In an afternoon when the rain holds off long enough for the sky to go blue the best place to be is not in the city. So I’m out on the roadside in Wales’ green desert, somewhere north of Builth. The verge here has to be wider than my home garden, thick green, lush, durable. The sun is on my back warming through my shirt. It could be Hawaii but it’s Cefn Coed. In the near layby a couple towing a caravan with a four by four are sitting on deckchairs drinking tea. They watch the traffic roll by. This is how we relax these days. Roadside get away from it alls.
I’m here actually to watch the Kate Auchterlonie Memorial Cycle Race. Women in lycra with numbers on their backs going past in a great herd on bikes. As a spectator sport this one isn’t much. The women do fifteen mile circuits passing me every half an hour. They go at a hell of lick. Lead motorbikes with flashing lights clearing the traffic, then a tight cluster of furious peddling followed by a few stragglers spread out down the road. Blink and they’re gone. And then it’s back to watching the breeze move the grass beyond the hedgerows and the kestrels hovering overhead until the women come round again.
To fill in time I march up and down the layby trying to free up the pain from my leg. Is this the polymyalgia returning in a great flare? I’ve upped the prednisolone from 5 mg to 10 mg. The GP says it won’t matter in the short term but the head is already filling with fog. I do a series of leg stretches, squats and knee presses. I am watched blankly by the couple drinking tea. I smile back but they do not react.
I go behind a tree for a pee and am immediately spotted by a vehicle traversing an otherwise totally abandoned dried up off road track. The occupants wave. The countryside’s synchronicity. I pee on pretending they are not there.
The cyclists come round again. I give them a cheer and clap a bit to offer encouragement. For them traversing this circuit must be like watching paint dry. They disappear into the distance. I do a few more knee bends to beat the PMR back.
Up at the clinic the following day I get the news. This isn’t polymyalgia bubbling up from where it’s been sort of slumbering. Instead it’s my new friend the spinal ganglion cyst. This is the growth the size of a small grape that’s insinuated itself somewhere in my lower spine disrupting the way the nerves work. The result is leg pain, foot pain, and thigh pain, often all together, in long slow burns, in starts and shakes and rushes and aches. They fade and then they come back. They go and then they stay.
The consultant puts me in the loop for another MRI scan and a further set of spinal injections. Might fix it, might not. You’ll also need to see a neurosurgeon who will discuss with you the risks involved in having the cyst surgically removed. Risks? The surgeon will explain it all to you. Doesn’t sound good.
I do the anticipated circuit of bloods, weight, urine sample, and BP measurement ending at the pharmacy where the great team of twenty or so NHS dispensers, heads down hard at work, take an amazing 30 minutes to get my prescription filled. At the local Co-op the single pharmacist turns my monthly prescription for four different drugs and a tub of chewable calcium round in five minutes. There’s a lesson here.
On the wall of the UHW Pharmacy next to a sign reading “Antibiotics will not get rid of your cold” is another which says “To ensure patient confidentiality please do not stand or wait against this wall.” Better not hang about here I say to the old lady on sticks queuing next me. She frowns. I don’t have a cold she says, shaking her head.
On my way out under the grey shell of a sky, new tablets in a giant bag under my arm, I go through what the consultant has told me. Hope for the best but the best is often elusive. Try. Live in the moment. We’ll see what these new tests throw up. Let’s see how you get on. I’m really sorry this has happened to you. She is too.
I’ve asked her if there’s anything I should now not do. Stretch? That’s fine. Exercise? That’s good but try to avoid running. The action of all that pounding jars the spine. Go on the bike instead. It’s the perfect activity. Cycling – much better than watching paint dry. Sure is.