19 May 2010
'It's really nothing to worry about,' says the doctor reassuringly.
The trouble is it's not particularly reassuring as what she's describing is the kidney biopsy she's about to perform on me. In fact given that I'm about to have a needle injected into my back and a part of one of my vital organs removed I'm struggling to think of a more appropriate time to worry.
I suspect that telling a patient that there's nothing to worry about is the first lesson doctors learn at medical school. My GP said it when I first went in and showed her the rash on my legs. In fairness to her she also had to tell me it wasn't gangrene after I'd falsely diagnosed myself after staying up till 3am googling my symptoms.
Doctors aren't always so reassuring however. When I was first admitted to hospital I was kept in for three days until the chief consultant could find time to see me.
I remember watching him confidently stride down the ward from the end of the corridor looking exactly like a character in a Carry On film; half rim spectacles, braces, spotted bowtie, the works. Even a group of four young medical students surrounding him and noting down his every observation.
"Sorry old chap," he said as he peered over his glasses to inspect my gammy legs, "I haven't the faintest idea what's wrong with you," before dispatching me to dermatology.
"Its nothing to worry about," said the dermatologist as he inspected the mole on my back, "it's just better if we remove it." By 'better if we remove it' what he actually means is, 'if we don't remove it, it may become cancerous
and you will suffer a slow and agonising death.' To me, that is grounds for concern.
And after the skin biopsy, and the mole removal, and the blood tests, and the urology examination, and the kidney biopsy, I lie in a hospital bed wondering if there'll ever come a time when the NHS butchers get bored of whittling away at me with their needles and their knives like a three day old leg of lamb.
On the plus side I know I'm not dying. Not yet anyway. And then three days later a letter arrives from the hospital informing me I have to visit the 'nuclear medicine department' to have a 'radioactive tracer' injected into me. It is by far the most frightening letter I have ever received and that includes the one that 02 sent threatening to cut me off. I call the doctor in a panic who informs that despite the scary title, it is, almost predictably 'nothing to worry about.'
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