If Colchester General Hospital had a loyalty scheme, I’d be able to buy a sandwich toaster by now.
I’ve been prodded and poked, stuck and studied, X-rayed and MRI’d to within an inch of my life there, and something tells me the trend isn’t going to change any time soon.
This morning I enjoyed my latest unexpected dose.
Last night, about three minutes and two sips of non-alcoholic beer into a man-date with a good friend, my stomach started to twinge. Within thirty minutes, the twinge had turned into stomach cramps strong enough to warrant £5 on a couple of Gaviscon capsules from the Londis next to the pub.
An hour later, I could barely muster a conversation and threw in the towel to head home.
At first I wasn’t sure I could last the journey on the Friday night Burger Train. At least not without being sick and curling up into a shivering ball on the train carriage floor, weeping for my mamma. But a few abandoned trains later, I did eventually make it back.
At home I downed some ibuprofen assuming I’d eaten something a bit rum, and hoped a bit of sleep would sort me out in time to enjoy a trip to the Paralympic Park the next morning.
My stomach was having none of it. Three vomits, eight hours and four miles of bent over pacing around the house later, I gave in and went to hospital.
The worst thing was packing a bag with my blue folder. The one with the brain tumour information, my drugs prescriptions and diagnosis in.
It was a physical representation of what had been going through my mind during the sleepless hours: Was this just food poisoning? Or was it my already cancerous brain sending out satellite cancers into my stomach, from where they would march on into my liver, lungs, bowel, bone marrow and blood?
I got seen after an hour by a triage nurse and when she left to get an IV line, I cried.
I cried because it was six in the morning and I was in A&E doubled up in pain. I cried because I have a brain tumour. I cried because I’m fed up of being given IV lines (and particularly I’m fed up of the super-sticky tape they use to secure it into your arm). I cried because of the NHS and how amazing it has been to me.
Mostly, though, I cried because – as I explained, a little embarrassed, to the nurse as she returned to find me weeping – I hadn’t slept all night, and just, if you don’t mind, could I please have just a little bit of pain relief soon?
When she left the cubicle, I cried again.
It turns out (a kind doctor who called me sir told me a later) the pressure in the skull caused by brain tumours can – could you have imagined it? – cause stomach ulcers. There’s even a name for them: Cushings Ulcers, after the doctor who originally made the connection.
Since I’m not really the profile for gall stones, it was likely I had developed one of these ulcers. With some rest, some super-strength gastro tablets and enough co-codamol to drop an elephant, I should be able to go away and get on with my life.
So it was the tumour after all, only it wasn’t. And I better lay off the chillies for a while.
By the time the sticky stuff had been masochistically ripped from my hairy arm, the IV had been taken out and I was discharged with a prescription, our allocated slot at the Paralympics had well and truly passed.
So I went home to bed, the reluctant owner not only of an incurable brain tumour and a propensity for epilepsy, but also a brand new gastric ulcer as a special bonus prize.
I think I’ll skip on the sandwich toaster and hold out a little longer for something really special. Maybe one of those bags you fill with your clothes and then suck the air out with a hairdryer.