Nothing like a nasal potential difference test to teach a little patience

Patience and perspective come in handy in many professional situations. They’re also pretty useful qualities to have when a doctor is sticking a plastic wire up your nose while passing a tiny electric current through it to measure the transference of ions across your sinus cells. No, I don’t really know what that means either and no it’s not the latest thing the kids are all doing to get a buzz. It’s one of the tests required in the year long gene therapy trial for cystic fibrosis patients that I’m taking part in.

You have not experienced the true definition of the word ‘itch’ until you’ve had a run in with this little plastic tube. Often a current can’t be detected on the first attempt and so it’s necessary to sit through a few tries before the plastic wire is doing what it should do. After the third attempt I was getting rather impatient, especially as I was trying to type an email to my boss on my phone.

Tube in place, I sat for half an hour while conductor fluid was passed through it, with a charming dribble coming out the other nostril and into the bowl in front of me. I’m not telling you this for fun, but we must all do our bit for the greater advancement of science. It turns out my contribution was just a little snottier than  anticipated.

Point being, a bit of patience comes in handy at times like these and so, as I was soon reminded, does a bit of perspective.

A little later I was waiting to be seen by the doc and I could hear her talking to another patient in the next room. It became apparent that the patient was a male teenager, at a push I’d say 15 or 16. The doctor was discussing the possibility of a double lung transplant.

“I understand it’s not fair,” she said. “You’ve kept to your treatment so well. At the age where so many young people with CF aren’t taking their pills and having a teenage rebellion.” (I too, flirted with medical non-compliance as a teen and am none the the worse for it now). “You’ve done all the right things,” she continued. “Yet you’re still declining faster than we’d expect. If you continue like this I suspect we will be referring you for transplant in the next 18 months.”

A double lung transplant is a very high-risk operation, not to mention that approximately 50% of people die on the waiting list before they get the chance to have the op, due to severe organ donor shortage. Being a CF patient who’s not doing so well, it’s probably a talk he’s used to having. I don’t imagine that makes it any easier.

All teenagers think they’re invincible. It’s their job to be as irresponsible with their health as possible, isn’t that what youth is for? Being told, that despite your best efforts, you’re not going to live for more than a few years unless you get lucky must be soul-destroying.

I never had that as a teenager. I wasn’t admitted to hospital for the first time until I was 19. CF or not, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m also lucky that I get to receive that dose of perspective each time I come to hospital.

Thank goodness the worst that happened to me was a slightly uncomfortable encounter between my nose and a bit of plastic.

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