Although the leaflet I'd been provided with a few weeks prior had warned of possible demonstrations, when we arrived at the place it was all quiet.
The clinic had asked me to arrive any time between 9am-11am for my procedure and, as the digital clock showed 9.01am on its display, my mum coasted her car into a nearby parking space, switched off the engine and left me to walk in. We had spoken briefly beforehand about how things would go on the day and, whilst I had needed to be joined by someone on the way to the place, I preferred to enter the clinic by myself.
Opening the car door I gathered up my bag and appointment card, stiffly kissed my mum goodbye and walked to the clinic's large entrance door. Just inside the entrance was located the reception desk and, after a quick check-in process, was advised by the receptionist to take a seat in the main waiting room and I would be called by a nurse when they were ready to see me.
Clocking the directional sign for the waiting room, I found myself tripping down a brightly lit hall, its walls busy with posters, leaflets and bar charts. Although I dont recall feeling nervous at this point I do remember, on stepping in to the waiting room, that my palms had turned moist. Quickly rubbing my hands on my sides, I furtively took a chair right at the back of the room, grabbed a magazine and sat down. The room was relatively large with three long desks at its front with the balance made up of chairs arranged in rows. As I fiddled a bit with the magazine I became aware of voices coming from the hall and, after a couple of seconds, two nurses appeared in the room loaded down with bags and files.
Catching the eye of one I quickly nodded hello and returned back to a bit of magazine fiddling whilst they plonked their files on the desks and busied about emptying their bags which contained numerous packets of biscuits and brightly coloured juice drinks. By the time they finished unpacking all three desks were covered in food, drink, plastic cups and plates, reminding me of birthday parties I went to as a nipper.
"You alright love?" I heard one of them call as I put the magazine to one side. Having lost my ability to read, I chatted with the nurse instead.
"Yes, thanks," I responded, "did you need me to fill in any further forms?"
"No you're fine" replied the nurse as she moved away from the food and began hooking up a TV attached to the wall. "What do you prefer? 1 or 3?"
"Sorry?" I replied, whilst clocking the other nurse who'd begun shaking her head from side to side in a weary fashion.
"She means - `BBC' or `ITV' dontcha?" grumbled the head shaking nurse, whilst the TV hooking nurse tutted.
"Erm, BBC" I quickly replied. However, ten minutes of viewing time later, I realised that it didnt matter what was on the box since I'd also lost my TV watching skills. Resigning myself to being incapable of doing anything whilst waiting to be called in, I took to staring vacantly at a slightly chipped floor tile in front of me. Whilst fidgeting a bit in my chair.
Ten minutes in and I'd been joined in the waiting room by six or seven other ladies who all, like me, had seemed rather puzzled at the unexplained bounty of food on the desks. Each woman had also, like me, picked up a magazine but this was obviously a room for the ill-educated as it wasn't long before the lure of the floor tiles had grabbed each and every one whilst an unfeasibly tanned David Dickinson cackled from the TV into the waiting room.
"Ok ladies, if I could get your attention just for a couple of minutes," announced one of the nurses. "There is no scheduled list of appointments at the clinic and you will be seen by order of the time you checked in with the receptionist this morning. Therefore, if London-Lass could first come up and take a seat at the desks? Thank you."
Feeling jolted by this announcement, but also immensely relieved, I picked up my bag and quickly walked over to the desk.
"Take a seat love" advised the nurse as I pulled out a chair and sat down.
"Ok, now there's nothing to worry about. I'm going to just ask you a coupla quick questions and, once they're done, you can pop in next door to see Dr Gapna. He is very experienced in this field and has worked at the clinic for 12 years. Ok my love?" the nurse clucked at me whilst opening up one of the files.
"Yep, sounds fine." I said whilst trying not to stare at the disturbing amount of biscuits on the desks.
"So, first things first. Did you come alone this morning? And, if you did, would you like us to arrange transport back afterwards?" the nurse enquired, whilst finding her pen.
"No, I was taken here by my mum. She's waiting for me outside." I replied.
"Good, so that's taken care off, " the nurse answered whilst ticking off something on a sheet of paper.
"Do you feel that you've been given sufficient advice by this clinic before coming here today?" the nurse carried on.
"Yes thank you" I stiffly replied.
"Fine, and one more question for you" the nurse continued, "are you still happy to have the procedure this morning?"
"Yes," I quickly said.
"Great," smiled the nurse, as she gathered up my file and gestured me to follow her in to the room next door.
Pushing her way through a door marked "Surgical" I followed her inside and found myself face to face with Dr Gapna in a small room with a long table, desk and chair, and a large bin marked `Hazardous Waste'.
"Morning doctor, this is London-Lass," announced the nurse as she handed over my file. "She is ready for her procedure."
"Thank you nurse," the doctor replied whilst opening up my file, and briefly scanning my notes. "So, I see you're roughly eight weeks. I also note from the ultrascan that there is a good chance of a successful procedure today. Most ladies who see us in the early weeks do not `show' clearly in the ultrascan whereas I can see from your slides two very distinct masses."
"OK" I replied, unsure whether to feel complimented that I had grown such clear bunches of cells.
"No, no, this is a good thing, my love" the nurse chimed in, whilst taking my file from the doctor, and ushering me over to the table. "That means you wont need to make a return visit. Anyway, if you wouldnt mind sorting yourself out (as if you're going to have a smear) ... remove your bottom clothes ... and, once you're done, if you can pop yourself up on this table here and Dr Gapna will be with you in a tic."
