In the waiting room I have my head deep in my book. It’s in so deep that when they call my name I fail to hear . It takes the receptionist tapping her feet in front of me, files in hand, to get me to stir. This is the Welsh National Health and I’m being called in more than fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. Aneurin Bevan, your dream is coming true at last.
The trick is, of course, that after checking your weight and your blood pressure (what do you want me to do? I’ll need an arm) and your name and address, mother’s maiden name, medical number, GP details, birthdate and secret password (mine is arse, apparently there’s a move on to popularise these once discredited words) I get to sit in waiting room number two. Empty apart from me and my book. Medical students come and go. A trolley of files rolls by. The leaflets on the notice board advertising the rheumatic hip self-help group and what to do when you fall over flutter in its breeze.
I’m reading the late Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues, an excellent history of blues music. Palmer was a music journalist and fanatical record collector with a personal library of blues albums that ran to thousands. He’s explaining how it was that jazz improvisation came from negro string bands and early jump-up groups having to extend the length of their numbers. They had to do this to satisfy the demand of dancers who didn’t ever want to sit down. Middle of this my name again gets called. This time I hear. I pad my way to today’s target - the consultants room.
It’s all centred on this. Me sitting there before the doctor, a pair of silent students arrayed left, my file in all its fat and paper-stuffed glory in the centre of the desk. The pred levels we’ll leave as they are, 3 / 4 mgs on alternative days, the consultant tells me. Get that down to 3 mgs each day by the end of the month. The synovial cyst is the real issue. Your MRI scans show that it might not be growing but it’s certainly there. They are so unpredictable these things. It will take just a small shift for the pain to start for you again. She frowns sympathetically. You are not in pain now? I was last week but today, no.
There are drugs we could put you on, gabapentin for example, but it does have side effects. I get read a list. There’s everything I've heard before on the prednisolone danger directory and then more. Fat face, night frights, pain everywhere, bleeding stomach, head spins, fear of the outdoors, suicidal tendencies, hiccups. Get all those and you’d never leave your bed. Not everyone will suffer from these side effects, she tells me, reassuringly. Up to you. For now I’ll pass.
We’ll see what we can do with your visit to the neurologist, she continues. You’ve already been on the waiting list for 3 months, can’t be long now. I’ll give him a call.
Then I’m back on the street. Nothing actually prescribed and nothing new to do. There are a few specialist consultations out there somewhere in the future, maybe a spinal injection if that department gets its act together and another visit to Rheumatology in six months’ time.
What would Charley Patton or Robert Johnson have done? Sung about it a bit accompanied by their slide guitars, Pain Down My Leg Blues, Hollerin’ ‘Bout Gabapentin, Shake That Synovial Thing Mama, and then retreated to the bar. Alcohol, the great cure all. If in doubt put half a bottle of Wild Turkey down your neck.
Patton died at 48, Johnson at 27. Doesn’t really give you hope.