In a rare departure from normal services, in which this your Humble Writer pontificates on the questionable merits of reinterpretations of the Old Masters, waxes lyrical on our travels or peregrinations in general, shares epicurean delights in the form of a useful recipe or two, I thought I’d tell you what happened to me this month, well from most of November 2016 to even date.
On the afternoon of 5th November, 2016, my brain, or some parts of it, ceased to operate at 100% efficiency – simple and as suddenly as that!
The initial reaction was that it was a Transient ischemic attack (TIA) or Mini stroke in which a clot interrupts the flow of blood to the brain. Having recently completed my Level Two First Aid examination (St John) and had started the process of preparation for the Third Level, (and having had ample experience of ANC politicians in their various guises – I am no stranger to bloody clots) I realised that a TIA was fortunately not on the cards, but was wisely warned by a family member to get myself checked out in any event.
Despite parental suspicions, voiced many moons ago about the the efficacy of my grey matter, as well as sundry misgivings voiced by teachers etc on the questionable presence of the aforementioned contents of the skull, caused me to try to harness whatever I’d been blessed with in an attempt to at least appear normal.
This took on a different form on the evening of the 5th November. It is difficult to accurately describe the symptoms, because they were so nebulous. There was no pain, there was no dramatic fit or collapsing, no explosion or leakage of brain fluid… It was as if a switch had been switched off to prevent my articulation of speech many speech patterns from access to words that I KNEW were in my brain. Ambulance personnel were asking me questions about the date, my name, to which hospital I was at and I was only able to answer my name, but I could not for the life of me enunciate the word ‘November’. I knew it was Guy Fawkes, I knew it was the month before Christmas, but the word ‘November’ would come to my lips. Later, as the doctors and personnel continued with more pointed questioning, I was able to able (after some time) communicate that I NOT been rendered complete mute, tongue-tied, incapacitated, rendered, or completely mentally challenged; but that selected areas of speech/recall and speech patterns had been affected.
In terms of logistics, the Ambulance personnel took me to the North Shore Hospital – when I arrived at about 10pm on the evening of the 5th November. After the fist battery of tests, namely EEC ECG, CT Scan and all the associated blood work, my ever growing file of data was transferred at about midday the next day (6th November), to the Auckland City Hospital – specifically the Neurosurgery Wing for more tests, presumably in line with my condition and the facilities available in Auckland cantral. The initial prognosis had revealed an anomaly in the brain in the form of matter requiring additional attention.
Dawn on the 7th of November saw me being scrutinised, prodded, poked, discussed and planned over by a veritable platoon of medical personnel, as they surrounded my bed. From the ward nurses, other medical admin people, duty doctors, registrars, the list seemed endless. My report, medication, plan and other details were discussed in clipped, concise efficient details among those present. I felt more privileged and cared for than I have have ever felt in a hospital. After they moved on to the next patient, the Senior Neurosurgeon Registrar detached himself from the group and give me a personal update.
He advised that, in a rare aligning of circumstances, I was to be scheduled for biopsy that very day. This meant that I would be sent to operating theater for this purpose. He further described that a plug in my skull would be opened up to facilitate the biopsy equipment from making 13 or 14 incisions. The results of these biopsies would reveal the cause of my problem.
On a personal level, I have to tell you that, although I was trying to manfully take some of this information in, I was not really digesting it. My long-suffering wife who’d been present since the early hours, was left to find places in waiting rooms to well, to wait; receive the explanations from the medical folks, and the interminable worry, wondering whether our last conversation we’d had on Guy Fawkes’ evening was to be the last coherent, or indeed possibly even the final exchange before I was to meet my Maker. Whenever I surfaced to consciousness, Ilona had been there at my bed side, smiling and her encouraging smile that lit up my heart.
After the biopsy operation, I spent some 3 hours in recovery. I just remember that my face and head were in some discomfort, and a nurse who’d been assigned to me was most diligent in her efforts to extract information from me about my name, age and where we were. I want to tell her that, even the Geneva Convention had a clause or two, to prevent unscrupulous interrogators from abusing their power. However she ignored me and warmed to her task.
