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Date: 19/07/16

Four-Wards

Part 1 - In-Wards

(In which Our Hero passes through a magic portal into the Land of Hospitalia)

I should have known better, of course.

I should have known that, given my recent state of health, there is no such thing as a 'routine scan'. Just as it did back on April 25, such an event was to turn my world upside down.

So it was that, chauffeured by my manager/colleague/friend Julie, I set off on the morning of Friday, July 1 to have an MRI scan at Manchester Royal Infirmary (yes, an MRI at MRI; how piquant a coincidence!). We encountered very little in the way of traffic on the way up and arrived at the Wellcome Trust's Clinical Research Facility on Grafton Street well in advance of the appointment time. I signed in, was given a badge which identified me as a 'Participant' and settled down to wait.

After about 40 minutes (somewhat after the time set for it), I was called through to another waiting area where I was given a short session of questions by one of the radiographers (or whatever his official title was), before being asked to change into my pyjamas and taken through to where the scanning machine stood.

You may well have seen one of these beasts; indeeed, you may have been in one yourself. I lay down on (and, to all intents and purposes, was strapped in to) a bed which was then slid slowly into the belly of the creature. The top of the aperture was scarcely a couple of inches from my face, which felt intimidating enough to start with. When taken in conjunction with the headphones I was required to wear due to the noisiness of the device (I chose silence rather than the radio station which was offerred, because one can never tell where Jeremy Vine may be lurking), it was a somewhat dislocating experience.

I was inside the scanner for what seemed like an eternity, with the repeated injunctions from the radiographers (there were two of them by this point; one male, one female) to "Breathe in...and out...hold it there", while the machine clacked and whirred about me. After a subjectively interminable period of this, I could feel myself starting to lose it a bit; a feeling which was only marginally assuaged by the reassuring tones of those operating the mechanism.

Finally, after what turned out to be about 40 minutes of the most bizarre experience of my life, I was slid out from the scanner rather like a 'done' slice of toast and allowed to get dressed again. It was at this point that things started to get ominous. The male operative asked about the person who had accompanied me (Julie had gone upstairs to have a cup of tea), and said that he would go up and fetch her, as the consultant wanted to see me. This was presented initially as simply as a sort of courtesy to prevent my having to come back to Manchester to see her at some other time.

It wasn't really, of course; the consultant (who, it seems, had been viewing the scan 'live') was particularly concerened about the build-up of fluid in my lungs and around my heart and wanted a further look. When Julie turned up, we were taken through a set of corridors around the back which led to the Manchester Heart Hospital (part of the Royal), where we were asked to wait.

And wait we did, for some considerable time, until a specialist nurse came through to talk to me. So concerned was the consultant, it seemed, that she wanted to admit me to the hospital there and then. I was in no position to refuse of course, because to do such would ultimately have been counter-productive, and it would have made me look like a silly little boy. They were, however, still looking for a bed for me, and it could be a little while more before their hunt finally caught up with its prey.

So - having phoned my brother to advise him of the latest twist of misfortune in my life - I sat there while they searched for a vacant berth for my newest voyage into the realms of decrepitude. After what seemed like another age, but was in fact not much more than an hour or so, I was told that a bed had been made available, and so me and Julie were led through to the far end of Ward 4, a reasonably capacious room with five beds on either side. I plonked myself and the Sainsbury's bag which held my pyjamas onto Bed 26 and prepared to wait either for the consultant or the registrar to come and see me. At this point, Julie had to leave, otherwise she would have been caught in the rush-hour traffic heading south, and she had already supported me above and beyond the call of duty in any case.

Thus was I left alone - if, of course, one can be said to be alone in a room with seven or eight other invalids (not all the other beds were occupied at this point) and nurses scurrying about - to ponder what future there might be.

It was sometime gone seven - and about an hour after they had fed me, fair play - before the registrar turned up to talk to me (the consultant, I later learned, had admitted me and then gone off on holiday), and as it was now the weekend and consultants generally are seldom seen roaming the site on Saturdays and Sundays, I would be there until at least Monday. Great. Just great. And the short notice of my confinement - and the distance from home - meant that I wouldn't be getting any visits until the next day...

...except that, shortly after 9 pm, and having already had a chest x-ray, I was coming back from the lav when I saw my niece and her partner standing by my bed. They had sped up from Wrexham with a parcel of necessities for me, and never - but never - had I been so pleased to see anyone. I'm afraid that I became embarrassingly tearful at this point (not for the last time), but at least I'd had some contact from home, which helped me settle a bit better. After they had gone, I crawled into my py-jams, slid between the sheets and tried to settle down for the night.

(Coming up: Our Hero endures a weekend of impatience, susses out his fellow inmates, gets scanned almost beyond endurance and re-discovers Radio 3) an arrow to click on to take you to a follow-up item