Life, the universe and medicine – part 1
Like everyone, I assume I’ll live forever. Although I often wonder whether anyone would come to my funeral and who would wear black, it never actually occurrs to me that there is an endpoint. It’s almost as if I would come along too to watch proceedings running smoothly and along the lines I wanted.
Death was something I thought about, but in a rather abstract, offhand sort of way. It happened, of course I knew I would die at some point, but that point was somewhere out there … way off from here, where I am now.
And then I hit a brick wall.
The wall consisted of a tiny little bit of blood coughed up in sink.
The worst, or perhaps the best part, is that if I hadn’t fractured my elbow just 17 days earlier, I would have paid it no attention. Ignoring it as probably something to do with bleeding gums.
So, let me get back to where all this started.
I am 57 years of age. I am fit, well and healthy – at least I think I am!
I got married 41 days earlier, fractured my elbow on my honeymoon and fell into the black hole of the medical profession 20 days later.
I called my GP to make an appointment, bearing in mind the most I usually saw a GP for was the occasional prescription, this was a momentous event. I mentioned the phrase coughing up blood and was offered an ‘emergency appointment’; to those not resident in the UK and unfamiliar with the good old NHS, this meant I would see a GP the same day.
So off I trot and relate my symptoms to Dr Jones. I’d had a chronic cough for years, suffered with chronic catarrh and regularly had throat infections, all of which I’d not really paid any attention after a couple of chest x-rays a few years earlier. The bleed was a new one.
She asks me to come in for a blood test at the next available appointment and sends me for a chest x-ray saying, ‘let me know if you carry on coughing blood’.
At the hospital I’m told it will be a couple of weeks before my doctor gets the results. Friends say things like ‘if it’s serious they’ll get in touch immediately’.
Blood is taken on the 5th June and if feels like a whole armful. Every single test a GP can request is going to be done. I feel reassured that all is well, because despite the symptoms I’ve had for many years, I don’t feel ill. I decide to mention to the practice nurse that I’m still coughing up small amounts of blood and she makes a note on their ‘system’ for Dr Jones.
The following day, Dr Jones calls again to let me know she is referring me to the respiratory team ‘urgently’, this means that I’ll be seen within two weeks and I’m now beginning to be a little concerned, this is all gathering pace beyond whatever I thought it might be. But, I’m nothing if not hopeful and optimistic and assume that it will all turn out to be something and nothing; probably a graze on my throat from the latest throat infection and it’s corresponding coughing.
A few days later I get a phone call from Dr Jones, ‘we need to redo one of the blood tests as it’s look like it might have been contaminated by something in the bottle’. I go in and more blood is taken from my arm.
All the while I’m wearing a sling – there is no way I’m going to put my fractured elbow out for someone to shove a needle in it, it’s already painful!
I get a call from the hospital on Tuesday asking if I can make an appointment with the respiratory team on the 20th? I answer in the affirmative, of course I can and I’ll bring Steve along with me too.
It’s my friend Helen’s birthday on the 12th June and a few of us gather in Bellini’s café to wish her well. I get another phone call from the hospital and wander over the road to get a bit of privacy. Can I make an appointment for a CT scan the following day? Yes, I reply again.
Fortunately, I’m on a month’s break, I left Dorset Council on the 31st May and start a new job on 1st July. I had decided to take a month off between roles to concentrate on my writing. That never happened, the elbow put paid to that and I’d already decided to be open to whatever came up. I’d been rereading a lot of my spiritual books over the past few months, trying to find a way to connect more directly with God, the divine, the universal consciousness or whatever you prefer to call it. A part of me had been seeking a way of experiencing a deeper awakening into spirit.
With the fracture, it looked like the universe was saying, ‘ok kid here it is, you know that time you wanted just to focus on yourself? Well this is it’.
The following day I had yet another call from Dr Jones, I feel like saying that by now we should be on first name terms; she had received the x-ray back and there was something showing up around the bottom right lung. She tries to reassure me by saying they’ve had a few of these recently which all turned out to be infections or pneumonia, but she sounds dubious. I’ m sure it’s an infection, after all that would explain the constant throat infections and the catarrh, wouldn’t it. She asks if I’ve heard anything from the hospital and I tell her I’m off for a CT scan and I have an appointment next week. She sounds relieved, but I don’t think anything of it at the time.
The CT scan was a hoot, not! They need to get a line in my arm for a contrast dye. And the nurse cheerfully tells me that they prefer it if their clients don’t wear cream or white. I of course, have turned up in a white top!
