Saturday, 23 September 2017

Apple Picking, Scan and Surgery

Our house is suffused with mellow fruitfulness. The apple tree produced a bumper crop of about a thousand apples. We cooked loads and stored the fruit in the freezer. We gave bagfuls of them away to friends and neighbours. Still hundreds of apples lie on newspapers in the living room and lounge. After apple picking came two weighty pieces of medical news. Both arrived on the same day.

First I learnt that my latest CT scan is clear. Needless to say this is an enormous relief. It means that I have been clear of cancer for one whole year, as I was discharged from hospital in September last year after cancer surgery. Following months of recuperation, I was left with a nagging pain in my side. I was told by the surgeon that this was nerve damage. Over recent months the pain has slowly diminished and today I only feel it on a bad day.

Second I got a letter from the Royal Hospital Belfast telling me I am planned to be admitted next Monday for surgery on Tuesday. This was a bit of a shock. I had been expecting this call in June and when it didn’t come I put the surgery to the back of my mind and got on with enjoying the summer. We had a lovely staycation with plenty of fine trips. Now this stay of execution has been suddenly rescinded.

The surgery is to repair a hernia in my left diaphragm that was caused by the first big cancer operation I had in 2011. Since then much of my stomach has been in my thorax depressing my left lung. After a while I got used to this problem and managed to live an active life despite it. But I have been persuaded that it is important to get this hernia fixed to improve my symptoms and to guard against future problems and deterioration. I have been getting troublesome gastric symptoms (IBS) over the last year and am now on the FODMAP diet.

This is a big operation, a thoracotomy. This means that they cut between my ribs and open my thorax. Then the surgeon can see the exact nature of the hernia and the level of difficulty of the repair. This is not clear on the imaging that has been done thus far. The surgeon with then cut my stomach from the diaphragm, reposition it in my abdomen and patch the hole with mesh.

I am expected to be in hospital for around two weeks. The recuperation is long and slow as I can’t put any strain on my diaphragm for at least three months. And my rejoined ribs will be extremely painful. I hope that next year I can begin to build up my strength and fitness and restart singing, hillwalking and cycling.

Unlike each of my other operations, this is elective surgery. It is my choice whether to have it. And since the letter came I have been plagued by fears that I will be worse off after the surgery. Alongside this is the resentment that I have to go through another year of pain and incapacity just because of a mistake that a surgeon made.

As the surgery is elective, it is also the NHS’s choice when to do it. I have to ring the ward on Monday morning and check if I can still be admitted that day. A more urgent case could have come along over the weekend and I would be displaced and postponed.

There is of course a long list of things that need to be done around the house before I go in to hospital. I am steadily working my way through them with much trepidation. T is doing similarly, in the knowledge that she will have to look after me and Rex together over the coming months. It’s not going to be easy.




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