#28 Health Kicked
I first lost faith in the medical profession at the tender age of five. A bigger boy on the estate in Blackburn, he was at least seven foot tall, had taken a dislike to me and had pounded my face with a brick to underline his antipathy. The doctor who I saw at the Royal Infirmary was funny and caring and he promised to give me his reflex hammer if I didn’t cry. Well I didn’t cry, but I never saw that reflex hammer. Fast forward about twenty years and I’m in London and about to undergo a ‘procedure’ involving a swab and a major part of my genitalia. I was terrified and the nurse knew it.
‘Do you mind if I let a student in to watch?’ she asked innocently.
Now I may have been young and pretty naive, but I know a delicate position when I see one and honestly felt that it would be unwise to refuse. But it wasn’t ‘medical student’ singular at all, and once I’d reluctantly agreed in trooped about twenty medical students, all eager for a closer look. And not one of them had the good grace to even look me in the eye, so to speak.
Anyway, it means that I’m wary of medical appointments, even though I’ve had my fill in the last couple of years, so to pack three in in a week could literally either kill or cure.
The first was always going to be the most physically trying. A double header of colonoscopy and fibroscopie, arse and throat basically, a medical spit-roast. Of course it’s the prep that’s the hardest part with these procedures. It’s a bit like decorating, the laborious, physically arduous preparation has to be got out of the way before anything can happen. I’d been given a sheet of instructions, a strict diet, which was to begin four days in advance. No fried stuff, no fruit and veg, it wasn’t that big a problem. The ‘purging’ solution that I had to take on the day before though was about as undignified as it gets. It acts like a Cillit Bang drain unblocker. You drink a couple of litres of the stuff and within five minutes you’re on the toilet behaving like some kind of avant garde sewer water feature. Fortunately this is where owning your own B&B comes in handy, and I checked myself in for the duration of the purge, and away from a full house of family, in-laws and cousins. But it was deeply unpleasant.
‘Have you taken your medication this morning?’ The brusque nurse didn’t look up from her form, as she hadn’t throughout what was the first of many snappy interrogations that the day would hold. I said no, and that I hadn’t for about a week, not feeling the need. She was talking about my high blood pressure meds and in truth I’d just forgotten. She wasn’t impressed and gave me a telling off. Natalie, who had driven me to the hospital at the crack of dawn, was there to back her up and there was nothing I could do. I’m not normally one to take a bollocking without a bit of a fight, but when you’re wearing a tissue paper shower curtain, struggling to remove your wedding ring and with literally nothing left inside you, the spirit weakens, your ability to fight back is diminished. I hung my head in shame.
I was wheeled on my bed down into the basement by a chirpy porter who was gibbering on about something, but I wasn’t paying attention. I concentrated on the ceiling lights as they whizzed by above my head. I defy anyone not to be nervous in these situations, and all the detail comes in to sharp focus as though the fatalistic side of you is saying ‘take one last look, pal. This is where we get off.’ The nurses were all friendly, a couple remarked on my accent, Donna Summer’s version of ‘Could it Be Magic’ was playing on a radio somewhere. Another nurse, who had a small mole on her forehead, asked if I’d taken the purge and how was it? ‘Ce n’était pas génial,’ I replied and that made her laugh. She stuck a whacking great needle into my vein as she did so though. Tough crowd.
I don’t remember feeling drowsy at any point, I just fell asleep immediately and then was awoken by a nurse what felt like only a few minutes later. Astonishingly, it was over. All done. I felt no discomfort at all, I wasn’t even sure they’d done anything yet and I was a little annoyed that they’d woken me up anyway. I don’t often get good sleep, I could have done with a snooze button but they wouldn’t let me, they just kept me groggily alert for my Romanian doctor to come and explain what had occurred. I lay there while she spoke and I remember thinking that it was one of the most pointless conversations I’d ever had. To my half asleep brain she sounded about as articulate as Charlie Brown’s school teacher. I had just been roused from a general anaesthetic and she was explaining complicated medical procedures in French via her heavy Romanian accent. It was like watching a foreign film without the subtitles, I could guess at the gist and so on, but my grasp of specifics was weak to say the least.
When I was back in my room I told Natalie about my meeting with the doctor, and how little I’d gleaned from the exchange but Natalie is more practical than me and started reading the medical notes in my newly updated file. All the tests said, ‘Normale’. So there it was, nothing to worry about. There were some handwritten remarks at the bottom but the doctor wrote the same way as she spoke and neither of us could make out a word of what she’d written, but it didn’t matter, everything was normale.
‘Yes, so you have duodenal haemorrhaging I see. And we have to wait for the biopsy reports.’
Natalie and I looked at each other, I’ve got what now?
This was 24 hours later and we were in the office of my rheumatologist, another Romanian and so qualified to decipher her colleague’s notes. Natalie had come with me for this appointment basically to act as my Joe Pesci and to convince the specialist that the medication I’d had so far was doing more damage than it was good. Duodenal haemorrhaging, whatever that is, seemed proof positive of that. The rheumatologist wasn’t convinced however, though she accepted that there was no way I was going to take the stuff she’d prescribed especially after I explained at length the full effect it was having. ‘Ok,’ she said, ‘you need to go back to my other colleague to be prescribed the expensive drugs.’ About time, I thought. ‘But,’ she added, ‘these drugs are very powerful cancer treatment drugs, your body might not tolerate them…’ And then she asked me to strip off again, as she always does, and which seemed highly unnecessary until Natalie pointed out that her previous patient had been a very overweight old woman wearing pop socks, ‘she probably wanted to see a decent body.’
I can’t remember the last time my body was complimented even in such a backhand way, and there was more to come.
‘I’m very proud of you,’ Natalie said in the car on the way home, ‘your French has come on so much.’
That’s the kind of thing, in a tough week, that keeps you buoyed. And it wasn’t just said as a boost either. Since I’d done a gig in French at the end of January, a gig I fretted about for weeks, my confidence levels in the language have soared. Soared I tell you, soared. Like Icarus.
I came out of the Ear, Nose and Throat specialist’s office, holding my nose. Apparently I had a wound in my nostril that is refusing to heal, hence my nosebleeds, but in order to diagnose that he had administered a solution, like the arse purging medicine, that cleared the pipes. This stuff took twenty minutes to take effect, so I sat in the waiting room while it worked its magic. A young girl, probably about 12, went in after me and was given the same treatment and she emerged looking a little scared. It was quite an unpleasant sensation, like feeling your nasal membrane dissolve. But it worked and as I came back out of the surgery again, I glanced over at the girl and her equally worried mum.
Now, what I meant to do was offer some support, some succour to the frightened child and what I should have said is, ‘ne t’inquiète pas, ça ne fait pas mal.’ Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt. What I actually said was ‘Bon courage’, a kind of doom-laden ‘well, good luck with that!’ The mother’s face fell, ‘Don’t say that!’ she said as the girl almost burst into tears. I could have stayed and tried to explain myself, but I didn’t. I scarpered and vowed never to speak French again. It’s been a tough old week.
Monsieur So British is a weekly blog and carries on from my two best-selling books ‘À la Mod…’ and ‘C’est Modnifique…’, both are available here. It is also a fortnightly podcast, sometimes with extra bits thrown in and all the major podcast platforms.
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I have just finished reading your blog after our first week in France and it will be a regular companion on my round trips from Le Chartre-sur-le-Loir back to Blighty for work. So this is what we have to look forward to ? Romanian physicians with difficult accents… no change there then !!!!
Thoroughly enjoyed the musings of “le flâneur “