On my return from a month away in France, I find my general state of health worse, if anything, than when I left. The roster of chronic symptoms (too long to be reproduced in full; but headed by the deviated septum, general fatigue, arthritic joints and an undiagnosed but agonising prostatic disorder) is now bolstered by a mystifying new ailment. The left eye continually feels hot and watery, while all points of the compass around the socket - from the temple to the north west to the base of the nose in the south east - are racked with a nauseating neuralgic pain.
The neuralgic pain is more intense than ever. "Do you think this could be lupus?" I ask my wife over breakfast. Busying herself with a large peach, she affects not to hear me, so I repeat the question at triple volume. "What's lupus? asks Rebecca. Lupus, I explain, is the disease of the central nervous system that killed Hugh Gaitskell. "And why do you think it might kill you?" "One of the classic early systems is a drooping eyelid," I reply. "And do you have a drooping eyelid?" "No, I do not." "Then I would say it is almost certainly lupus."
I remain baffled by the the pain around the eye. It could be a touch of sinusitis, or it may even be connected to the significantly deviated septum, about which I am going to the Charing Cross hospital's ENT department on Wednesday. Then again, perhaps there is a tumour the size of a golf ball hidden behind the eye and pressing upon the nerves. At this stage it is impossible to tell, and a series of calls to my physician Dr Sarah Jarvis finds her not at home.
When I ring the Charing Cross to confirm my appointment, I am told that my consultant is a Mr Clueless. "Mr Clueless," I say, "that's encouraging." "It's quite alright, sir," says the receptionist, "he's a Greek gentleman."
I am increasingly worried by the imminent cauterisation of my septum, which requires a general anaesthetic. "Do you think a freak accident will leave me a vegetable?" I ask Rebecca, not for the first time. "Probably," she answers. "Still, try to be positive. If there is a tumour the size of a golf ball behind your eye, they might not bother with the operation after all."
I awake feeling shaky and traumatised having passed a troubled night. In the dream, I am standing in the light rough just off the 17th green watching Europe play America in the Ryder Cup when two stewards come over and grab me by the arms. Tiger Woods approaches. "What the hell's going on?" I scream. "I'm real sorry about this, sir," says Woods, "real sorry, but there's a golf ball the size of a tumour behind your left eye, and it's mine. Unless I play it where it lies, I have to take a two shot penalty." As Woods takes a pitching wedge from his caddy and makes his first practise swing against my forehead, I awake.
The news at the ENT clinic is that Mr Clueless has left and there is currently no consultant, and after a brief wait I am summoned to a cubicle by Dr Kana, a young registrar. Among other things, he asks if I have lost weight recently. "You think it's cancer, don't you? It's the golf ball-sized tumour behind the eye." Apparently bemused, he proceeds to stick an instrument up my right nostril, and then gives his verdict. "We'll do a submuchosal ressection," he says, "an inferior turbinate outfracture." "Yes, doctor, that was pretty much my thinking. Far better than cauterising." Dr Kana gives me a form and sends me off to register at Outpatients where I ask how soon the op will be. "I wouldn't hold your breath," the receptionist replies. "But that's the point. I can't. I can't breathe at all. That's why I'm having it done." She looks up. "I'm sorry, but there is a waiting list. Four or five months." Four or five months more of this misery, and then every chance of being rendered a vegetable, albeit one with clear nostrils. Sometimes, I reflect as I leave the hospital and head morosely up the Fulham Palace Road, the left eye throbbing more than ever, it is very hard to see the point in going on.