An envelope has just arrived bearing the logo of the Charing Cross hospital. "What's that?" asks Rebecca over breakfast, as I flick the letter from hand to hand. I don't reply. "WHAT . . . IS . . . IT?" I look up sharply. "It's a letter telling me I've won a lifetime supply of surgical tights in the hospital lottery." When she flashes me her Francis Urquhart look, I amend the answer. "It must be the result of my blood test."
Sighing heavily, she slices a pink grapefruit in two, and little drops of red juice splash onto the table. "But Matthew," she says, and the tinge of sympathy makes the tears well up, "why must we go through this insanity every time a medical letter arrives? You haven't had a blood test." She's right. That was a dream. So I guess it must be something about my nose.
It is something about my nose, or rather about what a Mr Richards of Harley Street once described as my "fairly significantly deviated septum". An appointment has been made at "pre-assessment clinic" on Monday to assess my suitability for surgery. My height-weight ratio, blood pressure and "medical status" will all be closely examined. God help us if they delve too closely into the latter - the appointment will take us into May.
I awake feeling drained and sluggish after a severely troubled night. My legs are weak and shaky, my scalp taut and tender, my mind slow and cumbersome... possibly symptoms of some nameless viral infection. Or is the bent septum now allowing so little oxygen to the brain that I am suffering a series of transient aeschemic attacks (mini-strokes) every night?
So weak and unstable are my legs that, as I totter downstairs to collect the papers, I remind myself of Katharine Hepburn arriving on stage to receive an Oscar. Unless I improve dramatically over the weekend, I will not be going to the Charing Cross on Monday. Hospital is the last place on earth for a sick person.
Desperate to speak to my physician Sarah Jarvis about a worsening condition, I begin the hunt for Rebecca's address book the minute she leaves the house. Ever since I called the doctor five times one recent Sunday, concerning what struck me as a rupturing appendix (but what she diagnosed as a reaction to eating a large meal at 4.30am on returning from the casino), my wife has shown more imagination in her choice of hiding places. Eventually I locate the book behind the immersion heater in the boiler room, but the doctor is out.
"But it's barely seven in the morning..." Sarah Jarvis's greeting might be warmer. "Yes, I know, but it's just..." "But it's 7.03am." "Thank you," I say. "We may not be doctors here, but we do have access to a digital clock."
She emits an elongated sigh so familiar that I instinctively turn to check that Rebecca is asleep besides me. "Alright, what is it now?" asks Dr Jarvis, and I tell her about the transient aeschemic attacks. "They're not transient aeschemic attacks," she says. "Yes they are." "No they're not." "How can you be sure?" "Because you don't have a single symptom." "And what are the symptoms?" "Talking incomprehensible gibber... OK, so you do have one symptom. But they're not mini-strokes, that's just the way you are. And now I am going back to sleep."
At the Day Surgical Unit, I am summoned at 4pm sharp by a nurse, Rosanne Charles. "Have you lost many people this year under the knife?" I ask, as we sit down. " We haven't lost anyone since I've been here." "Ah, but how many have ended up as vegetables?" This is my great fear. "None," she says. "It doesn't happen."
Ignoring my enquiry as to how close the crash team is to the theatre, Rosanne takes my blood pressure . "It's too high for surgery, isn't it?" "No, it's fine," she replies, moving me on to the scales. "I'm too fat, aren't I? My heart wouldn't take the anaesthetic." "You're well within the range," says Rosanne. "There's no problem at all. Now we'll go to the desk and get you a date."
The receptionist prints out a letter inviting me back for the op on Friday, January 28. "Now it's going to be fine," says Rosanne as I put in my pocket. "Promise me you won't worry." She is so sweet, and I wish to be helpful. "I promise I won't worry," I say, heading for the door, "and thanks."
I catch a taxi home and ring my solicitor to discuss a living will.