CAUTION: Contains Extra Swearing. I was also in some pain writing parts of this so it may contain extra grumpiness.
It's incredibly important that this blog is a true and accurate representation of events. It's written with hindsight and the passage of time can become muddled with memory but what happened is real and true, and I wish it wasn't. I have PT Barnum tendencies when it comes to ending a post on cliffhangers but I believe it to be true - the incredible pain I was in was the disease killing me. We never got a satisfactory answer to this pain which I endured to varying degrees for 59 days, but by piecing facts together this is what we believe to have happened....
Sometime around 2009 something went wrong at a cellular level in my appendix, and like a terrible, terrible flower, a poisonous mass slowly began to grow from it. Over time it bloomed and flourished. In the warm home of my abdomen it slowly spread its tentacles far and wide, filling the spaces so readily available while I enjoyed a happy life. During so many positive times it was there, spreading, sinking its teeth into my organs. My bowel, my prostate, my ureter, my peritoneum, my omentum. On November 23rd 2013 a tipping point was reached. A section of my bowel had been strangled to death, and my appendix finally gave way after so many years of anchoring this thing. My appendix was exploding in slow motion.
I knew none of this at the time. I was curled into a ball in bed, holding back tears of pain, panicking. What I do know looking back is this: the next few days took something from me that I don't know if I can get back. Something gave mentally and I allowed Cancer to break my spirit for a while. I'm not quite sure if the person I was will fully come back.
Ethan had a birthday party to go to and my detonating appendix wasn't going to stop it. But first he brought Daddy some paracetamol, to help him feel better. My heart simultaneously burst with pride and broke. In between spasms of pain across my abdomen, all I could think was - it's his third birthday party tomorrow. Kerry stayed calm and took him to his party. My father in law took me to A & E in my Batman pyjamas. My last words to Kerry before she left were - 'whatever happens, his birthday party goes ahead'.
I was wheeled into hospital looking somewhat the worse for wear and was seen immediately by a triage nurse who got every crumb of necessary info in 60 seconds flat and at the word 'Chemotherapy' had my whisked into isolation faster than a speeding bullet. I'm certain that the entire hospital could have been run by ten of her alone. Now, if you'd told me the day before I'd have spent my Saturday afternoon with my Father In Law in a side room of an obstetrics and gynaecology ward while I writhed in pain on a trolley I'd have called you a big fat fibber. But there I was, and there he was, powerless while I attempted to conceal my shrieking discomfort. Sorry, Paul. I wasn't on my A game that day. At one point I was hit by a wave of agony so strong I think I said some very bad words and possibly cried liked a baby. The pain can only be described thusly; imagine an extremely large, hairy, burly man punching a hole in your lower right hand abdomen and squeezing with all he's got. Then twisting. It was worse than that. Paul fetched a nurse who swiftly produced a vial of special stuff - liquid paracetamol. Within 5 minutes of it being hooked up to my IV I was back in the land of the living. When the nurse returned she nodded sagely, said 'better than morphine, that', then disappeared.
Now I'd stopped shrieking I could be taken for an X-Ray to see if my Chestburster was due to hatch. Out of hours there seemed to be four main types of patient;
1) Slightly overweight men over 30 who should know better but still indulge in team sports at the weekend.
2) Slightly overweight builders with a chuckling colleague reading the Mirror.
3) Children who may or may not have swallowed the batteries out of the Wiimote.
4) Confused pensioners.
While waiting my turn I witnessed a pretty astonishing sight - a young gentleman insisting he would 'walk off' a suspected ruptured spleen. Based on his gait, speed and screaming I suspected this was an ambitious goal, but he set off all the same. I saw no sign of him as I headed back to my bay. I wished him all the luck in the world - looked like he needed it.
Shortly after my return to a ward full of pregnant women (stop judging me, it's my body!) a Doctor arrived to inform me that aside from 'all the cancer' the only thing they could see was a backlog of poo. 'That'll come Monday', I said, with the sort of certainty that comes with experience. By this time it was evening and we were none the wiser, other than a big old dump would be most helpful and liquid paracetamol was my friend. I was stable and moved to an Oncology Ward. They'd given me a side room, I think, much more by luck than anything. I'm a little ashamed to admit that I was relieved not to be in a room with loads of other Cancer patients. Actually, change that, I was being an arrogant prick - I'm incredibly ashamed.