So, after drawing some curtains around the table, the nurse disappeared and left me to undress. Quite clearly the ability to read and watch TV had also taken with them any skills in undressing, since it wasnt long before I had become tangled up on my own clothing and it was only through pulling, tugging and ripping things apart that I was finally able to hoik off my clothes and leave them in a messy pile next to the table. Lifting myself up using its wheels I hitched myself up on to the table (that had been covered only moments earlier with numerous sheets and cloths), lay down and waited.
Shortly afterwards both Dr Gapna and the nurse came through the curtains and began fiddling with surgical tools and bowls. The nurse quietly switched on a small portable radio and, as an Aussie bird began singing a Top 10 tune, Dr Gapna rolled himself towards me on a small chair with wheels, whilst strapping on his head what looked like to be a pair of welding goggles.
As all this was going on the nurse switched on this wee mini-lamp thing that had been sitting just to the side of the table and placed it just in front of my nether regions.
"So if you could just hitch your legs up as you would for a smear" requested Dr Gapna whilst producing a small tube of clear ointment. "That's perfect. Now this is your local anaesthetizing gel - I'm just going to apply this here a couple of minutes before going ahead with the procedure. It's going to feel a little cold but this will only be temporary as the gel is a numbing agent."
At this point the gel was applied and, whilst it was pretty surreal to feel one's parts turn into a mini ice lolly, the sensation was brief and a couple of minutes later the doctor began to adjust his chair, the light, his goggles and handed the nurse a bowl. Firing up a small machine that sat on the other side of the table, Dr Gapna explained that he would now stimulate the cervix to contract (much like at menstruation). Every woman was different but two or three artificial contractions was generally enough for the procedure to be carried out.
"Ok, now if you could just relax a bit, that's it," instructed Dr Gapna whilst carefully inserting the machine's nozzle right up where the sun dont shine.
And, he was right. The procedure itself was quick - you couldnt deny that. However, what I hadnt realised was that, whilst I had been advised it would be uncomfortable and certainly not an experience you would want to revisit in a hurry, the procedure was rather painfully `jabby' and not something which one can really prepare for unless, I guess, you've had one before. It was at the third contraction that the procedure was finished and as the nurse took away the bowl, switched off the machine and generally started clearing things up, that I realised what song had been playing the whole way through the operation - Big Mistake, by Natalie Imbruglia.
(which I should hasten to add, I did not take as a commentary on what had just taken place but rather on the events that had led up to me having to go to the clinic in the first place - you can read more on that delightful episode here)
Anyway, relieved that the whole thing was over, I made as if to hop off the trolley, only to be quickly advised to commence resting by the nurse.
"Goodness me, you've just had a surgical procedure, rest a bit lamb, before you go hopping about the place!" she berated me with a smile.
But I was happy, Ms Imbruglia had stopped singing, and all I wanted to do was get up, get out and never see the place again. Even the swift injection afterwards in my right buttock (a necessity due to my blood type) wasnt enough to dampen my humour and, after letting me rest for a few minutes more, the nurse reluctantly let me get up and dressed, whilst advising me to have a sit down in the waiting room and have as many biccies and juice drink I could manage.
Never one to say `no' to a Custard Cream, I happily stepped back in to the waiting room, the weight of the world off my shoulders, and contentedly scanned the loaded down desks crammed with biscuits and multicoloured juices - only to find, much to my dismay, that my appetite hadn't immediately returned. However, I still managed to cram in two Hob-Nobs and a Garibaldi if only so they'd see me eat and let me go.
"London-Lass?" a nurse queried, whilst I filled up my cup with some purple-looking soda.
"Yes," I replied, biscuit crumbs wobbling on my relieved and happy chin.
"If you could sit down with your drink over there you can leave the clinic (if you're feeling OK to do so) after ten minutes. Is that OK?" the nurse asked, whilst tidying up some biscuits I'd disturbed in my haste.
"Sure" I said whilst returning back to the very same seat I'd sat in a few moments earlier.
The waiting room had, by now, filled up quite quickly and I couldnt help but notice a few distressed looking souls dotted amongst the ones who looked (I imagined) like me when I'd arrived earlier - quiet, pale and blinky/starey.
The TV was no longer belting out auction type shenanigans but had been flicked over to a cookery show wherein someone was creating a very plump and very pretty apple and blackberry pie. Beginning to feel my appetite return, I happily downed my purple fizzy drink and was just about to return to the desks at the front to grab another handful of biscuits, when a sharp stabby voice sliced through my contentment.
"I can only be here for a coupla minutes - I work just round the corner," screeched a woman to one of the nurses. She was wearing a pair of paint splattered dungarees and looked very restless.
"Everyone is being seen in the order they checked in so I am afraid you will to wait your turn," the nurse responded whilst guiding the woman to take the last seat in the waiting room.
"Yeh, all right," responded the dungaree-clad wearer. And it was at this point that I noticed someone else leave the surgical room with the aid of a nurse. The woman sitting to my right vacated her seat and allowed the pale relic of a woman to be gently seated by the nurse.
"Cor, Christ!" said Ms Dungaree, "I dont want to come out looking like that. I want to come out looking like her."
Her pointy fingers were jabbing in my direction and I realised that, whilst I'd been sitting there with a big bright smile on my face, juice stains and biscuit cream on my lips, a lot of others in that room were probably not going to end up sharing in (or really wanting to witness) the same tangled mix of relief and happiness that I'd just been wallowing in and, so, with the agreement of the nurse at the desk, I quickly got my bag, left the room and hurtled out of the clinic towards my mum's waiting car.