I expect you know the good news/bad news joke where, after having tests, a patient goes to the doctor to learn the results.  The doctor greets the patient by asking if he’d like the good or bad news first.  The patient opts to be told the good news.  The doctor says, ‘Well, the good news is you have 24 hours to live.’  Somewhat taken aback, the patient asks for the bad news.  The doctor says, ‘I should have told you yesterday.’

I’m reminded of this after experiencing a flurry of medical appointments over the past couple of months.  Fortunately none of the 6 different doctors I’ve encountered have been brusque enough to tell me I have only 24 hours to live but, having looked at the results of a blood test, one did say, ‘Well, you’re 85 and you’ve had a good life.’  I took this to be a euphemistic death sentence.

He was right though, I have had a good life and one remarkably free of medical appointments but during the past 60 days I’ve been busy playing catchup.  I’ll resist the temptation to give you a blow by blow account (a narrow escape!) but here is a summary:

Two visits to A&E totalling 12 hours.  Most of this time was spent waiting for something to happen.  In normal circumstances I’d have enjoyed people-watching but it proved to be a wasted opportunity since I was in pain and preoccupied with trying to find a comfortable position (impossible) on unforgiving plastic seats.  Of course, only a fraction of the 12 hours was spent actually having something done –  in my case blood tests, a scan, a chest X-ray and an ultrasound.  Verdict: gallstones.  

Five more blood tests.   Always a pleasure because nurses love my generous, easy to locate, utterly submissive veins.

Five more scans of various types.   I hadn’t realised there were so many different sorts of scans, some swift and silent, some lengthy and noisy.  Fortunately I’m not claustrophobic and quite happy lying still in the metal tube and holding my breath as instructed.  One of the metal tubes I occupied had a series of scratches just above my head.  I lay there wondering if a previous occupant had left a message but I couldn’t make sense of the hieroglyphics. 

An endoscopy and a colonoscopy.  Amazing to think a camera could snake its way around my innards so efficiently with everything showing up so clearly on a big screen.  

A hormone injection in my tummy.  The nurse said I’d feel a sharp prick but, no, nothing.   I’m not really convinced she did anything!

A biopsy. Not pleasant or dignified.  I’ll leave it at that.

Face to face meetings with six different doctors.  How they vary: some organised, some disorganised; some good at eye contact, some gazing at a computer screen; some affable, some shy; some with a sense of humour; some welcoming questions (or at least pretending to welcome them)  and good at providing clear answers (even pretending they had never been asked such a fascinating question before).    

Verdict:  I’ve got prostate cancer.   Meanwhile the gallstones have had the decency to go into hiding (perhaps illnesses have a pecking order?).  When they first flared up, the gallstones hurt like hell.  By contrast the cancer, clearly far more serious, is painless.   Never mind, as the doc said, I’m 85 and I’ve had a good life.  


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