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Ah, the bitter quirks of the big ‘C’: it’s not just the squatter in your body, but its uncanny proclivity for nomadic tendencies. Yes, metastatic ocular melanoma has an infamous soft spot for liver residences, but it’s not shy about venturing to the lungs or the bones on a whim.

The Multi-Disciplinary Team, or the MDT, as we seasoned cancer sufferers refer to them, decided it was time to grab a detailed snapshot of the full extent of my internal invasions. So, I found myself heading to Stoke-on-Trent Hospital for a CT scan.

Arriving is a cakewalk. On the other hand, finding a parking spot in the labyrinthine lot is a test of will. It’s as if the architect of the entrance had an eternal grudge against modern vehicles. What awaits you is a blind navigation through a narrow corridor with tires squealing against curbs you can’t actually see. Aesthetics over function, you think, looking at the large, adjacent green space adorned with shrubs that sadly double as refuse heaps for the discarded Costa cups, fag buts and other detritus of daily life.

The real challenge, though, is snagging a parking spot. It’s a mad, circling dance of vehicles – reminiscent of a shoal of sharks swimming in slow, menacing circles around a likely victim, so a steady stream of cars circle looking to pounce on a rare empty parking space or lurk next to a space that looks as though it may soon become vacant.

You really need to budget an extra twenty minutes just for the parking circus or – like me – abandon your car in an improvised, unmarked space that could house a small frigate.

Accompanying me, as always, was Helen, unflinchingly ready to plunge headfirst into the murky depths of every diagnosis, treatment, and medical term. We descended into the basement, chasing signs towards ‘Nuclear Medicine’ – a fabulous term that always rings of Star Trek-esque tech and high-level espionage to me.

As is tradition, the waiting room was a mosaic of bright blue, metal-framed chairs. One can’t help but speculate about the shadowy deals and hushed negotiations that birthed such a consistently lucrative contract. I bet if I followed the money, I’d find one of Boris Johnston’s cronies with their grubby little fingerprints on it somewhere.

After a short stint in the waiting room, a jovial nurse called me forward. I’m using the term ‘nurse’ liberally here – hospital uniform colour codes designed to designate the wearer’s role are still a mystery to me.

I was in for a CT scan with contrast. The contrast, a dye made from iodine serves as a sort of internal highlighter for the radiologist’s discerning eye. This first required a canular insertion and another ‘sharp scratch’ so they could inject the dye into my veins. Once the preliminaries were out of the way, I was shepherded into the CT machine room, which seemed almost inviting compared to the MRI’s claustrophobic confines.

“Don’t I need to change into one of those gowns that let my arse hang out the back?” I inquired of the nurse. “Well, you can if you like”, she replied cheerily, “but there’s really no need.”

Still fully clothed, I took my place on the sliding bed, ready for my turn in the doughnut – a far cry from the MRI’s dissonant symphony. This one just whirls around in circles with a quiet hum. With my arms placed uncomfortably behind my head, the immanent injection of contrast dye was announced by a voice on the speaker.

The same voice instructed me to hold my breath as the injection started. ‘Weird’ was the only description provided of what the contrast injection might feel like. ‘Weird’, however, can be deceptive – it covers a spectrum from people who like brussel sprouts to Helen’s oddball culinary combo of strawberry jam on cheese sandwiches. Yet, ‘weird’ didn’t begin to cover it.

Initially, I felt nothing. Then, a sensation snuck up on me – a warmth radiating from my arm as if I were a human radiator filled with hot water. It meandered to my chest, manifesting as a sort of dusty breath, urging a cough out of me. It was a slight, subtle weird. I stifled the cough, as keeping still was preeminent here.

Then came the grand weird: a sudden heat engulfing my undercarriage. My family jewels were under attack. A strange pyrotechnic show with my gonads as the main act. It was good that they were out of commission, having been disconnected many years ago, considering the volcanic heat radiating from them. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was actually quite enjoying the feeling or if it was deeply unsettling. However, the heatwave was fleeting, and as it ebbed, I breathed out in relief. Uninstructed, but under the circumstances, very necessary.

It was time for the last challenge of the day – exiting the carpark. In theory, it’s a piece of cake, just like eating a Victoria sponge. In reality? It was more like trying to manoeuvre your way through soup with a fork.

The absurdly narrow entrance now began to make an inkling of sense, designed to slow me down enough for an ANPR camera to get a snapshot of my number plate. That was a puzzle piece put in its place, but there were plenty more to fit.

Next was the towering parking payment machine, a solar-powered monstrosity about as tall as a giraffe’s neck and with just about as much usability. An explosion of buttons and slots across its face gave it a somewhat intimidating look, like an off-duty Dalek.

You start by pressing the bulbous green button labelled with a ‘1’. So far, so good. But then, it wants you to input your car’s full registration number. My memory can rival a forgetful goldfish on a good day, so a quick check of the photo on my phone was necessary. But then came the task of actually entering the damned number.

The enormous payment machine had all the critical parts positioned about three feet from the ground, necessitating a yoga-like forward bend to squint at the tiny registration input pad. It then hit me – the keyboard layout was alien, neither QWERTY nor simple alphabetic arrangement. A brain teaser of the worst kind: an alien keypad designed by a dyslexic gnome with a cruel sense of humour.

After what felt like an eternity, I finally unearthed the elusive letter ‘L’ I was searching for. I half expected to hear a drum roll. Having cracked the enigma, I was asked to fork out a king’s ransom for my car’s temporary tenancy. I’m almost certain cancer patients get free parking, but finding any information on this was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Fumbling with my credit card, I tried to tap the contactless reader – awkwardly placed around knee level.

The machine took an age to process the payment, long enough to have you doubting if the whole procedure was just a practical joke. Eventually, a ticket was spat out towards my feet as if it was designed for a hobbit. Retrieving it felt like a dangerous game of limbo, threatening to bring a painful twinge to my back. On the plus side, though, A&E was just around the corner.

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