To be added
“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant ,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy , with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover ,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier ,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice ,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon ,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
“As You Like It” Act II, Scene VII
“Never take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.”
I was in Year 6, reasonably intelligent and doing quite well. Of course, I was a normal boy who was active and sporty and was always involved in something. At lunch, some of us were playing cricket in the playground and one of the other boys was upset at being dismissed by the excellent off cutter that I had bowled and he probably didn’t like my particular form of sledging, so he threw the cricket ball at me with some force. Needless to say, it found its mark and I was destined for a big bruise on my back. I was very unhappy at his unsportsmanlike behaviour so I chased him!
I have never been a fighter and I’m not sure what I intended to do when I caught him but I followed him for long enough that he tired and, sensing imminent doom, quickly dropped to a crouch. I was a very big lad and not very good at stopping quickly so I tripped over his crouching form and landed heavily on my right shoulder. He took off and I just lay there.
I couldn’t move! The bell went for the end of the lunch break and everyone left, apart from me and the supervising teacher who managed to get me up and into sick-bay. Apparently, according to Matron, I had broken my collarbone. Mum was duly called and she had to drive the 40 minutes to come and get me and take me off to the doctor. A figure of eight bandage around my shoulders and a week’s rest at home was prescribed.
Not all bad news! My first broken bone – I was quite proud.
I remained unbroken, if not unbowed, for quite a while. Over the ensuing years I grew at a rapid rate and I entered high school as one of the tallest boys at 160cm (5’3”). In fact, there were only two boys taller than me and none heavier as I was 70kg (155lbs or 11st.) and grew a foot (in height!) over the next four years. At 17, I was 190cm (6’3”) and 108kg (240lbs or 17st.)
My height helped with my cricket and allowed me to bowl reasonably fast and with some limited success. By Year 10, I had made the Second XI and was fielding at mid-wicket when I had to chase down a ball at speed and steady myself, with my left hand, as I bent to recover the ball with my right hand and throw it back to the ‘keeper. All went well and I kept the runs to a minimum and then glanced down at my left hand, which hurt a little from the job of steadying me as I bent to collect the ball. The thumb was pointing back at me, at an angle of more than 90o ! I quickly grabbed the thumb and pushed it back into place and tucked it into my shirt for the rest of the afternoon. It was sore and I managed to get through the rest of the day by not using it and, being right-handed, that wasn’t a big problem. I didn’t think much of it until the next day, by which time it was the size of an inflated rubber glove and, by Monday, I was off to the doctor. He advised that it was both broken and had been dislocated (which had been corrected by my quick action) and he put me in plaster, just in time for the end-of-year exams! Showers meant a plastic bag over my hand and eating meant that food had to be cut up but, all in all, no real hardship.
After my recovery, there was plenty more cricket and, in the winter, even more rugby, which ensured that my knees were suffering and I was declared to be suffering “growing pains”. Another doctor and another review of my knees and, this time, I was put in plaster from ankle to groin, on my left leg, to stabilise the knee.
Imagine, if you will, having a shower, with one leg wrapped in a big plastic sheet and all taped up and avoiding getting the plaster wet! Not to mention the difficulty in getting onto and sitting on the toilet. I said not to mention that! The plaster cast was applied for 6 weeks and getting to school was a big deal, as well. I was fortunate that the ferry company had, by now, introduced a service from Taronga Zoo, my stop, straight across the harbour to Rose Bay, about 1½ miles (2½ km) from school. Whilst this eliminated two buses from my trip and saved about 30 minutes, we had to walk to school from the ferry. Walking “stiff legged” from the ferry to school (unless you happened to be a WW2 storm trooper and used to “frog marching”) for such a distance and up a substantial hill, was not my idea of a good idea nor any fun and, in summer, would have, simply, taken too long and be too sweaty. Mum and Dad had to pay for a taxi for me to get to school each morning. At least I became popular with some of the boys who, of course, wanted a lift! All in all, the plaster exercise was a limited success on my left knee and my knees continued to cause problems. By the time I was 17, I needed an operation on my right knee.
