The other day I was lying languidly in the cramped bath that is so prevalent of Thai houses, conducting that self-assessment that Dad had impressed upon me from a young stage of my teenage years, when I sat bolt upright. You likely know what assessment I am referring to. If not, the picture should make it abundantly clear.
The flashing yellow duck who had been somnolently drifting through the bubbles towards the candlelight at the end of the waters was rudely quacked aside. Suddenly, I couldn’t hear the mellow tones of John Denver.
Something felt different.
As any valetudinarian-turned-hypochondriac will gleefully acknowledge, this was one of those long, drawn-out seconds where knowledge processing, realisation, denial, frantic re-checking, delusion, acceptance…all lead to Google.
I had felt a lump (not the obvious one)…not only that, three lumps. Small, on the left testicle, most definitely there.
The next two hours were spent sashaying between the bathroom and the computer as I read every article, blog and forum posting on testicular cancer. Of course, I was trying to find evidence I didn’t have it, glumly reading all that sage advice about how it might be the dreaded ‘Big C’.
I ummed and aahed and didn’t pick up the phone to the Diplomat. Instead, my experience of Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok with the birth of our son, Joshua, back in February, made me dial their number. I was dreading the call, the weeks of waiting, the not-knowing, the constant self-analysis and fears.
The phone was answered on the third ring.”
“Sawadee, ka <something in Thai which I don’t understand but I assume purports to be a genial request to assist the caller>.
“Ah, I’d like to see a doctor, please.”
“Certainly, sir.” A smooth transition to english by the hospital operator indeed. “What seems to be the problem?”
“Ah…well, um. I want to see a doctor about a possible testicular lump.” The words had that curious mix of hollowness, a sinking feeling, embarassment, and I’ve made the leap. Kind of the same as asking the most popular girl or guy out on a date when you’re an early teen at school: you believe you are doomed to failure before you’ve even popped the offending syllables out of of your quivering mouth.
“Of course. You will want the urology department. Doctor Akarasakul is in clinic today. What time can you come?”
“Er, you’re asking me to come today?”
“If you can. If you come at 4pm, we can get you on the waiting list for the 5pm to 8pm clinic. Your name, sir?”
“Er. Great. Great. I’m travelswithadiplomat.“. I blurt this out hastily.
Thank you sir. That’s an appointment with Doctor Akarasakul from 5pm then.”
“Uh, yes. Thanks. Bye.”
I thumb the red OFF button on the handset. Look at it. Glance at the clock on my desk. Eight hours from now. How to fill my time? Oh easy enough; there’s the entire web to surf about testicular cancer and wind myself up and down metronomically with hope and despair.
It’s four pm exactly. The elevator issues that soft ding and I step through the doors into the perfectly sterile and clean environment that is Bumrungrad’s 16th floor. This hospital is 5-star accommodation. Of course, you pay for it, but the service is, frankly, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m guided to the ‘C’ clinic desk, my blood pressure is taken (138/82 – I did cycle there and an slightly stressed) and I sit down to sip on a Tipco juice and read a paper.
Four minutes tick loudly past. There’s only one other person in the entire waiting area plus four female hospital administrative staff.
I look up. A nurse is smiling at me, holding some paper work. I nod. “Yes?”
“Follow me, Doctor Akarasakul will see you now.” Blimey that was fast.
The doctor is Sino-Thai, in his sixties, exuding that calmness that is so vital for panicky men imagining the worse. His once-black hair is thinning on his pate, spectacles perched on a nose that is slightly beaked, protecting fiercely glinting dark eyes. Not a hint of stubble. He sits me down, asks what the problem is, calms me by saying it is likely benign but let’s take a look. His voice soft, pacifying yet direct.
So begins the process…one always worries about an inappropriate reaction in times of exposure like these…but this is light years away from ever being even vaguely erotic.
I have to strip down and he proceeds to manhandle me deftly, softly, carefully. His tongue clicks, he frowns (which sends my heart beat racing), checks one area again and again. With every roll of his fingers I imagine more lumps getting bigger and bigger. Eventually he snaps off his latex gloves and bids me dress.
“I think you have a few cysts on the teste itself but I want to do a scan to make sure.”
I sit down, a numb feeling creeping in. He hasn’t cleared me. Oh sh*t.