The only negative was the lack of toilet. The nearest loo was 20m away and I knew judgement day was coming. Before long I found my Terminator. It was a slight woman in her late forties. If I needed to go a spell would be cast and she'd suddenly begin shuffling towards the privy. Because of where her room was she ALWAYS had a head start. But two things made it infuriating;
1) She'd bloody well smirk when she saw me. SMIRK!
2) She was lugging around her piss in a bag - the toilet trip wasn't even urgent, she had a decent buffer!
To this day I do not know who cast the curse of the laughing piss bag lady, but she haunts my days and my nights, with her shit eating grin and unstoppable, unforgettable slipper shuffle.
I got my meagre belongings together and let things overwhelm me. This was getting to me more often now, like a war of attrition. But what really caused me to snap was having to accept one heartbreaking fact. I wouldn't be there for Ethan's birthday party. The anger overwhelmed me.
Fuck you, Cancer. For doing this to me. For bringing me to my knees. For ruining plans. For destroying families. For being so God-damn unremitting. But most of all, fuck you for taking me out of such a special day in my little boy's life. I just wanted to make it to this one day and celebrate with him after he'd done so much for me.
It may self-pitying, it may be mawkish, and it may be inaccurate, but it's how I felt. I told you how I felt a letdown (and for some reason a very vocal number of you have become frustrated with me for having what I like to call 'feelings and opinions'), but this was the worst thing that could have happened. So many people would be at this day we'd planned, but not his Daddy. I'd failed. Yet again. How many more times would I fail?
Fortunately I have friends and family who would not fail Ethan. I'm so incredibly grateful to everyone who carries on regardless to give him the special day he deserved - you all know who you are and I just cannot thank you enough.
This was the first event really get me down. But there was also the constant stabbing. My arms continue to operate with the absence of veins. When it comes to take blood or stick a cannula in the conversation is always the same and they never believe me. I try not to get too grumpy. But that night an anaesthetist with an ultrasound tried 11 times before striking gold in the exact same place I'd told them to try first. My arms were covered in blood and my bed sheets were ruined - I'd just had enough. It hurt and I was tired and I didn't have much blood as it was. I just wanted to be left alone.
Handily, that's kind of what happened, because the Doctors didn't quite know what to do with me. There was a vague diagnosis of a gut infection based on the vague nature of my bloods and the way my pain came and went in waves. For the most part I was comfortable and the IV antibiotics and liquid paracetamol did their job. The only real pain came after three or four days when I discovered two alarming facts about NHS peas. That's right, peas. PEAS!
1) They are made out of a military grade carbon fibre polymer.
2) They transform my anus into a military grade pea shooter.
The little blighters are genuinely indigestible. The day following an indeterminate meal featuring what wouldn't necessarily pass as peas in a court of law I rushed to the loo (sorry, back there again), deftly bypassing wee bag lady. I then proceeded to rapidly discharge individual peas whole, at a rate that threatened to shatter the porcelain. It was a fun game and quite satisfying, to know my bowels were able to sift through what legally counted as food and rapidly eject what didn't. The faecal ball pit that lay in the toilet bowl was also a sight to behold. It's the little things that make the difference when staying at the pleasure of the NHS.
Sadly, not everyone on the ward could be so frivolous. I was in a side room on the Oncology ward next to another side room at the end of the corridor. They were pretty secluded but on two occasions I saw the same story play out. The sort of story no-one wants to see. Across 24 hours the doorway opposite would fill with family members who crowded to shared hallway. There would be whispers, hurried telephone calls in hushed tones. Activity would build to a crescendo and then become very still. A few hours later a nurse would close my door and pull the not-wide-enough curtain across as a bed would be wheeled out holding a body. The reality hit home. The individual stories of these people who had rushed to be with their loved ones in their final hours. The love and care that poured from their every action. But more than anything else, the grace of the departure.
I just wanted to be home.
Nine days after being admitted, I got my wish. There was still a question mark over what had happened and district nurses were due to see me for the next few days to administer antibiotics, but I could go home. A diluted version of the pain still came in waves but it was manageable. I was sure I'd cope at home but I also had this Holy Grail of an appointment in Basingstoke that Friday and I had to get there, I had to hope they would help me. So I went home to hug my little boy and tell my wife how much I missed her.
What followed was a living nightmare and a race against the cancer which had begun to resist the chemotherapy that had served me so well for 6 months. I would have to be stronger than before when my strength was waning. It was not a Merry Christmas or a Happy New Year.
COMING SOON: Chapter 14 - The Marathon to Surgery, December 2nd to January 19th.
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