My doctor, Robert Tinning, a delightful man who was also a family friend, diagnosed osteochondritis and recommended surgery. I agreed, on the proviso that I would not have to endure another 6 weeks of plaster, as per the left leg. I thought he agreed! When I woke up from the anaesthesia, I was in plaster from groin to ankle and I was minus one kneecap!
Not happy at all.
I was left without a kneecap and permanent weakness in my right leg. As a result, I have been prone to falling down ever since, as the tendon in my knee “flops” to one side and leaves me legless, as it were.
Cricket was my summer love and rugby my winter love. So, despite the loss of a kneecap, I returned to cricket and was a reasonable medium paced bowler. I loved the game and, although I wasn’t particularly good, the social aspects were wonderful and many of my friends were part of the team. My knees were a bit of a problem because, on my delivery stride, I would sometimes (often!) fall down. This wasn’t a problem for the batsmen, since the ball had already been played by him by the time I came to grief but it caused a deal of pain and embarrassment to my good self. The outcome was that I slowed to a fast off-spin or slowish medium pace, to stop the falling and decided that I would become an excellent slips fielder and occasional bowler. This tactic successfully saw me through school and, later, when I decided that Mosman Cricket Club (where I had been a junior) was short of opening batsmen, I practiced hard on my defence and became an opening batsman. I had moderate success in the lower grades and I was enjoying the social aspects when a number of my good friends, including Roger Cornforth, were in the top grade. In fact, Roger played with a future captain of Australia and noted batsman, Alan Border.
Sadly, Dr Tinning came off worse than me as a result of his suffering from diabetes and, eventually, he lost both his legs to the disease and the resultant gangrene. I have been careful about complaining that I fall down occasionally, ever since. At least I still have both my legs!
I thought that was the end of the bone issues, however, as I write this, I have, after 18 months of discomfort, recovered from an ankle fusion as part of the long-term debilitating effects of fast bowling, basketball and mixed netball.
In later life, I discovered that mixed netball is one of the dirtiest games I have ever had to play. Females, when pitted against males, use every underhand trick, knowing that the referee will, likely assume the male to be in the wrong. This is not just my view, it has been expressed by many females who played the game, as well! They are incorrigible and sleazy.
That, combined with repeated abuse of my knees on the cricket pitch and some more on the rugby grounds and basketball court plus substantial abuse on the netball court left me with an ankle that felt as though there was crushed gravel in the joint. My family and friends could hear the crunch as I walked. In 1992, an old school friend, Paul Stalley, who was a noted specialist in bone and soft tissue tumours and hip and knee surgery said “I can attempt a repair but I would suggest that you wait. Science is improving rapidly and you should put any surgery off until you can’t walk.”
By early 2017, I could no longer walk! Well, not without great pain, heavy strapping and analgesia. It was time.
On 5th December, 2017 I had an operation to fuse the tibia and fibula to the talus bone (you may have to look that up, I did!) and add two screws to hold the joint together. I was advised that I would suffer some loss of flexibility (but then, some would say that I’ve always been a bit inflexible!) and would spend six weeks absolutely non-weight bearing and a further six weeks in recovery. That was OK, as we had planned to leave on an extended holiday to Spain and Portugal in June 2018, some seven months, hence.
By that 12-week mark, my surgeon, Dr. Daniel Lane, informed me that I had failed at knitting! My ankle bones had not joined successfully so I had to wear my, appropriately named, MoonBoot for at least another three weeks. OK, grit my teeth and bear it for a bit longer.
By the middle of March, it was apparent that I was an abject failure at knitting and the fusion hadn’t worked 100%. On 28th March, Dr. Lane operated again an operation to fuse the tibia and fibula to the talus bone and add a titanium plate and nine screws and take the original two screws out. Another six weeks non-weight bearing and another, further six weeks recovery. Now I was very concerned about our holiday to Europe but Dr. Lane assured me that we would still be able to leave, as planned, on 1st June. Assuming that he was correct and, all going well, that was going to be 25 weeks of a combination of Moon Boot and crutches.
