Sunday, 29 March 2015

Beyond the Miraculous

I had my urgent review with my lung specialist a couple of days ago. A month for an urgent appointment seemed fairly quick when NHS waiting times are so terribly long. The clinic was crowded and I spent the first hour waiting to see him. I then related my story of how the osteopath had worked on my paralysed diaphragm and I had improved. But after a while, I explained, my problem symptoms had returned. The lung specialist made notes in my file and sent me for a series of tests and an X-ray.

I returned with the results of the breathing tests. He was looking at the new X-ray and comparing it with the one I had taken in December. ‘Afraid I can’t see any difference’, he said and beckoned me over to the desk. Side by side were the two pictures of my chest. They were almost identical. On both, my raised left diaphragm was clearly visible.

I felt crestfallen. ‘He probably just moved your stomach a little’ said the specialist, ‘and lessened the pressure on your lung for a while.’ I was so disappointed. I thought I had been given a miraculous cure for my breathing problems. And now I had found it was an illusion.

The specialist explained that there was an operation, plication, which would lower the diaphragm and fix it in place. The trouble was that this surgery would mean that the diaphragm would never move again. He was keen for me to pursue this and referred me to a thoracic surgeon.

I agreed to go and see the surgeon to find out more. But this felt to me like a last chance option that I wasn’t yet ready to take. My diaphragm was only partially paralysed and weakly moving so I had to explore options for improving it first. I decided I would also go and consult a nerve specialist.

I left the clinic feeling extremely down. All my breathing problems and fears for the future came rushing in. After my raised hopes, these burdens seemed all the heavier. I sat with a pal in a cafe and related my story over a coffee and a caramel square. ‘What you need is a holiday,’ he said. I smiled for the first time that day - ‘we’re heading to Dubrovnik next week’.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Do you Believe in Miracles?

For most of my life I thought miracles were just ancient stories that had probably been recorded by the credulous. But now I’ve changed my mind. For the past five months I’ve had pronounced breathing problems and I’d been sent by a lung specialist for a series of tests. The last of these was a video fluoroscopy (an X Ray video); an odd experience, since you can see your lungs working in almost real time as the images are projected onto a screen in front of you. The report was brief and clear, I had a partially paralysed left diaphragm. It was a terrible shock.

A paralysed diaphragm is the result of damage to the phrenic nerve, the doctor explained. How did I get it? Probably during my major surgery in 2011 which opened up my chest to remove a tumour that had grown into my vena cava. The phrenic nerve runs from your neck around your heart and into your diaphragm. Apparently such paralysis is a reasonably common side-effect of cardiac surgery. These things happen, said the doctor. The nerve had been damaged and my diaphragm was raised and weakly flickering, allowing my stomach to move up and become wedged inside my ribcage; together these were putting pressure on my left lung and greatly limiting my breathing. And what could be done about it? Nothing much, I was told. It was a permanent impairment.

On top of the shock was fear. I’d had breathing and digestive problems ever since the surgery in 2011. After a series of tests three years ago, I was told that I had a hernia in my diaphragm and that this could be repaired by surgery. Still recovering from the first operation, I wasn’t keen for further surgery so it was agreed that I would have the remedial operation if my symptoms worsened. Over time I learnt to live with these problems. In January my breathing had deteriorated so much that I told my GP I wanted to go back and have the surgery. But now I was being told that this longstanding diagnosis was wrong and there could be no surgical solution to the problem. So did this mean that I was now moving inexorably to ever greater breathing impairment?

On top of the fear came anger. A moment’s carelessness by a doctor had left me with a lifetime of problems, which couldn’t get any better and may well get a lot worse. On top of that, when I had complained about post-surgical problems I was given the wrong diagnosis. If I’d been given the correct diagnosis three years ago, then perhaps something could have been done to slow down the deterioration in my breathing. I was full of questions. The GP couldn’t help me with any of them. I wrote them all down in a letter to the lung specialist asking to be seen urgently.

On top of the anger came depression. I tried doing breathing exercises I found on the internet but these irritated my already inflamed lungs. The stress on my lungs had given me asthma too. I felt I was in a downward spiral. Walking and cycling in the great outdoors had been such a big part of my life; I would have to face up to letting go of them. I began to imagine myself housebound with an oxygen tank as my constant companion.

In truth these were not separate phases but all mixed up together. Each day became a real struggle. I found myself getting very frustrated and reacting to irritations that I would previously have brushed off. With no response from the specialist to my urgent request, I decided to explore other options. I had been to an osteopath in Holywood who was trained in Eastern medicine and acupuncture, I booked an appointment.

Ralph McCutcheon listened to my story and asked me to lie on the treatment table. He got me to open my mouth and pressed his thumb hard into the roof of my mouth telling me to breathe deeply at the same time. Next he worked on vertebrae in my neck and back. Lastly he manipulated my abdomen at the bottom of my ribcage for a while. That’s fixed it, he said.

I left the treatment room and did some breathing exercises. There was an unusual ache in my left side. I thought it was due to his pressure. But the ache persisted and later I had more feeling at the base of my ribs where my left diaphragm should be. That evening, my breathing seemed easier. I began to hope that he had made a difference. I spent an anxious night. On waking I tried the breathing exercise and felt the left diaphragm flex. It got sore quickly but my diaphragm seemed to be working much better than before; I could fill my lungs and breathe more clearly. And my stomach and digestion felt better too; instead of feeling bloated after eating just a little, I felt hungry and was able to eat heartily without stomach ache.

It was miraculous. I’d been told by conventional medicine that there was no hope. I’d been given the laying on of hands. And I seemed to be cured. Thanks to the blessed Ralph I have a new lease of life.

Monday, 2 March 2015

A House for Pangur Dubh

I’ve been putting food and milk out for Pangur Dubh for over two weeks now. He comes each day and eats it all. I don’t know when he comes; he doesn’t seem to have a regular pattern. Some days I see him several times, other days not at all. But each morning the bowls are empty.

I started off by putting the bowls under a trailer at one end of the house. I did this to prevent the magpies from stealing the food before he arrived. Then I moved the bowls to the other end of the house behind a wooden panel. Pangur had no problem finding his tucker. I noticed that he had sprayed the panel to mark it as his territory. After another five days in the same place I moved the bowls and panel to the side of the house next to the bins.  

My plan was to move the food bit by bit to the back of the house. An old shed languished there and I wanted to fix it up for Pangur. I reckoned he slept in the old graveyard, probably under a fir tree. This was probably the place where he had been born and had grown up. He always ran off in that direction if I came out of the house and startled him. I wanted to offer him a home. I was hoping that he would become my resident guard cat against rodents.

I had a cat box that my late father had made. My ex-wife had a cat and my father made the box as a present. But her cat, called Izvestia (my ex-wife had been a Young Communist), never took to the box. When we parted I reclaimed the box and stored it. I brought it down from the loft and cleaned it up. I would put the box, lined with old clothes, in the shed and place the bowls next to it.

All seemed to be going well, when one evening I came home to see a strange ginger cat on the black bin above the bowls. Pangur Rua - was this a pal or a rival? I had got used to Pangur Dubh and didn’t want to see him ousted. On the other hand, if Pangur Rua was a practiced rodent killer he would be welcome too.

I proceeded with my plan and fixed up the shed at the back of the house with the lined cat box. I just didn’t know if one of the cats would take to it.