Two years ago next month, I needed to travel up to the Emerson Green Treatment Centre, in Bristol, in order to have an Upper GI Endoscopy.
For years, I had suffered from intermittent, but nasty, attacks of epigastric pain – and the local surgery thought it time to investigate what was going on.
I, naturally, chose exactly the wrong people to ask about this procedure – and was deluged with dire dramas involving choking, panicking, the tube being down there for half an hour or more, and God alone knows what else.
Terrified almost out of my wits, I decided to ask for sedation (via Ketamine, if possible!) so that I could, as it were, sleep/hallucinate through the whole bloody thing! The only problem with this eminently sensible solution was that I would need someone else with me because, doped to the eyeballs, I’d be in no fit state to drive after the event.
I asked a close friend to accompany me. He agreed without hesitation (or deviation or repetition and in much less than a minute!) – and, since he was able to drive my car, this was the ideal situation all round.
The two weeks leading up to the Big Day were horrendous: I was living in a very tense home situation (just before starting divorce proceedings) and, because I had to stop taking the gastric tablets I had been on, was in constant pain and considerable anxiety.
We had to set off very early, as I recall, and I had to abstain from eating and drinking. My friend did all the driving, bless him, which was just as well because I was as wobbly and scared as could be and probably borderline unsafe to be on the road even before the Endoscopy itself.
This guy and I tend to be on the same wavelength about many things – and that includes humour. What could have been a ghastly drive up to Bristol was, in fact, enlivened by his ready wit and our mutual sense of completely inappropriate fun!
But, once parked, my nervous tension returned. The nurse eventually came to collect me and, with a quick hug and a backward glance of utter terror, I left my friend and went into the Outer Room of Doom!
This nurse was incredibly reassuring: She told me that, far from taking half an hour or more, the tube went in and came pretty much straight out again – and that, if I could cope with it, it would be far better to go through it without any kind of sedation because patients who were chemically zonked tended to fight the tube, and then had to rest up for an hour or so prior to buggering off.
Tempted though I was by the prospect of being unaware, I could see her point and decided to be brave!
The team in the Endoscopy Suite were, again, very kind and calm and explained that they would spray my throat to numb it – but that I wasn’t to worry because, as long as I was breathing, I was also swallowing, even if I couldn’t feel it.
It was incredibly quick. They sprayed. Numbness set in, as did a little residual panic, and then a mouth guard was put in position, followed immediately by the tube itself. I did not have time to get into panic attack mode. I could feel the tube going down and it was slightly unpleasant, but, as I had been told, it was hoicked up and out again in a trice.
The relief, the sense of being reprieved, when they told me that, although I had a small Hiatus Hernia, there was nothing sinister going on down my gullet, was instantaneous. I could have cried. I could have yodelled. But, since my mouth and throat were still numb, I did neither!
My pal was most surprised to see me trotting out five minutes after I had gone in, completely un-sedated and beaming from ear to ear. He’d barely had time to start on the cup of coffee he’d ordered! He was delighted that all was fine, however, and was a tower of strength, kindness and support throughout the whole grisly ordeal.
We went into complete giggling, rude, cackling and wise-cracking high mode on the return journey – just laughed and laughed, finding amusement in the most trivial and unlikely objects.
The side effects, about which I had been warned, came the next day. Put it this way: In order to see my stomach, gullet and duodenum properly, the experts had needed to pump air into the Browning system – and, what goes in, has to come out again eventually.
Over the next day, I reckon I must have reached Guinness Book of Records status on the Flatulence Front. Damned good thing I wasn’t still a smoker or I would have been history – and, in all probability, geography as well.
Yes, it was a real medical reprieve, that one. Now, obviously, I am not, ultimately, going to survive life. Who is?! But, the Grim Reaper’s Just Punishment was delayed on that late June day, at least temporarily!