We checked in with Dr. Lane before leaving for Spain and he was more than happy for us to travel, with the MoonBoot on for another six weeks, in Europe! At least I was allowed to walk in the boot, with a stick and we negotiated the airports with the help of golf-buggies supplied by the airlines and collected our car in Madrid and off we went. The MoonBoot was photographed in many locations, enjoying its holiday and, finally, after the allotted six-week period, we photographed me appearing to throw the Boot off a cliff in Northern Spain. Lots of fun and some people even questioned our pollution of the ocean. We did point out that the photo was a fake! I didn’t let the boot go, we deposited it in a waste bin later. It had worked very hard and had travelled many miles and I was sad to see it go (Not!). The holiday was fabulous! Three months in Spain and Portugal and a few days in London. Excellent!
We were home by the first week in September and settling back into our lovely home when, on 11th November, 2018, I awoke with savage back pain, rigors and retching. I was very fearful that the kidney stones had returned and we took off to the Emergency Department at Noosa Hospital. I spent the best part of the day in the ER and, after many tests, they sent me home suggesting that it was a “bad back” and there was no indication of any other ailment. At least it wasn’t kidney stones! I suffered through the next few days and, on Wednesday, I was no better and still suffering back pain, rigors and retching. Off to the doctor! Our local GP, Dr Roy Bourke, is a delightful, thorough and caring man and I trust him, implicitly. He took one look at me, deposited me on a bed in the clinic and called an ambulance. I was off to the ER, again!
I was admitted to hospital and more tests and, by now, we knew that the pain in my back was from an infection in my lungs. I had pleurisy, an inflammation of the tissue layers lining my lungs. It was very painful and caused fevers and retching for some days, until I was put into ICU on the weekend and had the infection drained. They removed 300ml of liquid, put me on intravenous antibiotics and after two days, returned me to the ward. I was in a pretty bad way and my back was not getting better. Whilst all this was happening, they called in a bone surgeon who advised that, because of the massive infection, I should have the metalwork removed from my ankle! He operated to remove the plate and nine screws which Dr. Lane had so carefully put in, nine months before. Oh well, if that’s what the doctor orders.
I was in hospital, with my foot in plaster, again, my back in great pain, on a drip for the infection in my lungs, no appetite and unable to get out of bed without help. My other doctor, Dr. Hawkins, was very thorough and ordered an MRI to find out why the back wasn’t responding. We discovered that the infection had spread to my spine, in the pace where I had an arthritic vertebra and a slightly prolapsed disc. No wonder I was in pain! I wondered why my feet were quite numb and, much later, he told us that, if the infection had spread further, I would have lost the use of my legs, possibly permanently! He also told us that my infection count was one of the highest he had ever seen. With a normal range of 0-5 points, my reading was 415! I was a very sick but, fortunately, I didn’t know it at the time!
As it was, I was not able to put my left foot on the ground, after three operations on my ankle, and was only able to navigate my way around the hospital with support from a “walker” which supported me at elbow height. By the time I went home, after nearly three weeks, I had lost more than 7 kgs (15lbs) and was as “weak as a kitten”. My recovery took a total of 18 months since, at a crucial moment in the recovery process, I tore a meniscus in my left knee that rendered me completely immobile for a further few days. After six weeks of therapy and physio and massage and a cortisone injection into the knee joint, I can now walk without a stick (except on rough ground or for longer distances) and I find it quite difficult to go up or downhill. Mid-way through a “lap” of Australia in our wonderful caravan in 2019, whilst we were in Derby, Western Australia, I had a bleed into that same knee joint! I ended up in Emergency at 2am and Liz had to drive me two and a half hours to Broome the next morning for treatment. Very inconvenient! I carried that injury until we reached Perth when I started to feel "normal". I no longer know what normal is!
Moon’s Law Number Two applies to my recovery. It just takes time (a lot of time!) and hard work (a lot of hard work) and a determination not to allow it to “get you down”.
I believe that I obtained a pass in the first two tests and I’m still working on the third!
“I have a business trip to London coming up and a holiday would be about due, don’t you think” I said to Liz. Always one to jump at an opportunity to travel and see new things, she asked what I had in mind. “I thought that, after my business in London, we might head to Spain for a driving holiday” was my immediate reply.
