I must have been about 20, sitting at a table at uni having dinner. Deep in conversation, I couldn’t help noticing that the guy sitting at right angles to me was getting increasingly distracted. His eye contact faltered as he kept stealing glances at the table. Were my table manners that bad? Was I holding my knife all wrong? Of course not. I finally realised what he was looking at as he asked:
‘What’s that thing on your wrist?’
It’s a difficult to describe scar which dates from the week I was born. And, to date, he’s the only person who’s ever asked me about it. The scar’s not that noticeable and is often covered anyway. I can’t say I’ve ever been particularly conscious of it as it did help save my life and is part of who I am.
To give the ‘thing’ its correct name – it’s the leftover marks of an arteriovenous fistula created at Hammersmith Hospital in my first few days of life, in 1968. The fistula was a connection between the artery and vein in my wrist – a technique apparently developed in the Bronx only two years before – to allow for dialysis of adult renal patients. Or in my case as a premature baby, to get more oxygen into my bloodstream while my lungs were underdeveloped. Thinking of the doctors carrying out such an intricate procedure on a tiny premature baby is still mind-blowing.
The scar means that I have fun when anyone tries to find a pulse, their initial confidence inevitably giving way to a defeated shrug.
I wonder how many middle-aged men and women there are walking around with an arteriovenous fistula scar on their wrists, a reminder of a revolutionary medical procedure of its day.