25 December 2009 – A Memorable Christmas Day (Cancer and Me 3)

30th July 2015 0 By Andy Burrows

I’m afraid I don’t remember much about Christmas Day 2009 apart from feeling ill. I don’t remember the kids opening their presents in the morning. But I do remember not feeling particularly well in the morning.

We went to church at 10am as we always do on Christmas Day. And afterwards, as we stood drinking tea in the hall, Heidi turned to me suddenly and pointed out that I’d turned yellow! She asked other people their opinion, and it was decided that, yes, I was looking pretty yellow, even in the whites of my eyes. A medic in the church strongly suggested that I should go to the out-of-hours clinic as soon as possible to get myself checked out.

I phoned HantsDoc, the out-of-hours service, as soon as I got home and spoke to a nurse. When the doctor called back he said to come and see him at the hospital surgery whenever I could. Not wanting to let down my lovely mother-in-law, who had cooked a fantastic Christmas Dinner, I said that I would come after lunch! It was a lovely meal, but, boy, I regretted eating it later!

So I went up to the hospital as soon as politely possible after dinner. The doctor took some blood, and advised me not to eat anything. I said, ‘too late!’ He took our phone number and said he would phone back later when the results had come through.

By that stage I was feeling so rotten that we had to go back to our house, and I went to bed. I knew I had toys to unpack and build for the kids, but I just couldn’t. All I could do was lie very still in bed feeling rubbish.

And then Heidi came up and said the doctor had just phoned back. I was being admitted to hospital with suspected pancreatitis and jaundice.

I ought not to make it sound too simple. Being admitted to hospital is a process. One does not just go and make oneself comfortable in a hospital bed! So we had to turn up at the Emergency Department, where the HantsDoc GP had already alerted them I would be arriving. Even so, I still had to be booked in by the ED triage nurse for some reason. And then I was booked in again by the nurses up in ward-C4 an hour later, answering pretty much all the same questions.

And throughout that time I was feeling worse and worse, to the point where I could hardly talk to answer the booking in questions. And in C4, in the middle of booking in, I had to run for the toilet and bring up all that lovely Christmas Dinner! Should have gone to see the doctor before lunch!!

I was shown to my bed in a side room – quite a luxury, I came to understand! They set up the drip – my first experience of a cannula, something I have come to hate. For those fortunate enough not to have experienced this, a cannula is the valve that they have to insert into a vein in order to deliver intravenous fluids. It involves the nurse having to find a suitable vein in one’s hand, wrist or arm, and then jabbing it with a large needle with a tube and valve on the end of it. It is more painful than having a blood test.

Anyway, since they couldn’t do much investigation straight away, they set me up on intravenous fluids straight away to stop me getting dehydrated due to being sick.

As Heidi left me to return home, the nurse started to add to the saline some penicillin and some anti-sickness drugs (cyclizine). I think that was supposed to be standard precautionary measures. I was being sick, so anti-sickness drugs seemed sensible, and antibiotics should kill off any other bacteria hanging around waiting to complicate things.

But within a couple of minutes I started feeling hot, and my hands and arms started to swell up. I could see a rash appear on my chest, and then my face started to swell. My lips felt like I’d had a bad dose of botox! The nurse was about to turn the light off for the night and leave the fluids going in, but I pointed out what was happening and she looked concerned and went off to get the junior doctor on the ward. The young junior doctor came in and saw how things were going and immediately bleeped her registrar.

I have to say that at the time I found the whole thing mildly amusing. I can remember laughing to myself to see the doctors and nurses suddenly rushing around. But I’ve had flashbacks of that time and I assess it a little differently with the benefit of playing through the memories slowly. I was having an allergic reaction to the penicillin, so they told me later. I remember being told to keep an oxygen mask over my face while they injected me with antihistamine. I remember the rash and swelling reducing. But at the same time, only as I look back, I remember drifting in and out of consciousness – all within this quite stupid amused feeling, not quite appreciating the seriousness of my predicament. I remember the faces of the lovely young female doctors – both the junior doctor and the registrar – they looked so worried and concerned, almost waiting to see if the antihistamine would work.

So I ended Christmas Day 2009 exhausted, sick and in a hospital bed. I had no idea then that I would be there, apart from one week at home, until the middle of February.