It was July 2013 when we set off on our wonderful Spanish adventure and flew into Barcelona, spent a couple of nights in a beautiful apartment, organised through AirBnB and we walked and walked and walked.
We explored the Gaudi Museum (actually his house) and breathed in his unique style. Around every corner there was something strange and wonderful and not a straight line to be seen. We were intoxicated with his creativity. Mind you, I don’t want to live in a house like that!
So many special places, as we wandered around the lanes and by-ways and watched fireworks and celebrations in small squares tucked away in the Barcelona back streets. And then - La Sagrada Familia! Extraordinary! An unfinished masterpiece! A triumph of imagination over traditional architecture! A monstrosity! No matter what a person’s opinion of its artistic merit, there is no doubt that it is unique and breathtaking.
Spain also offered spectacular nightlife and, of course, the evenings didn’t start until at least nine or 10 PM, which suited us perfectly.
After a couple of days, we boarded the fast train to Valencia, having decided that there was little of particular note on that part of the Mediterranean coast, worthy of our brief time. We wanted to enjoy the countryside of Spain in detail. In Valencia, we collected our rental car and were expecting a medium-sized sedan, given that I'm reasonably tall. The young lady suggested that we would be better in a Mini. You can imagine that I suggested she might need to offer me a shoehorn if I was to have any hope of squeezing into such a small vehicle but she assured us that the ”Countryman” was anything but small. Sure enough, we were surprised to find that it was very spacious and quite comfortable. So off we set off on the road trip from Valencia south towards Gibraltar and up to Madrid, via some beautiful towns like Nijar, Seville, Toledo, Granada and Cordoba (not necessarily in that order!) and many others besides.
Summertime throughout Spain was very warm and so the evenings were treasured as they provided some respite from the heat. We took a night tour on an open-topped bus in Seville and loved the amazing sights, smells and sounds of a vibrant town, which were amplified by the fact that it was 37C at 11pm!
Somewhere along the road, I commented to Liz that I was having difficulty focusing with my left eye. We agreed that I'd get it checked out back in Melbourne and I did. In fact, upon our arrival back in Melbourne we had a spare day so took ourselves off to the optometrist to buy new glasses and have our eyes checked, but not in that order. When it came to my turn for the eye test, the optometrist looked at me strangely and suggested that I should immediately go to the eye hospital since, apparently, the pressure in my left eye were very high.
I wasn't unduly concerned, since we'd been travelling and with the pressures in an aircraft et cetera I thought this was just a passing issue. So, off we go to the eye hospital, jetlagged and a little tired and the doctor that we saw suggested that I move straight on to some eyedrops which would solve the pressure problem in the short term and also referred me to a specialist. By the very next morning, I decided to take myself to my local GP, since I was now suffering from stabbing pains behind the eye, considerable discomfort and I was in quite a state. He wasn't particularly concerned but did take the precaution of arranging a different specialist appointment, later that day. By the time I got to the specialist, I was a very concerned and in some considerable pain. He simply told me that I had mild glaucoma and was just allergic to the eyedrops. He changed my medication and told me that was all that was required. All was well.
All was well for a few days, anyway. Then I started having difficulty hearing in my left ear. It felt as though it was stuffed with glue. Back to the GP, suggesting to him, jokingly, that since I had problems with my left eye and now my left ear, I probably had a brain tumour! He told me not to be such a baby and, since the original hearing issue had occurred a month or two before the holiday, it was probably just a recurrence of that. Or a different infection picked up while travelling. He couldn't identify any particular source of the problem, so he sent me off to an ENT specialist, Dr. Vince Cousins. By now I was feeling like a complete hypochondriac.
A few days later, Dr Cousins, a complete gentleman, who also failed to find any particular problem, suggested that I go for an MRI. There was nothing obvious from the outside of the ear, so an internal examination was called for. Off I go, into a world of loud noise and discomfort, whilst lying perfectly still for about 40 minutes. Despite my silly comment to the GP, I was convinced that I was just getting old and my eyesight and hearing were failing, as was to be expected. After all, I had just turned 60 and Mum had always had a problem with her left ear as well.
