The Joy of MRI

Hospital appointments are a bit like buses.  You wait ages for one and then three come at once.  I have four lined up in September.  Two are scans, one is a chat about the scans and the other is a chat about my mouth.

I had the first one this week which was an MRI of my head and neck.  I have this every six months, so I know the drill.  I guess the only thing I could compare it to is that it feels like is if you are a frequent flyer.  You go through all the pre-flight security and checks first.  Then you are immobilised for forty-five minutes to an hour.  You wake up and are on your merry way.  The only exception is that with flying, the stewardess doesn’t wake you up midway and inject you with dye.  That would make flying a bit more interesting.

There are two hospitals in Nottingham and I have had MRI’s in both.  In the larger of the hospitals, the Queen’s Medical Centre or QMC, the MRI scanner is enclosed.  It feels like you are being rolled into a dark tunnel with your nose only centimetres away from the top.  At the other hospital in Nottingham, City Hospital, you are enclosed, but it’s light and airy.  You can take deep breathes and dream away.

My appointment was at City and according to the letter, it was in a temporary unit outside the maternity department.  Mmmm.  So, I made my way to the maternity department.  There I was greeted by the sight of five heavily pregnant women walking round the circles with dressing gowns on.  Husbands and partners were trying to help but they weren’t.  A nurse appeared, so I asked her where the MRI unit was.  She pointed to a gleaming white metal shed outside, opposite the entrance.

I went outside and the signs led me up a gangplank.  Uncertain what lay at the end, I went up.  At the end, behind some automatic doors, was a small, cramped reception area with no one in it.  I stood by the desk and I could hear laughter.  This happens quite a lot at receptions.  There’s no one there but you can hear sounds of life, sounds of fun.  It puts you in a bit of a dilemma.  Do you want to stop the fun by announcing your presence?  I was wrestling with this when the phone rang.  Phew.  A jolly looking receptionist appeared, smiled and answered the phone.  After she finished the call, she asked my name and I was checked in.

Five minutes later a nurse appeared to run through the pre-flight checks.  As the “M” is MRI stands for magnetic, these checks are mostly concerned with whether you have any metal inside you.  You would be amazed with the amount of metal that could be secreted in you after an operation.  Shunts, clips, staples, you name it.  They all could be in you.

The nurse was visibly relieved when she found out that I had had many MRI’s.  She didn’t really ask me why.  But she was relieved and that was all that mattered.  She gave me a gown to change into and said she would be back in five minutes to take me through.  I hate hospital gowns.  This one was the old style where you had to do it up at the back.  Thankfully I could leave my jeans on so I wouldn’t be mooning anyone.  Well not today anyway.  After my struggle with the gown, I noticed a strange notice on the back of the door.  It said that if you had changed into a gown, leave the door open a bit and a radiographer would bring you through.  I opened the door about half an inch.  Waited five minutes.  Nothing.  I opened it half an inch more.  Still nothing.  I did it again and got a response.  So next time one and a half inches it is.

She took me to the scanner.  There I lay down on a table and had a cage placed around my head.  I was given headphones and a buzzer to press if I needed to stop the scan.  The table then wobbled into a brightly lit scanner.  On the cage was a mirror.  The mirror is angled in such a way that you can see what is happening in the scan control room.  They could be doing the Paso Doble in there.  You can see it all in your tunnel.  There is a series of loud clunks and the scan noisily begins.  I love these noises.  In a weird way because they are repetitive, they are very relaxing.  I often get lulled to sleep.

After fifteen minutes or so, the noises stop.  You hear a muffled voice.  In the mirror, you see a nurse enter the room.  You are wobbled out and the nurse prepares you to inject dye into you.  This is so that any anomalies can be seen clearer in the scan.  The cannulation went well this time but there have been occasions where I’ve had three plasters or four stickered on me thanks to failed attempts.

