Archive for January, 2018


It is Wednesday 24th. Heavy, lowering nimbostratus cloud. Cold slanting rain. Manchester’s default winter weather, to be endured, not enjoyed.

I enter the labyrinth via a different entrance and studiously follow the route outlined for me on my letter of appointment. Take the first corridor on the left, the purple route to the Acute Block Radiology Department, ground floor, do not climb any stairs….. My hospital navigation skills have been noticed. They have thought it best to provide assistance. I am here for a C.T. scan on my pelvis and abdomen.

The department proudly advertises that it is the first in the U.K. to have a new Siemens System which has a magnetic field “50,000 stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field”. This imparts no real information as the Earth’s magnetic field varies wildly at different points on the surface and is up to 50 times stronger at the Earth’s core than it is on the surface. But this is not the time for pedantry.

I am 30 minutes ahead of schedule and surprisingly am processed immediately. The hospital gown. Has anyone ever managed to work out a method of successfully tying this item of apparel?Does the NHS have a mischievous sense of humour? I toy with the idea of tying the laces before donning it but instead opt for my usual solution of wandering through corridors clutching at the resultant gap with both hands and hoping that I am not offending people’s sensibilities as I pass them.

Within seconds I am installed amidst a huge state of the art diagnostic tool. It gives me instructions before going about its work silently, smoothly. I have an image of people with magnetic hip replacements suspended, dangling helplessly from the highest point of the “50,000 times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field” magnet.

From canula in to canula out is thirty minutes. I successfully follow the exit signs to the exit but not in my blue- patterned hospital gown.

The following day. Thursday 25th. Another mizzly, grizzly, glowering, rain-sodden day. First a meeting with Florence. And yet again the labyrinth defeats me. I have to seek counselling and as I do so I notice an A4 size piece of paper cellotaped to the wall “Urology Assessment Unit Yonder”. Again I think they must know.

Nurse Blonde welcomes me, sits with me spends time with me. Is it my irresistible charismatic personality or her lingering memory of my Calvin Kleins that is the basis for her attentions?

I am knee to knee, tete a tete with the elegant Florence. We discuss time lines. It has taken 6 months to get to this point.We both feel that that is far too long. I tell of a bloke who presented an elevated PSA level and was seen by his local hospital Urology department two days later. She promises to cut through protocol, red tape and inform me of the results of the scans as soon as she can.

Yes, plural, for now I am off to the Nuclear Medicine Isotope department. I follow detailed written guidelines. Yes, they certainly know. An almost deserted, abandoned place. No reception. No waiting patients. Piped music. Two young staff. That’s all. Just two young people catering for the demands of the entire department. The thin white line of the present day NHS.

A canula is established, this time in the other arm, and I am injected with a radio active tracer “You are now radio active Eric” says the rather strikingly beautiful radiologist. Does that mean I have a half life? If so, which half? I have to know. I hang around for three hours or so to allow the tracer to locate the areas to be scanned. My bones. If it has got to my bones I think I have to start writing shorter pieces.

I am precisely installed by a young man from the Rhondda Valley, South Wales. Another impressive huge diagnostic machine begins its interrogation of the length of my frame. Just a few centimeters above my face at first. Its track down my body is almost imperceptible.

This sweep takes 25 minutes and I am recalling a long time ago when I had the honour of playing the organ for my college friend Howard in another South Wales valley, Maesteg. It was the occasion of his wedding to his sweetheart Avril. I will never forget the shock, my surprise of being assailed by the full- throated, harmonious singing of the miners who filled the chappel. I remember easing off on the swell box feeling almost redundant, unnecessary. Howard’s father was the manager of the local coal mine. They were just beginning to be closed down. They are now all gone. The man from the Rhondda told me that there is huge unemployment in the area. The youth with low expectations, very little opportunity. He told me that he is one of the few fortunate ones who have managed to get away and find a job. How profoundly sad. Young people with little hope, aspirations extinguished prematurely.

The Welshman readjusts the machine so that it now interrogates me from different angles. Two further silent fluid sweeps lasting 7 minutes. I am released from my bed. Canula in to canula out four and a half hours. I am to avoid close contact with young children or pregnant women for (only) 24 hours.

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The Harbinger

Again to The Labyrinth and yes, yet again I become uncertain of my position. That’s pilot speak for “Where the hell am I?” In all my years of flying planes I was never this lost.

I make it to the distant outpost that is Urology. I am greeted warmly by Nurses Blonde and Brunette and in a nearby room awaits The Harbinger. This man is the opposite to my friend The Cricketer. No preamble, straight down to business. I was all too aware that the next few minutes could determine the path my future would take. We all have those key seminal moments in our lives, moments that permanently etched upon our memories. The day the plumber arrived on time, the day Elvis died, the divorce coming through, a checkout sans queue at the supermarket. This for me was one of those such moments.

