While not expecting these initial appointments to produce anything unusual I had arranged to have an eye test and a hearing test. The latter was encouraged by Granny Anne and my daughter, both of whom accused me frequently of being deaf. They almost convinced me! The hearing test, conducted at our local “Boots the Chemists” indicated that while my hearing was less than 100%, it was normal for my age and I don’t really need any hearing aids. yet. It will be tested annually from now on and the longer I can postpone adding further hardware to my accessories the better (I have been wearing spectacles for 64 years and they are inconvenient still). Boots are jokingly known as “The family firm” in our household because Granny Anne is distantly related to the founder, John Boot, the Nottingham herbalist and his son Jesse, who turned the firm into a national chain. This year I decided to have the eye test at Boots because opticians that I used in the decade or so before arriving in Cardiff had not been very satisfactory. This time it was a very different experience. The problem arose when we arrived at the “puff test”, in which little puffs of air are directed at each eye, apparently to test the pressure within the eye. It seems that high pressure leads to glaucoma and possible blindness. For me the tests were conducted several times by different people, then eye drops were applied and allowed to take effect before the tests were tried again. Finally, when the effects of the drops wore off the tests were conducted again. I had anticipated having a normal eye test before taking Granny Anne for a leisurely lunch in Cardiff. As it turned out, we managed a hasty snack between tests and were in the city centre for some hours longer than planned. All the tests produced were some consternation on the part of the optician (my apologies to the lady if she is an optometrist or even an opthalmologist). One thing is for sure. She was thorough and she was quite anxious. Apparently the results indicated that I should go immediately to the eye casualty department in the University Hospital in Cardiff. No, not tomorrow or next week but right away. The optician ‘phoned the hospital to discuss the problem and make arrangements. In the end it was agreed that I would present myself there at 9am the following day.
To cut a long story short, in the hospital it was decided that the problem was not as bad as had been thought and could be put right by simple laser surgery. An appointment was made for three weeks hence and I went home. Three weeks later the first question a different “eye doctor asked was “Have you been using the drops?” I had not been given any drops. They were too busy with higher priority cases on that day to fit me in, so I was sent home with a 28 day supply of Pilocarpine drops and a few days later a letter arrived containing a new appointment for eight weeks time. Those drops were to be taken three times per day in each eye yet they were not to be used for more than 28 days after they were opened and neither were they to be discontinued suddenly. Not only that but one of the side effects was sharp headaches. So now I had to wait eight weeks when the previous appointment was delayed only three weeks and I had been prescribed an inadequate quantity of drops for that period so would have the inconvenience of having to return to the hospital for an additional supply and would also enjoy three rotten headaches per day for eight weeks. I might tell you that I was not far short of incandescent about the sheer incompetence of it all.
As for the cancer diagnosis, this remained unconfirmed for a while. It came as a surprise rather than a shock, as I had been told of the possibility by my family doctor and had had time to get used to the idea. Bearing in mind that prostate cancer is said to be the second biggest killer of men in the UK after heart disease, it took a bit of getting used to but somehow it didn’t bother me much.
The PSA test is not definitive but if it produces a suspicion of prostate cancer, further investigations are needed. The first of these in my case gloried in the title of trans-rectal ultrasound scan and biopsy and it was to take place just one month after my original check-up with the family doctor. So things were moving along quite quickly. Fortunately I am not alarmed by long medical terminology. My Mother was a nurse, Granny Anne (my wife) is a retired nurse so I am comfortable with the theory and also with what might otherwise be the rather daunting hospital or surgery environment etc. What that fancy title actually meant was that an ultrasound scan would produce a picture of the prostate gland on a screen to guide the radiologist as he inserted a probe into the rear passage to remove tiny samples of said gland for laboratory testing. It was all done under a local anaesthetic. Ten samples were taken in just a few minutes and it was not at all painful, just a bit uncomfortable.
Now the doctors would be able to tell me, in a couple of weeks, not only whether I had the cancer but how bad it was and what they proposed to do next.