Dr Cousins said that, after the MRI, he would call me with the results on the following Wednesday. As luck would have it, I was travelling that week as I was to attend a corporate golf day in Sydney, where we were the sponsors, on the Wednesday and then fly to Brisbane for meetings on Thursday and Friday and home again on Friday night. A quite relaxed and very mundane week.
I had just finished my round of corporate golf and hadn’t done particularly well, when the phone rang. I excused myself and went out on the deck of the clubhouse to take the call. It was Dr Cousins, who asked me where I was. I told him I was in Sydney and he asked me, “Where will you be tomorrow morning?”.
I replied, “I’m heading off to Brisbane before going home on Friday.”
“I think that it would be better if you fly home to Melbourne tonight and come and see me in the morning”, he responded, “I’ve made you an appointment for 9am.”
I asked him, “Why the urgency?”
“The MRI has uncovered a possible cause for your hearing issues”, he said, quite cautiously, “I think it would be best if we could discuss that as soon as possible”.
“What have you found?” I wanted details.
“I don’t think it’s cause to become too alarmed but there is a small tumour”, came the reply.
“I’ll see you in the morning”, I said, now rather concerned.
I asked my Assistant to rearrange flights and was able to fulfil the rest of my duties as the sponsor of the golf day and headed out to the airport to go home. I decided not to tell Liz until after I got home, to try and minimise any concerns she might have until she saw me.
So, I rang Liz after I landed and asked her what she was up to. She told me that she was off to dinner at a friend’s place and I asked her if she thought it would be OK for me to join her. Of course, she was very surprised that I was in Melbourne since she thought I was on the way to Brisbane.
“what are you doing in Melbourne?” came the obvious question.
I told her what had happened and why and, as a result, we spent a very awkward dinner not being able to discuss what Dr. Cousins had said or talking about anything in particular.
The following morning, as appointed, we rock up to Dr Cousin’s office, a little apprehensive, to say the least. He took us through the findings on the MRI and said that I had a tumour about the size of an almond, resting against the base of my brain, near the stem.
Whilst Dr Cousins took pains to explain that he thought that the tumour was of no particular concern and very likely benign, he did feel that it was important that I see a neuro-surgeon as soon as possible. He recommended a colleague and we were able to see him a week or so later. So began the worst 10 days of our lives. In this day of technology and the web, we were exposed to pictures and descriptions of a wide variety of horrific brain tumours, ranging from somewhat benign to lethal in the short term. We prepared wills and instructions in the event that, as a result of the surgery or the tumour, I became unable to communicate or otherwise disabled. Lots of tears and not much sleep.
We waited for the appointment to arrive and tried to be as normal as possible at work.
As it happened, Prof. Jeffrey Rosenfeld turned out to be one of the nicest men I have ever met and, we discovered, a legend in his field. In the words of another neurosurgeon, whom I met some time later, “he is God to us”.
I was very lucky.
Prof Rosenfeld took us through the various types of tumours and made it clear that the tumour I had was very likely, one of the better ones, if there is such a thing. He was reasonably confident that the tumour would be benign and, in discussing treatment, he did have to advise us that surgery was really the only option. The choice was to operate now or wait until the tumour grew a little more. Of course, in waiting, other symptoms would become apparent. Under his questioning, I was forced to admit that I had suffered some loss of balance and some other minor ill-effects and, as a result, I was unwilling to wait until they got worse. He agreed that was a good idea and suggested that he should operate as soon as possible. We set a date for October 13, some 2 or 3 weeks later. He explained that, after the operation, I would need rehabilitation, be unable to drive and that Liz would be my carer until I was able to manage alone.
During that conversation, my recollection was that he said that I would need 8-10 weeks for rehabilitation and recovery before being able to return to work.
I left work on 13th October and prepared for the operation on 17th .
The operation went very well and left me with numbness in the right side of my face and mouth, which remains, and double vision and some balance issues, both of which would disappear after many months.
I was left with 32 staples in my head and a scar of about 20cm (8") and a bit of swelling. I have to say that the first few days were quite unpleasant, despite the drugs. I hallucinated and had a difficult time. Thanks to Oxycodone which I never took again. An awful drug!
