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You should be careful what you wish for. Told that I had to have an operation to remove part of my thyroid, I was frustrated to find that I would have to wait for some unknown period of time. I was warned that it would take two or three weeks for a letter to arrive from the surgeon, then an appointment to meet them, then the operation itself at some undefined date. Clearly there was no urgency in my case, but the wheels of the NHS did seem to grind exceedingly slow. In the meantime, so many things – work, holiday, friends – were piling up because I didn’t have the faintest idea when to expect my operation.

Sure enough the letter finally arrived, telling me to phone for an appointment. I phoned and phoned and left messages, but the number was not manned, and no one phoned me back. I did some research: it was the right number, but the department chronically understaffed. The letter said that I must phone within 7 days, and this time had almost run out: did that mean I might lose my place?

It was all quite stressful, and in the middle of it, Julie had a crisis, ended up in hospital again with an overdose, and for a couple of days I didn’t have time to keep chasing.

Finally, remembering that my company pays for private healthcare (of which I disapprove), I checked that I would be covered, and contacted the surgeon’s private secretary. Success! She picked up the phone immediately and within 10 minutes I had arranged to meet the surgeon in his private clinic in 2 weeks time. I sat back on my heels, astonished. Eat dust NHS.

But it was only when she phoned back later to check some detail, that I realised I had misunderstood. The appointment was not to meet the surgeon, but for the operation itself.

I was aghast! Now things are moving too quickly! I don’t feel ready to go under the knife so soon. And it feels positively indecent to have this surgeon cut into me without so much as meeting me first. By the time he sees me for the first time I will be unconscious. All the energy I had expended fretting about the wait now went into anxiety about the undue speed!

Of course I will go ahead in two weeks if I can: it is too convenient not to. Getting it out of the way will improve the outcome medically, get it finished before the children’s exams, let me recover in time for my holiday, and many many other benefits. I will just have to learn to live with my abandoned principles and my squeamishness.

However there is one sting in the tail: the operation can only proceed in two weeks if my notes are promptly passed from the NHS to the private hospital. And of course that means relying on the department secretaries who are too overworked to even pick up the phone 😦

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So I went to the clinic as planned and had a conversation about the biopsy results on my thyroid gland. Waiting for that conversation was by far the scariest part of the process: far worse than the conversation itself! I was spooked by the word cancer. And it really bugged me that they knew the results but wouldn’t post them to me or tell me over the phone: I felt at a disadvantage walking into that room, as the only person who didn’t yet know the test results. I wanted all the information as soon as it was available, not filtered and interpreted.

But the conversation itself was very straightforward and satisfactory. Nobody knows if I have cancer: the test didn’t give a simple yes or no. My thyroid is Schrodingers Cat: without further tests, I both do and don’t have cancer. The only way of finding out is to open the box: go ahead with the operation and remove part of the thyroid. (Which is exactly what I want to do anyway because it is so painful and uncomfortable.). The conversation passed the test: something will be done, I will probably feel better as a result, and I will not be left in limbo. As to the possibilities of cancer – openly discussed – I was given good answers to all my questions. The fear receded, the bogey man exposed in this case as a relatively weak opponent, known, named and oft defeated by medical science. If he is present at all, of course. (Such a weak opponent, in fact, that I will have to wait some months for the operation – which is a kind of reassurance, even though it is so hard to wait.)

This was the first of many conversations I must now have: with my husband, friends, colleagues, children, each of which will need their own version of the story. The conversation with Julie was one I particularly feared, knowing how raw she is after her illness, how easily something like this could feed into deep fears of abandonment. I felt that all this talk about cancer was unnecessary: if this word had spooked me, how much more it would spook her! So I left it firmly outside the door of the conversation: just said that I needed an operation to relieve my obvious pain and discomfort. Perfectly true, and probably the whole truth. But even the mere thought of me going into hospital did trouble her, and I had to agree to her telling her support team so that she can have extra support. Nothing can ever be private.

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