Chapter 2: John Radcliffe

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
Marie Curie

It’ll stop in a second. The continuing torrent of red piss streaming out of my old chap will fade to a murky brown and then change back to the more traditional golden yellow. Any second now. Any second. Just a bit longer.

It remained on red all the way down to the bottom of the tank. This is clearly not right. In fact, the more I think about it, the more not-good I think this is. I started to feel quite woozy. I put things back where polite society mandates that they should be safely stowed and stumbled outside. I stood motionless for a short while beneath the spinning crisp December sky before deciding it might actually be better to manoeuvre myself through a controlled descent to the pavement before gravity got the better of me and insisted on a more direct route.

Before too long Andrew, my Project Manager wandered along and on spotting me uncharacteristically less vertical than normal, enquired upon my condition. Having relayed my tale in a little less detail than I have in the previous chapter, official procedures were set in motion. Jeremy, the Health and Safety officer was informed and after a short discussion an ambulance was summoned, just to be safe.

I was bundled back inside and a slightly comfier seat was put at my disposal. My office happens to be just next to the Oxford Observatory (a lovely building), by the Mathematics Institute (a less lovely building). The building on the other side however is the Jericho Health Centre. The sort of establishment often frequented by doctors. Although this never occurred to me at the time, it clearly occurred to someone, as a doctor from the Jericho Health Centre promptly appeared to see how I was getting on.

I often see Dr Ben Goldacre loitering outside the Jericho Health Centre. Before today I hadn’t spoken to him for years. I used to bump into him quite a bit at various talks and events when I worked in London. He always annoyingly pronounced my surname with a “Y” rather than a hard “J”. I’m pretty sure he owes me a pint too. I never seem to catch his eye when I bump into him in Oxford though, and he’s usually on his mobile anyway. I didn’t say much to him today either because it wasn’t Dr Goldacre who came to see me.

After a brief chat the very nice doctor who wasn’t Ben Goldacre, he confirmed that pissing blood is not the best of omens and that I should schedule a visit to my local GP ASAP, and insist they recommend booking me in for a CT scan. As the ambulance was still on its way he suggested that it wouldn’t hurt to let it come anyway so they can check me out some more.

I mentioned in a previous paragraph that I used to work in London. It was the contract before last and it was for the London Ambulance Service. It was without doubt the nicest and most rewarding place I have ever worked. Whilst planning and overseeing the testing of the Ambulance Service's call taking and dispatch system I obviously got to fiddle quite a bit with their computer systems. I’d triaged loads of test calls to ensure the correct priorities where determined. I’d messed about with their allocation algorithms to ensure calls are dispatched to the most suitable responders. I’ve played about with the mobile terminals in the front of their vehicles and ensured that they work correctly under all conceivable variations and follow the correct protocol. It’s fascinating stuff, if you ever get the chance to take a look I’d thoroughly recommend it.

Anyway, I’m clearly still looking a pit peaky still, so a banana has been commandeered from a colleague's packed lunch and duly delivered to the test lab that has now been temporarily promoted into my private recovery lounge. I’m a bit picky normally about the brown bits on bananas, but today is not the day to air my views on overripe fruit. In fact I’ve just polished off the banana in time to greet my next audience, the paramedics from the ambulance that has just arrived.

I’ve already missed the start of my first meeting of the afternoon and I have a sneaky suspension I’m not going to make the others either. It turns out that my private recovery lounge is not equipped well enough for the paramedics' liking so we decamp to the back of the ambulance. Having retold my tale once again they seem a little disappointed that I hadn’t reserved them a few drops of the offending piddle. I’m asked if I could perhaps dispense a few fresh drops for their closer inspection. Not convinced I had anything left to give, I gave it a go anyway and was actually able to oblige them with some new warm evidence. They looked suspiciously at my fresh sample, clear as a bell. I fear at first I might be ejected from the ambulance as a fraud trying to get out of his afternoon's meetings, but my tale is not doubted and they progress to the next step. The next step involves inserting a cannula into my wrist so they can extract some blood. I give blood fairly regularly so I’m OK with needles, as long as I don’t look. I don’t look. I don’t think they hit the vein on the first attempt, but I am too busy craning my neck to get a good look at the mobile computer terminal in the front of the ambulance.

Having satisfied the paramedics' cravings for fresh samples of blood and urine, we set off to The John Radcliffe hospital. No flashing lights and sirens for me, but a novel experience nonetheless.

Of course I’ve attended hospital A&E departments before. Albeit for comparatively trivial ailments, normally involving one of my children (when they were younger and clumsier). I assumed the typical waiting times I’d previously experienced were an incentive to deter future clumsiness.

The normal admission procedures that I an expecting seem to have been waived and I’m ushered straight to another chair for a very short wait before my next doctor is ready for me.