During rehabilitation, Liz and I realised that I wouldn’t be able to return to work as planned, by the end of January. I wouldn’t be able to drive for six months, I wasn’t able to walk unassisted and we seriously were considering offering my resignation. (See Chapter Five – Ansvar Part 2, Calamity).
My resignation was to become a moot point, as it happened, since I retired due to ill health in November.
There were some humorous times during the rehabilitation process, for example, when I walked off down a random driveway for no apparent reason. Not because I wanted to go there but because I had “lost my steering” and wasn’t able to control where I was going. Liz was fabulous in being my “minder” and keeping me going in a straight line. Holding hands with the one you love was never so important!
Part of the rehabilitation was that we used to frequent our local pub, in Richmond (Melbourne) “The Spreadeagle Hotel” or “the Spready”, as it was known locally, and I was wearing a patch over one eye to assist with my double vision, which was a side effect of the operation and affected my balance. Unfortunately, it also affected my depth perception and I would often reach for my beer and miss!
We were at the pub one afternoon when a dour old Scotsman approached Liz at the bar and said, “he’s having a lend, isn’t he?”
Liz asked what he meant and he added “well, he has the patch on a different eye each day. He’s not got a problem, he’s having a lend!” Liz quietly explained that “he” had a brain tumour removed and because of double vision, I needed to alternate the eye on which I wore the patch! He was very chastened and much friendlier after that. I note, for the record, that he didn’t buy us a beer! Well, he was a Scot!
In my late 20’s (1980), I was living in London with my first wife, Margie. We were entertained by some dear family friends, Prof. Herman Dowling (a doctor) and his lovely wife Evelyn. They had put us up until we found accommodation, through friends of theirs, near Kew Gardens and we enjoyed a lovely flat in a very convenient location. The Dowlings insisted we go back to see them on a regular basis and we returned for dinner one night at their place and were treated to some trout which Herman had caught, himself, on one of England’s renowned trout streams. After dinner, Herman insisted on opening the port and his cigar box and we had a fabulous evening. Quite decadent!
We returned to our little flat in Kew Gardens and I was just about to get undressed and into bed when I was overcome with shortness of breath, clamminess and a very rapid heartbeat. I was only 28 and far too young to be having a heart attack, surely!! Margie, being a nurse, herself, and quite sensible, reasonably surmised three things:
- I was not having a heart attack,
- I needed to see a doctor and
- Herman was probably still awake.
She was correct on all counts.
“Get to the hospital and I’ll meet you there”, Herman responded to Margie’s anxious phone query and we took off and arrived at Hammersmith Hospital a short time later. I was prodded, poked and examined and it was determined that I had an episode of Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation (PAF). Apparently quite common in fit young men. I recalled, upon questioning, that I had various similar episodes over the years but only for 15 - 20 seconds, not minutes or hours as, by now, it was.
I was told to go home and return in the morning to see Dr Kim Fox, a fine doctor who said that it was a case of watching and learning to see what the best treatment was. In fact, I discovered a neat way of reverting the heartbeat to normal rhythm when I was at the train station, on my way to work, later that morning. I suddenly had a great urge for a small bar of chocolate and ate it all at once. That combination of sugar and cocoa put me straight back into sinus (normal) rhythm. I learned, much later, that chocolate can also be the catalyst for an episode, as well. It doesn’t work both ways, only one or the other.
That was the first of what was to become a regular series of PAF episodes and I was put on to a variety of drugs to control it over the next 25 years.
Back in Sydney, some years later, I was in the hands of a great cardiologist, Dr. David Whalley but I had had enough of drugs and being admitted to Casualty with many serious episodes, usually being suspected of having a heart attack. Sometimes that involved reversion to sinus rhythm by use of the “paddles” of a defibrillator. Not a comfortable procedure, even though I was sedated at the time and, at Royal North Shore Hospital, on one famous occasion, they tried to cardiovert me five times, without success! They did succeed in giving me burns across my back and chest, where the paddles and pads were attached. Mercifully, I was asleep at the time but the burn marks were painful and lasted for many days.
I went through massive weight loss as a result of some of the drugs as one in particular, Amiodarone, so messed up my thyroid that I lost 7kgs in a week! Generally, as a result of the drugs, I was left feeling quite unwell so I started researching alternatives.