You are then wobbled back in for the final part of the scan.  Sometimes the dye makes me feel a bit queasy.  A few deep breathes usually cures this and I’m soon dozing away.  After another fifteen minutes, it’s all over.  You are wobbled out and told to drink plenty of fluids to wash the dye.  So up you get, back into the world of circling pregnant women.

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Adventures in the Eye Clinic

The allotted day and the allotted hour had arrived.  I stood in the queue awaiting to be checked in.  A lost looking ambulance driver was wandering round and round the eye clinic, trying to find his stricken patient.  A nurse finally escorted him to one of the clinics. I didn’t see him again.

I reached the head of the queue and readied myself for the pre-flight checks.  Apart from stating your date of birth and the first line of your address, the eye clinic also throws in your GP’s name and the last four digits of your contact number.  This can throw people sometimes, but I was prepared.

I was called in for an eye test.  This is the eye clinic equivalent to weighing you, which happens at other clinics.  It’s done.  It’s noted and never referred to again.  The nurse sat me down and began reading a letter.  It was a very long letter.  It looked like it had been written by Mr Q.  I had done some dyslexia training at work where the tutor gave us something to read, and then spoke instructions at the same time.  It was impossible to read and listen and the same time, which was the point they were trying to prove.  Aware of this I sat silently… for five whole long minutes.

She looked concerned.  I was not what she was used to.  We did the eye test and I did quite well.  She took me to a set of chairs where I sat and waited.  I was called through quite quickly and Mr Q was sat there, looking chirpy as ever.  I wondered how he managed to get into the clinic without any detection.  Maybe he tunnelled in or transported his way in as on Star Trek.  Mrs P, the eye consultant, was also there and looked a bit flustered.

I gave my history and got the impression that Mr Q was taking a back seat in things.  It wasn’t his clinic after all.  After listening we went through the options.  It involved two operations.  The first one involved tightening the lower eyelid.  I won’t describe the gruesome details but it would be done in day surgery and involve heavy sedation.  The second op would involve gold implants being inserted in my upper eyelid.  Once that had been done, Mr Q would rush in and sort my mouth out.  I would be knocked out for that one.  Phew.

So that was it sorted.  Mr Q rushed off saying that he would confirm dates with Mrs P and that was that.  As she started completing the consent form, Mrs P stopped.

“You know, I think the damage is so severe, we may be wasting our time with the eye op…”

What?  There was a pause.  It was like she was prompting me to decide about it.  I stayed quiet.  She looked at my notes.

“You are seeing Mrs T… what does she feel about it?”

I said that she hadn’t really given an opinion on any kind about it.

“She’s in clinic today.  Do you mind if I discuss this with her?”

I nodded and five minutes later a smiley Mrs T appeared.  She seemed the happiest I’ve seen her.  I guess she prefers being around other doctors rather than awkward patients.  They started speaking medical gobblegook to one another.  Then a decision was made that could be explained to me in English.

They would do the first op on my lower lid but not the one on the upper lid.  Mrs P seemed quite happy with that.  Mrs T left the room and the drafting of the consent form recommenced.  The op would take place in November or early December.  I would get a letter confirming it all.  She would let Mr Q know of the change of plan.  How he would take it? Lord knows.  Thankfully I had booked another appointment to see him in September just in case he hadn’t been able to make the appointment today.  We could discuss it all then.

I left, consent form signed to have before photos taken to be scrutinised by eager medical students.  It’s the pics after that I felt slightly apprehensive about…

Wanted Down Under

Wanted Down Under is a daytime staple.  For the uninitiated, a family from the UK go “down under” to either Australia or New Zealand for a week.  During the week, they weigh up the pros and cons of emigrating.

Over time it has become rather formulaic.  The family compromises of a husband, wife and three kids.  Normally it’s the husband who is the driving force behind the move.  He’s had a gap year down under and yearns to relive that experience.  The wife is not that keen.  As for the kids, the youngest is up for it, the middle one is won over during the week but the older teenage one, refuses point blank to shift.  The mum won’t go anywhere without all the kids in tow, so there is a stale mate.

