I was spat out onto the hard busy London streets of Hammersmith from the gender clinic. International jets flew low overhead with a sheering grinding and people interweaved the pavements, bus stops and each other. I felt a little confused and enlightened. A contradiction of thoughts from a condensed chat of my entire life; it was hard to come to a conclusion how my session had gone.
The streets of London are sowed with parking meters that need to be fed or my car moved before going for my statutory blood test ordered by the clinician. A means to ensure that I’m healthy and have no issues and to even figure out where my own natural hormone levels sit. I’d asked when I was in that room whether my previous blood test that had been done at my local hospital which was intended to be done for when I finally did get to the London gender clinic, but it was no use to them. With all the delays in actually getting there, some fourteen months later, they were too old. It’s always good to know that there is nothing seriously wrong with my health.
Charing Cross hospital is just a short walk from the gender clinic and from the new parking spot for my car which ensured there would be no plastic yellow greeting from the boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham. I put an hour in the machine, five minutes to get there, I calculated, five minutes to find the blood test clinic and five minutes to get back to the car. The rest of the parking time would make sure I wouldn’t think about the car and the remaining time on the pay and display ticket.
The hospital entrance flowed with people in and out. The foyer dressed with placards that supposedly allowed visitors to decode where they need to go. It meant nothing to me. I approached the large bay window of the office in the centre of the entrance that presented itself as more of a shield for its occupants against the world and voices. “Could you tell me where I need to go for blood tests please?”
“Down to the west wing – ” she pointed, “up to level one and follow the red line.” It was one of those places. Follow the directions rather than the signage.
The hospital has a facade both in its outer shell and its lining of corridors of something from Carry On Matron in style and how I imagined it would have smelt if I had been on-set during filming in the seventies but that Hattie Jaques or Sid James would unlikely make an appearance and the only thing left from the seventies was this husk of a building that represented a different era. There was a hint of modernisation here and there as I climbed the stairs but any superior modern medical equipment was probably buried away in operating theatres and specialised treatment rooms. I would see nothing but the worn and threadbare overworked brick machine.
I finally found the corridors leading to the blood testing room. As I approached the end of the corridor a red reeling ticket machine came into focus clinging to the wall as hard as it could as it dispensed ticket after ticket every hour of everyday. I pulled a ticket – “20”. A low number, ‘that seems good’ I remember thinking. The corridor flowed to my right lined end to end with plastic chairs with nearly every single one engaged. A whiteboard offered some hope with a smudged update that read ‘Blood tests, approximate time to wait, 5 or 6 minutes.’ It seemed genuinely accurate given the near precise “5 or 6” but my hope was dashed a little when I glanced at the ceiling at the far end to see a digital readout for ticket number ’00’.
I took the final available seat right in the centre of a long row of seats lining the one side of the corridor right next to the ticket number display. The busy corridor of seated people consisted of all ages of a multicultural group of Londoners. I could safely come to the conclusion I had easily travelled the further of everyone waiting for a blood test or two give I had travelled about one hundred and forty miles and I could surmise I would probably be one of these few with the most viles that would need to be filled. My poorly photocopied blood test slip that was filled in with a typical black ball point with my details, the clinic – gender and a pair of old-school gender icons with a penned X sitting ironically next to the shield and sword arrow pointing two o’clock. Amongst all the usual health tests were requests for the more obscure tests that most patients in the corridor would probably never have – Oestradiol and Prolactin, Testosterone and Sex Hormone Binding Globulin, but more interesting, for me was the addition of Vitamin D. The happy vitamin. May be that will tell more than some of the others.
I thought about my appointment I had just had at the clinic down the road. I thought about the reality of it all. While it was helpful it was also like a formality. A time for someone to say, well it’s your choice what you do next, come back next year and let us know what you want. It wasn’t as simplistic as that of course and obviously didn’t have the depth of introspection as the months on months of psychotherapy with a psychologist, but then that’s not what it was about and sometimes all that is needed is a seemingly simple answer. It was open and free in many ways – in a controlled way through forms and note taking. It’s funny but I had more time and a clearer head to think while I waited for my blood test than when I was at the gender clinic. At the appointment it was repeating my life to another clinician just at another place and little time to think straight in a clear and concise way. Talking about life to someone left little room for conclusions.
The blood test room, which was through the double doors opposite while I waited, showed a few curtains and one person sat on the patient chair who had earlier had an issue with blood or possibly the needle but who was ‘alright now’. No one had taken responsibility to pull the curtain for him in this room of multiple blood test chairs despite a sign hanging on the curtains instructed staff about privacy. Outside in the corridor were shabby walls with chunks of missing plasterboard and chipped doorways where a hand-wash dispenser hung and didn’t negate the lack of funding. I remember thinking at the time I wish I had private health care.
The other patients waiting looked drained. They all waited with perseverance but they also looked like the last thing they needed was an hour wait for a simple blood test. I may have travelled across the country and my problems might run deep but these people looked like their problems were more immediate. Periodically painting layer upon layer of paint on these ageing walls were a way to try and cover the daily struggle of this hospital until another trolley bed smashes another chunk out of the wall and ever decreasing funding stretches the waiting chairs in the corridor ever further into the next.
Ticket nineteen filled me with joy. Joy that I didn’t have to run out of the hospital and renew the ticket on my car or that my trip to London would end with having to drive straight back. Just one more number to go. When I was finally called in I was seen by two nurses. The experienced one who took my bloods and the other who watched while she was told how many viles this test would take. I never watch. I let them get on with it but it felt different to the needle at my local GP. It physically hurt. “Is it ok?” the nurse asked in her eastern european accent.
“It’s a bit stingy.”
“Stingy?” she said as if it were a huge surprise. I couldn’t help but think with the huge amount of blood tests waiting in the corridor that either she would know by now that some blood tests do feel a bit stingy or that she would have perfected it enough by now that it wouldn’t be stingy. “It went straight in.” she continued.
She looked at the blood test form and asked me to confirm my address. “Where is that?” she asked, “Is it far?” I explained where Wales was and she was stunned by the time it took. “and what are you doing after this?”
“I’ll probably make my way home.” I don’t know why I said that. I hadn’t planned on going straight home. I had planned on taking the tube into the city and have a wander to clear my head so the day wouldn’t be too serious. I think at that point I didn’t feel I had to the energy and was stuck in a mood of confusion and too much to think on.
I stumbled out into the street from the hospital with a ball of cottonwool half stuck to my arm with a little strip of medical tape that quickly folded over itself when it caught on my hoody sleeve. I jumped in the car, pulled the ticket from the dash which had miraculously expired on the minute and headed out of Hammersmith. I came to a junction, left for home, right for the city. I headed for home – via the city.
Until next time