Monday: the day my friend Sara arrived. But first I tried to pack in as many of my medical rend-vous as possible into one day. This involved going down to Montpellier and criss-crossing the city all day.
First I had a meeting with the anaesthetist in Clinique St Roch. It is always frustrating that one has to return to Montpellier for this meeting, but emphasises that operations are a partnership between surgeon and anaesthetist. I saw a woman anaesthetist, who took down – again – all my medical history, and gave me a prescription for detailed blood tests.
Then I had to go next door for to a laboratory for a nasal sample, to check I had no current infections. (So far, no news means good news.)
Then back across town for my six-monthly cancer checkup at the Institut de Cancer. This was the most frustrating meeting of all: I had a long wait in a place totally lacking any signs of a human touch, just lots of machines and message boards that told you when your number was called. Then a VERY brief meeting with the oncologist. I did feel that I was a pea on the production line, and since it was one with apparently no further symptoms, of no further interest, despite the gravity of my cancer last year. Where is the training that encourages doctors to say: “I’m glad to say that you seem to be doing well and fingers crossed this will be the same when we see you in six months.”? Instead, a cursory examination by my tired looking oncologist, Dr Elizabeth Kerr, followed by her dictating a brief note into her machine.
Another rush back across the city for the fourth meeting, with a rhumatologist, first meeting up with Sara, who had arrived on her long trip from Cagnes-sur-Mer.
This meeting was much more jolly, mainly because the rhumatologist, Dr Roch-Bras (Sara and I spent ages wondering how to pronounce her name – it is like Rock Bra) turned out to be a really nice woman. We hit it off straight away, with a mutual enthusiasm for Italian architecture (started by me saying that the pain in my back and side – the reason I was there – had really got worse after the June holiday in Italy). She was recommended by my surgeon, Mme Bertrand, and I feel I am in the hands of a competent but friendly sisterhood.
Dr Roch Bras was very thorough in her questioning and examination. (She was not the first person to asked me what on earth I had done in my life to have such comprehensive wide-spread arthritis!) Like everybody else so far she hesitated to come to any conclusion about the source of the pain (other than to say it was not, as I had thought, related to the pain/discomfort in my left foot). But I think that she wanted to eliminate various possibilities and to this end gave me a prescription for a scintillography (a nuclear bone scan – a first for me). Apart from injecting an anti-inflammatory into a knee which is also troubling me (and exclaiming at its obvious bad condition) we agreed there was little she could do at present, and possibly nothing this side of the forthcoming shoulder op. But at least I feel I have found a rhumatologist in whom I have confidence, and will abandon the one I have gone to in Ganges.
Sara and I were then able to go home and collapse. Since then I have had a series of blood tests at the local laboratory. The first time was a not very nice farce, as I have a vein problem (too thin and tending to collapse) and the woman trying to fill a whole multitude of little capsules with my blood had to give up after three attempts and less than half the capsules filled. There was one difficult moment when boss’s mother, who must be about 80 and nowadays works in the lab behind, came to ‘help’. I remember Chris saying she was useless even ten years ago. At one stage each woman had hold of one of my arms and was tapping and poking in a vain effort to find a vein (sorry, couldn’t resist saying that). Anyhow, the next day I had to come back for M. Pages himself to find a vein – which he did immediately (though confirming it was difficult).
I have also been back to Montpellier for the scintigraphy, at the Clinique Millénaire, a high tech place which I know only too well as it was where Chris died. The machines reminded me a bit of the giant robots which encircled me last year during the daily radiotherapy sessions. Lucky I don’t suffer too much from claustrophobia, as they zoomed in right over me.
The drill is that the machines scan your body, you then have some drugs with radio active material injected into the body and wait for two hours before the next session of scanning to allow for the ‘medicine’ to travel round the body. I drank a litre and a half of water during this period, as instructed. I think this is to eliminate radio active materials that have found their way into bits of the body other than the bones. Then back under the machines which did a longer scan, first over my whole body and then concentrating on the back and hips.
Almost immediately afterwards I was given the report by a radiologist (which I have to pass on to the rhumatologist). The good news is that there appears to be no damage surrounding the various replacement joints, which had been the fear. The radiologist volunteered in a fairly decisive tone that there was significant (‘très important’ in French) arthritis in the right shoulder, right knee, left ankle and various parts of the spine. Great, thank you. I’m afraid I’m all too aware of this and the implications for future treatment plans, starting with the shoulder in ten days….
Now – apart from a trip to deal with an ingrowing toenail – I am trying to have a few health-free days holiday with Sara!