When I rolled up for my fifth chemo session at the van in Stowmarket I was expecting the usual routine. A little friendly banter with the team, a couple of hours watching drugs trickle into my system, and a drive home.
Admittedly I was (just) recovering from a particularly nasty fluey cold, but my temperature that morning showed a completely normal 36.3. I’d had an abnormal amount of pain first thing, though, with the whole of my lower abdomen – more or less up to the tips of the pelvis – complaining loudly. Even so, it came as something of a shock when the routine temperature check in the van yielded a result well over the critical 37.5 danger level. And kept on doing so, on any thermometer, and even after allowing some time for it to settle.
The protocol at that point is to send the patient straight to A&E – so that’s what happened, thanks to Anthony, one of the team in the van, who kindly drove me all the way to the emergency department at West Suffolk Hospital. Once there, not a minute was wasted. As a vulnerable cancer patient with a high fever I was whisked through triage, and within ten minutes I was sitting in an isolation room. After a few minutes my nurse appeared and was somewhat surprised to see that I was the patient. (I guess he was expecting someone older and frailer looking.)
To cut a (very) long story short, I was subjected to pretty much every test known to man. My blood tests, taken the previous day, had been absolutely clear, so they did them all again. I gave a urine sample. I gave a throat swab for a Covid test. I spent a long time with a charming young doctor going through anything and everything I’d experienced over the past week which might have caused the fever. (She was a remarkably patient soul!)
After a couple of hours they decided to put me on a saline drip, which meant I had to lie down (not that I minded). I relaxed with a couple of books on my Kindle app, and in due course one of the nursing team arrived to check my blood pressure again. I saw him look at the readout and blink. ‘120 over 70,’ he said. ‘Know what the nominal reading is?’
‘I’d guess 120 over 70,’ I said.
‘Absolutely right. How old are you?’
’70,’ I said.
‘Really? I find that very hard to believe.’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘in fairness I’m not 70 until December 4. But who’s counting?’
‘I can tell you,’ he said, ‘I’ve seen a lot of 70-year-olds in here, and not many of them look like you! Did you do a lot of sport as a young man?’
I laughed. ‘No. I was never into sport. But I did do a whole lot of cycling and walking.’
We chatted on as I explained to him how Rosemary and I had taken a firm decision to lose weight and gain fitness a few years back – and how I now did an hour’s workout at the gym three times a week.
Eventually – since they couldn’t find anything wrong with me, or any likely source of infection – they packed me off home with a course of antibiotics. I have zero complaints about my treatment (they couldn’t have done more, and they couldn’t have done it faster!) but it’s annoying that I’ve missed a chemo session and my treatment will now have to be pushed that much closer to Christmas. I had hoped to finish the course – and get a scan, and some idea of what it had achieved – before year end.
But I know I’m being cared for with every resource the NHS can throw at me. And that is beyond price.