My father had his toe broken by a piano being dropped on it, when he was about nine (yes, I still have the X-rays, oh dear …). My son broke his foot when he was three. My father’s appendix went wrong in his forties. Each of my wives (two) broke her left wrist while I was watching. My dog broke its back leg. But I haven’t ever broken anything, and alos, nothing (how I am going to regret saying this) has ever really gone wrong with me. Maybe I’m like my mother, who, just before a major operation when she was eighty, was asked when she had last been in hospital, and it turned out that it was to give birth to my younger brother.
On the other hand, I have had a kidney-stone, and here again, I might be accused of exaggeration. When I had the regulation scan in the local hospital, the nurse referred to what she located – a little insensitively and even contemptuously, I thought – as ‘a pebble’. You can’t go round telling people that you’ve got a kidney-pebble. No-one is going to rally round with sympathetic clucks if you tell them you’ve got what might be classified as a ‘pebble’.
Still, while it still had the status of a stone, which (it would be) was about midnight on a Sunday, it did lead to my one and only journey in an ambulance. The symptoms of a kidney-stone (pebble, stop that) are very surprising. The first thing that happens is that you think you have food-poisoning, and what has gone down comes up with a vengeance. And then an exquisite pain grips your groin. And then, pathetically, you begin to wonder if your number is up, ship has come in (and sunk) etc. etc. An ambulance (‘All streets in time are visited’ – Larkin) was sent out to the wilds from the urban luxury of Exeter. I was whisked inside, and it was decided to administer morphine. For some reason, it was hard to locate a vein, so the ambulance was parked outside my house for fifteen minutes while they practised invisible tattoos on me. Finally, they hit pay-dirt, and the pain went away, although I have to say that I had higher expectations of morphine. All it did was make me talk more (which must have been frightening).
After my night/early morning in A&E, I agreed to leave, with a very kindly nurse following me crying out ‘He shouldn’t be let out yet!’ That is the kind of NHS service I prefer.
At any rate, I had to report all this to my doctor, at the point, a Scotsman who had briefly relocated to Devon. ‘Aye,’ he said, ‘it could be any one of a different types of stone. There’s one,’ he said, ‘called a staghorn calculus.’
‘Did you say “staghorn calculus”?’ I riposted.
‘Aye,’ he replied, and lifted each hand to his head, to waggle them in a passable imitation of antlers. ‘Staghorn calculus.’
But all I had was a pebble. What’s not the matter? What’s right with me?