It’s tempting, isn’t it, to think of mankind’s evolution as one straight race to the stars; an uninterrupted, relentless ascent. I’ve been on this pro-human bandwagon since pretty much day one of my existence. It wasn’t until year thirty-three, month eleven, day thirty (i.e. this Monday) of my existence that I had my faith in progress checked.
I should warn you that if you’ve eaten in the last three hours, or if you plan to eat in the next three hours, then this piece probably isn’t for you. Because the point where the thundering bolt of doubt in human endeavour landed was precisely the point where nobody wants thundering bolts of doubt to land: straight between the cheeks of my bottom.
I’d already had piles for a week before the bolt struck. It was excruciating. I don’t know what brought them on. Maybe it was because I’d strained to move my wardrobe (to accommodate a gas engineer who, in one moment, was telling me how National Service broadened his horizons, and the next was telling me how ‘them foreigners’ don’t value life), maybe it was because I’d sat in an uncomfortable seat during Dunkirk (the film, not the event). Or maybe it was because I’d had my blood boiled by a water bill which, judging by its demands, suggested that rather than showering once a day and occasionally washing-up, I’d actually spent the last quarter walking around town with a long hose filling people’s ponds. Whatever the origins of my discomfort, the hard facts remained: things were rough down south, hot below the equator and none too cracky on my cracky etc. etc.
Over the phone, the doctor had recommended the haemorrhoid holy trinity: creme, fibrous food and wet wipes. Call back in a week, he’d said, if it wasn’t tickety-boo.
One week later and my boo was far from tickety. I was invited in for a rectal MOT. After a quick waiting-room flick through of autumn 2009’s edition of Country Living, I felt the need to move onto the harder stuff: the Gideon’s Bible. I thumbed my way through Acts and, despite its name, found no relevant advice. I was just about to try my luck with Exodus when the beep went and my name flashed on the screen:
Mr R Pugh – Room 8 – Arse Specialist
After a few minutes of pile-related small talk, the doctor asked me to ‘pop’ my trousers off and lay down. I like how doctors tell you to ‘pop’ items of clothing off. Whichever doctor came up with the idea to use that word is a genius. All the alternatives to ‘pop’ seem either too serious or too creepy: remove, take, slip, slide, ease… Pop is perfection. Verbal balm. And yet, dear reader, Edward Jenner is the one who gets the statue in Kensington Gardens. Shameful.
As I lay facing the wall with my bottom exposed, it struck me what a strange job doctors have, all things considered. It’s moments like this, faced with a Great British proletariat rump, where all that extra effort they put in at school must feel like it has paid scant dividends. All that graft, all those immaculately-referenced theses, all those late-night trainee shifts on emergency wards. For what? To be confronted with the arse of a man, who, after a week of applying the creme himself, was simply happy to feel a different finger up there.
‘Yes,’ the doctor said, shining a light where the sun refused to do likewise. ‘I can see the problem. It’s what we call a thrombosis.’
‘Thrombosis with love,’ I said. He didn’t laugh. Probably not a Bond fan…
He suggested a minor operation and said they should be able to fit me in that day. What a country, I thought as he called the hospital on my behalf. Gord bless the blimmin’ NHS. They’d be able to do something super fancy and high tech to rid me of my ills. They’d pierce a laser at it or slip me a sugar-coated pill which would make everything vanish. Yes, what an uninterrupted, relentless ascent to the stars we were riding.
Then the doctor started making noises. Bad noises. Ums and ahs and ohs. He put the phone down.
‘Good news?’ I said.
He told me that, apparently, things had changed with regards to pile treatment in recent years. Operating was now a last resort. Instead, the hospital had a new initiative. Somewhat less technical than I’d imagined – and far less representative of an uninterrupted, relentless ascent to the stars – the new initiative involved the patient going home, rubbing a numbing agent in with a special glove and laying face down on the bed for three days whilst sticking their arse in the air. Basically, from here on in, gravity was going to be doing the leg work.
The thundering bolt had landed.
‘Face down?’ I said. ‘Three days?’
‘Arse in the air? Special glove?’
I’d lost the ability to formulate complex sentences.
‘You can pop a pillow under your groin,’ the doctor added, in what was possibly the hollowest consolation since Nelson’s physician told him that, with his other arm now floating somewhere in the sea near Tenerife, he’d at least be excused from ever having to steer.
