I’m enjoying an autumn stroll along a country lane with the dog and the teen when the neurologist phones with seemingly good news. The results from a recent electromyogram are ‘nearly’ normal and the latest MRI shows a slight improvement in the lesion in my neck. She’s upbeat and cheerful, clearly expecting not to see much more of me (I wonder if the two are connected). Then she asks how I’ve been feeling since we last met.
I phrase ‘pretty shit, really’ in the politest medical terms I can think of, outlining worsening and new symptoms while being outstared over the hedge by a cow. There’s a pause before the neurologist says hmm, things aren’t quite going in the way we’d hoped, and perhaps the next steps are another brain scan and a lumbar puncture.
The autumn sunshine dips a little. I’ve coped remarkably well with all the cotton wool testing, not to mention the pins. I pretended the EMG – basically, 40 minutes of being zapped, then being zapped some more with needles stuck in my arms and legs – didn’t hurt, but it did really. The MRIs were fine; I dozed through two of them, but this is the possibility I’ve been in knots about. I watch the teen and the dog amble happily together further down the lane (the teen is the dog’s favourite) and wonder if the cow would mind if I threw up in her hedge.
So, around about the time normal people are logging on to their Monday mornings and scrolling through all the hashtag motivation they need to get through the week, I’m staring out from a fourth floor hospital room where someone’s helpfully written ‘LP’ on a sheet of A4 and stuck it to the door. Beyond UHW’s Duplo stack of wards and corridors is a bank of trees, mainly bare and grey save for one rebel bursting golden orange. In the distance, Caerphilly Mountain is dabbed by a slate mist, into which it gently disappears.
The registrar arrives; softly-spoken, kind and calming. He has all the time in the world to talk through the procedure and reiterates what other nice health people say, that the vast majority of lumbar puncturees find it’s not nearly as bad as they expect. He fills up nine bottles with my blood and I scrunch up on the bed in a foetal ball.
And, really, it’s absolutely ok. I brace for the anaesthetic, warned it will smart like a wasp sting, but it’s not as vicious as the wasp that not long back reduced me to sobs at Newport railway station (in fairness, I’d already fractured a toe and scalded myself with tea that morning; things really do happen in threes). There’s some pushing and pulling but I’m quite cosy, watching the mist roll past the window and drifting in and out of journalist mode with intermittent questions about trainee neurology. I ask how many lumbar punctures he’s performed (nearly 300) before two diggers and a pneumatic drill start up in the quadrangle four floors below and we’re done. The registrar asks if I want to see my spinal fluid and I say thanks so much but really, I’m ok there, and he leaves me to lie flat on my back, squinting under the strip light and wondering what colour spinal fluid is.
I’m collected on the dot by my ex (the lovely one, the one who’s been there for me more since we’ve not been together than the unlovely one managed when we were). He would have come in to hold my hand but proved unreliable at ‘seeing big needles’ during the birth of the teen, when he ended up in the corridor with more midwives around him than me. He drives me home and I think of the odds, currently chalked at 50/50 between a particularly lingering episode of clinically isolated syndrome and the beginnings of MS. We pass the wintry shroud that’s stolen Caerphilly Mountain and, in the spirit of every hiker who’s ever ventured out into the British weather, I prepare for the worst, and very much hope for the best.