Maximum fitness for the trip isn’t just about all that gym time. I’ve also been getting myself thoroughly checked over by various medics. Quite apart from generalised worry this involved two big terrors. Would there be enough cash for everything and, most of all, could I face the dentist?
First the eyes. I don’t have good vision and I knew my prescription had slipped a bit. I’ve been wearing varifocals for 10 years, and I knew I would want spares. I had built new glasses into my budget, which turned out to be just as well. I am now happily wearing one of my four new pairs. Two plain ones and two dark.
One piece of advice was to buy one pair polarised and one unpolarised. Apparently, polarisation cuts out the shadows which help you to see irregularities and changes in white surfaces. Now that might be valuable. Look again at Jean de Pomereau’s wonderful pictures of icebergs, and think of standing on watch worrying about growlers.
I’ve never been one for snow-sports; I think sliding down hill fast on two thin bits of wood is unnecessarily dangerous and scary. So I did some further research online and discovered this point is controversial among skiers. One of those pairs of tinted glasses is not polarised and the comparison will be very interesting when the time comes.
Next up: hearing. Specsavers, the high street chain where I bought my glasses have given me good service for years. So I trotted along for their free hearing test. I’d been a bit worried my radio seemed to be turned up higher and my friends seem to be mumbling. Ouch: she told me I did need a hearing aid, it could be done very fast but it would cost over £1400. I sat in her wee room mumbling obscenities and went away to do some sums.
A friend called in a favour with a colleague and I got another test in the high tech audiology lab at one of the universities in Cardiff. There I was told my hearing was ‘very peculiar’ but good enough for the trip and it wasn’t worth all that money. Go to your GP, he said, and see about NHS hearing aids when you get back. In the meantime, get the wax out. All that was duly done, including that horrible syringe/washing of the insides of your ears which always gives me the heebie-jeebies.
The GP held a tuning fork against my skull and pronounced my hearing ‘rather strange’, but not in immediate need of mechanical assistance. So I am referred for a hearing test but don’t face that big bill. Phew.
I am terrified of dentists. I’ve had a life-time of treatment, some of it appalling. And here it is next to impossible to find an NHS dentist; everyone is in some form of treatment plan but you have to be ‘dentally fit’ first. The last time I saw a dentist was some emergency work in New Zealand three years ago, in common with my general practice of only exposing my mouth to drills when I am in too much pain for over the counter medication. To go near one, I would need to screw my courage to the sticking place.
Some friends recommended their dentist, Nicola Taafe at West Grove. What a lovely practice: very gentle and respective of oral cowards. She checked me over, hummed and haahed and pronounced that I need two fillings, two new crowns and a tooth out. It took four visits and a four-figure sum to deal with it all, and rather a lot of undignified squeaking, wincing and whinging. I’m very pleased to say that it is now all done.
Being new to Wales there are also other checks to be done. My smear was overdue. Off I go and after a certain amount of wincing and bleeding, the nurse declares it done. Within a week the result comes back, showing all is normal.
In the meantime though, the nurse rings me, somewhat embarrassed. Somewhere along the line my uterus-free status, following a hysterectomy ten years ago, has been recorded and the testing people don’t believe I am still the proud owner of a cervix. The nurse has seen it, she assures them, and I told her it was there. But I must go back and have her look at it again.
The same day as the nurse reaches me, I see the #smearforsmear campaign on Twitter, encouraging women to get the scans done. I don't wear lipstick but I retweet it, commenting I have to go back again. I am touched by the friends who hastily contacted me to make sure I was fine. Sorry for startling you and thanks for your concern. (The cervix in the pic isn't mine but from a model who is supporting the campaign. That's what the nurse saw!)
Finally, my GP decided a diabetes test would be a good move. Here, you give the blood and wait two weeks for the results. I worried about this one. Could I learn to manage type 2 diabetes in time for the trip? What would it do to my insurance? Would they (the doctors, the ship) even let me go? I discussed it with health-type friends who pointed out that my weight is going in the right direction, I’m taking lots of exercise and I only had one symptom. Hooray: I am not diabetic, which is an enormous relief.
I can hardly claim to be in peak athletic condition. I have lost 10% of my body weight in the last four months and I am a lot stronger and fitter, but I am still heavier than I should be and not as supple as I would like. But I, and my wallet, are trimmer than we were.. Sometimes I wonder if I am doing all this for the trip, or the voyage is way of goading myself back to fitness. Then a friend sends me some of her glorious pictures of (Arctic) icebergs or I see tweets of fluffy penguin chicks. And I watch this fantastic video of Europa going to Antarctica and the taste of adventure fills me up again.