'Get the junior doctors in here for a quick squiz," I heard one nurse say urgently to the other in the corridor outside the cubicle I was waiting in to get checked over by a doctor.
"I will straight away - you don't get to see them that big that often," I heard the other reply as their footsteps clacked into the distance on the linoleum floor. "It's a good opportunity for the young staff to have a look at one in its peak."
"Geez Louise," I thought, "some poor person has something pretty revolting-sounding."
Imagine having doctors young enough to be your grandchildren poking around something painful that's big enough for the record books.
Imagine being wheeled out like a circus performer with three eyes or two heads for others to marvel over or be repelled by. Imagine the burn of being considered ideal as a "learning tool" for half-trained health professionals barely out of university who probably consider you elderly and destined for the reject heap anyway.
"God, I'm glad that's not me. I haven't shaved my legs in a whole year!"
It was that last thought that, two minutes later as I lay prone in front of 17 junior staff with my hairy infected leg stretched out before them, made my mouth turn up ironically. "Any questions," the main doctor asked as he ran his fingers down the back of my knee in a vaguely inappropriate, familiar stroke.
One pimply young man no older-looking than my eldest son put his hand up. "In these cases of severe cellulitis," he said, his voice breaking around the words like a broken flute, "is flushing the infection out the last resort? I mean, if the antibiotics don't work and the patient gets critical?"
"What the heck?" I thought wildly. "What does he mean, if the antibiotics don't work? What does he mean, if I get critical? What is flushing, and why does it sound appallingly painful?"
"No," the main doctor guffawed merrily, like an over- hyped Santa. "That's reserved for the more serious cases. I'm sure we won't have to resort to that with Mrs Calvert here. Even though her infection is one of the biggest we've seen lately," he added on, slapping my leg gently.
Oh good, I thought. My one chance to shine, and it's to be excellent at cellulitis. Just the sort of thing you want on your headstone. "Here lies Kathryn, who excelled at soft tissue skin infections."
The health emergency saga had all started many weeks earlier when I slipped on a half-melted popsicle on the kitchen floor at home and landed squarely on one knee. Blaming the Hubby, as I automatically do with everything, I blinked back tears and rubbed the pain away hard.
The next day it was slightly bruised and a little tender, but I never thought about it again until two weeks ago yesterday.
I'd been to lunch with a colleague who's about a metre taller than me, and walking with her necessitated trotting like a small dog to keep up. When I got back to the office, a dark red stain appeared on my knee and spread quickly across my leg, and I found myself limping through the door of the emergency doctor's several hours later, wondering exactly what was going on.
Three days, one painful injection in the derriere, three IV antibiotic doses, several boxes of paracetamol, four ice packs, three warm hotties, several sheets of giant antibiotic pills and 15 two- year-old magazines to read later, and I still didn't know what the story was.
I'd been poked, prodded, squeezed, manipulated, pulled, pushed, elevated, relieved, squashed, pricked and massaged. I'd told my story to several hundred different health personnel, I'd waited at several different medical facilities reading women's magazines revealing that Kate Middleton was pregnant in 2010, Jennifer Aniston married John Mayer in 2011 and Angelina Jolie had run off with a Martian last May.
I'd seen radiologists, general doctors, frazzled nurses, A&E clinic receptionists with not one empathetic bone in their bodies, and even an exchange health professional from Central America who made the Honduras capital of Tegucigalpa sound like a tropical wonderland.
Or maybe I was just delirious.
Describing the whole sorry saga to yet another doctor late last week, I looked at the ceiling and almost sobbed. "You're going to have to cut my leg off, aren't you?" I asked desperately. He smiled kindly. "Well, 100 years ago you'd be One-Legged Kathy by now, but these days that's pretty rare. I'm sure you'll be back line-dancing in no time."
'That's impossible," I snapped back, tetchy from the cocktail of drugs, "because I didn't line-dance before."
The nurse tapped my hand soothingly. "Don't get your blood pressure up," she advised, drawing around my infection with a permanent marker and dating it. My knee looked like a hairy topical map of Mt Ngauruhoe in summer, and I sighed heavily.
Later that night Quiet Middle Child was sympathetic. Bringing me some frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel, he volunteered to make tea. "I'm going to whip up some yummy macaroni cheese for us," he said confidently. A minute later, he was back at my side. "How exactly do you turn the element on, Mum?" he asked. "And how do I get the water into the saucepan."
I sighed dramatically, and knew it was going to be a long night.
She once known as Little Weenie had the last word. Running her finger down the red trail meandering from my knee to my ankle last weekend, she remarked that the redness was beginning to recede and the swelling was going down.
"That's good, coz I need you today," she said touchingly. "Remember that I'm meant to be going to the movies and you need to drive me.
"Oh and by the way, Mum, you aren't to show anyone else your legs unless I shave them first. The way they are at the moment is an embarrassment to the family and a sight that even the most experienced doctor couldn't handle."
Geez Louise . . . thanks.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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