It seems like hardly any time since we were strolling across the canals of Venice but, of course, real life has a habit of crashing in. Not that the Vogalonga wasn’t real life – it was just an extraordinary slice of real life. So, we are not back more than a day before I am at the GP surgery asking the GP to listen to my chest. I feel breathless and it’s got worse since Venice. I have to say my GP practice is patchy when it comes to good service. On this occasion, a phone call late afternoon scores me a “come in at 6 and hang around” appointment which I am really grateful for. The doctor is one I haven’t seen for years and she’s very nice. She listens to my chest and tells me that one side is quieter which is apparently, not great. She orders a chest x-ray for me for the following day when I have an appointment for a bone scan anyway. By Thursday morning, I am feeling worse and ask Mr Mason to drive me to the hospital which, of course, he does. At this point I am having problems even holding a conversation and I have a pain in the middle of my upper back. I don’t have any problems locating the right department as I know pretty much where everything is. When I have had my x-ray, the radiographer says she will have to check with the consultant as to whether I can go home or not. What?? This I am not expecting and I really don’t want to be admitted. The doctor comes to speak to me and then speaks to the consultant and then comes back to say I can get on with my day but if I feel worse, I must come to A&E. I have the bone scan which I really dislike as the machine is so close to my face and, not being able to breathe properly, I already feel pretty claustrophobic. But then it’s all over, Mr Mason comes to pick me up and we go home.
The next morning Vanessa, my breast care nurse rings to find out how I am. I explain about the breathlessness (which she can hear) and the chest x-ray and the bone scan and she says she wants me to see the Oncologist the following Wednesday unless my breathing significantly improves. The consultant has also asked me to go to see the GP I saw last and get her to assess my breathing. I ask if I really need to do this and am told this is what the consultant recommends so I duly go to see the GP, this time accompanied by Mr Mason in case I don’t make it unscathed. The receptionist knows who I am as soon as I enter and tells me she has been on the phone trying to find the duty radiographer to get the results of my x-ray for the last 20 minutes without success. Eventually I get to see the GP whose office is at the top of a flight of stairs I negotiate slowly. She tells me the x-ray results have actually been sitting in her email but she hadn’t looked there. The main thing is, she has them now.
I have a pleural effusion which means there is fluid between the chest wall and my lung. Now, the thing about pleural effusions is that they are a common precursor to secondary breast cancer and that’s an area we really don’t want to go to. She listens to my chest and says it sounds similar to the last time she listened to it but to rest and rest some more over the weekend which I do. But it is very dull being the captive of the sofa.
On Wednesday I go to see the oncologist. There is a merry atmosphere in Clinic 8 (named so it won’t frighten the horses) as I find my friend Ms Cantini waiting for her oncologist and sporting a nifty 50’s style headscarf. We are later joined by Ms Marsden and Ms De Roeck who have come along to make sure neither of us is dead. I quite like the oncologist’s registrar. He looks like he would be useful on a rugby field. Anyhow, he listens to my chest and then looks down my throat using a special tool (the torch on his phone) and decides that on top of anything else, I have a fungal infection so there are more tablets to be taken and some medicine. The medicine the oncologist has prescribed is utterly vile. A mixture of vanilla and aniseed in a thick, viscous liquid. Yuck. He says that while we are in Clinic 8, the nurses will canulate me for my CT scan and take some blood at the same time. We can then go back after the CT scan to see what results he has got back.
My veins are a mess. It’s no point pretending anything different. They are crooked and spindly and have a propensity to sink and disappear whenever someone tries to mess with them. I have a trump card, though. It is my Best Vein and it lurks in the crook of my right elbow underneath a promising-looking but ultimately useless vein. In the room where they take blood, I point this out but first they want to try my hand. This is not working. As they feel around with the needle in my arm, I suddenly feel faint and they take the needle out and scrath their heads. I am a puzzle. My Best Vein is not working now. They have prodded and poked it so much it has gone hard and is refusing to play, added to which I am now sitting with my head between my knees and that weird “I am just about to faint” sound of voices coming and receding. They bundle me into a wheelchair and whizz me round to another room where I can lie on the bed as they try to get some blood. I have my hand plunged into a stream of hot water to make the veins stand out but this still doesn’t help. In the end they have the bright idea of asking one of the nurses from haematology to just take some blood so the nurses in the CT scanning department can canulate me. This is done and I am then on my way.
The CT scan does not take long at all. I hold my breath at the relevant moments and it’s all done. We find the stragglers from Clinic 8 are now in the cafeteria so Mr Mason and I join them so he can top up his blood sugar levels and I can have a drink. While we are there, something magical happens. When I was first diagnosed, I noticed a man working in the hospital who appeared to have knitted hair. Even in the depths of fear and anxiety, my gaze was drawn to this wonderful concoction perched on his head. Ms Mason tells me that when we were leaving the outpatients department after being Properly Diagnosed, she spotted the knitted-hair man (as I had obviously mentioned him to her as one bright spot in the otherwise gloomy news) but thought it a little undignified and a tad inappropriate to tug my sleeve and point him out. Since then I have not seen him although I always look when I go past outpatients. So it was marvellous indeed to see him sitting in the cafeteria where I was able to examine the hairdo in more detail. That, and try to take surreptitious photographs, of course. His hair seems to be rolled into two fat sausages which perch on the top of his head. The back of his hair looks quite normal. It is a welcome diversion from the day. I’m sure he is a very nice man but I find his hair utterly fascinating.
The blood test results are back, in part. It shows that my inflammatory markers are raised but this could be because I have a horrible infection so we are still none the wiser. On our way out of the hospital we spy Ms Cantini waiting for a taxi so we scoop her up, at the risk of her being blacklisted by the cab company, and drive her home, too. Apparently she has been entertaining the troops with impressions of she and I having a breathless conversation together. And apparently, it was a hoot.