Concerns about illness are normal at my age. In fact, they are so everyday that symptoms are discussed by guests around the dinner table in the now customary ‘organ recital’ slot. Chronic symptoms are in some ways old friends. It is the new ones that raise alarms. Do they herald something sinister? Will they get worse? Will they be temporary or permanent? And so on. I have had my fill of them recently, following a period when I had felt in top form, a time when I had felt that somehow I was managing to defy some of the more obvious ravages of ageing.
Things started going wrong at the end of May when, after a longish ride on my road bike (see Men and their toys, 27th May) during a mini heat wave, I developed a fever. Within a few hours it became obvious that the source of the problem was an infection in my prostate and an antibiotic was needed fast. I got one (ciprofloxacin) through an understanding GP, but I still had an anxious night.
If the infection had got worse I might have had to be admitted to hospital for an emergency operation, and if nothing else, that would have delayed my return to the UK. In fact, things settled and the next job was to contemplate how to manage the immediate future. The challenge was a possible side effect of the antibiotic. The course would be for six weeks and, from the depths of my mind, I remembered that very rarely it can weaken the Achilles’ tendon causing it to rupture. My consultant knew of this problem and the advice I got was reassuring; as this is rare it is very unlikely that it would happen to me; there is nothing to be done to avoid it happening anyway; I could continue doing my daily work-outs in the gym if I so wished.
Four weeks later – bang. Not a complete rupture, but big enough to be painful and make me limp. Moreover I feared it might snap completely if I wasn’t careful. Off to casualty where it happened that nobody knew of this side effect so leaving me to explain how the problem came about. Then, from a basis of no specialist knowledge, the advice was predictable, “stop the antibiotic, stop the gym, take ibuprofen and put your foot up whenever possible”. I did not bother to tell them that the medicine had also caused a widespread rash that became very itchy in sunlight. What would have been the point?
Things were slowly improving when I developed the sore throat and (a second) fever that was doing the rounds. The symptoms were like others had suffered – croaky voice, cough, shortness of breath and the production of sputum of a most unpleasant nature. But familiarity did not make them any the less uncomfortable. My hobbling, coughing, itching and feeling sorry for myself lasted a further four weeks, over which time everything gradually cleared. I had fought off the temptation to ask for a second antibiotic.
Then it was back to France. I was concerned about riding my bike and digging in the garden lest they caused the weakened tendon to tear again. The bike was also a challenge as I had wondered whether the narrow saddle’s jiggling down in my nether regions had been a cause of my original infection. I gradually started back on the bike and, last week, I managed two rides just as of old. The feeling was just wonderful.
Notwithstanding the anxiety and inconvenience that these events caused me, this volley of symptoms turned out to be temporary – fingers crossed, touch wood, etc. But whatever happens next, I am determined not to let any effects be entirely negative. For this position I have been inspired by Arthur ‘Peg-Leg Sam’ Jackson, who was featured in a short film clip I saw by chance last week on YouTube. It filled me with joy. You should have a peep. By the way, one of my boyhood dreams was to tap dance.