Don's diary: Under the knife and over the moon

December 19, 2003

For the first time in two years I have a proper family holiday - one not tagged on to an overseas academic conference. While coming down a giant water slide with my two youngest children, I experience a funny sensation in my throat. For the next few weeks I experience a slight discomfort. A few weeks later, I see my GP but he can't feel anything and says it is most likely "trauma" from the water-slide incident.

I visit my GP again and ask to be referred to a throat consultant. Reluctantly, he does this but says it will "take months" for an appointment to come through.

Returning from a short family trip, I discover we've been burgled. My laptop computer, entire DVD collection, cameras and camcorder are all stolen, along with passports, driving licences, bank and credit cards. I spend the next few days worrying that we are going to be the victims of identity theft.

At last, something good. I receive an email saying I've won the 2003 International Research Excellence Award for "outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling". I am on cloud nine. However, the ceremony is on September 22 in Toronto, and I haven't got a passport.

On my way to the annual British Psychological Society's "Social Psychology Conference", I go to the passport office. Following a payment of more than £70, they guarantee to get the replacement to me within a week. I am a little concerned that my details are taken down in a scrawl that I can't read, but the passport official assures me it's OK.

A week later my passport has not arrived. It turns out they sent it to the wrong address. I am livid. However, the passport office admits liability and guarantees a next-day replacement. Thankfully it arrives.

Late September
I go to Toronto to collect my award. I have a lovely few days and can hardly believe that I am here at all, given the events of the previous week. On my return, there's a letter from the hospital saying I have an appointment about my throat next week because of a cancellation.

Within five seconds of sitting down, the consultant locates my lump and tells me quite matter-of-factly that there is a 50-50 chance that I have a lymphoma. I am dumb-founded. Next step: a computerised tomography scan.

On the day of my scan, the double-decker bus I'm sitting on crashes into a taxi. I bang my head badly and my glasses are completely smashed. I can't see a thing without them and I have no spare pair. My scan goes OK, but the iodine injection makes me feel woozy (or is that the after-effect of the crash?).

After an unbearable two-week wait the lump is identified, but results remain inconclusive. The report does say that there doesn't appear to be any "aggressive underlying pathology", so I feel a little relieved.

The lump is getting bigger and causing me a lot of discomfort.

Surgery is the only option. Despite being told all the possible risks (irreparable facial nerve damage, chipped teeth, ripped oesophagus, excessive bleeding and infection), it goes well, and two weeks later the biopsy results show there is no cancer, although I may have a form of toxiplasma. More tests are needed, but hopefully I'm on the road to recovery.

Mark Griffiths is professor of gambling studies, psychology division, Nottingham Trent University.

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