Chapter 2: John Radcliffe

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

Marie Curie


It’ll stop in a second. The continuing torrent of red piss streaming out of my old chap will fade to a murky brown and then change back to the more traditional golden yellow. Any second now. Any second. Just a bit longer.

It remained on red all the way down to the bottom of the tank. This is clearly not right. In fact, the more I think about it, the more not-good I think this is. I started to feel quite woozy. I put things back where polite society mandates that they should be safely stowed and stumbled outside. I stood motionless for a short while beneath the spinning crisp December sky before deciding it might actually be better to manoeuvre myself through a controlled descent to the pavement before gravity got the better of me and insisted on a more direct route.

Before too long Andrew, my Project Manager wandered along and on spotting me uncharacteristically less vertical than normal, enquired upon my condition. Having relayed my tale in a little less detail than I have in the previous chapter, official procedures were set in motion. Jeremy, the Health and Safety officer was informed and after a short discussion an ambulance was summoned, just to be safe.

I was bundled back inside and a slightly comfier seat was put at my disposal. My office happens to be just next to the Oxford Observatory (a lovely building), by the Mathematics Institute (a less lovely building). The building on the other side however is the Jericho Health Centre. The sort of establishment often frequented by doctors. Although this never occurred to me at the time, it clearly occurred to someone as a doctor from the Jericho Health Centre promptly appeared to see how I was getting on.

I often see Dr Ben Goldacre loitering outside the Jericho Health Centre. Before today I hadn’t spoken to him for years. I used to bump into him quite a bit at various talks and events when I worked in London. He always annoyingly pronounced my surname with a “Y” rather than a hard “J”. I’m pretty sure he owes me a pint too. I never seem to catch his eye when I bump into him in Oxford though, and he’s usually on his mobile anyway. I didn’t say much to him today either because it wasn’t Dr Goldacre who came to see me.

After a brief chat the very nice doctor who wasn’t Ben Goldacre, he confirmed that pissing blood is not the best of omens and that I should schedule a visit to my local GP ASAP, and insist they recommend booking me in for a CT scan. As the ambulance was still on its way he suggested that it wouldn’t hurt to let it come anyway so they can check me out some more.

I mentioned in a previous paragraph that I used to work in London. It was the contract before last and it was for the London Ambulance Service. It was without doubt the nicest and most rewarding place I have ever worked. Whilst planning and overseeing the testing of the Ambulance Services call taking and dispatch system I obviously got to fiddle quite a bit with their computer systems. I’d triaged loads of test calls to ensure the correct priorities where determined. I’d messed about with their allocation algorithms to ensure calls are dispatched to the most suitable responders. I’ve played about with the mobile terminals in the front of their vehicles and ensured that they work correctly under all conceivable variations and follow the correct protocol. It’s fascinating stuff, if you ever get the chance to take a look I’d thoroughly recommend it.

Anyway, I’m clearly still looking a pit peaky still, so a banana has been commandeered from a colleagues packed lunch and duly delivered to the test lab that has now been temporarily promoted into my private recovery lounge. I’m a bit picky normally about the brown bits on bananas, but today is not the day to air my views on overripe fruit. In fact I’d just polished off the banana in time to greet my next audience, the paramedics from the ambulance that has just arrived.

I’ve already missed the start of my first meeting of the afternoon and I have a sneaky suspension I’m not going to make the others either. It turns out that my private recovery lounge is not equipped well enough for the paramedics liking so we decamp to the back of the ambulance. Having retold my tale once again they seem a little disappointed that I hadn’t reserved them a few a few drops of the offending piddle. I’m asked if I could perhaps dispense a few fresh drops for their closer inspection. Not convinced I had anything left to give, I gave it a go anyway and was actually able to oblige them with some new warm evidence. They looked suspiciously at my fresh sample, clear as a bell. I feared at first I might be ejected from the ambulance as a fraud trying to get out of his afternoons meetings, but my tale is not doubted and they progress to the next step. The next step involves inserting a cannula into my wrist so they can extract some blood. I give blood fairly regularly so I’m OK with needles, as long as I don’t look. I didn’t look. I don’t think they hit the vein on the first attempt, but I was too busy craning my neck to get a good look at the mobile computer terminal in the front of the ambulance.

Having satisfied the paramedics cravings for fresh samples of blood and urine, we set off to The John Radcliffe hospital. No flashing lights and sirens for me, but a novel experience nonetheless.

Of course I’ve attended hospital A&E departments before. Albeit for comparatively trivial ailments, normally involving one of my children (when they were younger and clumsier). I assumed the typical waiting times I’d previously experienced were an incentive to deter future clumsiness.

The normal admission procedures that I was expecting seemed to have been waivered and I’m ushered straight to another chair for a very short wait before my next doctor is ready for me.

