Previously on How Hard Can it be?:
'I went to the health centre on campus complaining about my hearing'
'Right now I have to get myself to the ENT department at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital for their considered opinion'
'My hearing, he said, was fine'
'Well, this wasn't the end of my ENT odessey, oh no'
That's just a brief summary of what those of you who inexplicably opted not to read the previous thrilling instalment missed. If you have bit more time, you could follow the link and pop back to the previous entry, which is highly recommended. Meanwhile, those of you who read the previous entry are doubtless anxious to pick up the story and find out how we're getting on. Well, here we go:
Lister Hospital, Stevenage, Hertfordshire
Not Royal, apparently, I don't know why. Well, actually, I could suggest a few reasons, but BBC lawyers would probably discourage me from mentioning them. Anyway, I was sent here a couple of years later, after having gone to my new doctor1 because I was still concerned about my hearing. I had spent a period of uncertainty following my diagnosis as 'fine' by the Royal Glamorgan Hospital. But the fact that I continued, by common consent, to have the radio and television up too loud, to miss words and whole sentences in conversations even when I was paying attention and too find hearing at work challenging, I was persuaded to return to the doctor.
The journey to Lister is not a great challenge; I have been on god knows how many occasions and it doesn't take too long. I've never had to jump off even one bus, much less two. I visited this hospital on three seperate occasions to see specialists and there are some common denominators in each experience. The first cause for alarm is the computer system. You can clearly see the screen and it has on it just two colours: black and green. It looks alarmingly simillar to the hyper-modern piece of kit my parents purchased in about 1986, which ran on 5-inch discs which were genuinely 'floppy'. I couldn't help wondering how my records could be called speedily to the attention of the specialists with this sort of technology and the answer, it turned out, was via a bloke with a trolley who brough them up from the basement, coughing and removing his face-mask to talk to colleagues2. The pile of paperwork sitting outside the office of each doctor was depressingly large and I found that it was best not to ask where you were in the pile. Appointment times really didn't bear any relation to anything except perhaps the experience you would expect when trying to catch a train3. Another key oddity, to me at least, is that the doctors, when they emerge from their rooms, call patients in the smallest, quietest voices known to man. I wondered whether any of the ENT specialists4 realised that some of their patients might have hearing problems.
Once in, having dusted down the cobwebs and tried to remember what it was you were there for in the first place, you undergo another series of trials. Having checked your height and weight, lest either of these things be effecting some change to your hearing for some unknown reason, they then look up your nose and in your ears. Still no pea, thank God, although by this stage I think the phrase 'Ah, there's a pea. Oh, we can soon have this out' would have been extremely welcome. Having moved on from the pea test5 I was then locked once again in a room with only a pair of headphones and a button with which to indicate when I heard a noise. My understanding is that you will no longer be subjected to this test following pressure from Amnesty International, although I can't verify that with absolute certainty. Well, the first time they undertook this test it showed that my hearing was fine. Under pressure from a second visit, they grugingly wheeled out a variant of the soundproof room test, in which they play random distrations, such as distant screams and drilling noises, to further test my hearing. I still passed. For a third and final time I visited the clinic and this time I was told, rather dismissively, that I 'probably have a dust mite allergy or something'. Tests show that I do indeed have a 'slight dust mite allergy', so I duly ran with that theory in the hope that it would cure my problem for another couple of years.
Eastbourne District General Hospital
In 2005 (I know these little details matter to you) we moved down to Eastbourne and registered with a new doctor. Having been seen by a nurse, we were told 'You need to go and see the doctor.' We went to see the doctor. He didn't seem to know why we had been sent to see him any more than we did, but he asked how we were6 and we told him. Another doctor, another hospital, another referral to another ENT department. I was not brimming with confidence, but a crucial difference on this occasion was that I had complained not about my ears but my sinuses. Nonetheless, the procedures were pretty much the same. At least, they were for about the first twenty seconds. My consultant, seemingly being slightly sharper than the previous four consultants, looked up my nose with his specialist's nose-opening tweezers as per the well-rehearsed routine. 'Ah,' he said triumphantly, 'I think you've got a deviated septum. We'll have to drain your sinuses and we might need to break your nose. We'll give you a CAT scan to make sure.' I was delighted. Fans of Friends may remember that Rachael once had surgery for a deviated septum and I felt good about us being the same bracket of society. My mood was somewhat dampened my the discovery that my CAT scan was not going to been conducted by a cat, but I still felt that, in general, progress had been made. Oh, and would this sinus drain improve my hearing? 'Very probably.' Grr....
Well, it wasn't a deviated septum. I didn't have to have my nose broken, but I did have to go into hospital. It was jolly good fun. My surgeon reassured me with warnings of the chance of getting blood in my brain, albeit a slim one. I was admitted and given a lovely bed and one of those excellent hospital gowns which look from the front as if they are dignified and sophisticated, but are in fact entirely exposed round the back. Then my ensemble was completed by a pair of knee-length stockings which, I was assured, were entirely medically necessary and totally standard for people undergoing nose surgery. Then I was wheeled into a small room surrounded by people who wired me up to bits of electrical equipment and stuck things into me until I passed out and they could stick things up my nose in peace and quiet.
I woke up,I think about two hours later. My essential ensemble had not been changed, but it had been augmented by someone thoughtfully stuffing ten feet of surgical wadding up each of my nostrils and securing it in place with as much tape as they could find. I imagine it was only the discovery at the last minute that they had run out of pink paint that prevented them from completing my amusing post-op transformation into a pig. I understood, as I looked in the mirror, why the room I had spent two unconsious hours in was regarded as a theatre. I was told that the surgeon had straightened my nasal partition 'to get the camera up'. I wasn't told whether they had taken the camera out again.
Well, my wadding was, in due course, removed, and I was allowed to go home. The contents of my sinuses was drawn out and dropped helpfully into my nose, which is clearing very, very slowly. I've heard plenty of criticism of the NHS and, in the past, I might have been inclined to agree. Recently, however, I've heard only good things,