The usual fallow morning. The first patient, on the waiting list so long the hospital has been fined, does not show. The second, has not been given their preparation, so cannot be done. Some malign fate makes certain that these events happen only to patients at the beginning of the list, after you left your delectable kids and stood iron-jawed like the rest of the commuters eyeing up the one-carriaged train with the look of opposing rugby scrums as it slows: the door opens, whistle blows and we pile in. To an observer, we would to a woman look full of enthusiasm for jobs we can’t wait to get to, but our urge to throw ourselves onto the train is mere English oneupmanship – my skills as a frequenter of jumble sales in my youth coming in handy more than once: spotting the gap, sharp elbows, no pretence at politeness or possessing a veneer of civilisation.
But my triumph is deflated on arriving to no work. Inevitably, somehow, we still finish late. A battle of the radio and the cricket replaces the drone of the resurrected Elvis. It seems to me the perfect auditory accompaniment to slaloming round a person’s colon.Only today I managed to head us up the wrong direction and not even notice my error. I cannot yet allow myself to feel the true extent of this embarrassment. There was no ground to open up. Amazing though, that someone can allow a tube to be up their cervix, a finger, three, to examine it, much tutting and a new scope only to find it whizzing round no stricture: the truth instantly noticed by the driver but not yet admitted: a plain mistake.
I used to be known as Miss PR I said, having just demonstrated a VE. What must the patient have thought?
All my good intentions were subverted under surgeon nature today – despite some triumphs it is this that leaves me with a sense of dissatisfaction. I glossed over my error, explaining after to the lady. At times, we were pushed for time, so consequently I pushed instead of finding a different gentler way. There is the knowledge of futility, too. While we are plugging away, looking for answers in colons that are pink and healthy and reassuringly free of lumps or bumps, there are people out there, with their still-silent cancers, or ignoring the blood who really need this test if only we could find them - after all, the GP said without looking, it was probably piles, dicing with their lives.
Hence, screening. An existential question, a practical answer. At least, it is an answer of a kind, to occupy us while the imponderables roll on.