Monday, 17 September 2012

Not A Smoker In Sight

 Approaching the hospital is unsettling.  We’re on the fringes of one of the city’s 1970s estates, all grass and orange brick, underpasses, men out walking dogs.  Kids on skateboards.  Women in trainers pushing buggies.  The sun is up there, hiding behind cloud.  There’s a car-parked pub that does steak that sizzles.   Houses with washing on twirling lines.  On the main road are trucks and vans  rucking up road dust.  A lone seagull sits on a fence wondering just what it’s doing this far inland.

The entrance, once we find it, is modest, the car park free, the building low-slung and silent.   There’s no one hanging around the entrance, not a smoker in sight.    This could be a council office or a care home.  It could.  But actually it’s Spire private medicine.  A hospital outside the NHS.

In the waiting room there are comfortable chairs, no jabbering TV, no Coke machines,  and a complete lack of misshapen sprawl.  The coffee is free.  There are papers to read.  Admittedly they did take an imprint of my credit card when I arrived but that was, as the receptionist put it, just for identification purposes, best be sure.

Almost all writers in history have suffered illness.  Consumption, gout, bad livers, hearts that fail, the bloody flux, the ague.  They lose their sight, the use of their limbs, are confined to wheelchairs, kept in bed, made to take long holidays on the coasts where the air is clear.  They move slowly.   They are bled.  They leak.   But they all carried on.  They got up at dawn to bash the words out.  Thinking through fog.  Letting the pain wince its way out through their lines.  Bottling it just to get the books done.

Me?  I’m knocked flat by all this sudden vicissitude that’s seeping through me like a river.  Rather than be out there running across the world I’m inside my room worrying.  I must get a grip.  I need to let the ideas circulate again.  Encourage them.  Give them time to foam up and flower.  There’s that book I’m writing.  How the rock and roll changed my life.   How music is always better than poetry.  How sound in the air beats words trapped on the page.  The history, the past and the present.  Where we all fitted.  Where it all then went. 

I start to think about Howlin’ Wolf and how seeing him of stage at the Colston Hall in Bristol in 1964 changed my view of music forever.  Quite a Finch revolution that.  Wolf arriving in the centre of my quiet world like an alien. A 300-pound negro in a bad suit  roaring above Hubert Sumlin’s guitar lead, turning my idea of what music was thrillingly on its head.  I reach for my notebook but don’t get that far.

On the button I get called in for my appointment.  Synovial Cyst.  Ganglion.  Non-cancerous.  But there.  I’m shown the MRI scans, horizontal slices taken along my spine.   There it is at Level  4, nestling in the facet joint and pressing itself softly on the sciatic nerve.  A white oval the size of a peanut.  Would that be KP or Marks & Spencer, I ask.  The consultant laughs.

I get more than 30 minutes of description and discussion.  Prognosis, treatment, outcomes, risk.  Watchful waiting.  Further facet joint injection.  Surgical intervention.  These things ebb and these things flow.  Today there’s little sensation.  Last week my back and right leg were full of electric rage.  Listen to your body, I am advised.  Run if you like.  Exercise is better than no exercise.  Treadmills are not good for the joints but do a bit.  If there’s pain stop.  If there’s not then carry on.

If the whole thing gets worse then ask  for another nerve root block.  Waiting time on the NHS – 3 months at least.  Privately less than a week.  Try high does prednisolone for a day or two.  The stuff will circulate your whole body and some of it will stick.  If all that fails then surgical intervention will sort it. We’ll make an incision, move your muscles to the side a bit and then suck the peanut out.  You’ll feel like you’ve been kicked in the small of the back for six weeks but after that you’ll be fine.

So there’s a future.  Aged Finch sails on.  We shake hands.  Outside they get me to put my pin number  into their credit card machine.  The amount I’m paying  makes me wince but it’s only cash.  Inside I’ve got a new calm flowing. Worth every cent.

Me and the polymyalgia and the bladder stuff and the new companion Mr Peanut Synovial we all clatter out into the car park.   Rattle, smile and hum.  Out there I spot a fat woman leaning on the door of her Citroen C1 sucking on a Bensons.  A man in overalls on a ladder is trying to fix a faulty exterior wall light.  At the pub over the way they are taking delivery of beer in pressurised aluminium barrels.  The sun glints.  The world still works.  I head home, fast, to write it all down.