Wanted Down Under flies the family over and puts them up in a lovely house.  They spend the week perusing houses, jobs, schools, way of life and the difference in costs.  All the while the oldest teenager pouts their way through.  When it comes to the climax at the end, most of the family votes for life down under, while the teenager remains undecided.  And then it ends.  We are left dangling wondering if they ever went.

There have been episodes where we do find out what happens next.  In those episodes, we find out that life down under isn’t all sun, sea and surf.  It’s bloody hard work, living so far away.  That’s the thing with these types of programmes.  They are selling a dream.  Work is work no matter where you live, even if it’s sunny.

As my appointment with the plastic surgeon looms, I can’t help viewing it all with a bit of caution.  Like the people on Wanted Down Under, I feel at times that I’m being sold a dream, that might not necessarily come true.  I have a nagging feeling that it may be harder to recover.  No one seems to know how the radiotherapy will affect the healing. But the drooling is getting worse and worse.  It’s getting so bad that I can’t say more than five sentences without someone handing me a tissue.  It’s not so bad with friends and family, but when you are talking to all those neutral people in your life, shop assistants, delivery men, builders, it’s just plain annoying.  Of course, everyone is far too polite to say anything. But weirdly, I kind of wish they would…

Fargo

“This is a true story.  The events depicted took place in Minnesota in 2011.  At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed.  Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” Welcome to Fargo where all is not what it seems.

The latest series of Fargo dealt with a story as old as time.  Brothers, jealousy, death and money.  You can’t get any more ancient than that.  Yet it was the ending that was so brilliant.  The big baddie of the piece V.M. Varga, who is a Brummie of course, is finally caught by a freshly promoted Gloria Burgle who now works for the Department of Homeland Security.  Gloria revels in telling Varga the fate that awaits him.  Locked up in Rikers Island with no hope of parole.  Justice will be duly served.  Varga has other ideas.  He mocks Gloria for her naivety.  He is the grease that keeps the corrupt world we live in turning.  He calmly informs her that someone far superior to her will walk through the door, have a quiet word and he will be free to go on his merry way.  Gloria isn’t convinced.  Varga insists it will happen.  The camera then focuses on the door.  Who will come through?  Will it be Gloria’s federal agents or Varga’s evil overlords?  We are left hanging.

I had a similar experience in the eye clinic.  Well sort of anyway.  Last week I received an appointment to go to the eye clinic on Saturday at 1:30pm. Welcome to the seven day a week NHS folks!  Lovely but I had another appointment at the eye clinic in two weeks’ time to discuss my operation.  Maybe they had brought it forward?  I didn’t recognise the name of the consultant, so I was hopeful.

After the obligatory eye test, it is the eye clinic after all, I sat and like Varga, awaited my fate.  When the door opened it was… Mrs T. Great.  She ushered me in.  I mentioned the operation.  She wasn’t interested in the slightest.  She asked me about the cancer.  I wasn’t interested in telling my story for the umpteenth time.  We had reached a stalemate.  She wasn’t interested in me and I wasn’t interested in her.  Yet there was a chink.  She booked a scan to check the nerves in my eye.  That could be good and quite useful for the surgeon.  I explained I was on holiday the week following the appointment.  She snorted.  Did I really think the scan would happen that quickly?  She said that she would see me in three months’ time.  Not before I see someone who can actually help me first.

The League Of Gentlemen

Life seems to be becoming ever more like the life in Royston Vasey.  For the uninitiated, Royston Vasey is the fictional town where the League of Gentlemen is set.  The League of Gentleman was a comedy series that followed the lives of several of the citizens of Royston Vasey.  Many of the characters have weirdly morphed into real life.  The most obvious example of this are Tubbs and Edward who run the local shop for local people.  Extreme Brexiteers before the term was even formulated.

My favourite character has to be Pauline.  Pauline is horrific.  Pauline, brilliantly played by Steve Pemberton, is the tutor of the finding a job programme at the Job Centre.  She enjoys the power she has over the job seekers and regularly threatens to stop their benefits if they question her in anyway.

