The Unwelcome Guest: Going private

The Unwelcome Guest: Going private

Heading out to see a specialist I recalled the phrase: Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died. For the first time I was seeing a private doctor and forsaking the NHS. Would I find a better class of houseplant?

When I mentioned that I’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer, an old friend got in touch to say that he too was in the same unlovely boat. Like myself, he was prescribed hormone therapy, followed by radiotherapy. The hormone jabs didn’t agree with him and he started to investigate other treatments, but by that I don’t mean the snake oil brigade. What he found was a procedure with a snappy acronym, HIFU which stands for High Intensity Focused Ultrasound. It uses high frequency soundwaves to heat and destroy cancer cells.

It is a relatively new treatment so doesn’t have years of statistics to back up its efficacy in the way of the more conventional treatments. But it seems to have dispatched my friend’s cancer, with the huge proviso that it can always come back, so it seemed sensible to pay his doctor, Professor Mark Emberton, a call. He is Professor of Interventional Oncology at UCL and a leading light in new forms of prostate cancer treatment. He does work with the NHS, but appointments are limited, so as I have private health insurance provided by my employer I booked a slot with the eminent Prof.

I had always been told never to go to Harley Street as the docs there are often out of touch with the latest medical trends and live in glorious, slightly backward, isolation. Of course, you get the personal service and don’t have to mix with the hoi polloi.

Arriving at 8am, mine was the first appointment of the day. The usual crash and bash of the NHS was markedly absent as my wife and I were shown in to a wood panelled reception area with overstuffed chairs and copious magazines and newspapers. Two elderly orthodox Jewish gentlemen, dressed in black garb and with fulsome beards, were the only others present. They seemed very distracted and couldn’t sit still, but hey, cancer can do that to you.

A few minutes later, the professor comes into the waiting room looking for me and we are ushered into his large and surprisingly cold consulting room. Prior to the appointment all my NHS tests, including the pictures from my MRI scan, had been forwarded to Emberton and for the princely sum of £250, his minions had taken a look at my insides so as to bring the Prof up to speed.

I have one major tumour of around two centimetres located at the bottom left of my prostate. Apparently, I moved during the MRI scan so the little bastard is a bit blurry, but this does little to hide its inherent ugliness. This is a picture I’ve seen before and when people say a picture paints a thousand words, in this case that would mostly be words that end with off. Sod-off, fuck-off, bugger-off and piss-off come to mind. Can’t get to love this unwelcome guest.

The urbane doctor takes me through my test results and pictures. Prior to this consultation I had told my NHS doctors about this proposed visit, they knew of both Emberton and his treatment, and had said it would not be suitable for me. Prof Emberton did not demur and agreed my current treatment was for the best. A second opinion is valuable but can be problematic if it doesn’t endorse the first opinion. So thankfully, no tricky decisions.

I’m at a bit of a hiatus right now, hormone therapy underway, side-effects not too bad with the prospect of radiotherapy to follow in September. To begin with my cancer diagnosis was constantly front and centre in my mind, now while I can’t say it’s entirely out of my mind it can bloody well take a back seat. I plan to enjoy this Spring and Summer to the full and take the Autumn as it comes.

Oh, and yes of course the office plants were magnificent.

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