Sick notes; A hernia isn't only an old man's ailment, as Linda Bolton f ound

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Indy Lifestyle Online
It started with a low stomach ache on Sunday night which was still there the following morning. Travelling to work, I touched the aching area and felt a dull pain as my fingers pressed a lump. A quick look revealed a soft swelling, about 4cm by 1cm, running along the diagonal line of my knicker elastic. My immediate thought was that I had an advanced tumour on the groin; I was relieved that evening to be told by my GP that she suspected a hernia, and that I should be examined immediately by a consultant.

A hernia must come second only to piles in terms of glamourlessness. And hernias are comic: people ask you how you feel with a look of exaggerated concern, to prevent an outbreak of sniggering. It's the association of strain manifesting itself in the nether regions that we find so funny. "I thought only old men got hernias," one colleague said.

Through the secret hernia club of which I'm now a member, I know all about them. I've been approached by men at parties who tell me they want to talk to me. And I know by the raised eyebrow and knowing look that they want to talk hernia. It's what people with similar complaints do.

And what a lot of us there are. Over the past three weeks, I've found four friends who have them. Three are men, around 40, and one is an old schoolfriend who has just had twins. I also have a gay colleague who hasn't got one himself but who caused one when his 25-year-old boyfriend picked him up - literally.

How did we get our hernias? Apart from the new mother, we don't know. We imagine we must have lifted something heavy, or strained to push something, but none of us can remember the actual incident.

What exactly is a hernia? According to the hospital leaflet, it usually presents itself as a lump, commonly in the groin or umbilical region, and appears when a portion of the tissue that lines the abdominal cavity breaks through to a weakened area of the abdominal wall. This can cause discomfort as the hernia enlarges. None of us in the secret hernia club, however, has suffered much pain.

After a day or so, my hernia no longer hurt: the lump eased itself back from whence it came. But I was advised at the hospital that the only permanent remedy was surgical repair. The lump can pop back out as easily as it disappeared, and if a piece of intestine becomes trapped in the break in tissue it can become trapped (strangulated is the term the medics use) and dangerous.

"If you cancel this operation," a doctor friend told me, "chances are you'll be on holiday, sneeze as you stash your case, and out it will come, only this time it'll be bigger. The gut will get trapped. You won't be near a hospital giving emergency treatment for a strangulated hernia and it'll be colostomy or curtains." So eventually I found myself in hospital, having the gap in tissue sewn up and reinforced with nylon mesh, this being the preventative treatment.

That was 10 weeks ago. I can now add that after a day of soreness, a week of tenderness, a fortnight of no driving and a month of lifting nothing heavier than a handbag, I feel fine. I can run and move with complete ease, though my horizontal scar is still slightly tender. And I know my hernia will never resurface in uncongenial surroundings.

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