17 January 2010 – Searching for Answers (Cancer and Me 6)

30th July 2015 0 By Andy Burrows

So began another month in hospital. I started out under the care of the surgical team that had looked after me before, and with the same nursing team in the same ward.

I guess it probably took about two weeks for them to finally figure out what was wrong. Up to that point – those who have been seriously ill will recognize this kind of pattern – there was a regular cycle of different doctors (actually even the same doctors sometimes) asking me very similar questions: how did it start? Where does it hurt? When does it hurt?

There were daily blood tests. I didn’t mind so much when the phlebotomists themselves came round and took blood. That’s their job, and they’re good at it. For those unfamiliar with British medical needlework, nowadays it appears to be customary to give the patient a quick warning as the needle is about to puncture the skin (presumably to prevent the patient flinching or fainting with shock) – “sharp scratch”, they say, and then jab you. Well, when the phlebotomists say that, you hardly feel a thing! The people to watch out for are the junior doctors (especially around August, so I’m told, when they start their first placement after medical school). Their “sharp scratch” is quite painful, and they may not hit the vein cleanly first time either, so you may have to endure their second and third attempt before they admit defeat and ask their Registrar or a nurse to help them out (I discovered that it is good practice to hand over to another nurse or doctor to take blood or cannulate if one practitioner cannot get the needle in as required).

I wasn’t aware of which tests they were doing to my blood. I realize on reflection that they may have extended the tests at various points, depending on what they were seeing in other tests.

I wasn’t really told very much. I wasn’t told what they were looking for, or what each test was for. Sometimes I didn’t even know what was happening until it was fairly imminent. That, I suppose, is the advantage of being an inpatient. Things don’t have to be scheduled so far in advance. They can just call you from the ward, and a porter turns up to collect you.

So let’s see: I had a CT scan, and an MRI scan, and a chest x-ray. I also had another endoscopy – more of that later.

With a CT scan you have to have nothing to eat or drink for 4 hours (not a problem for me as I wasn’t really having very much anyway). Then you drink a special drink – a litre over the course of an hour. When you come in as an outpatient you have to take your clothes off and then be cannulated. Fortunately when I was in hospital I already had a cannular, as I was on a drip, so that saved them doing that bit. Then you are taken in to the scanning room. There you lie on a ‘bed’, put your arms above your head and have some dye injected into your vein. And then the bed is moved through the scanner, which is kind of like a big donut. The scan itself doesn’t take much more than 10 or 15 minutes.

The MRI scan is slightly different, in that you are passed all the way inside a very narrow tube for the picture to be taken. That’s quite claustrophobic, but it doesn’t last long.

All through these days I was losing weight, eating only soup, jelly and ice cream, and being sick every few days. I remember my sister-in-law, Beth, coming to visit me on the day I had my CT scan. I’d only just been told that I had to go for the scan – I was only told I was ‘nil by mouth’ from breakfast onwards, and then told two hours before the scan that I was booked for a CT scan and there was a bottle of some fluid to drink over an hour from a certain time – and I think the porter came while Beth was with me. But by the time she was there I was feeling so sick that I could hardly hold a conversation with her. So I have the memory of her coming down with me to the radiology department, as the porter wheeled me in my wheelchair in my dressing gown with a sick bowl in my lap. Actually I think I may have been sick just as the porter arrived. I think he had to wait for me to come out of the toilet.

Anyway, the endoscopy I had this time round was called an OGD. After the awful experience with the ERCP I asked if they could make sure I had as much sedation as possible. And thankfully, therefore, it was not as painful as the earlier occasion. I was taken to the endoscopy department in my bed. One of the trainee ward nurses came with me, and was allowed to stay for the procedure for the benefit of her experience. I thought it was very good of the Sister to allow her to take time out of the ward to do that. I asked the nurse about it later, since she was sitting beside my bed when I came round and accompanied me back to the ward, and she said that it was very interesting. She couldn’t tell what was going on, but she said it looked very red and sore down in my gut.