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It’s not as bad as you think

Roughly about twice every winter I reckon to catch a cold – or is it a dose of the ‘flu? I don’t suppose it matters which. When I was working, I very rarely took time of work for such occurrences. I don’t like being ill and I’d rather be ‘doing something’ than not, so carrying on regardless seems a natural thing to me. Mind you, I wasn’t completely unreasonable about it: if I was positively streaming with a cold, spluttering, or coughing (or otherwise clearly contagious and therefore a potential hazard to others) I would do the decent thing and stay at home.

This week I had a bout of ‘something’ – a stomach bug, maybe a touch of a ‘lurgy’ doing the rounds, maybe the result of food poisoning, who knows? – and had to retire to bed sensing that I was ‘in trouble’ – a feeling that proved correct. I endured a not particularly pleasant night, large plastic bowl beside the bed at the ready just in case, and so on.

Come the morning I was a wash-out. Could hardly raise my head from the pillow and in fact didn’t. I just spent the morning up to lunchtime lying on my back, or curled up in bed, under the duvet, listening to the radio. And fading in and out of sleep.

It was exactly what I felt like doing – indeed, more than that, it was all that I was capable of doing.

I even wrote a blog on the Rust about it because I’d originally had the intention of reviewing last week’s Prime Minister’s Question Time from the House of Commons but in the end missed all but the last eight minutes of it because I fell asleep propped up on my pillows in my bed.

Less than three days later, this morning I weigh five pounds less than I did (well, probably only four now because I tucked into a soup last night as a staging post on my way back to normal eating habits) and, apart from a lingering lethargy and slight ‘under the weather’ inner feeling I’m pretty much back to how I was.

NHSOne item that caused me to perk up yesterday was the arrival of an official communication letter bearing the NHS logo through my letter box.

At first I thought it might be something to do with my impending hip replacement operation. Having said that, I thought then again possibly not because I’d been given to understand that my next contact from them would be via telephone [a logic that proved correct, as I shall now expand] … and so it proved, because in fact this missive had been sent by the bowel cancer screening unit.

These public-spirited group spend their days harassing British citizens over the age of sixty to send in samples of their excrement via post every two years so that these can be tested for early warning signs of bowel cancer or similar and related issues.

I can see how this might be regarded by some as a somewhat dull and/or unrewarding career choice – indeed, the though had crossed my mind when it first happened to me two years ago – not least because there’s a natural reluctance in those of us of a certain vintage to go near the medical profession if we don’t absolutely have to, just in case they’re going to discover something that is uncomfortable, embarrassing, inconvenient or even seriously damaging to our health.

Especially if at the time were bowling along without a care in the world, feeling pretty chipper thank you (well, bar the tendency to fall over when drunk more than one did forty years ago).

That’s a moot point, isn’t it? Take the unfortunate scenario where – unbeknownst to anyone, including yourself – you’ve been harbouring a condition or disease for a while that could be serious or even potentially terminal, either without knowing it and/or having any symptoms indicating something might be wrong.

Would you want to know?

Well, I suppose it depends. I guess if it was me, and I’d contracted something that was going to be terminal in say three months or less, call me selfish but I’d probably prefer to be kept in the dark until the last possible moment. Less stress, that way.

However, if it was something that was serious – potentially terminal but not necessarily definitely so – then I’d probably want to have that flagged as soon as possible, simply so that I could get seen, assessed and potentially treated and thereby not only deal with the problem but render me fit enough to get back out on the road as soon as possible (as per normal) after this temporary ‘pit stop’ for the maintenance work to be done.

On the more mundane level, there’s the semi-surreal experience of being asked to send excrement through the British postal system, which probably puts some people off completely. I doesn’t bother me particularly (that’s something else I’ve blogged about) but I did succumb to a ‘disconnect’ from the request … in the sense that I stuck the kit and the covering letter into the middle of the ‘correspondence to do’ box file that I keep on my desk and then conveniently forgot about it.

Well, that’s not quite true. I was aware of it being in the box every day when I came to ‘work’ at my desk, but there was always something to distract me from it. A more pressingly urgent letter, a more interesting one, a task that I’d had to prioritise … even perhaps one that had no importance or priority at all but which … on the day in question … somehow seemed more fun to address in prospect than dealing with the said NHS kit and covering letter.

Until, that is, one day, I got a follow-up NHS letter, registering that they’d noticed I hadn’t replied and that therefore they were going to forget about me this time …. However, this was just to advise that they would come calling for more shit from me in another two years.

The shock of this understated news, and a background voice in my head nagging “Are you a man or a mouse?”, caused me to immediately lift the phone and call in to inform the lady receptionist at the other end that I would be ‘girding my loins’ (so to speak) that very day and – she could rest assured, if she had indeed been fretting about the non-arrival of my contribution, that it would be on its way come hell or high water by the weekend.

It was.

happyWhen the ‘results’ letter came through yesterday (Ingolby has tested clear and no doubt the whole of Whitehall is relieved that it will now not be receiving any more excrement from him for at least another 24 months) I can report that it was greeted with a sense of minor celebration at this end. And relief.

I’ve always said this to those I’ve ever come across who become worried and anxious when faced with going to the doctor – whether just for a general check-up or as a result of some symptoms, pains or concerns they’ve had.

At the end of the day, it’s always worth knowing the result, good or bad. If it’s good, you can break out the champagne and carry on as before … but if it’s bad (to any degree at all) it’s actually always worth knowing what the problem is, what the prognosis is and indeed how soon you can begin getting treated.

Certainty is always better than the opposite. In my view, anyway …

About Gerald Ingolby

Formerly a consumer journalist on radio and television, in 2002 Gerald published a thriller novel featuring a campaigning editor who was wrongly accused and jailed for fraud. He now runs a website devoted to consumer news. More Posts