I ended up in Milpark Hospital the other weekend, just after Madiba. Al and I had returned from a wedding in Cape Town and the mild stomach pain I’d had for two weeks became unbearable.

I was admitted and waited for an hour while the nurse’s phone kept ringing. I had to pee into what looked like the champagne flute I’d drank out of the night before. This was for a pregnancy test, an automatic precaution for all women of remotely child-bearing age.

Finally the doctor was available. By this stage I was faint with the smell of disinfectant. I’m not good in hospitals. Visiting sick and dying relatives when you’re a kid does not engender a positive attitude towards clinical atmospheres. He touched my stomach and I screamed in agony.

Doctor: “You have an inflammation of the stomach lining, most likely an ulcer.”

Me: “Oh.”

Doctor: “What on earth have you been doing?”

Me: “Uh, I’m not sure.”

Doctor: “Do you smoke?”

Me: “Not really.”

Doctor: “Do you drink?”

Me: “Whisky.”

Doctor: “Half a bottle a day?”

Me: “Um, no. That was my grandmother.”

Doctor: “Hmm… Do you drink a lot of coffee?”

Me: “If 5 cups a day is a lot.”

Doctor: “Do you drink it on an empty stomach”

Me: “Yes. It’s breakfast.”

Doctor (shaking his head at my obvious stupidity): “Well, that will do it.”

Me: “Oh. Now what?”

Doctor: “Medication for two months. And no alcohol, no caffeine, no spicy food for a month.”

Me: “Really?”

Doctor (sighing in exasperation): “Yes, really.”

Next thing I had a drip in my hand pumping some wonderful opiate into my bloodstream. As I was flying upwards into the air duct on a wavy dizzy high, the husband helped me into a hospital gown so they could take x-rays of my stomach.

The whole experience took four hours and has put me off hospitals for at least another twenty years. I got a fright though. I take my body for granted and have subjected it to flagrant abuse over many years. My grandfather died of stomach cancer when he was 50. So I’m not messing around and ignoring the doctor.

That said, giving up coffee is sheer bloody hell.

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