MPs surgery

As you know, I live a wild and exciting life here in suburban West London. Are we truly in the suburbs? At 7 miles from the very central point of London, I suppose so although on a good day, one might walk into the centre. Anyway, I am invited to a conference called  Britain Against Cancer, as though there were a pro cancer rally we might go and protest at. I also think this is a bunfight I might invite some of my chums to and several of them accept. The venue is the Central Westminster Hall, just a stone’s throw from the Houses of Parliament. I arrive and start a perambulation of the exhibition, watching for my nemesis. I grill each exhibitor about their use of patient and public in their work and receive fairly satisfactory responses from each although some people are clearly slightly alarmed by my questioning. I am joined by 2 lovely friends, Ms de Roeck and Ms Marsden as a rather damp young man is showing me how I can find out how good my hospital is according to patients.

After a while, we take our seats and have chatted for so long, the only seats left are on a table at the front of the auditorium. We duly sit and listen to John Baron MP tell us how well the cross-party group has done. We have a speech from Andy Burnham MP and then, towards the end, Jeremy Hunt MP honours us with his presence. I cannot like the man who seems over-caffeinated and slightly manic in his attempts to smile and speak at the same time. It is an interesting day but does not inspire confidence in that there is no further money for cancer services and the Government still seems to be hell bent on dismantling the NHS without admitting it. During the speeches I sneak some shots of our political speakers and luckily am not thrown out for doing so although I have a bit of a record in that department. I also cunningly take a photo of the inside of my bag, so anxious am I not to be discovered this time.

DSC01808 DSC01812

I did have a very wobbly photo of Andy Burnham but decided using it may look as though I were overawed in his presence which was decidedly not the case. We forget to take any selfies although I have to say we all looked indisputably gorgeous on the day.

Mid-week brings surgery for Dog. He has had a small growth in his mouth for a while and, despite anti-inflammatory medication from Dr Bum, it has not gone away so the only option is to remove it before it forces his teeth in wayward directions. I am concerned about how he will take to surgery. Having been abandoned at a young age, he is understandingly cagey about losing us and so tends to be a little anxious. He is not fond of Dr Bum at the best of times and I am really not sure how he will fare being left there alone. They are an accommodating lot at Dr Bum’s surgery and agree we can take him in 2 hours after the rest of the animals so he will not be there long before his operation. When we go to collect him, Dr Bum says Dog might be a bit sleepy and he certainly needs encouraging into the car. Once home, Dog stands in the middle of the sitting room, staring glassily into space. After a while, he descends into the sphinx-like posture he adopts when not really relaxed. In total overkill, I give him my sheepskin coat to lie on in front of the fire. Did I mention we no longer have offspring at home? He sits, sphinx-like for some time just staring into space until I scoop up his back legs and arrange them tidily to the side before taking his front half and laying him down on the floor. He makes no protest at all but continues to enjoy all the benefits of large amounts of anaesthetic and pain killers.

The following day, Dog is subdued but manages to eat a Bonio which Mr Mason gives him without thinking. He chomps it down without a thought to his tender mouth – Dog, not Mr Mason. Mr Mason may enjoy his food but draws the line at Bonio. Dog will no longer allow me to rearrange his back legs so we know he is very much on the mend. When Dog is taken back for his once-over, he is pronounced fit and discharged. We are several hundred pounds lighter and hoping the insurance company will cough up. What’s the betting there will shortly be an insurance company rant on the blog?

Allergy redness

It’s been a busy week. Working in Southampton, seeing Fran and Rouzbeh off to live in Bangkok, an NIHR training day and then, on Friday, a minor procedure to have my portacath removed. I’ve been here before. This is portacath number 2 which is leaving me, having done sterling service since October 2012. Portacath number 1 lasted from April to October and then gave up and now lives in a plastic pot, sometimes on the mantelpiece, sometimes in the box with all my cancer memorabilia.

The day is a glorious one and I arrive before 9am, empty and thirsty and go to 6 East, the Chemo Suite, where the oncology registrar has told me to go. It is the wrong place. Steve, the receptionist who has made my visits to the chemo suite entertaining, tells me to go to a different ward where they are expecting me and I am admitted and given a bed. My obs are done several times by different nurses who are polite but ask the same questions over and over, including asking if I am allergic to anything. I tell them I am allergic to all dressings except one called Mepilex. I am so tired from not sleeping well for the last couple of nights that my book doesn’t keep my attention so I stretch out and doze, hoping I am not drooling or snoring too much. Around 1.30 the ward sister comes to put a canula in my hand.This can be entertaining in that it is extremely difficult to canulate me but this woman means business and tuts over my veins, slapping my hands and arms repeatedly. She then fetches a bowl of very hot water and plunges my hand into it. It is way too hot for me so I pull my hand out but she pushes it back in, so we endure a little playful push and pull with me saying “Ouch” and the sister talking to another nurse and not listening to me. Eventually the water cools sufficiently for me to put my hand in and leave it there while she rushes off to deal with some emergency. When she comes back, my hand is bright red but even with a torniquet and repeated slapping, the veins in my hand won’t play. She searches my forearm intently, looking for any rogue veins which might not have hidden themselves too well. With choice of just one, she is limited. Looking in the crook of my elbow. she spies a site which was raided by the phlebotomist only the day before and swoops in. I’ve been stuck with a canula so many times now that I can pretty much tell when a needle has hit the right spot. It hurts a lot more if the vein isn’t punctured properly or if the needle passes right through. She plunges the canula into me, repeatedly withdrawing the needle almost to the skin and then wiggling it about again. She pulls the plunger and a little blood makes its way slowly into the line. She looks pleased and I can tell she thinks she has got it. She presses the plunger to push saline into me and I can feel it swelling beneath my skin. “I’m not sure it’s in properly” I say, trying not to teach her her own job. She purses her lips. “You saw blood drawn, didn’t you?” “Yeeeesss” I say, reluctantly. She says no more but proceeds to stick the canula down with almost an entire roll of sticky dressing. Not a single piece of Mepilex and I feel our relationship will deteriorate further if I mention I am allergic to it and it will make my arm red and sore.