I tell them they can’t use my right arm because of the fracture, so they go for the left. Two attempts later, the dye still isn’t following and they ‘have to’, apparently, go into the right hand. Arms up over head proves difficult so I rest my weary right arm on the top of the scanner as, thankfully, this time it all works.
I’ve now got a week to wait to hear anything about anything, but the medical gods aren’t being quiet on my behalf; instead they are plugging me into the next phase. I’m presenting at a conference the day after the scan and will be in London on the following Monday. Everything is easy and normal and I’m doing little bits of prep work for my new role, including being involved in the preparation of a pitch to a new client. I’m still reading loads, by now I’ve made it to The Power of your Subconscious Mind! This will prove a useful choice.
My reading choices have always been eclectic. Just about the only things I don’t read are historical fiction, horror, murder mysteries and autobiographies. Everything else is fair game.
When we were on our honeymoon, my book was The Premonition Code, which was looking at some of the research trying to understand the phenomenon of premonition. It promised to help you develop your own skills in the area too. In fact it had been so good, the morning I fractured my elbow, I’d woken from a deep sleep into something that felt like a moment caught on camera of feet slipping out from underneath me. I didn’t pay it any attention as I’d spent the whole of our wedding worried I’d slip because I wasn’t used to wearing heels.
Down at the beach a few hours later Steve slipped on the rocks and ended up sitting in a rock pool. I waited until we were safely on the sand before telling him about my premonition. An hour later Belle, our beautiful working cocker spaniel, had also slipped off rocks and into the stream that went all the way to the sea. And just ten minutes later it was my turn! I was the only one that got something injured other than just pride.
Clearly my connection to spirit and my spiritual side was gathering pace, I just hadn’t realised that’s what it was.
The day before my appointment with the respiratory team I get another phone call from Dr Jones to say that it looked as if there was a problem with my blood, something to do with clotting and that the specialist had requested another ‘urgent’ armful of blood more specialist blood tests, seven whole vials. This was getting ridiculous, I’ve never had so much blood drained out of me in such a short space of time, at this rate there’ll be none left to go around and I reflect it’s a good job I’d decided to take a tonic.
Dutifully, I opt for the first appointment with the nurse the following day and get drawn, perhaps. I think my veins are rebelling as this time it takes three attempts to get it all. The first one doesn’t hit blood, the second does but it’s only after everything has been cleaned up and I realise there are only six, not seven vials sitting there. The third goes back in the same hole and the final one is taken; I get a cup of tea too 😊
Steve and I go into town, he goes off to work and I wander around dropping books off at the library, dropping off dry cleaning, shopping and sitting with my book in Costa. At two we meet at the car and head up to the hospital. I am a bit nervous, it’s a bit like waiting outside the headmaster’s office and I fully expect to be told to ‘pull my socks up try harder and stop whinging about nothing’.
I am weighed, measured, blood pressure and heart rate monitored, and I do a lung function test. Apparently, the nurse could tell I exercised because it was pretty good. Everything else is good to and finally my lungs are given the all clear. The heavens open, a choir of angels pour forth singing hallelujah, hallelujah, hal-le-lu-jah! and the sun shines on the righteous (that’s me by the way!)
But, Dr Graves (we had spent a bit of time wondering what other professions she could have gone into – undertaker sprang to mind) looks at me kindly and says we are still worried about the bleeding and will need to do a bronchoscopy – for those of you that don’t know this means a camera up through the nose or mouth and down into the lungs. If there is anything, they will be able to see it and she fully expects to find a small raw area that would account for the bleeding.
The patch at the bottom of my right lung hadn’t been mentioned and I began to assume it was just a ‘blip’ on the x-ray until she tells us that there it looks like there’s a lump in my breast and she will need to do an examination.
I’m whisked into the next room and told to strip off completely; I really wanted to apologise for the hairy armpits but decided that perhaps not mentioning it might be more decorous. It’s odd having somebody do a breast examination on you, I guess that’s what it feels like to be a man when your bits are being handled.
She shows me where it is and yes, I can feel it too. It’s quite large, about the size of a small egg and I don’t say that it’s been there a while, but I’d thought it was normal breast tissue. After all, aren’t I supposed to be the custodian of this body?
Dr Graves has referred me to the breast care team ‘urgently’, that means I’ll be seen within two weeks and they may do a biopsy, mammogram and ultrasound.
