How to find fossils

Well, last Tuesday I did go to see the consultant about my MRI scan results. He showed me the pictures of my shoulder and pointed to a large white area. “This is a calcium deposit,” he said, “about 2.6 cm by 2.7 cm.”

That sounds big, I thought. “That’s big,” he said. “Too much to get rid of by injections. I think we have to operate.” So I’m booked in for second half of September. (Not all of it, just one day.)

I told number one daughter about this. “Where did the calcium come from?” she asked. I didn’t know, I hadn’t thought to query its origins. I was thinking more about getting rid of it. I checked on-line and found that the calcium is excreted by cells, but the cause is not entirely known.

Bearing in mind the gall stones I had last year, it seems clear to me that there is only one answer: I’m fossilising from the inside out.

Scanning for Lifeforms

I had an MRI scan last week. My right shoulder has been giving me gip for quite a while now and I’ve been progressing through various treatments. I had physiotherapy, which involved manipulation and electrotherapy and ultrasound and heat treatment. After four sessions, it appeared to be improving, but in the fifth session we tried acupuncture, which had no apparent effect, except that my shoulder felt worse again, and after the sixth it seemed back to where I started. The therapist recommended an X-ray.

So I returned to the doctor who agreed about the X-ray and followed it up with a steroid injection. Fortunately I’m not an elite athlete (nor any kind of athlete, as it happens) so there were no ramifications from that. (Whilst in A&E a few weeks ago, on an entirely unrelated matter, I spotted a notice in the triage room warning nurses to check with cyclists from the Olympics road races what medications they were allowed – obviously preparing for carnage in the narrow roads to Ripley and not wanting to have Bradley Wiggins disqualified from next year’s Tour de France.)

The steroid injection eased the pain a bit, but did not remove it, so my doctor filled out a form for an ultrasound scan and gave me the name of a consultant, whom I duly went to see. He discarded the notion of ultrasound and said I should have an MRI scan. We went through a safety checklist. The ‘M’ in ‘MRI’ stands for ‘magnetic’ and it’s a strong magnet in a scanner – three tesla. Doesn’t sound much, 3T, but the ITER fusion reactor only has 13T. You want to keep metal away from a 3T field. So, did I have a heart pacemaker? Any metal replacement joints? Any fragments of metal in my eyes? No I didn’t. “How about mercury amalgam fillings,” I said. Not a problem.

The radiologist went through the list again when I went for the scan, in the reception area before I got near the machine, just to be sure. Then I stripped off my clothes, down to underpants, and put on a gown. This was in a changing room, not the reception area, I hasten to point out. Good job I wasn’t wearing my chainmail pants, I thought. (No, not really. I just made that up.) I lay down on a bed with my shoulder wedged into a support to keep it still and in the right position. I was going to have to lie completely still for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes? I don’t think I’ve ever lain still for twenty minutes, while awake.

The radiologist warned me that it would be loud, like road works. “But we have headphones through which we will play music.” She put the headphones on me, gave me an emergency bulb to squeeze in case of emergencies, jacked up the table and slid me into the tube of the scanner. The music was some easy listening stuff that I didn’t recognise. It didn’t matter. The music was just to fill the gaps between different phases of the scan, because when the scanner started up that was all I could hear. To drown out the scanner you’d need Deep Purple on full throttle, though, come to think of it, heavy metal probably wouldn’t work inside a scanner. (Metal? Magnetism? It’s a… oh never mind.)

The main purpose of the headphones, I decided, was for the radiologist (who by this time was safely out of the scanner room) to talk to me. She announced three bursts of three minutes each. When they were over, she said there were eleven minutes to go. Still eleven minutes? I needed to move something. Would it be okay to wiggle my toes? The minutes dragged on. I stared at the  wide green line just off-centre in the roof of the tube. Or perhaps it was my head that was off-centre, for my shoulder to be in the right place. The line was maybe ten centimetres above my face. That was no problem; I went caving once, as part of a leadership training course, and the gaps were much smaller, the rock right in your face. How much longer to go? My body, inside the machine, felt hot and sweaty, whilst my feet were in the cool of the room. The noise was unceasing, but not constant, varying between continuous and staccato. I decided that I would not make a good secret agent, couldn’t take the torture.

Then it stopped. “I’m just coming into the room now,” said the radiologist. It was over. I dressed and she handed over a CD with the scan results to give to the consultant. So next Tuesday I’ll find out whether I need surgery, or what.

Surfing USA! Well, no, Cornwall actually

Cowabunga, dudes! The Smith family (Diana, Tris and myself) are out to hit the waves at Polzeath, not as famous as Newquay a few miles further along the coast, but better. We check the tide timetable and decide that five o’clock, a few hours after low tide, will be the best time, and that coincides with the best of the sunshine according to the weather forecast. Perfect.

We load the two surf boards into the car (two? For three people? What?) plus towels and dry clothes and head for the beach. In the school summer holiday period, the beach car park usually fills up, but by the time we get there it has emptied out a bit and we find plenty of space at the front, nearest the water. And at this time, parking is free.

First thing is to buy another surf board, and there are several shops selling them, but we  know precisely what we want, from which shop, so that’s done quickly.

The next thing, having changed, is to lock the car. I can’t just press the button on the electronic key, as usual, because then I would have to take an electronic key into sea water which seems a really bad idea. But there is a solid metal bit I can pull out of the electronic key unit and turn in the lock, and being solid metal, it is okay going into water. So I lock the car using that key and it doesn’t operate the central locking so only the driver’s door locks. I lock the three other doors from inside and then lock the driver’s door. That leaves the tailgate with its own lock into which the metal key will fit, except that it doesn’t. There is a blockage, the key won’t go in. So I lock the whole car with the electronic bit, open the door with the metal bit to put the electronic bit inside – and the alarm goes off. I stop the alarm, which unlocks all the doors. This is starting to look desperate. Will we all be able to go surfing, or will someone have to stay out with the car key? One final go: I use the electronic bit to lock the car with the driver’s door still open, put the electronic bit in a cubby hole in the car, then lock the driver’s door with the metal bit, and the alarm stays off! Excellent!

I pin the key inside a pocket in my swimming shorts and we head for the water.

How did you reach the shorts through the wetsuit, do I hear you ask? I’m glad you asked. Every body else in the water is in wetsuits, but not us. We is hardcore: swimsuits and t-shirts. We only use body boards, none of this fancy standing up, but we do it hardcore.

It feels cold walking across the beach and colder walking into the sea – the anticipation of that first wave hitting your genitals is like nothing on earth, except when that first wave actually hits – but once immersed it isn’t too bad. It even starts to feel warm. Tris and I walk out to where the water comes well above the waist and attempt to catch waves there. Diana stays in shallower water. I launch into several waves and get nowhere, but then I catch one and travel several yards before subsiding into the water. I miss a few more, then catch one again. This is fun. Even the mouthfuls of salty water don’t spoil it. I see Tris and Diana gliding into the shallows with satisfying frequency.

We swap boards around because the green one is worse than the two blue ones and it’s not fair, man, for one person to have to use it all the time. The first time I try it, it bends. It bends so much I immediately check it for a break, but it is still in one piece. It just bends. That’s probably why it doesn’t perform as well; I’m sure there is a reason that surfboards are flat rather than banana-shaped.

After something over half an hour, but less than an hour, we have had enough and return to the car. With the key that I haven’t lost from my pocket I unlock the car and open the door. The alarm goes off…

By the evening I ache pretty much all over, but the next day we do it all again and I discover it is possible to ache more than ‘all over’.