I believe that the discomfort was a result of apparatus that had to anchor my skull – to enable the surgeons to open up the back of my head, to perform the removal of tissue samples for the biopsy.
After the operation, Mrs Chip’s advised that had now joined the ranks of the modern goth set, with my inscribed, perforated and modified and bejeweled (well, accesorised) cranium. In time for the festive season, the medical bods had set me up with about 13 staples on which to hang a variety of tinsel, baubles, fairy lights etc. while I wandered around the hospital. Fortunately sanity prevailed and, before about too many days, I was able to have the hardware removed and a semblance of normality restored.
For the next two days I was allowed out of bed and permitted to promenade the corridors. Mercifully, Ilona was there too and we sat watching the to’ing and fro’ing of the harbour craft, or alternatively sat in a small neargy lounge watching some mindless television. Occasionally I’d feel tired and we’d both return to my bed and we’d both sleep fitfully, Ilona leaning on the bed and I lying on the bed.
Fortunately, Ilona’s employers had given her time to be with me – for which we have been most grateful. Ilona’s task had been Herculean. After her return from hospital in the evening, she had to keep the house going, attend to any work duties, the colossal amount of mails from family, friends and well-meaning folks and others from prayer groups etc. On one occasion, Ilona said she arrived from the hospital, only to take her shoes off and collapse into bed until the next morning.
On the date of my discharge, it was left to an oncology coordinator, Jane, to deliver the unpleasant news of the prognosis:
There is a malignant tumour of about 3.0 to about 3.5 cm existing in my temporal lobe in my brain.
It is an astrocymota tumour and is classified as a Grade Four glioma, this particular tumor is the most aggressive of the variants. I guess, untreated, the tumour would then spread and result in the shut-down of the brain and the loss of life. Treatment is planned to hopefully arrest the development of the tumour and in so doing, prolong life for as long and where possible to improve the quality of life – but there is presently on cure, and nothing is certain.
In my case, and at this time, there is no probability of surgery to remove the offending matter so, unless some WORKABLE alternative presents itself, soon. I shall be embarking a program of steroids to reduce of the swelling, followed by Chemo Therapy as well as a course of Radiation Therapy.
Regarding the steroids, I have had been on the steroids since hospitalization, to slow the growth of the tumour itself, as well as to stabilise the turmor for when the chemo/radiation. In addition, they act as as reducing agents for the swelling of the surrounding brain tissue.
Naturally (pun intended if), I have received is a veritable armada of remedies, solutions, treatments and cures. I am studying as much as I can – but with the finite time remaining. I have to be careful which solutions yield the most likely results. I have no intention of passing some up a possible cure, simply because it was a ‘alternative’, or derived by a herb. Some of them are highly scientific, some employ alternative theories, are others are inappropriate for my particular cancer, while others are simply crackpot theories with little or at best anecdotal value; some are simply are home remedies.
In the months and weeks to follow, I may send some writing on that.
In the mean time, here’s a link of the targeted radion treament that programme.
Of course, then there’s a heap of side effects – and no one can tell me whether each symptom is brought on from the tumour or the steroids or combination: – none of which I’d rather not have – Such as loss sense of taste,
Sleeplessness (I sleep about one night in 3 and the rest is in short naps),
Varying ablity to articulate words and sentences – varying from mild to almost to a point of speech paralysis; much depends on fatigue.
Muscle cramps – Varying intensities – from mild cramps to a total locking of my hands and fingers requiring me to ‘unbend’ my fingers
A general feeling of weakness in joints and muscles,
A dullness or numbness in cognitive thought processes,
Irritably (As an analyst, a lover of the written and spoken word, and a communicator, it stands to reason that when ones most used skills have been damaged, a certain of irascibility is likely…
However, I am ever mindful that there are so many others out there who have it infinitely worse than I am have it if. I have so much to be thank you for. I have a caring, wonderful and loving wife, I have a loving and caring daughter, and more loving family and friends and I can count. Chaps, it pays spend some times with the people in your hospitals old age homes, hospices, children’s wards. Every one of those people will be dying sooner or later – even me and you. But can we make their final hours worth while?