Chemo Club Blog (6)

ros aitkenFurther adventures of a cancer patient in the UK

By Ros Aitken in London

Mindful of last week’s traffic jam, I set off in good time for 9.30 blood test at St George’s Hospital, for which I arrive half an hour early.  However, NHS swings enthusiastically into gear and I am immediately dealt with.

Proceedings enlivened by a couple who have a very public domestic over the unchecked ringing of their mobile phone.


‘The system has changed’

Am told very firmly that I must report to reception before I go in order to check tomorrow’s chemo appointment, as ‘the system has been changed.’ Dread words.  Unsurprisingly, reception knows nothing of any of this.  Sigh. 

On the bus going home I shamelessly eavesdrop on a mobile phoner giving a blow by blow description of a patient’s violent behaviour in the hospital last night. 

A woman was apparently having her head ‘glued’ by the phoner when she (the patient) attacked a student nurse and then another member of staff, at which point, the police were called. Sadly, the mobile phoner got off the bus at that point, so I can divulge nothing further.

The next day wake up in the small hours with left hand numb and feeling grotesquely swollen – which it isn’t. 

Vaguely remember that this can be yet another chemo side effect. Unfortunately I also vividly remember a short story I once read in which a man is strangled by his own hand.

Entrance to the Oncology Department, St George's Hospital
Entrance to the Oncology Ward, St George’s Hospital

When I arrive at the ward, just before 9am, the doors are firmly locked and apparently bolted.  Deadly disease?  A strike?  Someone appears through a nearby door and rescues me by punching a few buttons and letting me inside, where all is as normal, if that’s the word.

The nurse fitting the canula attachment for the drip  into my arm fills me with horror by saying that next time she will have to use the other side. 

I am unbelievably clumsy with my left hand and wonder how I shall survive for 5 hours with both  hands virtually out of action.  Later I remember the Kindle  that my dear step daughter-in-law Julia has sent me and realise that its big moment has now arrived – all I’ll have to do to turn the page is press an arrow.

Part way through the morning an incredibly glamorous black lady turns up, wearing leopard skin tights displayed to full advantage beneath a minimalist bespangled black velvet top. 

Everything from her black leather boots to her immaculate pink nail varnish  seems to point accusingly at me, in my old baggy M & S cargo trousers and couple of mail order pullies.  I really must make more of an effort.   But 6.30am seems a bit early to dress up.

An outbreak of screaming

Not long after her arrival, there is a sudden outbreak of prolonged and hysterical screaming from somewhere down the corridor. 

The staff discreetly eye each other and glide unhurriedly off to sort things out.  The rest of us also make eye contact, but naturally, as we are British, nobody actually says anything.

No fewer than 3 people are reading copies of the Times today. I ponder on whether  this means (a) that social classes A/B are more heavily represented than usual, (b) that in times of crisis (a soldier had recently been beheaded in Woolwich) people automatically turn to more serious papers, or (c) the Times is being given away free somewhere in the Main Enrance.

Sometime during the afternoon a session of side-effect symptom-swapping develops at the far end of the room.  I’m glad I’m too far away to participate.

When I emerge at the bus stop it is to bright sunshine – the one sunny period of the day.  I feel I’ve earned it.

The bus changes its announced destination 3 times, eventually decanting we 3 remaining bemused passengers just half a mile short.  Surprisingly, within the promised 2 minutes, another one turns  up.  And so home to a cuppa.


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