“Well, we’re going to have to bring you in again, mate,” says my gastro consultant gently. “You’re not responding to a really quite hefty dose of drugs, so we should get you back on the intravenous.” It’s Friday 20th February and I’m in outpatients at Whipps Cross University Hospital for my 10.25am appointment. As my doctor taps an extension number into his desk phone, he casually enquires over the rim of his designer glasses whether anyone has ever talked to me about the possibility of surgery. “I think it’s maybe time we got the surgical team to see you,” he says before directing his attention to the person on the other end of the line, leaving the word ‘surgery’ searing into my brain. Surgery has been mentioned before, but for some reason it never really felt like it directly applied to me. Surgery is something that happens to other people. Surgery is for people who have had ulcerative colitis all their life. It’s the final throw of the dice. The last resort. And in UC terms I still consider myself a rookie. Surely it’s too soon for the last resort? With a sympathetic smile the doctor says, “So if you go home and get your stuff and then make your way to Chestnut Ward for early afternoon. The surgical team will be expecting you.” Christ on a bike, I’m being fast-tracked.
A quick bus ride later and I’m ambling home with a comforting Greggs Steak Bake clutched in my hand. I pack my bag and call a minicab.
Gospel music blares loudly from the minicab stereo promising to deliver me into the arms of angels in the Glorious Kingdom of Our Lord. Bit of an over claim I think to myself as the taxi drops me off at the extremely terrestrial and un-holy looking main entrance of Whipps Cross University Hospital. As I suspected there are no angels to greet me either. I make my way inside through the automatic doors, which cause me to briefly wonder whether high above in the Glorious Kingdom of Our Lord, has Saint Peter’s Gate succumbed to progress and gone automatic yet or is it still the old fashioned manual type? I imagine something mock antique kitted out with all the latest electronic security gizmos. The kind of gates you’d find outside one of the Beckham’s homes, probably. If the purpose of gospel music is to make the listener reflect on all things heavenly, it’s worked a treat on me. Halle-bloody-lujah.
Once inside the hospital direction signs come at you from every direction. It gives you the impression that any location in the world can be reached from this point; A&E, X-Ray, Cardiology, Outpatients, Clapham Junction, Wigan Pier, The Moulin Rouge, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. I ignore the direction signs because I know exactly where I’m going; Chestnut Ward, Junction 3, straight up the stairs. This is to be my second stay here in under a month. Chestnut Ward is a large old-fashioned ward, which holds 20 beds, 9 along the right and 11 down the left. The beds on the right are colour coded red, and on the left, blue. I report to the nurse at the front desk, who doesn’t seem at all convinced I am what I say I am, a patient. This happens quite a lot because unlike most patients in Chestnut Ward I don’t actually look like I’m in any danger of croaking it before crumble and custard is served at dinner. I am pretty certain I’m the only one on the ward in possession of my own teeth. The nurse points me in the direction of bed number 4 (colour coded red) still eying me suspiciously. As I make my way to my bed I consider trailing my leg and hunching my back for full invalid effect, but instead I stride manfully across the ward with my bag slung across my shoulder like a stout-hearted sailor on shore leave. I feel like a fraud. I take a moment to scan the ward for familiar faces. Only a poor Indian guy appears to remain from my time before. I throw my stuff on the bed and take a seat in my bedside chair. Here we go again.