Apart from a panicked visit to A&E with Pleurisy a few years ago (lesson learned – don’t go outside in the middle of winter wearing a wet t-shirt and exert yourself lifting heavy items into a van 15 days in a row) I am not stricken with many an ailment, so yesterday was a novelty as it featured my first visit to a GP in 14 years.
After making my presence known to the weary-looking receptionist, I took a seat amidst the feral children and drug-addled adults that made up the waiting area. “Excuse me,” she shouted after me, “Upstairs waiting room.” Ah, right. I didn’t hear her the first time because the two-inch thick bullet-proof glass which separated us conspired with my Tinnitus to render efficient verbal communication an unlikely prospect.
Happy to leave the brats napalming each other while their mothers waited for their Methadone prescriptions, I scaled the stairs with enthusiasm and vigour, hearing strains of classical music waiting for me. I sit and glance around. There’s a couple. Definitely Polish. And fuck me, there’s a guy I vaguely know sitting two seats away from me. What are the odds? This is my first visit to a GP’s surgery in 5,000 days. We make eye contact. “Alright, mate?” he says. Oh Christ, we’re heading towards an awkward conversation. I don’t know what time his appointment is, but I’m middle class, and therefore 15 minutes early for my appointment with the learned Doctor. This is going to suck donkey balls.
Where do I know him from? Oh, the Greenland Dock Quiz night. We were on the same team a few weeks ago, he’s a friend of a friend of a friend, and we bonded over the Formula 1 questions and split the bonus prize, and are therefore sufficiently acquainted to require awkward conversation over uncomfortable silence in an NHS waiting room.
Here’s how it didn’t go.
“So, er, what are you here for?”
“Just a touch of I.B.S.”
“Yeah, almost literally. If I’m not pissing out of my ass, I’m massaging a dull ache and guzzling mint tea.”
“That sounds rubbish”
“Yeah, it’s not amazing. It’s linked to an anxiety disorder, apparently. We’ll see. What about you?”
“Oh, pancreatic cancer”.
“Whoa, seriously? That’s why you’re losing your hair? All the Chemo?”
“Er, no – pattern baldness runs in the family.”
“Right. So, er… what’s the, er, the – prognosis?”
“6 months to a year.”
“Chemo takes that long? I thought they just zapped you a few times, your hair falls out and you puke a lot, but then you’re all better.”
“Nah, pancreatic is terminal in 95% of cases”.
“So it just goes away on its own? I’ve never heard of that before.”
At this point he stands up, trembling like a weightlifter in the middle of a clean and jerk and grabs both my shoulders. I feel his heavy breath on my wide open eyes. “I’m going to die, you fucking moron. I’m a fucking dead man. I’m 34; I’ve got so much to live for. But it’s game over, man. I’m fucked, I’m screwed, and I’m going to be rotting into the ground before the Olympic games reach China. Friends will begin to distance themselves from me. Dogs will smell death on me and run away from me in the park. My girlfriend will stay with me out of guilt but I’ll read the horror on her face every day. I’ll spend my last few weeks on a drip surrounded by old people. I’ll be hiding my sheer panic as much as possible so I don’t make my mother cry. I’ll be going through the seven stages of grief every day, over and over, every time I wake up. I’ll be reading the Koran, the Bible, the Talmud and the Tibetan Book of the Dead whilst chanting Um Num Shiva as if it stopped time. I’ve read all the Buddhist shit about all consciousness being one, experiencing itself subjectively and that we are the imagination of ourselves, but I STILL DON’T WANT TO DIE! I CAN’T DIE, I REFUSE TO! I WANT TO FUCKING LIVE!”
There’s a long pause.
“So, er… you going to the quiz next week?”
“Yeah, should be up for it.”
“Hey, you never know, some questions might come up on religious texts.”