17 February 2010 – Home at Last (Cancer and Me 11)

30th July 2015 0 By Andy Burrows

Having found what was wrong with me the doctors were now confident that I would show rapid improvement. They had been confident at each stage up to that point too, but this time they had pieced together from a wide variety of diagnostics.

A fair number of times between first seeing the GP on 22nd December and starting chemotherapy I heard the phrase, “common things happen commonly” when talking about diagnosis. It’s supposed to convey the approach that they first assume the common causes, and then when evidence points in other directions they take another look. So they don’t go testing for cancer when you first come in with a stomach pain.

I’ve reflected many times whether I should have been as frustrated as I was at times with that kind of approach. When I saw the GP on 22nd December 2009 he thought it was acid, and gave me acid inhibitors. He did no urine tests (which would have shown some warning signs even at that stage), and no blood tests (which would have definitely shown some cause for concern)… because the approach is that “common things happen commonly” and therefore stomach acid was the first thing to go for.

Then when I went into hospital and was diagnosed with pancreatitis they asserted that the cause was gallstones, even though they couldn’t see any evidence of gallstones, because that’s the most common cause of pancreatitis, and “common things happen commonly”!

It was only when the normally successful treatment, the ERCP, did not turn out to be completely successful in removing the symptoms (it cured the pancreatitis and jaundice, but not the vomiting) that they finally plumped for the full suite of tests and a team diagnosis.

It was frustrating at the time, because it seemed so cavalier, and it seemed to waste a lot of time. But on reflection I can’t really see what else they could have done, or whether it would have made much difference. Perhaps the GP didn’t do bloods because the surgery was snowed in (literally) and they wouldn’t have been able to get the samples to the hospital for testing. Perhaps the results wouldn’t have come back until after Christmas. What difference would 3 days have made anyway? Perhaps the surgical consultants could have treated my continued sickness a bit more seriously rather than rushing me out because of the impending snowfall. Would they have started to do more tests any more quickly than they did? Would it have made any difference in the end? They’re human beings, at the end of the day, and they have to make decisions based on their experience and knowledge. And since every person is different, they are sometimes going to make decisions that are less than perfect.

But at any rate the doctors were finally right. After the first chemo session, within a couple of days, the NG bag dried up and they could remove the tube. Food was getting through my system again.

A week after that first session, on 17th February 2010, I came home… and ate hot cross buns!!

I wrote a proper thank you note for the nurses on the ward. I’d got to know each of them quite well, and had a great deal of affection for all of them. I know there are horror stories around, about nursing care being substandard in some wards in some hospitals. But from my experience I can honestly say my nurses were first class. They not only performed their medical care duties to a high standard. They were also sympathetic, understanding, caring. One or two of the older nurses regularly took time to stop and chat, not only with me, but with Heidi and the kids and whoever might be visiting at the time. They would sometimes see me looking thoughtful and come and just see if I was ok. And the Sister was a great leader. I observed her on so many occasions deliberately picking certain team members to do things in order to learn, being ready to show them, coach them, encourage them. And she was unflappable, even when things were really busy.

It was good to be home, no doubt. But it does have a flip side. I have to admit that. After two months of being cared for every hour of every day, it is a bit of a culture shock to come home and not have anyone telling you which pills to take and when, and no one bringing you breakfast, lunch and dinner! There’s no one to make your bed each day, and plump your pillows up!! You have to get used to being a bit more self-sufficient again. Not a big problem, but after a long stay in hospital it is noticeable.