How many times can you take my consent for a procedure? Is there a way I could not run around in a hospital gown? How about seeing a person? The other day I had a CT scan.
I go to the hospital, I find the Imaging Department, I sit down. A quick glance around makes me think I’m very lucky – I don’t need to change into the hospital gown. I appreciate it even more when I see an elderly man negotiating carrying his belongings and holding the gown at the back, so we don’t all have the opportunity to see his, if you pardon me, bare arse. Yes, the strings are at the back of the gown (what kind of twisted mind invented it?), I also find it difficult to tie them up, no longer flexible enough. I look at the other patients in the hospital gowns, some, youngish, are fairly relaxed, those middle-aged plus, visibly less so. One, sitting smugly, brought a dressing gown.
My name is called (inevitably I get some very special looks from a couple of patients – another bloody foreigner!), a smiling radiographer asks me in. I sort of hope he will introduce himself, you know, all this “Hello, my name is…” stuff. Not a chance, but, I guess, his glued-on smile is something. He takes the sticker I was given at reception, asks my name and address and whether I’m happy to be CT-scanned. I confirm.
Then, shit (I thought), he asks me to take off my shirt and put the dressing gown. I know, after all, we, men, every single one us, simply love walking half-naked in front of strangers. Somehow, undressing in front of him and other personnel doesn’t require my consent. He didn’t even ask, he instructed me. Does anyone consider that I could be scarred? With serious eczema that I might want to show others? Do you actually think at all?!
I’m having a fleeting thought about challenging him. This is because I put on weight and I am even less happy to show my bare torso to strangers than a year ago when it ‘all’ started. But the challenge will mean more time in hospital, so, well, c’est la vie, I suppose. I take off the shirt, put on the gown, strings are at the back. I can’t even attempt to tie them up, there is no time, quick, quick, I need to lie down. Before I do, however, the smiling radiographer asks my name, address and whether I consent to the procedure. We did this a minute ago, but, I am still understanding, he might have had a long day, we all forget.
As I lie down, he asks me whether it’s OK to put contrast dye in my vein. At this point I’m getting a bit irritated. Have I not just consented to this? Which part of consenting to the procedure did you miss? Did you think I consented to the procedure without the contrast? I say nothing. At the end of the day, I’m too anxious thinking about this whole scan thing and what it might turn up. Any discussion would be pointless anyway. OK, I’m thinking, on we go. How wrong I was…
The smiling, and increasingly more irritating radiographer, is asking me whether it’s OK to use my right arm for the cannula. Fine, I say, I suppose it makes some sense to ask, I try to convince myself. It turns out there is something wrong with my veins.
Little digression. I keep being flabbergasted how it’s always my fault that a healthcare person can’t do something, like put a needle into my vein. It’s never, sorry, I can’t do it, it’s always, gosh, your veins don’t show properly. My good friend, an anaesthetic nurse, always laughs when I tell her about my veins which behave badly.
I say nothing, but I’m losing it. Anyway, he asks whether it’s OK to use my left arm. I’m beginning to shake. I mean, do you really think I’ll say no? Like, oh, you’ve just blown it, you’ve had your chance! Yes, I waited a month to attend the bloody CT scan, but enough is enough! I’m just going. The left arm is just the final straw. I will not be scanned with the cannula in left arm!
Please, get a grip, for pity’s sake!!
I calm myself, yes, fine, no problem, I’m giving fourth consent within 4 minutes. In my head I start singing a Russian war song:
Вставай, страна огромная,
Вставай на смертный бой
С фашистской силой тёмною,
С проклятою ордой.
Just not to occupy myself with him, it’s a very uplifting song (I really don’t care about the historical context). Unfortunately, the smiling radiographer is still fighting with my left-arm veins. I’m half expecting to hear again that my veins are subprime, let’s face it, I just have crap veins, you just can’t put anything in them. Go, change your damned veins, I hear him shout at me with scorn! Where, I ask. That’s your problem, he shouts ushering me out. Don’t you dare come back without new veins!
Thankfully, no. Success. Can we, pleeeaaassee, get on, I’m thinking. He starts the machine, I slide into the doughnut, trying to lie as still as possible (I re-start the uplifting song) and then I hear the smiling radiographer’s voice: Is it OK to start injecting the contrast dye? The music stops, I stop thinking, I just hear myself bark: Oh, for fuck’s sake, just get on with it already! Radio silence. The doughnut is turning. Breathe, don’t breathe, breathe normally. I want to shout – how (censored) does one breath abnormally?!
I was asked for consent 5 times. In my (increasingly humble) view, four of them were unnecessary, just irritating. To be honest, it felt as if I was being pushed to say no. You know, after a while when someone is asking you the same question again and again, you just snap and throw the opposite answer into the other’s face. A senior radiographer, equally anonymous, releases me from the trolley, the smiling radiographer was perhaps sulking. Oh, who cares? At least I’m out of the doughnut.
You think, it’s the end, don’t you? Oh no. I get off the trolley, in my untied gown, quickly, quickly, I need to go to the waiting room and sit for 5 minutes, in case blood comes gushing out from ‘the wound’ (which somehow before was just a scratch). Quickly, quickly. Obviously, there is absolutely no time to put my shirt back on in the CT room. I grab my bag, my shirt, no, there is no way to hold the gown at the back with my hand. Yes, it’s slipping off. I hope the patients in the waiting room enjoyed looking at my bare back. I comfort myself that at least I have my trousers on. My professorial buttocks retained their dignity.
I sat down, everybody looking at me. I looked back at them and said: I do look lovely in it, don’t I? They all laughed. I kinda didn’t, but perhaps it’s just me.
The CT scan is scary. No, not the procedure, of course, but what it means. At the end of it, there might be news I don’t want to think about. I wonder whether people who do the scanning, the highly trained radiographers, as I was told, actually realise that. The ever-smiling, absent-minded radiographer is really out of place. I’m scared, you know! Scared! So don’t talk to me as if we were in a pub, do remember what is happening, and stop asking me those idiotic questions about whether it’s OK to start pumping the contrast now. How likely, you…, am I to say: Oh, no, give me a couple more minutes. I just want to savour the doughnut.