There are certain similarities between Pauline and my line of work.  In the first episode, she asks the group to shout out names of jobs, only to tell them they don’t have a hope in hell in getting any of them.  This was quite like a class where I got my learners to do an A to Z of jobs, although I wasn’t quite as dismissive about their job prospects.

Pauline shows how ridiculous some of these courses are.  Mickey, one of Pauline’s jobseekers, gets an interview.  However, it’s in the middle of the course.  Pauline threatens to stop his benefits if he goes to the interview as he must finish the course first.  Sadly, this mirrors what happens in reality.  On our courses, if a learner is enrolled to do an exam, there is an expectation that the learner will sit that exam come hell or high water.  If the learner gets a job, becomes ill, has a baby, we are expected to drag them in to complete the course and do the exam.  It’s all about the spread sheet darling.

The spread sheet has spread into all aspects of life.  Obviously when you are dealing with inanimate objects, they serve a purpose.  Yet humans aren’t like that.  Humans change.  We are an evolving species after all.  Yet the gap between those who scrutinise the spread sheet and those who are on the frontline gets wider and wider.

It’s all been a bit quiet on the health front recently, spread sheets aside.  However, the drooling is getting worse and worse.  I went to a concert with my sister in Hyde Park.  We tried to take the obligatory selfie.  I looked awful.  “Try opening your mouth a little.” I did. I still looked awful.  So now I have become like Mariah Carey in photos.  Mariah Carey is famous for never showing the left side of her face.  If it’s good enough for Mariah, it’s good enough for me.  Bring on the face lift!

Bucket List

Thanks to Mr Facebook, I know that it has been two years since I was attached to a handsome man and jumped out of a plane.  It wasn’t quite the experience I was expecting.  I did it because I am quite lazy and couldn’t be bothered to train for anything exhausting like a marathon.  The first man who ever ran a marathon, died straight afterwards.  That’s all you need to know about my view on marathon running.

Anyway, inspired by memories of Janet Ellis on Blue Peter leaping out of planes, I thought why not?  It’ll be over quick.  Everyone I spoke to who had done a sky dive kept saying how amazing it was.  A few were envious that I had had the opportunity to do it.  The allotted hour arrived and there I was, sat between the legs of a very attractive parachute instructor in a rickety plane, that kept climbing higher and higher.  Everyone in the plane seemed very chilled.

“Right. I’m off then…” said a jolly bloke as he jumped through the open hatch, like he was popping out to Tesco’s.

Then it was our turn.  I had stupidly paid for a video of the occasion which was a huge error.  I dangled my legs out of the hatch, with a loon who had a camera fixed on his head asking me how I was feeling every five seconds.  The instructor slowly shuffled forward and soon I was dangling under the plane. Then we dropped…

When we landed, the camera loon ran up.

“So, how was it?!?”

“Interesting… I think I might be sick…”

Not exactly the answer he was hoping for.  I was quickly disentangled and made to put my head between my knees.  I felt a lot better after that.

Sky diving is often high on people’s bucket lists.  I’m a bit dubious about bucket lists.  It’s all a bit organised for me. The best fun and experiences are the ones that are unplanned and spontaneous. The planning aspect somehow, takes the joy away from that, for me anyway.

I was in two minds before doing my sky dive.  I had started going to a women’s cancer group and one of the women in the group, Lou, persuaded me to do it.  Lou and I got on well from the start.  We shared a similar taste in humour.  Lou had breast cancer and found out that she had the BRAC-2 gene, made famous by Angelina Jolie.

“Believe you me that is the one and only thing I have in common with Angelina Jolie.  Mind you if she ever fancies trading Brad in…”

When I first mentioned the sky dive, she urged me to do it, just to ogle at the instructors at least.

“They are all gorgeous!”

