My general health, which to say the least has been fragile for some time, faces a fresh assault with the approach of the anniversary of what is known to me as 'One Lung Day'. On Saturday, it will be precisely eight years since the puncturing of my left lung, a journey to the gates of oblivion that started while staying with family friends in a northern suburb of Johannesburg, when a burglar inserted a kitchen knife into the organ, and traditionally in late January I tend to suffer some kind of psychosomatic relapse.
While waiting for a taxi to take us out for dinner, my wife delivers a succinct lecture. 'I know it's nearly One Lung Day, but can we please get through the meal without the full story,' says Rebecca, 'especially the bit about the doctor's footwear?' She is referring to the pneumothorax operation, performed under local anaesthetic, in which the surgeon made a large incision beneath the left armpit through which he pushed a piece of rubber tubing all the way into the lung itself. 'I never mention it,' I reply coolly, 'unless people force the story out of me.' She snorts so hard that a small nosebleed ensues, and pausing only to fetch a pile of Kleenex, we head morosely for the cab.
Icy quietude grips the marital home in its talons. The silence descended in the taxi on the way home when Rebecca rebuked me for mentioning the pneumothorax. 'I barely alluded to it,' I told her irritably. 'Yes, but you barely alluded to it for 57 minutes, and I'm sick of it,' she replied. 'Especially those bloody shoes'. (When the doctor sliced me open, a sploosh of blood was audible. 'For Chrissakes, man, I'm going to a smart dinner dance tonight,' he said, 'and you've just ruined my only decent pair of shoes.')
Tension becomes further heightened - the marriage moves, to borrow from the argot of the arms race, to DefCon 1 - when Rebecca finds me at my desk examining the chest X-rays. 'You see that one...' I begin. 'An eighth of an inch from the heart,' she interrupts. 'Yes,' I go on, 'but this one...' 'Sixteenth of an inch from the aorta.' We relapse into wordless reflection. 'Has it ever occurred to you how dramatically this incident changed our lives?' I eventually observe. 'It was only a few weeks later that we got together. But for the stabbing...' The words trail away, and she looks at me with rare intensity. 'Occurred to me?' she says, making her way to the door. 'Oh yes, it's occurred.'
Over breakfast, I am unable to suppress a yelp when experiencing a stab of excruciation in the upper back, in exactly the spot where the nerve ends of the lungs are situated. Clearly I have yet to make a full recovery, and the memory triggers some sort of psychosomatic relapse. 'It's Another Return to the Planet of the Apes, is it?' says Rebecca, watching me climb the stairs bent double, head tucked into neck. Paralysed, I take to bed with Tiger Balm, a bottle of Nurofen, a hot-water bottle and a tube of Ibuprofen gel. Being unable to sit up, whatever follows has been dictated to Rebecca.
If I have made a tactical error today, it came just before midday when I instructed Rebecca to refill the hot-water bottle for the fourth time in two hours. As she came back upstairs, she was aware of scampering in the bedroom, and although on entering I was moaning piteously from beneath the duvet, she noted that the television had been turned on - to Sky Sports for the Man Utd v Liverpool FA Cup game - despite the fact that, for a small experiment, she had hidden the remote control in the shower.
I have been engaging in melodramatic whimpering all morning, and demanding a portable X-ray machine to determine the extent of residual damage, and whether a transplant is required. After consulting my physician, Sarah Jarvis, on the telephone, my wife, although as always a sweet-natured and sympathetic nurse, has gently posed one question: if this is the result of the stabbing of the left lung, might I explain why the problem is on the right side of the back? The answer 'referred pain' is not satisfactory, and I will - whatever ideas I may currently have to the contrary - be back on my feet very soon indeed.