Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Name, rank, number and a visit from the surgery team

I give my address, date of birth, next of kin, nationality, occupation, and with a big cheesy gnash, confirm that yes, I do have all my own teeth. I know the drill and as the nurse goes through the admissions form I try to keep the smartarse answers to a minimum. She’s heard them all before. The nurse asks me if I have a hearing aid and it takes every ounce of self-control to refrain from saying, “Pardon?” Mentally I pat myself on the back and wonder if she’s aware of the pure comedy gold I’m holding back solely for her benefit. A young male nurse who remembers me from before comes over to shake my hand. Others nod friendly hellos as they pass by. It’s all very chummy in a slightly back to school kind of way. And judging by the winks and smiles coming my way I am no longer the new boy. Nope, I’m one of the old faces now, one of the lads, one of the Crazy Chestnut Ward Gang. The nurse finishes inserting an IV drip into the back of my left hand and leaves me to unpack my stuff. My stuff consists of 1 towel, 5 pairs of boxer shorts, 3 pairs of big socks, 1 pair of pyjama bottoms, 4 t-shirts, a warm cardigan, a wash bag containing toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, shower gel, hair wax, roll-on deodorant and a disposable razor. Most importantly amongst my belongings are my MacBook, headphones, mobile phone and charger, the complete Blackadder DVD boxset, Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, Ten Story Love Song by Richard Milward and a biography of my second favourite British writer, Alan Sillitoe. I also have my diary, a Moleskine notebook and two Edding 55 fineline pens. All packed with the intention of keeping boredom at arm’s length for the duration of my stay. Worryingly by the time I’ve stowed them away in my bedside cabinet I am thoroughly bored. I fiddle with the sliding latch on one of the cabinet doors for a bit. Another 23 seconds positively fly by in a blur.

It’s late Friday afternoon and my surgeon is sitting at the end of my bed. Tall, dark with Mediterranean good looks, he looks like a leading man on an Iraqi version of Crossroads. “If it came to surgery how do you feel about that?” he asks. “I’d rather avoid it if I can,” I reply, trying to form a sentence that suggests I’ve actually given the matter some serious thought. I haven’t, of course, because I’m still clinging to the belief that surgery is what happens to other people, not me. “But I have heard that the operation can be quite successful and that would be the end of my UC for good?” I add. “And do you know what the operation involves?” Unspeakably brutal pain akin to medieval torture comes immediately to mind. Deep breath, “You remove part of the bowel and I’m fitted with a bag, then a few months later you reverse things and I won’t need the bag anymore?” Get me, Mr Amateur Surgeon. “That’s right,” says the only professional surgeon amongst us, “we remove part of the large colon and fit you with a colostomy bag, which most patients find makes them feel much better almost straight away. Some people even get on with the bag so well they decide to keep it and not have a pouch fitted.” What some people? He must mean the crazies. Surely sticking with the bag is like sticking on 13 in a game of Pontoon? Why would anyone in their right mind want to keep the bag? We’re not talking Louis Vuitton here, let’s not beat about the bush, this is a bag of shit on the outside – which is so obviously not the correct side – of your body. “But after a few months I could have the bag removed, right?” I insist, just to make sure he’s in no doubt as to which camp I’m in. Best plant that thought into his head early on. Set my stall out from the off, I reason. Don’t want him thinking I’m one of those bag-carrying freaks. I ask how much time I can expect to be off work and the surgeon explains how I would maybe need 4 to 5 weeks to recover post-op. Then I would have the bag for a few months until I’m strong enough to have the second operation. Start to finish he reckons I’d be looking at about a year. 2009 is suddenly shaping up to be a memorable one. Which makes me faintly nostalgic for 1993, a year in which literally nothing interesting happened to me at all. Seriously, nothing.