Steve and I leave the hospital and go for coffee, it feels like the only thing to do because I don’t want to go home and neither of us have eaten. We head up to Poundbury, I don’t want to share the news with anyone else until I know how I feel about it. After all, this could turn out to be nothing at all.
I’ve never had a mammogram. I refused them when the invites started arriving because the research evidence shows that they were pretty poor at detecting anything in small, dense breast tissue and there was a high degree of false positive and false negative results. I’d had a hysterectomy at 32 that removed everything including my ovaries and although I’d taken HRT, it was a low dose of a combined type with three different oestrogens and I stopped at about 51. There’s no history of breast cancer in my immediate family. I figured that given all that history I was the least likely to have any problems with my breasts.
So here I am in limbo again, waiting for the appointment to come through to find out whether this is a benign cyst or something more dramatic.
I have long thought that my throat problems are because ‘I have no voice’. Although I’ve used that phrase to others and myself a lot over the years, I never really knew what I meant by it, just that it was true. Because after all I’m a writer, a presenter and I speak a lot at conferences. I work on the behaviour and culture change side of technology so am always coaching and counselling staff and others. I talk a lot; I share my views all the time and I often go my own sweet merry way if I believe it’s the right thing to do.
So, Saturday comes along and Steve and I head off to Chesil Rocks with a couple of friends and there is a woman doing readings there. I’ve been taking about getting a reading done again for a couple of months and here is the perfect opportunity.
I take my seat and she has separated the tarot into two piles. She shuffles both, which I think is odd, and then shows two of the cards and her first words are ‘there’s new job opportunity about the start’. I start to pay attention.
Almost all the reading is about my work and she assures me that although there may be difficulties, they will be positive difficulties around communication probably in September. That this is destiny and if I didn’t do it now, it would come again. She says it’s something I’ve been wanting for a long, long time and that I can be as successful as I want to be, there is no limit. She is right, I have wanted to have a larger platform to test my theories about digital transformation and people for a long time.
She is baffled though by a strong link to family, children, of which I have none. She looks confused by that as if that’s not supposed to be the case, and I am reminded that one thing I have uncovered over the last three weeks is how guilty I feel for having an abortion in my early 20’s and that much of where I have been with the hysterectomy and hysterectomy association has been me punishing myself for that. Daisy, I always think of my unborn baby as Daisy, would have been in her 30’s now, with a family of her own possibly and I’d be a grandmother. But I’m also reminded that life never turns out the way you imagine it might and anything could have happened between then and now.
Some of the work I’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks has been seeking forgiveness from myself and Daisy for that event; I do feel calmer and freer.
She begins talking about me not being very good at communicating. That’s ironic in a way because communication is a big part of my work life, but she’s right again when she says that I’m not good at expressing my feelings and that this is from my early childhood. As she starts talking, she starts stroking her throat and I’m hooked, she then says, ‘it’s as if you don’t have a voice’. My very words played back to me and in that instant, I understand what they mean.
My parents were good people, they were kind and generous to everyone, including us. My mother still is and is always ready with a smile and helping hand even though she’s in her 80’s now.
But we didn’t talk feelings.
My brother died when he was six years old and he was never mentioned, and we never talked about him as a family. My sister and I didn’t grieve until many years later. By then I was habituated into not saying how I felt about things, in fact it was so bad that I often couldn’t even name the feeling I had. They were buried so deeply that they never surfaced, and I didn’t know they were there.
In a flash I understood what had held me back from writing for all these years. I saw clearly that the writing I had done had been a rehashing of other things or a retelling of ideas that had no direct connection to me and my experience of life. I was able to write only about those things that I was not connected to, business and women’s health. When it came to being honest and diving deeply into my own psyche I was reticent and held back.
She went on to say I would have a third career, maybe in five to ten years. I’m sitting there gobsmacked by everything else already and to be told I’ll be starting a new career just at retirement was a surprise. But then she said I was psychic and deeply spiritual and it started to come together.
I’d already talked to Steve about taking the Hysterectomy Association in a different direction, away from the standard medical model it’s always followed and more towards healing and wholeness. That’s not to say the medical interventions are wrong, just that they can be supplemented by a core understanding of who we really are, at our heart. Reconnecting with that part of ourselves which is already healed is something I could help other people with. And writing this down now is the start of that process.
More to come later ..
(image courtesy : Dark Souls 1 @ pixabay)