#18 A Dandy in Aspic
There’s something about all state run hospitals that feeds beautifully into my delusional self-fiction. Their cold, grey architecture and oppressive, murmuring, almost paranoid, atmosphere is so redolent of the Cold War that I can wander in to reception, blink through my glasses, look around slowly and imagine that I am the actual Harry Palmer. The mundanity of these places, the sheer drabness of their washed out, colourless throwback decor actually lifts me. Well, I say lifts me…
‘What are you thinking?’ Natalie asked. We were both looking out of a window on the 6th floor of the Stasi Headquarters in East Berlin, sorry Centre Hôspitalier Simone Veil de Blois. Below was the ground floor roof, gravelled a kind of dank, beigey grey and with domed, opaque skylights protruding.
‘Whether,’ I said quietly, ‘I would actually die if I threw myself out in an escape attempt.’
‘I was thinking that there are no weeds in the gravel,’ Natalie quite rightly preferred to ignore my heavy-handed melodrama and concentrate on our domestic gardening issues instead.
There were no weeds. Sinister, I thought, adopting ‘the Caine’ once more.
‘Monsieur Moore?’ The call came from further down the shadowed, echoing corridor.
‘J’arrive,’ I replied in my usual Frockney (that’s a Mockney-French crossover), so it comes out as, ‘Je (pause) arrive.’
Natalie looked at me and squeezed my hand. We were at the hospital for my ‘second opinion’, a legal necessity if I was to be allowed on to the more expensive treatment programme. The previous treatment had tried to kill me but I needed something as the CRAPI, that is Chronic Rheumatoid Arthritis Inflammatoire Psoriatique, was taking hold again, the pain and fatigue now affecting work.
I was so glad that she was here. My French is in theory more than adequate to cope with these situations, but in the same way that all medics smoke they all speak incredibly quickly too, treating each appointment as though it were a speed-date. I wasn’t coping particularly well. It was a very cold room, I was lying on a bed in my pants while very specific medical questions were being fired at me and the brain fog began to descend; and then I felt the room change angle on me as I slid slowly down and away…
‘Yes,’ snapped the smiling rheumatologist, ‘the bed is broken, you may as well lie down rather than try to sit up.’
I had, thanks to my perennial fear of these appointments, genuinely assumed that I was slipping slowly into unconsciousness, gripped with morbid fear, not that the raised bed head had a faulty spring and just couldn’t sustain my weight and I felt like an idiot. I propped myself up on my elbows and tried to make it appear I’d known all along the bed was faulty, but the pain went shooting through my joints again, so I just laid back and concentrated on the grey, polystyrene ceiling above me and let Natalie do the talking instead.
Since my GP’s angry, xenophobic rejection of my initial diagnosis this appointment had taken on an extra significance. Would it be my Romanian Rheumatologist or my, by his own admission, misanthropic family doctor who had got it right? They had both assessed the same evidence from a barrage of examination results, but was it about evidence or opinion? I hoped it was the former. If there’s anything the world, or I, needs less of right now it’s ill-informed opinion masquerading as expert judgement. Opinions fly around these days like ashes floating from a bonfire, short-lived and fragile, increasingly weaker the further they get from the source. Our Bed and Breakfast got a review on Google Business recently and it turned out to be from a 14 year old friend of Maurice’s who had just cycled by the gate, triggering an alignment of 3G, Google’s opinion needy ubiquity and his ability to ride hands free while typing on his phone giving us a Five Star review. Which is all well and good if it works in your favour, but it can also work the other way. I got a One Star review on Amazon for my first book, ‘The Most Useless Book Ever,’ it said, clearly not even considering that at the very least it’s made of paper so you could start a fire with it.
I was relieved then, after more verbal and physical prodding, that the Rheumatologist confirmed the opinion of the other Rheumatologist, I have indeed got Chronic Rheumatoid Arthritis Inflammatoire Psoriatique (CRAPI), she said, and I lay back on the bed and nearly rolled off backwards. It wasn’t all good news though. Before proposing the expensive, wonder treatment, all other treatments must be tried first which I know is fair enough, but it’s still a little deflating. There’s no reason of course why this different range of drugs might not work where the others failed, but when you are then asked to seek the advice of a Gastroenterologist just to see if your body can take a certain type of medicine, doubts inevitably creep in. And the side effects of this new prescription read like a news report from an African famine; by Christmas I’ll have at the very least diarrhoea, constipation, liver damage, chest pain, hives and oral thrush and that’s just the nice ones.
I got dressed as Natalie asked the rheumatologist if there was anything else I could be doing in the meantime, any dietary changes and so on. Not really, was the reply, keep on as you are – which I took to mean the odd medicinal rosé – try to exercise, but most importantly try to relax. Ah yes, the old ‘try to relax’ chestnut. Here we go again. ‘Ian, you have three jobs, you spend your life travelling between them while coping with an animal mental hospital and a demanding family, now you just go and relax for a bit.’ You can’t force relaxation in the same way that you can’t force enjoyment, it’s an emotion, a mood, not an exercise. Plus it needs your brain to play along and not sit there like it’s a laptop with 12 different tabs open at once. Humans don’t have a screen saver. Just saying to someone ‘Relax’ doesn’t immediately induce relaxation, unless they’re under hypnosis so even then it’s forced. The departures board at Stansted Airport now says, ‘Relax’ on it while waiting for your boarding gate to be announced. Relax? In Stansted Aiport? Are you kidding? Stansted Airport is like the trash compactor in the first Star Wars, the walls, in this case, of retail and fast food closing in on you while Stag Parties leer drunkenly from the bars and Hen parties wander about with inflatable penises. And you’re telling me to relax in the midst of this oppressive mania?
‘Here,’ back in the 1960s angled hospital corridor, the rheumatologist handed me a booklet, ‘it’s not specifically about your condition,’ she whispered, ‘but there’s some good advice.’ Delusion, day-dreaming, a blank refusal to live in the real world, call it what you will, is a defence mechanism, a necessary shield against the mundanity of growing old and the relentlessness of domesticity. So here, a beautiful foreign agent was passing me forged papers while hinting, Mata-Hari style, at further liaisons.
I looked at the booklet, discretely in case we were being watched, there was a whole chapter on how to bend down properly, followed by a detailed pictogram of the best way to put your shoes on without aggravating your illness. I sighed heavily, you can hold onto your delusions for only so long…
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 and it’s on spotify and acast, if you’d like a listen. They’re only 15 minutes long…
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