It started about a month ago with a regular cough and cold. Something that I've become accustomed too since choosing a career as a school teacher. The cold came and went but I was left with a hacking cough that refused to budge.
I decided, eventually, to get down the local clinic for a check-up. After a short inspection by the chest doctor, I was sent off for x-rays and blood tests. It all seemed a trifle unnecessary as I was only after some cough syrup.
Heading back the next morning, In a brief window between lessons, I waited impatiently for the doctor to become free.
Finally I was in and we small talked about how my Turkish was coming along and where his son should study in England before getting down to the diagnosis.
Picking up a piece of paper, and pausing to read... "there is no virus. Your blood is fine. Antibiotics are no good for you".
Great, I thought. Nothing serious then.
Like something from a movie, he slapped the x-ray into the clamps of the light box and switched it on with that familiar fluorescent flicker. Pausing only to read the Radiologists report, he studied the x-ray.
"One minute" he said, standing and leaving the room.
What the fuck is going on?
"Sorry, I just wanted to ask the Radiologist something".
"What did you ask?" I probed.
"Do you have any contacts at either of the University Hospitals?" OK, I'm not liking the way this conversation is going. I just want some cough syrup.
He continued ... "I don't like what I see here. This area" he said, circling a dark patch in my left lung "this is too big. It could be nothing, but it could be an indication of something else".
"What do you mean?" I asked calmly frantic.
"Maybe this is just how you are made. But it sometimes means there is another problem".
My heart was now racing. I was sweating.
"Mr Doctor (that's how you address a doctor in Turkey), you mean cancer?". This was not the time to fuck about with euphemisms.
"Yes" he said, also not wanting to fuck about with euphemisms.
Q: What's worse than finding a maggot in your apple?
A: Your doctor suspecting you might have lung cancer.
That small word was the start of something big. From the moment that word was released from his lips, I stopped listening to him. In fact, every word he said afterwards seemed a waste of breath and infuriated me.
Tears rolled down my cheeks while my mind flitted from one thought to the next. How could I have been so stupid? I'd always known the risks of smoking but ... how could I have been so stupid? Ignore it! Forget it! Pretend I never came to the doctors. It'll be fine. Cough syrup please!
I left the clinic in a zombie-like trance. I made it to the lesson on time, but it wouldn't have made any difference. I didn't care. I couldn't be bothered to shout at the kids. Yet they sensed something was different about me. They backed off.
I went through a number of decisions in my head. The first thought was that I wanted to have kids. I very quickly came to the realisation that, as much as I wanted them, I wanted them to have a father that was alive. It was too late for kids.
I thought about ways of dying. Perhaps finding a country that supported euthanasia and taking the easy route. Wouldn't that be better for my loved ones? Perhaps I should just take off around the world and die up a mountain somewhere? All these thoughts within an hour of hearing the news.
I decided I needed to at least take the next step towards finding out what was in my chest. I called a friend, an Oncologist at one of the university hospitals. I sent him the x-rays and waiting for the news. "95% sure it's fine but you might want to get a tomography to be 100% sure".
95% is good enough for me. Let's call it a day there.
I knew the right thing to do. It was the thing everyone was telling me to do. Learn the truth!
I called another friend at a local hospital and used his strings to jump the queue for a BT scan (I'm not really sure of the correct terminology but here it's called a 'Kontrastli Tomografi'). Basically, they inject something cool into your veins, run away and pass you through a big hoop thing that scans you.
Denied! I'd eaten too recently, so I had to go home for another night of staring at the ceiling, occasionally weeping and trying to distract myself with stuff that wasn't distracting me.
The next day, went to the chemist and bought the medicine that was to be pumped into my veins ...even the syringe. I love the Turkish health system. Bring a bottle.
Soon I was on my back and watching a man in scrubs artfully pierce my brachial artery with a spike not dissimilar in girth to a javelin.
The next 30 minutes passed slowly while I waited for the results. Not as slow, I might add, as it may have felt waiting the 5 days non-string-pullers would have to wait. The guilt of using connections and pulling strings is something that passes after a while of living in Turkey. This is the way life is here. If you've got a connection, use it. If not, someone else will. Those with no contacts need to find some or ...wait.
I got the all clear from the doctor. My lungs are fine. My heart is fine. The arteries are all fine. I wanted to kiss him. On the mouth.
So what's changed? I realise how shit can happen around every corner. I've got no time for stress, idiots or doing things I don't want to do. And, of course, I stopped smoking. Right there and then. Hearing the word 'cancer' from the mouth of a doctor looking at my lung x-rays was more than enough to put an end to that foolish behaviour.