“A nurse will take you down to x-ray.”
You what? My brain clicks back into gear. “Now?” I am incredulous.
“Of course. If we do it now we know and then you can go home with answers.”
Holy Moly, Batman. I was expecting to come back in a few weeks like we do in the U.K on the NHS. Do it now???
I am led to the elevator. We descend to the 2nd floor. It’s like walking onto the deck of the Starship Enterprise. Everything is state-of-the-art. I am led into a room that’s like a Fitness First gym changing area. I change and my gear is stowed. I am expecting to sit and wait with my ass hanging out the back of the sterile, green hosptial fatigues. But no…I go straight into a room where an ultrasound machine sits. It looks brand new.
Time to deshabille – the female nurse bids me remove my boxers; a male nurse comes in and trusses me with starched sheets like a chicken. It feels like I am wrapped in cellophane. He coughs politely at one point…
“Sir, can you help me with your testes?”
What? “Of course, how?”
“If you can lift and pull upwards. Not too tightly. I need to pin the sheet.”
Ah, of course. Obvious really. I do so.
A white towel is laid over my modesty and I wait about six minutes before a physician (female) arrives with her sidekick to smear jello all over my privates and then roll what looks like a remote control over me for thirty minutes. What makes it all the more alarming as I stare at the white ceiling – it is amazing how fascinating a wall of white really is on the mind – is the patter of Thai punctuated by repeated commands to crunch or push or cough like a smoker.
“Er, OK”. All I can say is that it’s impressive – the image I mean, not the size. Fascinating in a novel but not in a desirable breakfast image kind of way. I reclothe and wander back to Dr. Akarasakul. An agonising hour passes as he sees other patients and waits for the upload of my images to his PC. It’s pushing 6pm. Eventually I am called back in having prepared myself for the worst, convinced myself everything’s OK. The hyper-alertness one develops when one thinks you’ve physiological damage which metamorphoses into an aching sensation in the affected area.
He looks at me, ritually pushes his glasses firmly onto his face.
“See here.” he wheels his monitor at me. “You’ve got normal echoes of the parenchyma of both testes with no demonstrable mass or abnormal calcification. There are a few cysts on the left epididymal head-body area with a small amount of bi-lateral hydrocele, dilated venous channels around the anteromedial aspect and pronounced colour flow when doing a valsalva manoeuvre.”
Come again? “Er. It’s not cancer?”
He smiles. “Not cancer. Small cysts and…like a varicose vein. It happens. Nothing to worry about. I can print out the diagnosis for you.”
“Ah. What do we do about it?”
Another smile. “Nothing. We could remove it if it becomes uncomfortable but it’s not necessary. Maybe do another check in a year.”
I hadn’t realised my sphincter had been clenched for an entire day until that precise moment. Endorphins rush me. There’s nothing like being told you’re not dying of cancer. Silent thanks are offered to every deity, promises of being a better person from now on. Etc.. You might know how it goes. This, of course, is followed by a gush of effusive thanking of the doctor who has become god-like in his panacea powers.
I ask him about general check ups as I am now in my fifth decade. He points me at a piece of paper that talks about Health Screening Programmes. From Regular to Comprehensive. There’s one that gives me: vital signs & physican exam; CBC; Fasting Blood Sugar; Lipid Profile; Uric Acid; Kidney Function; Liver function; Thyroid function; Hep Screening; Tumour markers; Urine Exam; Stool exam; ECG; EST; Abdomen ultrasound; Eye exam…
And all this? Well, about £600. I am bouncing happily home, energised. Having relayed my adventures for the day to the Diplomat and deciding to do this ‘Well Man’ check up, I subsequently said to Isla: “What would you prefer for Christmas? A healthy daddy or an XBox One? Can’t do both, I am afraid.”
Yeah, I know, the answer to that isn’t as obvious as you might like to think 😉
On a more serious note…check yourself regularly (this isn’t a case where embarassment overrides health), go see a doctor if you notice any changes, don’t use Google to alarm, calm you…and if you want a truly happy ending….well go to Bumrungrad if you’re ever in Bangkok and see Dr Akarasakul. Speed, high-tech, efficient, great bedside manner….all the right ingredients for a panicking man who thought he might have cancer.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?