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15 July 2020

I spent a whole weekend pondering which was in a worse state, my blood or my memory?

I wonder if, on Monday, the doctor will tell me I am going on an Awfully Big Adventure, or that I am turning into a fly or something.  

By Nicholas Lezard

The surgery rang me up on Friday to give me the results of my blood test. Sort of. They said one set of results was “borderline” and the other was “abnormal”.

“Can you be more specific?”

“The doctor will call you on Monday.”

This is great, I thought. I have a whole weekend, and the rest of Friday, to dwell on this. Naturally, my mind drifts towards the grim, and the fanciful. I wonder if, on Monday, the doctor will tell me I am going on an Awfully Big Adventure, or that I am turning into a fly or something. Over the weekend I rewatch the Star Trek episode where they get really old really quickly. This is a terrible mistake.

The first sign of trouble is when Captain Kirk starts getting forgetful. This sends a chill right down my spine. The mistakes Kirk makes are just the kind of mistakes I’d make in his space shoes. A couple of hours earlier I had been having a conversation with the Estranged Wife about this and that. I’d been watching Staged, the very funny series about David Tennant and Michael Sheen trying, and failing, to rehearse for a production of Six Characters in Search of an Author using Zoom.

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“Did you see Extras?” I say. “I thought it was hilarious.”

“That Ricky Gervais thing? Isn’t it rather old?”

But it was called Extras, surely, I say to myself, and then the penny drops. Oh dear. The EW reminds me that she had talked about the show in a previous conversation a couple of days before. I scroll up. There it is. Staged.

So is this it? A sign that all is unravelling? I’d been listening to the cricket in the bath and had forgotten Jonathan Agnew’s name. Agnew, in case you didn’t know, is Test Match Special’s chief commentator, and in normal summers I listen to his voice more than anyone else’s. I kept thinking of Christopher Martin-Jenkins, even though I knew he died seven years ago. Forgetting Agnew’s name is like forgetting the names of my children. You know, Thing, Thingummy and Whathisname.

More brain-fade: I send a friend a link to a fine piece of writing by the novelist Linda Grant, and add that she once put a character with my surname in one of her novels.

“You told me that story before,” says the friend. (In my defence, she has a freakishly good memory.)

There are a few other instances. Is this dementia, or an example of the brain fog that people seem to be suffering after having recovered from Covid-19? Or just stress? “Warning of serious brain disorders in people with mild coronavirus symptoms,” runs a headline in the Guardian. Meanwhile, I have the weekend to think about my diagnosis. Well, I’ve had a good run, considering.

The doctor calls, as promised, on Monday. (My surgery in Brighton really is very good, and when they give you a time for an appointment, they stick to it.) A Scottish woman. I find this reassuring. I am also calm, ready to face my ending.

“Well, your red blood cells are a little swollen,” she says. “Your liver function’s a little off.”

I have a feeling I know what’s coming up.

“How much do you drink?”

I tell her. The truth, as it happens. And: “but I have been cutting down lately”. I add that I have been drinking a bit more since lockdown. I do not tell her I have been wildly disregarding government health guidelines on drinking since the second year of Margaret Thatcher’s first administration, ie for nearly 40 years.

“Yes, we’ve been seeing that quite a lot,” she says. What, no lecture? No sharp intake of breath? No hellfire sermon from a daughter of the manse?

“Your urea and vitamin B12 levels are fine,” she says, and I think of what I said last week about how my Numark Vitamin B Complex pills had put, temporarily, lead in my pencil, so to speak. My friend S— had been right: it was the placebo effect.

“Anyway, these symptoms are non-threatening and reversible,” says the doctor. I ask where I can get a test for Covid-19 antibodies and I am told that, basically, I can’t, as they’re reserved for front-line workers. “And,” she adds, “they’re not completely accurate anyway.” I make a disparaging remark about the government’s handling of the crisis, and she laughs in bitter agreement, before bidding me good day.

It is, I have to say, something of an anti-climax. There was I thinking I was on my way to meet my maker. And I still have no idea whether I have had this disease or not, and I will probably never find out. Never mind, I say to myself. I think I shall relax and soothe my nerves by watching some old Star Treks on Netflix. What’s that one where they get really old really quickly? I haven’t seen it in decades. 

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This article appears in the 15 Jul 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Race for the vaccine