The optician's letter - "it is two years since..." - had been gathering dust for some time. When I finally got round to making an appointment he suspected high blood pressure and advised a trip to the doctor. The doctor recommended a visit to the Leicester Royal Infirmary for some tests.
This morning I receive a call at work: the infirmary can do the tests today if I am free. The LRI is across the road from my office, so I hope I can catch the 4pm train to London, where I am expecting to attend an evening reception at the United States embassy. The registrar says the tests will take four to five days. "Can I come back tomorrow?" I ask. "Preferably not," is the response. "I've left the car outside, can I retrieve my briefcase?" is my next question, but the reply stuns me. "You are free to act as you wish, Professor Davies, but as you are in imminent danger of a stroke, I would prefer you to sit down." I do so. Am attached to blood pressure machine and given drugs. Ros brings my marking, plus book on hypertension. I read, take notes, and regret the lack of embassy champagne and canapes.
In search of causes of malignant hypertension: EKG, EEG, sonar scan of kidneys, pee into bottles for 96 hours, repeat blood tests (veins cower in the inner depths of my arm, arms flower multicoloured bruises), X-ray.
It is exam time at the hospital too, and I am visited by medical students. I become relatively skilled at indicating what they are looking for. Registrar not keen on my pile of marking, does not want me upset - advises me to concentrate on good dissertations. Colleagues turn up and generously volunteer to take over the exam marking.
Consultant's rounds. Confirms that malignant hypertension is blood pressure at levels that are life-threatening - usually affecting individuals with a family history of "ordinary" high blood pressure. Origin probably genetic. Consultant confirms the value of the treatment (daily drugs) in returning people to normal life expectancy. I had not noticed any symptoms. Headaches (we all work under pressure). Shortness of breath (I am overweight), deteriorating eyesight (I had not noticed anything special). Some sources rather melodramatically call malignant hypertension "the silent killer".
Receive British Academy letter supporting my conference paper at this year's American Political Science Association conference in Atlanta. Write to accept. Start planning final draft of paper. Finish dissertation marking. Allowed to resume peeing into toilet bowl. Drugs dose increased.
Released. We plan our first summer holiday in three years - to the United States, with only brief side trips to academic sites. And in the mail there is an invitation to a reception at the US embassy. I phone to say I expect to be there.
Philip John Davies is chair, British Association for American Studies
and professor of American studies, De Montfort University, Leicester.