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Dr Peter Aird: No news is… an anxious wait

‘It’s the act of a desperate man.’

The cautious consultant’s attempt at a humorous reply to my asking why I’m to have a PET scan isn’t reassuring, abnormal results from such investigations rarely being associated with happy endings. 

But it seems it’s not just GPs who have a differing tolerance to uncertainty. He’s not as confident as his colleague that we’re dealing with endocarditis. Not all criteria for that particular diagnosis have been satisfactorily fulfilled and, apparently, ‘we’ve all got a dodgy mitral valve’. He’s decided that further investigations are in order.

He’s probably right – after all I’d been admitted on a Sunday so, if some are to be believed, it was always unlikely that I would leave hospital alive.

The mouths of some in the waiting room drop open… They’ve not seen their GP like this before

The next day, too weak to walk, I’m wheeled to the scanner, a blanket over my knees like a frail elderly man. The mouths of some in the waiting room drop open, their heads turning to follow me as I pass by. They’ve not seen their GP like this before. Nor, back on the ward, has the bank HCA, herself my patient. She seems to enjoy asking her doctor whether he’s opened his bowels yet today perhaps just a little too much.

And then the waiting, and worrying, begins. How will I tell the children that I don’t have long? The inevitable bad prognosis will, when it comes, give a whole new meaning to the extended leave I’m anticipating later in the year.

Reassuringly, confident cardiologist, no longer responsible for my care, seems surprised that a PET scan has been requested when he leans over my bed that evening. ‘It’s definitely SBE.’ 

And I’m happy to believe him until, a little later, I’m passed a phone. It’s my GP who’s rung the ward asking how I am. ‘So you’ve back pain,’ she says. She surely knows something I don’t, has unquestionably learnt of some retroperitoneal malignancy by accessing the result online. 

However, it seems not, since the following morning, after a long dark night of existential soul searching, the ST3 assures me the report is not yet available. But by midday it is. Cautious consultant will be along to discuss it soon. Clearly I can’t just be told it’s normal.

Visitors arrive and, finding me just a little distracted, later leave with still no consultant stopping by. Who said, ‘no news is good news’? No news undoubtedly means that he’s waiting till the end of the day, to when he’ll not be interrupted. Then he’ll have the time to unhurriedly tell it to me straight. Doctor to doctor? Doctor to ordinary anxious patient more like.

‘You OK?’ asks Sister, as the evening meals are served.

‘Yes…fine, thank you. Just waiting for, you know, the scan report. It’s back… apparently.’ 

‘I’ll see what I can find out.’

A few minutes later, she’s back – with a plate and a cheery ‘all normal’. 

Hospital food never tasted better.

And I promise myself to remember that good news isn’t good until it’s told.

Dr Peter Aird is a GP in Somerset

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