I discovered a procedure in the USA, which involved inserting 1., a light, 2., a camera and 3., a filament into the femoral artery, by way of the groin. Having entered the artery, the three tubes make their way to the heart and the doctor then burns scar tissue inside the chambers of the heart in order to prevent the fibrillation. It is called an “ablation” and, whilst it sounded dire, it was reported to be very successful so I asked David (Dr. Whalley) for his thoughts.
I still can’t get used to the modern idea that we call our doctors by their first name, I guess I’m a traditionalist. They have earned the right to their title.
“Good idea” he said but advised that, since he’d only conducted 6 of them, he didn’t want to operate on me. He suggested Dr Stuart Thomas who, David advised, “has done more than 300 – he’s your man”.
Off I went to see Stuart and, after another series of tests, he agreed to operate. The procedure involved seven computer screens, three doctors, four nurses and an anaesthetist and took 8 hours. Afterwards, I was in perfect sinus rhythm and felt great!
That lasted two weeks and, again, I found myself in Casualty and very disappointed. I went back to Stuart who reminded me of the stats “75% of ablations are a cure after one procedure, 85% after two and 95% after three”.
“Let’s do another one”, I suggested and he agreed.
That second one lasted 3 months. Go back to Stuart, go back to the stats and off we went for number three.
I then enjoyed a wonderful 15 months of perfect rhythm and felt 10 years younger and fitter and healthier than I had in 20 years. I was a great fan of Stuart’s and so, when I had yet another episode, we had a further chat.
“I’m not keen to do a fourth procedure’ was his immediate response and I countered with “one procedure got us two weeks, two got three months, three got 15 months so four should be good for 15 years”
He brightened my day with “I like your logic. Although we haven’t done four very often, we will for you.”
That was 2004 and I was thrilled, since I believed in him and I believed in my logic!
Unfortunately, I was proved to be pretty much spot on when, in 2016, I succumbed to still another episode! Only 12 years and I felt robbed. By now, I was living in Queensland and a long way from Stuart in Sydney and not even sure if he was still there, so I went to a local cardiologist Dr. Kin Chee and we discussed options. I was adamant that I would not go on to a drug regime so Dr Chee (I confess, I wasn’t comfortable calling him by his first name, rather than ‘Doctor’) suggested a that he might do an ablation. He knew my history and so I thanked him for his advice and said that I would think about it.
I did, for a second or two, after leaving his office and, after discussing with Liz, I told her that I was convinced that a fifth ablation was the way to go but that Dr. Stuart Thomas was the one to perform the procedure, since he had my whole history on record, in detail. Off we went to Sydney and, with a minimum of fuss, underwent another ablation. Science is wonderful! This one took only 2 hours and was a breeze.
Not even two years on and, bugger, it happened again, in early 2018. Dr Chee admitted me to Buderim Private Hospital, to cardiovert me and this time, it was successful! He also prescribed more drugs, which held the situation in check and, with his cooperation and full knowledge, I arranged to go back to Dr Thomas for a further (6th ) ablation in October, 2018.
This was also (mostly) successful and allowed us the luxury of a lovely few days staying with son Ben and has gorgeous wife, Sam, whilst I attended Westmead Hospital , in Sydney. The doctor and I agreed that there would be no more and I was as good as I could be.
I was cautioned to remain on one of the drugs in order to manage the rhythm better but it’s only a minor dose. It's not perfect but it's bloody fantastic!
Just after the brain surgery, there was a further complication in my recovery period. I was suffering from a sore back and, having followed Liz downstairs, I was unable to walk, collapsed to the floor and was in such pain that I couldn’t speak. Not sure if it was my brain or some other ailment, Liz was sufficiently concerned that she rang “000” and asked for an ambulance. I was, by then, able to indicate that it was my back and she was able to describe what had happened to the operator.
They determined that it was not life threatening and suggested that, if at all possible, she should drive me to the hospital (literally 3 minutes away and from where I had only been discharged a few days earlier!) since that would be much faster than waiting for an ambulance. Liz helped me crawl to the car, got me to the hospital, where we found a wheelchair and I was left, in agony, for about an hour. I sat very still and said nothing. It was a very long hour and, by now, it was after 11pm and we still weren’t sure what was going on.