I really wish I had written the first two chapters down straight away and printed off several hard copies to take with me. As I hadn’t, a further telling of the story so far was once again required. Although I may have missed out the bits about my penchant for tweed and a professorship. As I suspected she was also very keen to have a gander at my lemonade. I explained that I never saved any of the first lot, I had no idea it would be in so much demand, and I didn’t really have a suitable container to hand at the time anyway. But never fear as I had successfully served up some seconds for the paramedics in the back of the ambulance. She left to track down the foretold sample only to return five minutes or so later empty handed. It seems that the ambulance paramedics did not want to relinquish their prize so easily.

There was nothing for it but to squeeze out a third specimen. Flushed with the success of my second attempt on a seemingly empty bladder, I tried, smiled, and succeeded once more. As before the sample was crystal clear, fresh as a daisy. Having assured her that the original blood definitely emanated from the front, and not the rear, her next intention was nonetheless to eliminate my prostrate from her enquiries.

We’re both well educated mature grown-ups in a professional situation, so there’s obviously nothing rude or embarrassing about having a young lady doctor examine my prostrate. I couldn’t however stop a selection of bum gags, cheap puns and double entendres flashing across my mind as a means to relax the situation and hide my embarrassment. I was however fully aware that there was no such need for such ice-breakers, mine is probably not the first hairy arse she’d probed today and it’s all just routine stuff. Showing great restraint I therefore managed to avoid making a cheeky bum crack.

On removing her fingers from my bum-hole she confirmed that my prostrate was in tip-top condition and the fault probably lied somewhere further up my urinary tract instead. Out of fingers reach this time. A nice little lie down was suggested while they decided what to do next. It was a very welcome lie down indeed. I should have been in my third meeting of the afternoon, but an unexpected trip to the hospital in an ambulance provides more than justifiable excuse for my non-attendance allowing me to rather enjoy a guiltless afternoon snooze. I have been feeling rather knackered of late after all.

Just as I’d got comfy on my afternoon bed a new doctor peers around the curtains of my cubicle. Someone else, it transpired, had a greater need for the bed than me. A fair claim indeed as I wasn’t actually feeling too bad by now. I’m offered a chair instead and settled into it in order to get back to my unfished business of guiltless afternoon catnapping. I manage forty-five minutes or so, before my doctor returns to see how I am. I’m fine. The advice is therefore to go home and make an appointment at my local surgery and they will arrange some further checks and probably a CT scan.

Sounds like a plan. Except that my car is at the other side of Oxford. I called my wife, Tori, to let her know how I was and to book me an appointment at the local surgery in the morning, then I rang a taxi and went to stand in the taxi rank. Five, taxis pulled up over the next 30 minutes. Jago? I asked the driver of each in turn. No recognition from any of them, and someone else quickly climbed into the back of each one. I gave up and walked to the bus stop instead.

The bus arrived fairly promptly, but we hadn’t progressed too far into the journey before the nausea and dizziness returned. Perched precariously on the edge of my shared seat, I gripped the hand rails tightly and closed my eyes for as long as I could. We were now close to Oxford town centre and I fancied my chances better on foot, so I stumbled to the front of the bus swinging slowly between each hand rail as I went and finally stood, anchored by the last hand rail but swaying gently, at the front of he bus waiting for the next stop.

It was now around 8pm, and a cold starry night. I’d only had a banana since lunchtime, so perhaps a quick burger might be in order before making my way back to the car. I went into Burger King and selected an Angus Steakhouse with cheese from the brightly illuminated menu above the assistant’s head. After finishing my meal, I felt somewhat better and decided it was finally time to have a pee on my own terms. I stood once more facing a urinal with thoughts of my early afternoon experience still reeling. Nothing, except a few drips of fresh blood. Bloody typical, why didn’t it do that at the hospital. The nausea returned once more and I just wanted to be home. I took a quick photograph of the blood in the urinal, just in case the doctors didn’t believe me and headed off. As I was leaving the restaurant, the assistant who had served me called me over. I went up to the counter to see what the problem was. Perhaps they have a policy about not bleeding in the urinals and photographing it? It wasn’t that, he had apparently given me a different burger from the one I requested. I have no idea what burger I had eaten, but he was quite insistent that it wasn’t an Angus Steakhouse with cheese. He’d bagged me up a fresh burger, which he assured me was most definitely an Angus Steakhouse with cheese and insisted I took it. I said that the burger I had was fine and it wasn’t a problem but he was determined that I left with the Angus Steakhouse with cheese that I had clearly requested. I took the bag and left, perhaps I might get hungry again when I get home.

I headed up St Giles’ towards the Mathematics Institute and my office. I walked past a dishevelled young man sat on the pavement outside Blackfriars who asked me if I had any spare change for some food. I promptly gave him an Angus Steakhouse with cheese which he viewed with much suspicion. He was probably hoping for a Double Whopper.

I nipped into my empty office and sent a few emails explaining my whereabouts for the afternoon and predicting my absence for the following morning (Tori, had telephoned whilst I was in Burger King and confirmed my morning appointment at the GP surgery). I then walked back to my car and had a thankfully uneventful drive home.

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