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Letter from London: The Catheter Club

Photograph Source: HM Government – – OGL 3
Has the King of England joined the Catheter Club? The Catheter Club is my own construct for one of the many elements involved in the various possible medical procedures for an enlarg…

Photograph Source: HM Government – – OGL 3

Has the King of England joined the Catheter Club? The Catheter Club is my own construct for one of the many elements involved in the various possible medical procedures for an enlarged prostate — a club whose membership was extended not just by me a few years ago but also an old school friend living in Italy. With all this news of King Charles III and his pressing prostate problem, I was left wondering if the Admiral of the Fleet, Field Marshall and Marshal of the Royal Air Force had by dint of his condition also joined our distinguished members club. Though the tenure is thankfully often short, the experience can be a profound one. I wish no ill to anyone going through this and all it signifies. Nor is it restricted just to prostate problems. A good American friend who broke his hip joined briefly. Membership is for anyone who shares the unwelcome experience of a soft thin tube inserted through the so-called silent flute into the urinary bladder. Sometimes these devices can be left up there for an extended period of time, alas, though, in my case, thankfully, it was not in the end forever.

Seeing Donald Trump every day on the news feels like a re-run of a popular but contentious TV soap, with the added plot-line this time around of a vengeance that may know no bounds. I was thinking about candidate Trump while waiting for a short internal flight at one of the gates of an African airport recently. To see two dozen locals watching the large screen above their heads while waiting to board was fascinating. Some were literally covering their eyes, others sitting back and staring despairingly at the ceiling. It would not have been for the first time they had seen this footage. It was of all those Donald Trump supporters attacking the Capitol Building two months after Trump’s defeat. Unless Americans travel outside the US, they may have no idea of just how damaging the optics were at the time. The UK was in the same frame with Brexit. Notice how our very own Nigel Farage still keeps popping up today every time Trump attends a major rally. Farage reminds me of an oddly clean hand-puppet with the power to bring everyone down with his very own strangely self-belittling brand of nationalism. Or is he more of an early AI-generated image blind to the fact it is wide of the mark?

As a family, we were moving home when my own prostate problems began. This was in the middle of the pandemic and our landlords had decided rather uncharitably that they wanted their property back. I had been working as a volunteer on an ambitious Covid project and was exhausted anyway. (One well-known British newspaper recently ran a story on what landlords must do to survive. Well, ours simply didn’t return the deposit.) Meanwhile, I couldn’t pee. I was like a unmilkable goat in the Swiss Alps with a potentially exploding udder. My urethra was being so tightly squeezed by my enlarged prostate that only two days after moving into our present place I found myself in Accident and Emergency where I was swiftly made a member of the Catheter Club.

A friend of mine in full personal fury mode said to me last week he was deeply concerned about ‘the utterly laughable but very well-synchronised bullshit’ from European defence ministers. He was referring justifiably to all these reported fears of total war with Russia papering the news landscape. Was this some last-gasp attempt to wring euros or pennies out of an already impoverished continent for what my friend called ‘the Ukrainian kleptocracy’? One commentator even wondered if it was time to get the tins of baked beans in. Surely the risk of these things becoming self-fulfilling prophecies withy talk like this is of greater concern. ‘A disturbing undercurrent: the increasing number of politicians, academics and journalists pointing — with the dour enthusiasm of grave-diggers and undertakers — towards the loom of another world war,’ posted the inimitable CC O’Hanlon from Tangier last week, a perfect spot, as he said, from which to watch the West unravelling. ‘It’s as if they’re willing it into existence — the full flowering of a 21st-century Western death cult,’ he mirrored. Senior members of the government and military in a normally peaceable Sweden also warn of imminent war. Just as astrologers say Pluto entering Aquarius right now heralds deeply unprecedented times, German troops will soon be bolstering NATO’s eastern flank in Poland. Quite something when we consider it was their invasion of Poland in 1939 which began World War Two. While Estonia now builds bunkers along its Russian border, Poland has taken newly harvested delivery of 18 upgraded Leopard main battle tanks to join its currently operational 62 Leopard main battle tanks. The presently bulk-buying Polish Armed Forces are said to have over 292,000 active personnel. That is an astonishingly large number of people in uniform. No doubt everyone in NATO will be strutting about like spiky cavaliers as NATO launches the largest military exercise since the Cold War. A possible 90,000 troops can be expected to join Steadfast Defender 2024 which will run through May. This will include 50 ships — aircraft carriers, destroyers — as well as over 80 fighter jets, helicopters and drones, 1,100 combat vehicles — 133 tanks, 533 infantry fighting vehicles — while tensions on the other side will presumably resemble something close to a vast fuse box operated without a circuit breaker. Of course, some people think Trump at the end of the day will ramp down all this malevolent tautness and traction we are witnessing daily — will he even take the US out of NATO, some people even ask?