Then the porter is there and I am whisked down to the Vascular department by chair. We chat all the way which is nice. Several nurses stop by my cubicle to say hello. Kingsley is a tall, African Caribbean nurse and he tells me he is there to take special care of me. I am looking at something on my tablet and he asks if I am a writer. I tell him I write a bit, thinking of this blog and the other things I write. He tells me he also writes but he specialises in poetry and spiritual writings. I am given a gown and eventually am taken into the operating theatre but not before one of the nurses has put a theatre hat on me. I tell her I did not wear one last time I had this procedure and she looks confused until I tell her I had no hair then.

The surgeon arrives and says a vague hello to me whilst bustling about and then counting out instruments with one of the theatre nurses. Suddenly he is all business and is giving me sharp injections in my chest. I wince. “Yes, it stings, doesn’t it?” he says cheerfully. I ask if I can have some sedation but he says it’s too late and that it won’t take long. “I’ve given you loads” he says in an admonishing tone. Shortly after this, he begins his work. I am unable to see what is happening as a theatre cloth is placed over my shoulder and covers half of my face. I’m not sure I want to twist my head to look while he is fiddling about with my jugular vein. Whilst I cannot feel pain, I do feel a lot of tugging and rough treatment. I feel him wipe blood away frequently and then, he is chatting with a colleague who appears to have just wandered in. They discuss colleagues and generally indulge in gossip while I lie there. I am hoping he is not too distracted as I don’t wish to spend my last moments listening to the surgical equivalent of boy racers. One of the nurses eventually shoos the other doctor away. “You’ll just feel a bit of pressure here” he says, pressing heavily on my neck. Afterwards I discover a large bruise there. He begins to sew me up and I ask him to make sure he does a good job to which he just grunts. The contact between us is minimal and I feel I am a bit of inconsequential meat to him. The nurses are different and want to interact. After he’s finished and the last of the sheeting has been taken away, and the huge adhesive mat he has stuck to me has been painfully peeled off, he asks for a container for my portacath which he presents me with. I am slid onto a bed, covered with a sheet and wheeled off into the recovery room.

The recovery room is a much better place to be. People (ie nurses) hang out with you, get you coffee, sandwiches and generally chat. They tell you what they are doing apart from nursing and know where the biscuits are kept. One helps me remove all the adhesive tape the nurse on the ward covered the canula with. The inside of my elbow is bright red where it has complained about the adhesive. ‘The canula wasn’t even in properly’ says the nurse as I remark they didn’t use it. They keep me for another 2 hours and then the magic hour of 5pm dawns and I am released into Mark’s care and we go home. The anaesthetic wears off and my wound hurts. A lot. It feels as though someone has taken a sharp implement and plunged it into my chest. Oh, wait… I take every painkiller I have in the house apart from morphine but it wakes me every time I move and hurts when I lie down. I wonder about the surgeon and whether he is having a good night’s sleep. The pain is so different from my previous experiences and I wonder how having something foreign removed could hurt as much as having something inserted. I also wonder why everyone asked me about allergies and then proceeded to use something I am sensitive to. As I write (Monday) the redness has gone down on my arm but the nurse taking blood from me today gasps as she sees the damage. My chest is a battlefield of scars, burns and allergy redness. Now there’s a name for the paint manufacturers to conjure with.

Where is Spiderman when you need him?

Oh, back to the compression sleeve. I decided to take Sundays off on the grounds that I am not perfect and the sleeve is very disturbing to wear. It takes me ages to put it on and I am unable to settle the band at the top properly without help. Today is a classic example, even though I have only had the wretched thing a week. Mark has gone out early to a meeting so I have to put the sleeve on myself. I need at least 6 hands. I struggle and sweat over it. It takes me about 10 minutes to get it fully up my arm by which time I am hot and very, very cross. Then it does something which is already so familiar and depressing. The top begins to roll down. This is something I have been told categorically MUST NOT HAPPEN or I am at risk of developing a blood clot. I need braces for my compression sleeve. I feel I need to sellotape around the top to keep it flat except, of course, that would be more pressure and may lead to – and I sense you’re ahead of me here – a bloody clot.

No-one tells you the end of the story when you develop cancer. Probably because the stories end so differently and, don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy my story isn’t over yet but I didn’t understand any of the possible stages after the first wave of terror had subsided. I thought six months of treatment would sort me out. I’d lose and then regain my hair, put on a bit of weight, have surgery and radiotherapy and that would be it. But my body is left very damaged from the treatment and I hadn’t expected that. Surgery, I knew, because I’m not a bloody idiot, would leave me looking different and that was surprisingly OK. Surgery itself was vile and I still have nightmares about the drain that got stuck and took 2 nurses and a lot of morphine to pull it out. The change in my body shape was OK, too. I’m not really a vain woman so it didn’t bother me too much. I didn’t understand how the treatment would delay healing so much and how damaging and invasive radiotherapy would be. I guess you could say I had a pretty bad time last year and, don’t get me wrong, this year is going to be way better but it’s also not going to be the same as I expected. I suppose that’s true for everyone, though. Life isn’t always what you expect and has ways of tripping you up and surprising you for the better or worse, in equal measure.

So I sit here with my compression sleeve doing its own thing and I wonder if there is a kitchen implement I could use to settle the top. A spatula? Tongs? I could stop a passer by and ask. Or I could develop another 4 arms and do it myself. Sigh. Where IS Spiderman when you need him?