I have been in ague since the post arrived this morning, and by early evening I am paralysed with dread. "Oh Jesus, what is it now?" asks my wife. I point to the envelope marked Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust on the sofa. She picks it up. "Why haven't you opened it?" "It's the results of my tests," I say, sharply. "If they hadn't found something nasty, they'd have phoned." "But for God's sake," she says, very slowly indeed, "you... haven't... had... any... tests." On reflection, I see her point: I haven't had any tests. Too drained to deal with it tonight, I leave the envelope unopened and make my way to bed.
The letter, it transpires, concerns my "significantly deviated septum" and asks me to attend the ear, nose and throat clinic on August 18 at 09.15. My wife seems delighted. "Great news," she says. "Well, yes, if it helps me breathe through the right nostril." "Actually, I was thinking about the snoring, but I suppose the breathing would be nice for you too."
I become more concerned about the procedure (cauterising the septum) by the hour. Although quick, it does require a general anaesthetic. "Do you think there will be a freak anaesthetic accident rendering me a vegetable?" I ask my wife. She mutters something incomprehensible (I think I make out the words "Mark Twain" and "Coolidge").
With wearyingly predictable perversity something has happened to my nose. After a decade of stasis, the nostrils have reacted angrily to news of the hospital appointment and swapped roles. Now the left one is blocked, and the right is clear. The operation is off.
The operation is on again (the nostrils have reverted to the status quo ante) and I announce my intention to make a "living will". But the discussion is cut short when my wife heads for the phone. "Sarah? Hi, it's Rebecca," she says to Dr Jarvis. "He thinks he'll end up a vegetable . . . Yes that's what I said, only I thought it was Mark Twain, not Dorothy Parker. Alright, I'll tell him. Thanks." She returns to inform me that the doctor will see me on Monday.
I awake from a troubled night. In a dream I come round from the operation to find myself lying in the hospital kitchen. Standing over me are my wife, Dr Jarvis and health minister Tessa Jowell. "I know it's painful for you, Rebecca," says the minister, "but in a modern health service there is no room for wastage. Your husband is a vegetable now, and must therefore be used for salad." Rebecca signs the consent form, while Dr Jarvis scoops a large stone from my midriff and starts slicing me up, tossing each chunk into a huge salad bowl. I try to scream: "No! Stop! It's a mistake. I'm an avocado. An avocado isn't a vegetable. It's a fruit." But no words come out, and I awake drenched with sweat.
At the Grove Health Centre, Sarah Jarvis is swift to come to the point, "Do you know," she says, "that in all my years of practice, I've never met anyone who ended up a vegetable after surgery." "Of course you haven't," I reply, "how could you have? They're vegetables." Raising an eyebrow, she speaks with quiet menace. "You will not end up a vegetable," she says, "and you will have it done." I am touched by her concern, and tell her so. "Oh yes, your breathing," she says. "Actually, I was thinking of Rebecca. The snoring . . ." I head for the door. "I will come through it, won't I, doctor?" I ask. "You'll be fine," she says, "and remind Rebecca to lettuce know about dinner on Friday." The spectre of the Algonquin Round Table has come to Shepherd's Bush, it would seem, and, struggling valiantly to stifle the mirth, I begin the journey home.