When I go down to James’ Hospital once a month to give platelets, it is the common practice to fill out a questionnaire about my social and sexual history to see if I am eligible to donate. Have I ever had a blood transfusion? Have I ever had sex with a male or female from South America? Have I ever fondled monkeys or handled their bodily fluids? Have I ever had a blood transfusion from a South American monkey?
My answer to all of them is invariably No. I have never had any serious illnesses, never had surgery and never indulged in any lascivious practices. Nor have I ever sold my body for drugs nor spent my hard earned money on piercings or tattoos. The nurses are delighted with me, yet somewhere in the back of my head lingers the thought that I must have led a really boring and uneventful life.
This all changed recently when I had a spot of minor surgery. Forty eight years old and I had never been back to hospital since my mother brought me home at a week old (that’s me, incidentally, not my mother.)
Well, not on my own account, anyway. I’d been there plenty of times for relatives and friends who seem to have a perverse inclination to suffer terrible illnesses or break bones or have babies. To me, hospitals were like New York – okay to go and visit but I wouldn’t like to stay there for any length of time. Besides, when you scan the obituary columns and see how many people die in hospital, it’s probably best to avoid them altogether.
About twelve years ago, I developed a lump on my lower back about the size of a golf ball. It just emerged one night fully-formed, rather like the way JK Rowling describes how the idea of Harry Potter came to her. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of a similar way of profiting from my apparition.
Now, I believe in getting my money’s worth from doctors, so I waited until I had a few ailments affecting me before going down to the surgery. The doctor stroked his chin, told me the lump wasn’t harmful and assured me that it wasn’t a golf ball.
So I did nothing about it. The lump didn’t hurt, never changed in size and never really bothered me in any way. However, after a time, I grew rather weary of small children running shrieking from the swimming pool when I was on holiday, yelling about the man with the alien in his back, so I resolved to have it removed.
However, I wasn’t going to give €60 to a doctor for that alone, so I hung on until I had some more things wrong with me. Just my rotten luck – I went for about five years of sickeningly perfect health and never once needed to set foot inside the surgery door.
Then last summer, I thankfully got a nasty chest infection which needed a prescription of antibiotics, so down to the Meridian Clinic in Ongar I skipped. While there, I mentioned the lump on my back, the doctor stroked her chin, had a look and lo and behold, within three months I had an appointment down in Connolly Hospital.
In Connolly, they stroked their chins, had a poke around, assured me again that it still wasn’t a golf ball and told me that if I hadn’t heard from them after six months, I was to phone them up and remind them of my existence.
So about a month ago, after eight months of not hearing from them, I phoned them up and was rather surprised to be told to come in “on Monday week.” It was to be a simple day case and I had to bring in a dressing gown and a pair of slippers.
There are some people who are dressing gown people and some who aren’t. This is the way that many sociologists divide the world and I have always been one of those people who favour the revolutionary idea of “getting dressed” when rising in the mornings. Thankfully my brother in law, who is also a non-DG person, received one of the said items from his mother many years ago, a hideous, multi-coloured specimen that had lived in its packaging at the back of his wardrobe ever since, and so he gratefully delivered the item to me, saving me the frustrating option of having to go and buy a blessed dressing gown in Dunnes or Penneys.
I told them in work that I wouldn’t be in for a week and they asked me did I want to take the time off as a holiday? When I got home that evening, I looked up the definition of the word ‘holiday’ in the Oxford English Dictionary and it didn’t quite seem to correspond with the notion of going into hospital. The following morning, I told my boss that I had checked with Budget Travel and that James Connolly wasn’t in their brochure for this year, so I’d be taking the time off sick.
He asked me if my lump was any bigger than the apple-pip sized lump he showed me just beneath the skin of his forearm. I lifted up my shirt to show him. The last I saw of him, he was running into the boardroom shrieking about the man with the alien in his back.
The hospital told me that I didn’t need to fast at all prior to my operation. Personally, I don’t mind fasting, so long as I can eat something while doing it, but as the scenario didn’t arise, I just ate my normal breakfast of sausages and cream, a delicacy picked up from a recent visit to the States.
I bade my wife a tearful goodbye and solemnly gave her my blessing to remarry if the worst came to the worst. She seemed unimpressed by this gesture and reminded me not to say anything in the hospital that might embarrass her.
Even though my son did not believe that there really was such time as seven o’clock in the morning, he nevertheless offered to bring me down to the hospital, doubtless inspired by the thought of driving my car around after he’d dropped me off. And thus, clutching my slippers and 1970s dressing gown, I was driven off to face the unknown...