miscellany

18 december 2019

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Ian McLauchlin

6. CALIBRATION, TATTOOING AND PENGUINS


Middle of December 2018. Yesterday I had another couple of appointments. What do they want, blood? Well actually yes. Merry Xmas to one and all.

Previously (end of September) after a month of hormone tablets, they went for the REAL THING - the hormone injections. The first one lasted 3 months and cost £250. That’s about £3 a day! It was a multipart recipe. First you had to syringe one component out of a sterile phial. Then you had to inject it into another sterile phial. Then you had to mix them up like there was no tomorrow, which in my case thankfully there was. Then you had to inject the lot into your buttock. When I say ‘you’ I mean the GP. He did all that while watching the Practice’s cash reserves dwindle to nearly nothing . . .  You knew the hormones were working by the frequent hot flushes. Amazon had a hand held fan which helped with those. And the injections then happened every 6 months, while the hotflushes happened every 6 minutes. Well it seemed like that.

Anyway, back to December. I arrived with Cate, who very kindly made sure I was in Exeter not Plymouth, a wise precaution these days, and found a parking space hooray. Lots of soul searching about how best to organise a parking permit (free for radiotherapy sessions). Soul didn't need searching (don’t try to solve a problem unless you’re certain the problem exists) and a permit was readily issued for that day.

STAMPEDE cancer trial people had decided they needed more blood and so that was the first port of call. "Hello Cate" was uttered by passing staff in the corridors many times until I explained that they didn't know me and it was the person cowering behind me they thought they knew . . .

You look just like your father, said the vampire blood sucker's mate. Turns out they were talking to Cate. There followed a long discourse about how I’d just shaved my beard off, as someone was about to come down every chimney in the world all in one night and probably didn’t want to be upstaged, and so now they could see my features, sorry, when just a couple of days ago they wouldn’t have been able to, and yes the eyes and chin were the same but maybe not the mouth. And  I didn’t even feel the needle.

“Do you need me to have fun pushing you back to Oncology in a wheel chair?” said Cate. “Thanks but no thanks. I don’t want you to have fun.”

It was cold and we sat talking, about exotic fruit drinks, and reading, and inserting enemas and things. They wanted to calibrate man and machine in perfect harmony and so they had to determine the best position to zap me, avoiding bladder, bowel and town centre. So they needed an empty bowel and a full bladder. Then they asked that of me too.

For the last three days I’d been practicing with the provided microenemas. Insert pointy end, not large viciously serrated end, squeeze contents, withdraw, put ear defenders on against the rumbling . . .  warn neighbours and . . . release. So by then I had a fair idea which was the pointy end. “Here’s something with a vicious end and a pointy end.” 3-2-44, EX8 1ET etc. “Do you mind if we take your photo?” I might as well milk my couple of hours of fame for all it’s worth and said “OK, then how about one of us together and I could call my daughter over . . .” As I was sitting concentrating hard on retaining contents, who should come along but the TRIAL nurse who wanted to chat about, well, anything really. We talked about son-in-law Dave having a really good time out cycling and sleeping over night in a bivvy bag in the freezing cold. Then, having had a really good laugh,  I divulged my innermost secret that I didn’t need to visit the Grand Canyon, as the rest of the world did, as I could IMAGINE seeing it, while counting the money saved on airfares and hotels and travel sickness pills and jet lag remedies. Excuse me I just have to dash to the loo . . . .

It was still cold. Now for the full bladder torture. “Drink three cups of water – 600ml – (that’s very nearly an arm full) and DON’T LET ANY OF IT OUT. Ever. We’ll come and get you in half an hour”. There then followed a series of frantic yet calm displacement activities, none of which involved running water, whistling or dripping taps. A magazine on Raspberry Pi projects worked for a start. “Don’t think about it Ian”, I told myself while thinking about it again. Eventually, after several hours they beckoned me.

There was this even colder room (it has to be cold for the machine . . ?) . “Do you mind if we ask you some questions?” Not if you don’t mind if I ask you some. I assured them that the last time I looked I didn’t have a dangling myopic infected thingummy etc. They seemed satisfied. It was freezing. Now take your clothes off. There’s this very cold machine with a hard bed and various torture appendages. I want you to lie on it. Not there, there. Are you comfortable? “Yes.” Ok I want you to be UNcomfortable so can you bring your legs up into these red blocks and put your feet in these other red blocks. Don’t worry, they’re very cold. And stretch your neck so your head sits in this screwpress. Are you comfortable? “No.” Good.

They then wanted to inject some contrast agent. This entailed them finding a vein. I assured them through chattering teeth that there were some around. “OK we’ll try this arm.” They selected an arm which satisfyingly was one of mine. “Mmm. Do you have any veins in this arm?” I think so. “Mmm, we’ll have to try the other arm. What’s this? A plaster covering a vampire bite?” Yes I’ve just had someone take blood while studying my and my daughter’s face. “OK, let’s have a closer look.” Lot’s of arm pummelling while the room got even colder. “Sharp scratch . . . . mmm, no . . . another sharp scratch . . . .  lots of wiggling about and huffing and puffing. Are you right handed or left handed?” Right. “Good ‘cos this left arm’s going to be no good to anybody for six months.”



“We’ll just have to forget about the contrast. Pity, ‘cos then you won’t experience that warm cosy glow and the feeling that you’ve just wet yourself.” Wrong. I’m sure I’m just about to experience that latter feeling, unintentionally.

By this time I was shivering. They put a blanket over my legs. I know, they’re not a pretty sight. Then the machine clanked, the cold hard bed shunted me back and forth then stopped. “Can you pull your elbows in and clasp your hands over the top of your chest, like you’re about to face a firing squad and praying they miss?” said a loud voice from the next room through a speaker.

After a while, and after interruptions by a few passing penguins and a nonchalant but very lost polar bear, they’d had enough, as had I. “Nearly done. We’ve just got to mark you up. 3/10, 1/10, must try harder etc. Just going to tattoo you. Would you like an anchor or a pretty girl? Applying ink . . . NOW. Sharp scratch NOW. Another sharp scratch NOW and lots more.” That was me scrabbling to get out.

“You can get up now.” No I couldn’t. I was frozen to the table and couldn’t move. “We’ll help you up and this blow lamp will come in handy.” They slowly lifted my upper body to a sitting position while shards of ice splintered to the floor. I felt dizzy. Feet just about managed to reach the floor. Then I stood up and staggered sideways. They caught me just before the blow lamp did. “Here’s a goody bag for your efforts.” It was a bag full of Festive Microenemas, each with a micro-riddle and a paper hat. “Merry Xmas” I stuttered. “Have a wonderful Xmas in the toilet” they replied.

The TRIAL nurse wanted to take my blood pressure but was initially worried that my temperature of -10 degC might invalidate the result. She took it anyway. Cate arranged to collect my TRIAL medication later as I probably wouldn’t be thawed out by then. One more obstacle before home time. On the way out, a burly character brushed past wearing a uniform. He was followed by a smaller guy with his arm in a sling. Cate saw them before me and guided me to one side to let them both pass with room to spare. Turns out the large burly guy was a police constable who was handcuffed to the smaller broken guy. Strange who you meet in Antarctica.

On the way home we had an interesting time discussing grandparents, other family members, and . . . yes, you’ve guessed it Brexit, with the car heater full on.




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