As we’re driving to the clinic at which I’m to undergo a medical procedure, my wife, seemingly sensing my unease, asks if I’m OK, and reassuringly pats the back of my hand. I tell her I’m fine, for she erroneously assumes that my silence is born of the forthcoming procedure, not of social phobia. Perhaps oddly, my wife doesn’t know the full extent of the anxiety I experience. For all intents and purposes, I have kept it somewhat of a secret from her. Admittedly, shame does play a role, however, I have found that keeping it a secret sometimes helps me to live more effectively.

Truth be told, I haven’t given much thought to the operation over the preceding weeks, but now that we’re in the car, social phobia has reared its ugly head. My mind is awash with thoughts such as, ‘What if I’m late?,’ ‘What if I can’t find the place?,’ ‘What if there’s a really pretty girl behind the desk, or somebody chatty?,’ ‘What if I need the toilet?,’ ‘What if the waiting room is full, or somebody strikes up a conversation with me?,’ ‘What if the medication adversely affects me, and I panic, and end-up looking stupid?’ ad infinitum.

As usual, when I finally arrive, I ostensibly deal with these fears reasonably well. I did get lost, and had to go and ask somebody the way, but my fear of being late was more pressing than my fear of approaching somebody for directions. Thankfully, the waiting room is all but empty. Another fear immediately arose, however, as the receptionist handed me a paper form to fill in. Off we go again: “My writing’s a mess;’ ‘I can’t spell some of these medical conditions;’ ‘They’ll think I’m stupid’ etc. etc.. After handing the form back, I silently berate myself for not having had the foresight to anticipate the completion of paperwork. In my defense, though, I had already answered all of those questions during two telephone consultations. Naturally, whilst beating myself up, I keep an ear out for the receptionist tutting, or sighing – or perhaps even commenting to her colleague – about my poor English.

Next, a really chatty patient walks in, and then sits next to me. I tense up, and pretend to the read the book I’ve brought with me. I say pretend, because I was unable to read it properly due to being hyper-aware. Fortunately, he doesn’t say a word to me, and neither does anybody else. Finally, I’m called – 25 minutes late. This really shits me. They had told me that the procedure would start at 09:00, and that it was imperative I arrived at 08:30 for a consultation. The time? 08:55!

The consultation was going well until, as we were walking to the gurney, the physician politely asks me what I do for a living. I pause, considering a lie, then tell him that I’m currently unemployed  (which I am). Just when I think I’ve dodged the bullet, he asks what I did previously, and I sheepishly tell him.

I was then walked into the ‘theatre’ and introduced to the team, a morbidly obese nurse, and a male anesthetist  in a flannelette shirt and jeans (at the risk of sounding racist, I was expecting an Indian in ‘blues’). I take in the room around me, and conclude that it essentially looks like an office kitchen with a bed and some medical equipment in it. I lay down and the anesthetist inserts a cannula into my hand. There’s a picture of a bowl of fruit on the wall facing the bed. I’m then told to roll onto my side; as I do so a tube is put in my mouth, which makes it hard to swallow. I feel the anesthetic cruising the vain in my arm, and start to feel woozy. A moment of panic grips me. Just before lights out the surgeon grabs hold of the side of the bed with one hand, and a trolley with the other, and starts doing some tricep dips. My last thoughts are of death, pondering to myself that should I not recover from this then what a weird fucking image to go out to.

Aksenty Ivanovich Poprishchin.