what I needed. I shook my head trying to get my bearings but it made me feel all the more nauseous. Where was I? It took me a second, but I remembered that I was in a toilet cubicle in Charles de Gaulle airport and the pain in my stomach and the dizziness in my head were such that I had no plans to move anywhere else for the foreseeable future. Then another thought hit me. If I was going to black out again I’d rather not be found slumped on a public toilet with my pants round my ankles in Charles de Gaulle airport. And although the pain was eye-wateringly terrible, the thought of my semi-naked indignity being discovered by a disinterested toilet attendant was far, far worse. I had to move.
I don’t remember going through the ticket barrier, but I was now leaning heavily against a glass wall in the queue to get on the plane to Manchester, sweating heavily and with a bag on each shoulder as ballast. I called The Comedy Store to tell them I was in a bit of a state, and that I wasn’t sure if I could do the gig that night but that I would make my way to Manchester anyway. The way I saw it, Manchester was only an hour away, whereas home was at least three hours away and I didn’t think I could make it. They were very understanding, told me not to worry, and to look after myself. I think I probably frightened them a little but that’s because I myself was utterly terrified.
I did the gig, did the whole weekend in fact, gradually getting better until Saturday night when I was sick again. I’d spoken to the specialist by phone on the Friday and she said I should go to my doctor as soon as I could, to determine whether it was a gastro problem or the immune suppressant medicine. We both knew the answer to that one though. Two weeks earlier she’d upped the dosage of my weekly injection and it was clear that my body couldn’t tolerate the increase; it wasn’t the only intolerance knocking about.
My jaw dropped as the doctor took a pen to my Rheumatologist’s prescriptions and crossed out everything he didn’t like. Every medicine, every dosage and even the Rheumatologist’s name, ‘Romanian is she?’ he spat, and gave her name an extra crossing out. ‘You don’t even have Rheumatoid Arthritis!’ he declared without looking at the results of my MRI, Echography, blood tests and x-rays. He said something else derogatory about Romanians and then wrote me out a prescription for diarrhoea tablets and some stuff to combat vaginal bacteria. I shouldn’t have been surprised, he’s never liked me. Not since I’d told him years before that I wanted a vasectomy and he took it as an affront to the glorious history of French masculinity; it had made me a marked man. When all this palaver started he’d declared it was ‘just gout’, probably, he said, a result of too much ‘white wine and chocolate’, leaving me in no doubt as to what he thought of my ‘manliness’, that is, I was a romcom boxset away from full transgender. It was as clear a signal as he could come up with until he hit upon the idea of Vaginal Bacteria medicine as a cure for my newly found intestine issues.
I went back to the Rheumatologist two days later and told her what had gone on with the GP, leaving out some of the nastier anti-Romanian insults. She was as shocked as I was, went through all my results again, examined my joints once more and was obviously angry and humiliated. ‘You most definitely have Chronic Inflammatory Rheumatoid Arthritis,’ she said, her confidence shaken by the professional insult, ‘but to move on to more expensive treatment by law, we need a second opinion.’ I sighed heavily, it meant more waiting. ‘In the meantime,’ a twinkle came into her eye, ‘I will write to your doctor.’ Good for you, I thought, make it sweary.
How you cope with illness is a personal thing, you have to find your own path. For my part I have a strong and ignominious history of flouncy over-reaction, tempered with self-pity and maudlin fatalism but even I recognise when something actually has to be done, and that I can’t just rely on the medical profession. There are diet changes, exercise regimes, mental and physical wellbeing programmes, alternative homeopathic and holistic approaches. Many, many things, but personally, being shallower than a Le Creuset crêpes pan, the first thing I did was Google celebrities with Rheumatoid Arthritis instead. More women than men suffer from RA, that’s the first thing you learn and something which should cheer my doctor up if no-one else. Edith Piaf and Lucille Ball for example; then there are young modern sports stars, the tennis player Caroline Wozniacki who advocates ‘taking it one day at a time’ or the golfer Kristy McPherson who says, ‘stay active’, while the Sopranos actress Aida Turturro makes it clear that she is trained not to show pain, ‘I just act!’ she says. All of which is pretty unhelpful in terms of actual advice with RA sufferer Kathleen Turner also seeming to growl platitudes like, ‘just work it out as best you can’ although she did add that, ‘it stopped me having sex’. Oh God, really, I thought. I’m a married man in my forties with three kids, how will I know?
Of the male RA sufferers Renoir’s thoughts on the matter are unrecorded as are The Eagles’ frontman Glenn Frey, though there are whole pages dedicated to trying to prove that it was Rheumatoid Arthritis that directly killed him, pages that I am sensibly ignoring. Dr Christiaan Barnard’s glittering surgical career was cut short by the disease and James Coburn, one of the most iconic actors in film history, spent most of the 1980s unable to work, until he decided to turn his back on the medical establishment believing all they want is to ‘keep you on drugs’ and so found his own way of managing the problem.
“Coburn focused on a treatment plan which combined deep tissue massage, electromagnetic treatments, and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) which he insisted “really, really does the job.” Coburn reportedly used the word “cured” in his statements. The actor died in 2002 of a heart attack.”
That’s some cure and none of it sounds very promising at all, though if I can manage to look as cool as James Coburn during some of the darker times then I’ll take that. I went to bed brooding on the matter, a combination of pain and fatigue making me feel dizzy. My dreams were odd that night, they began with me dressed as James Coburn in Our Man Flint, then crossing over the Spanish border as one of the few successful escapees in The Great Escape while humming Peaceful, Easy Feeling as I did so and stopping to knock out an impressionist landscape on a mountain side. Then things took a dark turn as a gravelly Kathleen Turner told me I’d never have sex again while also singing Je ne regrette rien, before finally, I slumped to the floor in a public toilet dressed as Caroline Wozniacki with my GP standing over me, nodding sagely, ‘I knew it,’ he said, ‘look, he’s even wearing a skirt!’
Jesus, I thought, waking up in a cold sweat, and this is without the drugs. When you’re at a low ebb you need a win, something to cling on to, a bright star in a dark sky that lights the way and keeps you moving forward, so I leant back on the pillow and gave it some thought, then I had it. Thank God, I sighed in relief, my world looking rosy for once, at least my vaginal bacteria has cleared up.
The ‘Monsieur So British…’ blog carries on from my two best-selling books, ‘À la Mod…’ and ‘C’est Modnifique!’ both published by Summersdale and available here. This blog will also appear as a podcast every fortnight. It’s here on itunes if you’d like a listen. they’re only 15 minutes long…
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