I roll back to UHW. This must be my hundredth visit. All the clichés are still firmly in place. The smokers standing next to the smoke free zone notices; the bins with fags sprawlingly stubbed into their tops; the signs by the Sports & Social Club advertising a forthcoming beer festival; ancillaries in fatigues; consultants in suits; the lumbering large blocking the walkways; the people on sticks; the chairs; the circular summerhouse, centrepiece of the Millennium Garden, in which I’ve yet to see anyone sit; the out of date photographs of department heads in the Trust’s glass-fronted notice board; WH Smith’s concession in the concourse with its line of shouty, comprehensively hated self-checkouts; the overflowing coffee shops; the Post Office with its operator still protected by the glass screen rising from his counter. It’s normal, every part.
The Urology clinic with its two televisions, water dispenser and chairs set out as if it were a theatre is full to overflowing. Nobody appears to have bothered to dress up for the occasion. In fact here it is as if Britain has totally abandoned smartness in favour of beachwear, bed wear, jumble-sale outfits, gardening clothes or satin-finished running gear. They fidget, sprawl, get in each other’s way, lumber back and forth to the drinks dispenser and the toilet, read the contents of their wallets, fiddle with their mobiles, stare into space.
Samples of urine are handed in at reception by a steadily arriving clientele. Like me they are here for a meeting with the specialist or for some clinic treatment that will assuage their ills. The flow of arrivals and departures is unending. The air feels like an airport’s when the flight has been delayed or has just been cancelled. There’s palpable tension.
I’m called in on time. I see, it turns out, not the consultant but a smiling locum registrar. His name is on his door. As I pass I try to scribble it onto the margin of my newspaper but fail. I sit and he says it. “The cancer is still there.”
Still there? What do you mean “still”? I wasn’t aware I had a cancer. Hell, the previous consultant, now retired, told me back in 2006 that this growth, patch, tumour, papillary dangle, nodule, goujon, or whatever wasn’t “really a cancer at all". "So long as we keep getting you in and scraping it off when it reoccurs then you’ll be able to go on like this for years”. Yep, years.
Clearly those are done now.
“We can offer you,” the locum says with a measured smile, “a treatment called BCG. This takes six weeks. We insert it into your bladder. It’s made in the lab. It’ll challenge the growths we've found there.” I’m still stuck on the words “offer you” while this BCG description rushes in high speed detail around the room. Hardly any of it actually settles in my head.
In a voice out there in the distance he’s now suggesting to me that an alternative might be to “take the bladder out”. I grimace. “People get used it,” he says. “It’s not so bad”. There’s a small silence.
“So what do you want to do?”
God, I don’t know. Have no pain. Stay alive.