16 december 2019






school photos







           All original writing



2014, 2015, 2016,

2017, 2018, 2019

Ian McLauchlin


By September 2018 they’d decided they needed to know more. So off I went to Exeter RD&E, again. Even the Parking attendants said ‘Hello’.

Cate arrived on time and collected me. Following instructions, I discarded anything of value, like money, watch, wife. Set off in the front passenger seat with my bottle of water at the ready. I had to drink a pint of water one hour before the CT scan but not eat anything for four hours before . . . .

So I ate a pint of water four hours before etc.

Now, how much parking should I let Cate buy on my behalf. It's 11:10 now, add an hour between appointments, allow a good 30 minutes for drinking food, an hour in the nuclear scanner, a bit more for luck . . . . oh it's too complicated, just pick up a discarded ticket and hope.

Turn right and down the corridor till you get to Area N. Nuclear Medicine. Is that a coincidence do you think? I see the lifts that were closed for maintenance five weeks ago are . . . 'Sorry' it said. 'Closed for Maintenance'. That's a long maintenance shift/shaft. Wonder if anyone's checked to see if the lift's fallen on him.

I'll just have another swig of water out of my nuclear bottle. (Everyone makes way for me, thinking I'm a fitness fanatic carrying a bottle. What do you mean? Come here and say that.) The waiting room walls were full of notices. 'If you think you might be pregnant please tell the nurse.' Don't think that's me. 'If you're breastfeeding, please etc.' Most likely not either. 'If you can't read and are definitely pregnant, or know someone who is, no we're not saying you're the father, whisper it in someone's ear, but take suitable precautions.'

It was my turn. Cate knows lots of people and chats to them. I feel superfluous until they remember that it's me, not her. 'My name's Chris. Walk this way.' If I could walk that way . . . . . 'Sit down here. Which arm would you prefer?' Actually I don't fancy either of them - oh you mean MINE. And a cardboard tray with dozens of sterile packages appeared. After an hour's preparation and chucking packaging in the bin, 'OK cannula time, sharp scratch.' Yes it really is on the ball, that scratch.

Then a syringe which I ascertained was full of saline solution for those who take salt with their technetium 99 (half life 6 hours, produced by cyclotron bombardment of molybdenum, which produces molybdenum 99, which decays to technetium 99, say 99). For those who prefer it with a dash of something else, ask for technetium 99 with methylene diphosphonate. This adsorbs onto the crystalline hydroxyapatite mineral of the bone and is better than a brandy chaser.

Precautions? Well it started off in the fridge, in a small lead coffin. It took three to lift it onto the table and two to lift out the lead phial containing the teeniest weeniest volume of active ingredient. Into the vein it went, followed by salt and vinegar . . . alright cheese and onion essence. 'Right, listen carefully I shall say this only wounce.' Pardon? 'Right, listen carefully I shall say this only wounce. Don't dangle any little children on your knee, unless of course, you're a man of the cloth or a Member of Parliament. Don't hug any pregnant women. Don't sit anywhere near anyone, no not even your daughter. Drink a lot to flush it through. Drink some more to flush the last lot through. You may go to the toilet, but use this toilet here, You'll find it. It glows in the dark,' Coldplay's Charlie Brown played in my head.

Apparently it's OK to flush it through because you're flushing through the excess. The rest has already found its favourite bone and settled there for the weekend. Now, it's time for rocking. A CT scan, Abdomen and Elvis, with contrast. You couldn't get more dissimilar than those.

'Fill in this form please. Answer the questions Yes or No'. Yes OK. 'No you put Y or N in the column here. Do you suffer from any allergies Yes or No?' It says N there. 'Oh we still have to ask because you might have been lying 30 seconds ago.'

I'd already changed into a gown and Cate was guarding my shorts containing NO VALUABLES WHATSOEVER. I sat waiting, taking care to sit well away from Cate and everybody else too. I wasn't glowing in the dark because it wasn't dark, stupid . . . . Someone came in and sat down next to me. I shuffled along trying not to give the impression I'd taken a dislike to them. Someone else came and sat even nearer. I know, I'll pretend I'm getting up to change my magazine then sit back down away from everybody. It was the New Scientist. 18 March 2018 so much newer than the usual 1973 copies. As I turned to page 4 there, staring me in the face, was an article on prostate cancer, I kid you not . . . .

'Lie on this narrow table which moves you towards the circular saw, sorry scanner.' They attached another syringe to the existing cannula then scuttled quickly out of the way 'cos, you never know, they might be pregnant and I might hug them. The circular saw started turning and the table started to move. Am I about to be scanned? 'No, Mr Bond. You are about to be sawn in half.' It was at this point that I remembered I was allergic to cats.

As the syringe moved, I felt a warm burning sensation radiate through my veins and up into my head. Then I thought it unwise to anticipate the bottle of red wine I'd promised to open tonight.