Three pissing days! Even corpses didn’t lie undiscovered for that long. And with my arse in the air, too. Living in a ground floor flat, I’d have to close the curtains. Otherwise, to a passer-by, it would look like I was rehearsing for the next instalment of Men On Men. It was hard to believe that this was really what was expected of me. Had I visited a GP or a witch doctor? He might as well have asked me to do a silly dance then toss off a newt. Under the next harvest moon. (For the record, even the actual operation they had in mind was archaic. No lasers or magic pills. They were going to ‘operate a drainage system’, the doctor said, as though presenting a Time Team special on Offa’s Dyke.)
Things were about to get worse.
‘You’ll need your stool loosened,’ he said. Without thinking, I looked down at my chair. Funny, it didn’t look particularly tight. ‘That will make your visits easier.’
‘Oh…’ I said, catching the full awfulness of his awful drift. ‘I’ve been using Fibregel.’
‘You need something stronger. I’m going to prescribe Laxido.’
I didn’t like the sound of Laxido and told him as much. ‘I don’t mind the lax part,’ I said. ‘It’s the ido that worries me.’
The suffix ‘ido’ (or ‘edo’) was synonymous with things that were quick. Very quick. Rapido, torpedo, Speedo. I didn’t want my arse joining that illustrious list. Especially as my medical complaint had rendered me none too hot on the running-to-the-toilet front.
‘Doctor’s orders,’ he smiled.
Physically lame and emotionally confused, I took my prescription to the pharmacy. The golden rule of pharmacies is that if you’re buying something innocent like cough medicine or baby milk formula, the place is empty. If, however, you’re going there with more sinister motives, to buy, say, ultra-sensitive condoms or a double prescription of arse numbing gel avec Laxido, there will always be a queue (made up, largely, of ex-girlfriends and people you went to school with). This was the case here. Having worked my way to the till, the pharmacist eyed both items on the green prescription slip and said, in a voice loud enough to reach most residents of that specific council tax band, ‘We’ve only got the bottom one, I’m afraid, sir.’
Nervously, I looked around and then drew myself closer to her, whispering, ‘They’re both…’ I paused, ‘they’re both for my bottom.’
‘I mean the bottom one on the list,’ she shouted. ‘We haven’t got the top one, just the bottom.’
My face experienced such a rush of blood that it’s a wonder it didn’t drain my thrombosis there and then. I asked her to double check their stock as walking was no longer my forte and trudging over to another pharmacy was out of the question. She disappeared, ruffled some boxes whilst humming, and returned with both ointments. I snatched the items and hobbled my way home, slamming the door behind me in shame, away from the public gaze, like Nosferatu on a stormy night. I dumped my new prescription on a work surface. My kitchen looked like it belonged to one of those widowed pensioners you see on Panorama exposés about home-care: white clinical box after white clinical box of creams, gels, lotions and Laxido, all with dubious sounding big business German-American pharmaceutical logos in the corner.
Before retreating to the ignominy of my bedroom, I read the meds’ information sheets. Laxido had the possible side-effects of ‘soreness’ down below and ‘indigestion’, the very two things I was hoping it would rid me of. And the gel had the considerably more alarming side-effect of occasionally causing a ‘stopping of breath’. If this happened, it suggested you ‘contact your doctor immediately’. Presumably via telepathy. The gel came in a decidedly toy-like test tube, something you might expect to see in a six-year-old girl’s My First Haemorrhoid kit. But I was in no mood to ruminate on the situation’s stupidity any further. I applied the gel and downed the Laxido (which, although it said ‘Orange’ on the box, might have been more accurately labelled as ‘Gorilla Piss’). Then I went to bed.
…To lay down. Face down. For three days. With my bum in the air. Accompanied by nothing but my phone, a book and my old friend gravity. I’d left the curtains open (not a metaphor). They swayed a little in the breeze. Outside, somewhere, someone hammered in nails, a pigeon talked to a blackbird, a train disappeared then returned. I twisted my neck to look up at the blue sky. A white cloud moved silently across. Then, voices on the street:
‘If it’s not one thing it’s another, Mandy.’
‘Too right. It’s all one big pain in the arse.’
It was hard to disagree.