They’re about the size of a marrowfat pea, a centimetre apart, and they’re on the back of my son’s neck, just below his hairline.
I’m not worried about them, but his Mum is. Beside herself, in fact.
Our relationship works like this: when one of us panics, the other gets all stoical, logical and calm, and vice versa. And my wife went into panic mode after discovering these little growths under our seven year-olds skin during bathtime on Saturday night.
‘They’re just cysts or swollen glands, or nodes, or something,’ I tried to reassure her. ‘Nothing to worry about. They’ll be gone in a week.’
‘But he’s already had them a week,’ she said. ‘Can you get them check out? For me.’
Being a typical man, I was determined not to go to the doctor’s surgery. The last time I went there they asked me how many units I drank a week. When I told the truth, the doctor blanched and then gave me a lecture. I’m too old to be told how to live my life, so I nodded a lot and vowed never to go again, unless my leg was hanging off.
But with your kids, it’s different. You’ve got to go, you know, to be on the safe side, because, as a parent, you’d never forgive yourself if something terrible was wrong with your kid that could have been prevented if it wasn’t for your own stubborn middle-agedness.
Still, I was determined to avoid the visit at all costs, and so turned to Google, and then to Twitter, where I got lots of reassurance (thanks all) and no horror stories.
‘I still want you to get him checked out,’ my wife insisted.
So I asked my son’s head teacher, who referred me to the school nurse, who said: ‘Go and see your GP.’
FFS! Can nobody take a decision around here?
And thus, at 5pm on Tuesday evening, I took our seven year-old, accompanied by his little brother (their big sister is away on a school trip this week) and, to be fair, was seen pretty darned quickly by a very pleasant, very friendly, very young – and, ultimately – very unknowledgable female GP who had graduated from doctor college two weeks earlier.
Over the next 10 minutes, she did everything by what I imagine is the GP’s book: took my son’s temperature; made him say ‘Aaah’; looked in his ears; stethescoped his heartbeat; asked him questions;; and even weighed and measured him.
Thorough. That’s good.
When she finally got round to prodding the lumps, I thought we’d be out within a minute.
Any pain? No.
Any fever? No.
Any sign of infection? No.
Any problems with eating? No (aside from the fact his favourite food is leeks!!)
Any slump in energy? No, unfortunately.
He was as right as rain in a drought.
‘So what’s the problem?’ I asked.
‘I’m not sure,’ she replied. ‘I need to get one of my colleagues in for a second opinion.’
At this point, I guess I should have started to worry, but I just felt irritated.
I knew there was nothing wrong with him. I KNOW there IS nothing wrong with him. And I wholeheartedly expected the £50k-plus GP to agree. But no.
So we waited. And waited. And waited for her colleague to finish with another patient who was far more likely to be suffering from something far more sinister than a couple of pea-sized lumps in their neck.
Now, 40 minutes in the company of a stranger with two frustrated lads in a room that must have been 80 degrees hot can feel quite awkward.
The doctor tried to make smalltalk with my sons, but all they could say was: ‘It’s so hot in here. When are we leaving?’
So, like an over-qualified hairdresser, I stepped into the inane breach.
‘Finally got a bit of sunshine, eh? I can’t believe it’s rained so much. Where are you from originally?’
On and on. I was boring myself with the questions, let alone the answers.
The conversation perked up a little when she told me she’d had her iPhone nicked from her handbag in a fancy shop in Covent Garden, which led to a few minutes of ‘What’s the world coming to’ type convo. But by and large, it was very obvious to us both than I didn’t to be there, and she wanted me there even less.
Eventually, her colleague arrived – this time a man, not much older than my son – who proceeded to do precisely the same tests his colleague had just done, before declaring: ‘I’m not sure what it is.’
‘You must have some idea,’ I suggested. ‘What about swollen glands, or nodes.’
‘Glands are the same as nodes,’ he said. ‘I think.’ Then turned to his colleague, ‘Aren’t they?’
She just smiled.
The sweltering room grew hotter with a tense silence as we all wondered who was going to speak next.
Yes, it was me.
‘So, are they dangerous? Should I be worried?’ I asked. ‘More to the point, what shall I tell his mother?’
‘To be honest,’ said the more senior junior. ‘I think we should just keep an eye on them for a week or so and if they haven’t gone by then, come back.’
‘And then what?’
‘We’ll do more tests.’
I’m in the wrong job.