Within a minute The Harbinger was asking whether I favoured surgery or radio therapy. The biopsy had thrown up a Gleason Score of 4 + 4. That is at the high- risk end of the scale, the maximum of which is 5 + 5. The Harbinger began to arrange scans asap.

Into yet another room to meet Florence my Macmillan Nurse. Tall, slim, elegant in her bespoke dark blue uniform. She tried to soften the impact “Eric we are going on this journey together”. “Oh, does that mean we’re going to catch the same tram back to Old Trafford?”

She supplied me with literature, a booklet, a primer, basic stuff for those who read and move their lips at the same time. She instructed me not to Google. Since then I have not ceased to Google. I Google every day. I have become an enthusiastic Googler, driven. I want to acquire as much information as possible concerning my condition, the possible treatments, survival rates, degrees and rates of metastisis. Everything. I have, within a very short time, become one of the UK’s leading authorities.

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January 2nd. I return to the Labyrinth and once again become hopelessly lost en route to Urology. I pass Neurophysiology so I must be on track. I am greeted by a smiling Nurse Blonde and I wave my third can of Diet Coke in greeting. The fizzy stuff proves to be the solution and at last I wee into the receptacle. I emerge from the toilet to find Nurse Blonde and Nurse Brunette high -fiving. There is an air of celebration. I look for fireworks and a puff of white smoke.

And now a scan performed by Nurse Blonde who compliments me on my Calvin Kleins. Surely this cannot be the high point of her day.

Another room. The Cricketer is waiting for me. A tall, loose man, a Real Ale drinker, easy company. He talks me through what is next on the agenda, a biopsy. He is thorough and disarming. There is no need for me to ask any questions. We are old friends chatting over a pint in the clubhouse.

Ten minutes later I am attired in a hospital gown – one of those mysteries that are open at the back – and my multicoloured happy socks. I assume the position. I lie on the table in a tight defensive foetus -like position. My bottom becomes the focus of the Cricketer, Nurse Blonde and Nurse Brunette. I have learnt that this department affords no privacy, one can have no secrets, there is no hiding place.

First a finger. Not too bad at all. Then a needle, a probe, a camera, more needles and what feels like a chair. Perhaps it was just a stool. The Cricketer engages me in conversation as he snips away at my prostate. We are best friends. I ask him if he will be spending the entire afternoon pushing objects up mens’ bums. “Yes”. I ask him if he has ever considered a career in neurology. How we all laugh.

He snips twelve samples, six from one side of the offending prostate, six from the other. And I have a sore bum. Nurse Brunette carries away parts of me to be analysed. The results are to be explained to me a week later.

At least I now know after a lifetime of enquiry why hospital gowns are designed as they are. I am enlightened at least regarding this mystery if nothing else.

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Nil Points

Hospitals at Christmas. I attended one several times during this odd, singular, period. A huge, sprawling, multi-tiered, labyrinthine place.Its contrasting parts constituting what could be described as a small settlement on the south side of Manchester.

I enter and set off on a journey of discovery trying to locate where I had to be. Corridors, turnings, doors, stairs, signs, directions, arrows.It was strangely disturbing. Everywhere was strangely devoid of the usual hustle and bustle. Many departments were closed, darkened, deserted, the occasional secretary alone in a room tapping at her keyboard. I passed bauble-laden Christmas trees, decorations, fripperies, lending an odd counterpoint to the essential seriousness of such a place. Waiting rooms only partially occupied. I encountered a few fellow travellers as I trekked along the endless corridors.

After several wrong turnings I arrived at my destination. Urology, tucked somewhat apologetically away in a corner. Three nurses. Two patients drinking from white plastic cups. I was welcomed by Nurse Brunette the data gatherer/interrogator. “Any allergies?” “Yes, life, children, salads”. This evoked a thin smile.

Nurse Blonde tasked me with having to provide lots of urine and presented me with a white plastic cup and an endless supply of water for this purpose. And I set to work. Now usually I can wee at the drop of a hat. The very act of breathing is for me a diuretic. If weeing was an Olympic sport I would be on that rostrum winning medals. And, after all, my need to go every few minutes was the reason I was here.

Cup after cup after cup. Nothing. Not the faintest urge. Nurse Blonde tried me with a huge mug of coffee. At least that is how she described it. Nothing. Nurse Blonde suggested I should go for a long walk. This I did along the endless corridors, the doors, the darkened rooms, the fripperies. Neurophysiology was becoming a familiar landmark. Still nothing. Into the toilet, run the tap. Always works. Nothing. “Eric, we are closing the department at one”. The pressure was on. I drink until Nurse Blonde tells me to stop. I am dismissed, asked to return on a similar mission several days later. I feel I have let the team down.

As soon as I leave the hospital I feel a very urgent need to pee.

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