I really wish I had written the first two chapters down straight away and printed off several hard copies to take with me. As I haven’t, a further telling of the story so far is once again required. Although I may have missed out the bits about my penchant for tweed and a professorship. As I suspect, she is also very keen to have a gander at my lemonade. I explain that I never saved any of the first lot, I had no idea it would be in so much demand, and I didn’t really have a suitable container to hand at the time anyway. But never fear as I had successfully served up some seconds for the paramedics in the back of the ambulance. She leaves to track down the foretold sample only to return empty handed five minutes later. It seems that the ambulance paramedics did not want to relinquish their prize so easily.

There is nothing for it but to squeeze out a third specimen. Flushed with the success of my second attempt on a seemingly empty bladder, I try, smile, and succeed once more. As before the sample is crystal clear, fresh as a daisy. Assuring her that the original blood definitely emanated from the front, and not the rear, her next intention is nonetheless to eliminate my prostrate from her enquiries.

We’re both well-educated mature grown-ups in a professional situation, so there’s obviously nothing rude or embarrassing about having a young lady doctor examine my prostrate. I can’t however stop a selection of bum gags, cheap puns and double entendres flashing across my mind as a means to relax the situation and hide my embarrassment. I am however fully aware that there is no such need for such ice-breakers, mine is probably not the first hairy arse she’s probed today and it’s all just routine stuff. Showing great restraint I therefore manage to avoid making a cheeky bum crack.

On removing her fingers from my bum-hole she confirms that my prostrate is in tip-top condition and the fault probably lied somewhere further up my urinary tract instead. Out of fingers' reach this time. A nice little lie down is suggested while they decide what to do next. It is a very welcome lie down indeed. I should be in my third meeting of the afternoon, but an unexpected trip to the hospital in an ambulance provides more than justifiable excuse for my non-attendance allowing me to rather enjoy a guiltless afternoon snooze. I have been feeling rather knackered of late after all.

Just as I got comfy on my afternoon bed a new doctor peers around the curtains of my cubicle. Someone else, it transpires, has a greater need for the bed than me. A fair claim indeed as I'm not actually feeling too bad by now. I’m offered a chair instead and settle into it in order to get back to my unfished business of guiltless afternoon catnapping. I manage forty-five minutes or so, before my doctor returns to see how I am. I’m fine. The advice is therefore to go home and make an appointment at my local surgery and they will arrange some further checks and probably a CT scan.

Sounds like a plan. Except that my car is at the other side of Oxford. I call my wife, Tori, to let her know how I am and to book me an appointment at the local surgery in the morning, then I ring a taxi and go to stand in the taxi rank. Five taxis pull up over the next 30 minutes. Jago? I ask the driver of each in turn. No recognition from any of them, and someone else quickly climbs into the back of each one. I give up and walk to the bus stop instead.

The bus arrives fairly promptly, but we haven’t progressed too far into the journey before the nausea and dizziness returns. Perched precariously on the edge of my shared seat, I grip the hand rails tightly and close my eyes for as long as I can. We are now close to Oxford town centre and I fancy my chances better on foot, so I stumble to the front of the bus swinging slowly between each hand rail as I go and finally stand, anchored by the last hand rail but swaying gently, at the front of the bus waiting for the next stop.

It is now around 8pm, and a cold starry night. I’ve only had a banana since lunchtime, so perhaps a quick burger might be in order before making my way back to the car. I go into Burger King and select an Angus Steakhouse with cheese from the brightly illuminated menu above the assistant’s head. After finishing my meal, I feel somewhat better and decide it is finally time to have a pee on my own terms. I stand once more facing a urinal with thoughts of my early afternoon experience still reeling. Nothing, except a few drips of fresh blood. Bloody typical, why didn’t it do that at the hospital? Nausea has returned once more and I just want to be home. I take a quick photograph of the blood in the urinal, just in case the doctors don’t believe me and head off. As I am leaving the restaurant, the assistant who had served me calls me over. I go up to the counter to see what the problem is. Perhaps they have a policy about not bleeding in the urinals and photographing it? It isn’t that, he had apparently given me a different burger from the one I requested. I have no idea what burger I had eaten, but he was quite insistent that it wasn’t an Angus Steakhouse with cheese. He bags me up a fresh burger, which he assures me is most definitely an Angus Steakhouse with cheese and insists I take it. I say that the burger I had was fine and it isn’t a problem but he is determined that I leave with the Angus Steakhouse with cheese that I had clearly requested. I take the bag and leave, perhaps I might get hungry again when I get home.

I head up St Giles’ towards the Mathematics Institute and my office. I walk past a dishevelled young man sat on the pavement outside Blackfriars who asks me if I have any spare change for some food. I promptly give him an Angus Steakhouse with cheese which he views with much suspicion. He was probably hoping for a Double Whopper.

I nip into my empty office and send a few emails explaining my whereabouts for the afternoon and predicting my absence for the following morning (Tori, had telephoned whilst I was in Burger King and confirmed my morning appointment at the GP surgery). I then walk back to my car and have a thankfully uneventful drive home.

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