Too Upbeat for Cancer - Detailing A Rubbish Year And A Bit

Chapter 17 - Critical Care


It may never have happened to you but there’s a strange sensation sometimes when the outside world seeps into your subconscious as you sleep – songs on the radio; noises your partner makes; birdsong. For what seemed like an eternity I was vaguely aware of beeps around me. Hands gently moving me. Discomfort in my throat. A general bustling. Apparently I kept trying to wake up at the sound of Kerry’s voice at my bedside, they kept having to drug me again.

Then, suddenly, rudely, as if being dragged to the surface of a lake I’d been submerged in, I was pulled back to consciousness. It was 24 hours later. My worst nightmare was happening – I had a tube the size of a Siberian oil pipeline down my throat helping me breathe. The doctor beside me tried to introduce himself but I just frantically pointed at my throat like the village idiot in a pantomime, desperately trying not to panic. He told me it needed to stay in a while longer. I flapped the other arm, attempting flight. He relented.

The ocean of anaesthesia meant I calmly observed my new circumstance. But there was only one real thought. I’m alive. I’ve done the hard bit. I’m still here.

I was naive.

My first question was ‘did it work?’ The response was what I’d been waiting for. The surgery was successful. To me, not much else mattered.

I was in a moderately sized room full of monitors, a window to my left displaying a gloomy and wet Tuesday morning. In front of me was the sort of big slanted desk architects and artists used. My nurses used an enormous sheet of paper to record everything on an hourly basis. I couldn’t really turn right – I had a jumble of tubes streaming from my collar bone, jangling. I had no pain but I ached terribly and felt winded.

My nose was sore – I had a tube going up my right nostril and down my throat. It scratched and frightened me. The tape sticking it to my nose was uncomfortable. I hated it immediately. I wasn’t really aware of much else. I could feel something stuck to my tummy, could see three tubes snaking out from my abdomen. Moving further down things were strapped to both legs. On my feet were these weird Velcro boots that puffed up and down with air every 15 seconds or so. To round off what would make a really crap fancy dress outfit was a blood pressure cuff and a thing on my finger taking my pulse. I was hot, tired and relieved. I wanted Kerry to know I was OK.

After about an hour she was allowed in. She may have looked drained but seeing her again was pretty much the most beautiful sight I’d seen since she walked down the aisle on our wedding day. For reasons I’ll never understand she was pulling a face like I’d been causing mischief. She told me how widespread the tumour had been and that it weighed 6kg. I found this both impressive and hilarious. She told me there had been a lot of involvement from a urological perspective. I took a moment to confirm my meat and two veg were intact. They were but a tube came out of there. I tried not to think about it.

My consultants dropped by to check on me and fill out some detail but shielded me from the grim reality of how desperate my situation had been. The urologist who hacked away chunks of my bladder, prostate and ureter came and said hi. I was rather dazed, and also surprised to find I could move a bit, adjust my body a few inches round the bed.

I slept a great deal that day. I think I deserved it. Kerry sat beside me, chatting away, crocheting at the speed of light. The tube down my throat made me parched and sore, so I didn’t really speak. I was given little sponge lolly pops on sticks to soak in water and suck. I named the tube (an NG- nasogastric tube) ‘Corden’ because it was insufferable and I wanted it to go away forever.

You know the first day at school or a new job is nerve-wracking but really you do bugger all, right? And then day two you realise it isn’t all introductions and tours and forms and you have to get to work? Same with surgery.

First things first, let the world know I’m OK, and draw some strength from the kindness of my Facebook friends – look at this handsome devil, fresh off the table.


Next up, a bit of drainage. My stomach hadn’t been used for about 80 hours now but the bile and acid didn’t know that. Something weird lurked in my guts. Out came a large syringe which they attached to my NG tube and pulled on. Alarmingly, about a litre of greeny-black pond water came up my throat, down my nose and into the syringe. It stank and was rather alarming. I produced about a litre of this stuff every few hours for 2 weeks. It was an odd mixture of satisfaction and body horror. Instead of eating I got a carrier bag of milk containing all the necessary nutrients for life hooked up to one of my tubes in my neck. It smelt of dog food.

I now did my poo out of a hole in my tummy into a bag. Because I was only digesting liquid the bag would inflate with the same pond water and need emptying a few times a day. It’s called a stoma and I’ll be talking about that bloody thing a great deal more.

My dressings and my stoma bag needed changing daily, but I was too tired and nervous to look other than at the top few inches of my surgery wound, which was a fairly neat, bloody zipper with decidedly industrial looking staples at regular intervals. It was sore but the main pain was the sticky dressings tearing all the hairs off my body.

Along with the bag emptying, dressing changing and blood pressure taking came the physiotherapy. The bastards don’t let you rest. Three times a day they saunter in to torture you in the name of not letting you get pneumonia or some bollocks. So I wiggled my legs and did breathing exercises into a breathalyser with a smiley face. It was tiring. Everything was tiring. But through it all I had Kerry beside me, churning out baby blankets and chatting away.

I continued to sleep and had an alarmingly detailed dream about the Justice League of America while I had a blood transfusion. The nurses were delighted by my progress and I found I could shuffle myself about in bed with very little pain to the point where they decided to detach my self-administered morphine pump. I was the Man of Steel and after three days of care and constant monitoring the medical team decided I could go back to the main ward to recover. Things were on track and I was delighted to see the back of the Critical Care Unit and be on the road to recovery.

Oh, but I forget. This is me. Three days later they were rushing me back for a much longer stay.

Coming Soon: Chapter 18 – Big Brother Is Watching

Big Brother Is Watching »

comments powered by Disqus