The King should be fine. I was sent home with my catheter still inside me for several months. This was while the NHS continued to struggle with the pandemic. Medical opinion at the same time was struggling with a diagnosis for me, other than to say it was an enlarged prostate. Catheter Club membership meant they could, in theory, leave me in medical limbo while they worked out what to do with me. Cancer had not even been ruled out. This last piece of information was delivered to me as if the horizon was being only mildly scanned for possible rain. Unusually for me, I have to say, I felt rotten. My natural optimism and appetite to sell life was sorely tested. Weeks later, I had a cystoscopy — the equivalent of a film crew sent up the figurative Suez Canal — after which I was given a brand new catheter, a fetching eggshell-blue one this time, which upon returning home immediately and catastrophically and most literally slipped out, leaving me holding onto the fireplace like British comedian Tommy Cooper feigning excruciating pain. Cooper, it may not be known the other side of the pond, died on stage to laughter as everyone thought he was joking. Only it was for me, also, all so very real. The inflated bubble at the neck of the bladder holding the catheter in place must have popped. At the hospital again, for a second time that day, I couldn’t see anyone, not a soul, as there was no one available. The hospital was broken like my now bagged catheter. Ambulances were still dropping Covid patient after Covid patient and I was left feeling like an extra in someone else’s death rattle. Or some kind of knocked-out Kafka in a maze of medical jargon and bureaucracy. But maybe my body had done me a favor by rejecting the catheter, I began thinking. I hated the thing anyway. Though not out of the woods, and in surprisingly good working order, I had resigned my membership of the Catheter Club forthwith and retired home to await further development.

When will this country stop discussing the obvious red herring which is the Rwanda plan, and address instead the overall issue of immigration — as it stings people so much — with fresh honesty, dignity, level-headedness, and less volatile language? The plan is for what will be no more than a couple of hundred people a year over the next five years. A couple of hundred. Meanwhile, we continue to rip ourselves apart over this. (77% of Conservative voters now support the plan compared with 20% of Labour voters.) For me, the clearest words expressed on the subject have come from a talented Brit who himself arrived here as a child refugee and is now one of our leading barristers — Hashi Mohamed complained on BBC’s Question Time about Sunak spending far too much time dealing with ‘the loonies in his party’. Mohamed said: ‘They’re attacking our judges. They’re attacking our rule of law. They are dividing a society. They are making us feel that refugees are scum and who are foreign. They refer to the European courts that we are a part of that have United Kingdom judges as foreign courts. It’s not only just disgusting, it’s unconscionable. The rhetoric is poison and we have to acknowledge that.’ Watching the 1980 film ‘Rude Boy’ featuring the late Joe Strummer and The Clash over the weekend reminded me of just how far we have not come, once we strip away the style.

Good news on the medical front for me was that it was not prostate cancer. King Charles was last week photographed in the back of a limousine staring out like a man not yet sure if he was cancer-free. The good news for him is that he has since been declared cancer-free. Prostate cancer is the second most diagnosed and fifth leading cause of death among men in the world, with over one and a half million recorded new prostate cancer cases each year. Globally there were 94 million recorded cases of enlarged prostates in 2019.

It has been so cold here in London I was obliged last week to accept I have an odd relationship with the cold. Imagining myself impervious to both very hot weather and extreme big chills, I realize I tend to romanticize these conditions to survive them. A possibly intrepid Scottish school with freezing cold fields was helped only by camaraderie. Even those ice-cold baths every morning after a long daily run before breakfast and I had even reached my teens smacked of fun to me. I couldn’t believe how cold New York was my first winter there — though the parties and relationships and art and movies and impossibly tall buildings forgave much. Travel into the extremes of North Africa and South Asia as a young man helped with the other side of the temperature spectrum. Presently, I walk London in a long black coat and hoodie, pretending everything hunky dory. I ache at the toxic politics but marvel at life itself. This is as an icy Arctic air continues to stab its way south, followed by a maddening succession of full-blown gales. It reflects this third world war everyone is rabbiting on about.

I still needed my prostate operation. There were so many delayed procedures. With whistleblowers, doctors, consultants and professors in a film I made, I had several years earlier complained about the covert privatization of the NHS. I felt like such a hypocrite suddenly fast-tracked by fate into a luxury hospital next to London Bridge. The TVs in each room had endless Arab channels as some patients arrived directly from the Gulf by private jet. Basically, our government had decided that to reduce the bottleneck — good phrase — they needed to pay for as many NHS patients as possible to receive treatment privately. (I won’t go into the vested interests of some of our parliamentarians and private medical companies.) My HoLEP — holmium laser enucleation of the prostate — procedure lasted an hour. I was out cold throughout and knew nothing of the laser surgery removing the blockage impeding my ‘flow’. I was even granted brief membership of the Catheter Club again, though only for one day. The rest of the time, in my rather grand private room, in suitably refined and thoughtful semi-darkness, I spent recuperating for free like a King.

This content originally appeared on and was authored by Peter Bach.

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