A week after the sky dive, Lou took a turn for the worse and was admitted to hospital.  I went to see her.  She was in a bad way and was drifting in and out of consciousness.  Her mum asked how the sky dive went.  I told my story of it and I thought I could see Lou smile in the corner of my eye.  Lou’s mum asked who the instructor was. It turned out that Lou had done a sky dive five year previous with the same instructor.

“He was absolutely gorgeous!”

Sadly, Lou died the next week.  Myself and another woman from the group decided to go to her funeral.  Lou lived in a small village on the outskirts of Nottingham.  My Sat Nav failed big time and we were ten minutes late for the service.  As soon as we ran into the church, the vicar was finishing the eulogy.

“Lou was quite often late for things.  She would rush in apologising which made her even more endearing…”

You could almost hear Lou muttering,

“Honestly you two, what muppets!”

Glastonbury

Yes, it’s that time of year again.  The indoctrination that everyone is having a truly fantastic, awesome, lifechanging experience on a farm in Somerset.  If the wall to wall coverage is anything to go by, we at home are missing out big time.  However, all is not what is seems at Worthy Farm.

I went to Glastonbury twenty years ago.  I had graduated from university so thought why not?  Getting tickets weren’t a problem.  They were £65.  I think I got them from a record shop in Leicester.  None of this photo ID and registration malarkey.  I went with my friend Sooze who fortunately, had a tent and camping experience.  So off we set on a chartered coach from Victoria Coach Station with high hopes.

When we got there, the security was quite tight.  The previous year a lot of gate crashers had climbed over the fence.  It got so bad that Michael Eavis had said that is the same thing happened at the next festival, he would scrap the thing altogether.  We had been told so we were on our best behaviour.

Once we were in the next question was where to camp?  I had no idea.  Thankfully Sooze decided upon a location that was on top of a slope, quite close to the loos and a five minute walk from some shops and food vans.  I wasn’t too happy about being so near to the loos, but we thought we would stay put for the night and maybe move in the morning.  As we settled down for the night we were unaware of the dark clouds arriving.

The next day we woke up to a quagmire.  It had rained all night and there was mud everywhere.  I had bought no boots as I had optimistically, packed sandals and factor 15.  My first mission was to acquire some wellies.  This was done at a premium and then we could survey the damage.  As we were at the top of the slope, our tent was still secure.  As we made our way down the slope towards the Pyramid stage, the worse the situation became.  Tents had been washed away.  There were people who only had the clothes that they had slept in and nothing else.  It was like a disaster zone.

This was a time before mobile phones so there was no way of letting loved ones know that we were fine.  Our parents had to rely on really startling news reports that were showing mud of biblical proportions and not much else. That first day was pretty grim.  We trudged to the Pyramid Stage.  The Other Stage had sunk, so all performances on that, were cancelled.  On the Pyramid Stage were The Levellers.  For a band who were named after a band of revolting peasants, they weren’t really showing much comradery with their common man.  They had Hawaiian shirts on and seemed to be taunting the crowd.  Mud was chucked at them.  The atmosphere changed to something quite dark.

“I think we should go…” said Sooze.

The Levellers finished their set.  Beck was on next.  I knew a bit about Beck but not much.  But he was a revelation.  As soon as he came on, the darkness lifted.  Beck is more than a musician, but an artist.  His performance include dance, DJing and music from every genre imaginable.  More crucially it reminded us why we were all there in the first place.

After that, the rest of the festival was amazing.  Radiohead were magical.  I’ll always remember watching No Surprises while fireworks were going off.  Not huge New Year Eve type fireworks, but little bursts of colour that matched the music perfectly.  We tried to go shopping for wet weather gear and ended up raving in a clothes shop, which can only happen at Glastonbury.  The decision to be near the loos was genius.  You could hear them being cleaned each morning so we could time our morning ablutions to perfection.  On the Saturday, we worked out we had stood for more than eleven hours solid. There was nowhere to sit because of the mud but we didn’t notice at all.

I nearly went again in 2011.  However, I was still suffering from the trauma of radiotherapy to be fit enough to go.  Although I regretted not going, nothing could ever better that awesome Glastonbury of 1997.