Off to hospital again yesterday (the Charing Cross, in Fulham Palace Road) for a check-up following my leg and elbow operations earlier this year.
This has been a long-running saga, dating back to at least early 2003, which came to a head this year when I finally persuaded them to get to work on me with a knife.
To summarise, some time in 2002 a numb patch appeared on the outside of my right thigh. In Feb 2003 a neurosurgeon diagnosed me with meralgia paresthetica and put me on a waiting list for surgery. He warned me it would take a year or so before anything happened. Over the next few months I had some conductivity tests (electrodes jammed into the leg) which confirmed the diagnosis, and settled down to wait.
After that, nothing happened.
For several years.
In late 2006, with the leg worsening and new problems developing in my left elbow, and a few other unrelated health things also worrying me, I got bored waiting and went for private consultation, first with a GP and then with a neurosurgeon, who stuck a rocket up the backside of the NHS and got things moving again.
More tests and consultations followed (mostly repeats of the 2003/04 stuff) then in July they finally did the cutting. Transposition of the left ulnar nerve and decompression of the right cutaneous nerve of thigh, for those who thrive on details.
I woke up after the surgery to mixed results. The elbow? Perfect. No more finger-twitching or numbness. The leg? Disaster. Much more numbness and a world of pain. Some very unhappy weeks followed, involving painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, horrible limping, sleepless nights, black despair and a walking stick.
Eventually, some of the numbness and most of the pain receded. It still hurts occasionally, but there’s variety in what type of pain occurs and it never lasts long, so that’s an improvement on balance. The numbness is significantly worse than before the operation, but I can still detect pressure, even at the place with least sensation, so I’m no longer worried about not knowing if I’m burning myself against a radiator or whatever.
And there’s more than a chance it will improve further over the next few months.
Which is where I was yesterday when I went off for what turned out to be the final stage in the saga. A quick five-minute consultation with a jolly woman I’d never met before and that was it – discharged, with an open invitation to contact them again if there was any deterioration.
A bit anti-climactic, actually. I don’t know what I expected, but this was something that had for a long while been a major part of my life (or, during the early years, something lurking on the edge of my attention, impossible to entirely forget) and it just fizzled out. On balance, I’m glad I had the operations done – the elbow was a success, the leg about break-even with hope for further improvement. But where was the full stop at the end, the handshake with the surgeon and the “good luck, old chap” to see me off?
I wasn’t sure what to do with myself afterwards. Having dragged myself down to London on just three and a half hours sleep and then waited around in a hospital corridor for a late appointment, it seemed too soon to go straight home again. On the other hand, I was dog tired, had nothing in particular to do, and wanted to be back before a workman arrived to fit blinds to two rooms in the house.
I pottered up the Fulham Palace Road, peering in through the window of the Spitfire Polish restaurant at the Battle of Britain memorabilia, then trailing around a bookshop with no great enthusiasm. Eventually I refuelled with a cheese and mushroom crepe and a coffee from a hole in the wall in the Hammersmith shopping centre and descended back onto the Tube. A train was just about to leave Kings Cross when I got there, so I was relieved of the need to think about anything and away I went. A brisk walk from the station and I was home in time for lunch.