It started in early January this year. I developed what I thought was the beginnings of an abscess, so off to the dentist I go. 'Yes, it looks like an abscess.' After three weeks or so of different treatments, the dentist referred me to the dental hospital: 'Yes, it's an abscess, don't understand its lack of response to treatment.' After a painful exploration, I was sent away on another course of antibiotics. 'Come back in two weeks.'
Still no success and by now my 'abscess' had doubled in size. 'Very interesting, can't think what it is. Do you mind if my colleagues have a look?' – a phrase that was later to become a nightmare – 'We'll do a biopsy.' Which they did. 'Come back in two weeks.'
Two weeks passed and the thing had doubled in size and my teeth were becoming loose. 'We haven't actually got final results, but preliminary investigation rules out anything malignant, which I'm sure you were worried about. Do you mind if I fetch a colleague to take a look? Can you come back in two weeks?'
The thing doubled in size again and expanded to the palate. It also lifted away from the teeth exposing roots and causing toothache. I could no longer eat properly and became good friends with the paracetemol bottle. 'Hello, how are things? Oh dear, it has got bigger. Well, the good news is the full biopsy report says it's definitely not malignant. The bad news is we still don't know what it is. If it proves a problem, we'll have you in and operate. Do you mind if I bring some colleagues to have a look at it? (Bring the whole flipping hospital – somebody must know what it is.) Can you come back in a month?'
A week or so passes. I can't eat or sleep. My bills for paracetamol will be bigger than the NHS budget. My social life has gone to pot and I'm snapping at everyone at work. 'Can I come in? This thing is driving me crazy.' Chat to nurse while waiting. 'Well, you're in the hands of experts here. They know what they're doing.' (If the experts don't know, what else am I supposed to do?) 'Hello, there, I believe you're having some problems. Oh, it does appear to have grown. Can I fetch some colleagues? (Why not? Lets have a party!) We need to do something quickly. (At last!) We'll have you in and operate. Can you come back next week?’
'Hello, there. Well, it seems to be malignant after all, but on a scale of 0-10, it's probably about 5 (So, what are you telling me?). Can I bring in a colleague? (Please do.). I don't like to use the word cancer these days, people imagine all sorts of things. (Too flippng right, call it what you want, but give me some facts.) Can I bring in another colleague? (Please do, what's he going to call it?).’
'Are you sitting comfortably? We have to ask you this question, so don't be offended. (Damn!) Are you or have you ever been homosexual or bisexual?' (Double damn! I should have seen this coming.) 'Well, yes, I was, I still am.' 'This sort of thing has been seen in these groups of people. We'd like you to speak to Professor E.' (Are you trying to tell me what I think?) They are. 'We'd like you to take an HIV test. (Triple damn!!) Don't worry, it's all confidential.'
'Hello, there. Yes, it's Karposi's Sarcoma. You've got AIDS. Can I bring in some of my colleagues?' —Derek (England)
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