What’s the matter with Harry?

I’ve not enjoyed the latter half of 2011 thanks to a lingering illness. What’s wrong with me? My guess is something as simple as kidney stones, but it has been a tough few months that has seen me at times feeling a-okay and other times in pain and having to take to my bed.

The months have been frustrating and scary too thanks to the inability of various general practitioners to prescribe a coherent treatment regime. I’ve seen four different GPs over the last few months and this has not been entirely satisfactory – from one locum who felt she’d tell me it could be cancer (but then did nothing at all to help in this regard) to another who told me my symptoms couldn’t be kidney stones (the whole internet and a consultant urologist say he’s wrong).

The truth is I’m fed up with the whole thing. Fed up with being unwell for months on end and fed up of dealing with an organisation – the NHS – I don’t have great faith in. And as we’ll come to later – I’m coming to some embarrassing conclusions about my general health and my own culpability.

Sounds too dry? Don’t feel like reading on? Go on, there’s a good bit about a doctor sticking his finger up my bum. Well good for you reader, less good for me and my bum and for that matter dignity.

This sorry tale began in July. I was alone late one evening as wifey had gone away on retreat1. The children had been asleep for hours and I was about to go to bed myself. I felt the sudden onset of an unpleasant tingle in my nether regions. And for the next couple of hours before I went to sleep I was getting up constantly to urinate. The night didn’t progress well because our two year old wasn’t feeling great and he woke up a lot – requiring my attention. The next day I felt dreadful, so exhausted, still needing to urinate frequently and with a painful sensation. But because I’d had a disturbed night with the children I put it all down to tiredness.

By the time my wife arrived home that evening I was almost delirious, running a high temperature and completely floored by whatever the problem was. I went to bed and suffered through the night with a fever. The next day was a Sunday so I had to go see the out-of-hours doctor at the hospital. He diagnosed a urinary infection and gave me a prescription for antibiotics.

The next few weeks were rather frustrating. Initially the drugs worked. The tingle went away, the urinating slowed and I was mainly left with fatigue and an ache around the area of my right kidney. Alas some days after the course of drugs ended the symptoms came back. I saw a GP who gave me more drugs. I got better, then the drugs ended, the infection came back. Over this period I must have visited my GP surgery four or five times but only saw the same doctor twice. Each seemed to wonder why I kept getting new infections when if any of them listened to me they’d know it was the same infection that hadn’t been beaten yet – I never got better because I obviously needed a longer course of antibiotics.

Along the way one locum scared me to death by telling me I might have cancer. She didn’t do anything about that. She just offered it as one possible scenario in her cheery list of what might be wrong with my pissing gear. Another doctor was fixated by the idea I had gonorrhoea and would only leave the topic alone once lab work showed I hadn’t. There were endless questions about personal matters.

“Harry are you sexually active?”
“No doctor I’m married.”

Ah the old ones are the best.

Anyway this whole period stretched about six weeks or so – to around the middle of August. Since then I’ve not had any signs of the infection in terms of tingles and micturition2 only the occasional recurrence of the ache/pain in my right flank. Most days I’m okay, but every couple of weeks there might be a few days where I feel tender and need some Ibuprofen. I’m tired, I’m achy and I’ve not been sleeping well because I’ve been worrying about my health. Which has the knock-on effect that I’m too tired to do anything the next day and I’m putting on weight and getting more unfit, a vicious circle.

The last time I saw a GP he wrote a referral to a consultant urologist, so we could get to the bottom, or otherwise, of this problem. I had my first appointment with the urologist a few weeks ago. He took my case history, agreed it sounded like I’d had one long infection, and seemed keen to solve the problem with whatever is making my right flank ache so much.

Finally we would have some action. Great. Let’s get on with. Surely there’s a pill I can take and it’ll fix things right? Er…no. First I would be bombarded with a couple of years’ worth of radiation by having a CT scan. That’s actually happening tomorrow night (Tuesday Nov 8th). This is to see if there are any kidney stones in there. Early in this adventure I’d had an ultrasound scan but this is only good for finding huge stones and is especially useless at finding things inside gentlemen such as myself who like a pie or two.

Fair enough I said. Then, he said, “we’ll also need to give you a cystoscopy”. What’s that, some sort of tablet? No they want to stick a camera up my nob. Great. Fantastic. You know what. I’m really not that ill. I should go home now. Don’t worry about me, I’ll take some ibuprofen.

I asked him what that involved. I really wish I hadn’t. Believe me, the next week before I have this is going to be one of trepidation and fear, well more than usual. I really don’t want a camera inserted into my gentleman’s area than you very much. I was digesting this unpleasant information as the consultant talked to me about arranging the appointments for the tests and the like. He tapped it all in the computer and said “that’s all done”.

Great. Not a happy meeting. So I could go home now. Sure I had the worry of these unpleasant tests. But at least I could go give my kids a cuddle and try to thing of something other than a HD journey through my old fella.

Right well, that’s all organised, said the consultant. I was about to get up to leave. And he added, “so we’ll just examine your prostate and then we’ll be done.”

You what?

A few minutes later there I was lying on my side on a consulting bed with a mature female nurse getting a good look at my undercarriage. The doctor approached and I could hear the clich├ęd snap of him putting on his marigolds. Moments later we were intimate in a way I have never been with anyone and have no wish to be so again. It was at this point he uttered the stupidest question anyone, anywhere has ever asked.

“Can you tell me if this is uncomfortable?” he asked as he rummaged around inside me.

You have just told me that you want to irradiate me like Bruce Banner, then shove a camera up my nob, then followed this with a very personal invasion of my very very personal space with what feels like a finger the size of a marrow. What part of this is supposed comfortable? What do you say? What did I say?

“To be honest doctor this is the first time anyone has stuck their fingers up my bum so I’ve nothing to compare it to.”

He didn’t laugh. Miserable bugger.

And that’s where we stand today. I’m sat here trying to make light of my CT scan tomorrow. I’m also beginning to suspect that there’s something else going on here. I may have a kidney stone, granted, but I’m not convinced it’s the entire reason I’m unwell.

I’ve been struggling lately. While relishing the role reversal that means I’m now a house husband I don’t like the feeling of being useless3, nor my lack of financial freedom. I’m still struggling from the pain of my first wife’s death in 2007. I’m increasingly fed up with my poor eyesight – the days when I’m too sore to wear the lenses feel like a spell in prison. I’m full of general aches and pains – some of which the consultant thinks might actually be my problem. And worryingly I often feel worse when I’ve been playing guitar. Could my problems actually be muscular?

The sad truth is that as I approach 40 next year I’m not doing a great job looking after myself. In all likelihood I’ve got a kidney stone4 and they will sort it out. But there are wider health issues I need to tackle. There is some good news, I haven’t smoked a cigarette since our baby Will was born over two years ago5 and I don’t drink much either. But the truth is that I’m overweight and don’t get much exercise. This really needs to change.

I know. I really need a kick up the arse.

But I’ve already had a doctor’s fingers, doesn’t that count?


1Drinking and gossiping with clergy friends.
2Should I get a pair of cats they will be named thus.
3Other than looking after our children, yes I know I’m an idiot and that’s a lot.
4Nothing worse, fingers crossed.
5Not that I smoked much anyway. A pack of ten would last me weeks.