All done. Oh before you remove my cannula, I'm on clopidogrel (thins the blood). 'We thought you were strange' as they gripped my arm tight to stem the outflow of strangeness.

Let's see, that's one scan done. Next not for three quarters of an hour. Let's have some lunch. Chicken Curry looked nice. With chutney. And big round things. Now those are Proper-doms. Sat diagonally across from Cate - inverse square law and all that. Must dash to the toilet again. Leisurely cup of tea. MDTTTA.

Arrived back in good time for the NM Whole Body Bone Scan. "He's in the toilet." 'Oh that's good, I came to advise him to visit the toilet. But don't worry, I'll be back.' And sure enough he was as good as his word.

'Hello, I'm Charles.' I hope you'll be very happy. I'm Ian. 'OK, here we are. Don't worry if the machine stops, scratches its head, looks puzzled, goes back to have another look because it can't believe its sensors. That doesn't mean there's anything to worry about. Yet. Lie on this table here. It'll take ages so imagine you're reading a good book. The machine doesn't make any noise.' Ah the strong and silent type eh? 'In fact the loudest thing in this room is me.' Bet he's said that a million times and it still doesn't get a laugh. 'Now I need to put this straight-jacket on you to make sure you don't make a run for it, no to support your arms. Then I want you to move your feet so you're pigeon toed. Ha ha, you must be over 40 (how could he tell?) because youngsters don't know what I mean, Ha ha.'

I took the opportunity to divulge my recent observation that Dr Hannah Fry of Radio and TV Science programme fame, managed to be knock-kneed and pigeon toed AT THE SAME TIME! 'Ha ha', he didn't say.

Cate had warned me that the huge camera sensor/scintillation counter came down right on top of your head and if you were even slightly claustrophobic, there might be a problem. 'Don't worry, there's an infra red sensor that stops it and if that doesn't work there's another one . . .' And if THAT doesn't work?

The camera came down to right above my nose. I could just focus on the cross on it that they put there to remind you to pray, HARD. It considered the situation and enjoyed the stress it had put me under. It savoured that pleasure for a good 10 minutes. When I didn't freak out it decided to move, ever so slowly and inched down a bit. Paused for a few minutes then inched down some more. Eventually it moved below my head and slowly, ever so slowly, it examined my abdomen and Elvis, stopped to listen to Hound Dog, decided that wasn't its cup of tea (I want to go to the loo. NOW) and moved slowly on. When the top part of me was exposed, it was time for The Interrogation. 'Are you, or have you ever been, a member of the communist party:

  1. who's had a bone fracture?
  2. who's had any major dental work done?
  3. who's had a general anaesthetic (not the particular sort you understand)?
  4. who's voted in a general election?
  5. who's actually thought for themselves?

I think I passed, but not without a few white lies.

The moving machine spit and having spat moved on. But it took its time. When it got to the bottom, my toes were unpigeoned, the pad behind my knees was removed and 15 more minutes were added to the 25 already suffered. The cameras then studied my Elvis intently. So intently that one angle wasn't enough. It slowly gyrated around, looking at the next angle then the next until the whole Elvis was characterised complete with scintillating white suit, sneer and arthritic knees from too much gyrating.

It was over. Could I move? No. Could I get up by myself? No. Was Cate - oh and Charles -  there to help? Yes. Could I stand up without help? After a few minutes I thought it was worth a try . . .

'Right, don't go into any Airport or even Waterloo Station, for a few days.' Damn. I'll have to change my plans. 'They have detectors that can detect if you've been on your back for a few hours and all hell breaks loose.' (It might have something to do with radioactivity, but all hell is all hell innit.) 'And don't go cuddling babies (scrap plans again) or sidling up to pregnant women (bugger) and certainly no getting near the wife - oh prostate cancer, forget that last one.'

At my suggestion, Cate took a photo. Charles was happy but made an excuse and stood out of shot.

On the way out Cate didn't ask how the claustrophobia's bars had been rattled. So I told her. "You know when the big heavy camera comes down on your head and stops a millimetre from your face?" 'No?' "Well I wasn't there." 'Where were you?' "At home writing this up."

Managed to stagger out to the car which, strangely, wasn't surrounded by parking attendants, pencil in mouth, while drawing sharp intakes of breath. With inverse square law fully in mind I sat in the back seat diagonally opposite daughter. On arrival home, I burned a scorch mark up the drive and across the carpet to the toilet. And there on the scorched mat was a letter waiting, marked NHS.   No Hope Sorry?    Don't go there. Apparently my oncologist wants to see me next Friday. That was a bit previous wasn't it? She can't yet have staggered back, looked up her seldom-used guide to impossible cancers and passed the photos round for a laugh, now can she.