‘Are you afraid of falling over?’ asked the bored young radiologist, as he started filling out the forms.
I had been recalled to St George’s Hospital to have a bone density scan. I must explain that the issue of whether or not my bones are disintegrating has been somewhat tinged with hysteria ever since I managed to get myself told off by an Oxford professor for not taking HRT.
I rang her to get a quote for an article I was writing about yoga and why it might be helping me through the menopause. One minute I was looking up a revered expert on physiology in the Oxford University experts’ directory. The next minute a really scary woman was barking down the phone, ‘Well, I don’t know anything about yogaaaah…’ — she said it as if it were a filthy pastime practised by ne’er-do-wells who needed rounding up and putting away — ‘…but I do know that you ought to be on HRT!’
And she said that very much as if she wanted to add the word ‘Madam!’ on the end of the sentence.
‘Actually, that’s another story,’ I said. ‘I’ve already written about that endlessly. But we are where we are. And I’m not on HRT, for reasons I won’t bore you with.’
She harrumphed: ‘HRT is marvellous. You need to get yourself on it.’
There was something in her voice, an edge of pure aggression that was really quite terrifying. She had to be taking it herself, right? And if this was an advert for it, then I was suddenly extremely pleased that my infuriatingly laid-back GP had failed to prescribe it.
Meekly, so as not to wake the beast, I told her I just wanted a quote on how exercise improves mood. ‘You need to get yourself on HRT,’ she insisted. ‘If you don’t, your bones will crumble.’
This brought me up short, because in all the hoo-ha about whether or not my GP was treating me correctly, it had never crossed my mind that, underneath the outer body chaos of sweating and panicking and putting on weight, my skeleton might be atomising.
‘I’ve seen scans of women’s bones that are just horrific. Horrific!’ she went on. ‘I’ve seen women’s bones start crumbling a few weeks after going on the menopause. And once they crumble it’s too late! You can never get them back.’
‘But that means I already have brittle bones! Oh my god!’
And very much because I feared that I immediately needed to find some giant sheets of extra strong bubble wrap to encase myself in, I slammed the phone down.
When I gathered my senses, I realised I had a routine check at St George’s anyway. And when I turned up there a week later and the consultant agreed to order a bone scan I was delighted.
I spent the next few weeks as I waited for the scan creeping around because, obviously, the slightest knock might shatter me to pieces. When the day of the appointment came, I turned up bright and early at the rheumatology department and sat down carefully in the hard plastic chair in front of the radiologist.
He was a cheerful, geeky sort of fellow who ran through the obligatory questionnaire as if he were doing a virus check on a computer, reeling off the queries in a monotone voice like so many boring technicalities.
‘Are you afraid of falling over?’ he said, as if any answer would be obvious.
‘Well, I am now,’ I said. ‘I mean, since the Oxford professor told me my bones were crumbling.’
He looked at me strangely. I told him to forget it.
‘Do you smoke?’
‘No. Well, I have been known to have the odd one in a crisis.’
‘Oo, hardly anything. About ten…’
He looked even more put out. ‘I have to put it in days or weeks.’
‘Well, I don’t have a calculator.’
He did some scribbling on the notes. I think he may have written down that I smoke 0.027 cigarettes a day but this is quite wrong. If I go years without one then it’s nearer 0.0135.
In any case, he made me lie on a scanner bed and scanned me from head to foot.
As he called up the scans on the computer to check they had downloaded before he sent them to my GP, who would contact me three weeks later with the results, I couldn’t help it: ‘Look, please. I need to know now. Tell me if my bones look like they’ve fallen to bits.’
He raised his eyebrows and showed me to the door.
‘Please! Just give me a clue. The Oxford professor sounded so sure.’
‘Well,’ he said, as he opened the door and motioned me out, ‘maybe she was wrong.’