At last, I was taken to a bed, diagnosed with kidney stones and given morphine. Having spent the past four hours being mono-syllabic, I suddenly became very verbose and quite nonsensical and, given that it was now 1am, Liz was finding me a bit hard to take, now ebullient and in good spirits so she went home to bed, knowing I was in good hands and pain free.
I know that the male of the species has a lower tolerance for pain than the female, however, in my defence of the description of the pain, one of the female nurses told me “I have had two children and I’ve had kidney stones. The pain is the same!”
I can only say that my admiration for all the mothers in the world increased five-fold at that point. I had never before suffered pain like that. Wow, isn’t morphine wonderful!
I knew nothing about kidney stones and it appeared that the cocktail of drugs that I had taken after the brain surgery may have contributed. Needless to say, my diet changed immediately, to avoid all the stone-causing agents. The saddest of those was strawberries and beetroot. Oh well, sacrifices must be made. Just as I don’t eat prawns (another favourite) since they exacerbate gout, I keep adding to my list of favourite foods that I mustn’t eat.
I was then passed into the hands of a urologist and he had me in various hospitals for procedures to “blast” the stones and pass them from my system. All went well and I was back on the healthy list until the very last of those procedures.
Bear in mind, I was being treated in Melbourne whilst we live in the Sunshine Coast, so we were away from home. After the last procedure he said, “you’re OK to go home but, if you show any sign of a fever, go straight to Emergency, we don’t want to risk an infection”. We flew home that day and felt sure that we had resolved another issue. High fives all round.
Two mornings later, I woke up in a lather and horribly feverish. Liz took me down to the local hospital (10 minutes away) at Noosa and I was admitted. Two days later, despite our explanation of the circumstances, I was shipped off to Selangor Hospital (30 minutes away) where I was admitted to the “Infectious Diseases Ward”! They couldn’t identify the bug and I had to remain on a drip, for a week, with a diminishing fever, whilst they worked out what infection I had. Apparently, I’d contracted golden staph in the last Melbourne hospital and it had spread to my kidneys.
Fortunately, the intravenous drugs seemed to beat the infection and, with the reluctant consent of my doctors, we left hospital one day and took off on an extended caravan trip the next, with firm instructions “if you show any sign of a fever, go straight to Emergency”. Fortunately, there were no such signs and there was no recurrence of the stones or the fever.
In November, 2018, we enjoyed a very restful few days on Fraser Island, only a couple of hours drive north and the largest sand island in the world. We had a great time with friends and “Koala Crusaders”, Rex and Meghan Halversen and enjoyed the rather rough ride around the island in a 4-Wheel Drive bus. I am convinced that the jolting caused my next back pain but I have no proof. It was pleurisy and an infection in my spine! (See ‘Bones’, above)
You’d think that I had seen enough of hospitals, wouldn’t you?
In the year following my brain surgery, I was admitted seven times to six different hospitals. I was not at all impressed. They’re full of germs and sick people!
Having dispensed with the trials and tribulations of kidney disorders, all was well for a while. So much so, that we decided to head to Fiji for a holiday, after I responded to a “special deal” with Expedia. We were looking forward to a week or so and I felt that we had done a good deal, price wise, so much so that our daughter Lauren and her partner Alex asked if they could join us. We agreed on the basis that we had “separate but together” holidays so that we wouldn’t feel that we had to spend every moment together and each couple could have some time alone.
Just before we set off, I received a very exciting email from Expedia, saying that I’d won a competition (that I didn’t even know I was in!) and they would refund the whole amount of the trip! At first, being a tad sceptical and wary of scams, I thought it was a hoax but, sure enough, about a week later the original cost was credited to my credit card account. Fabulous! A great trip and now it was free!
The hotel was a lovely spot, with a good pool and a bar and we settled in very well. Our first full day was great and, on the third day, I woke to find that I had a big black patch in the lower portion of the vision of my left eye. It was as though a black Holland blind was being raised inside my eye, from the bottom, up. Because I had been taking drops for glaucoma ever since the issue in Spain and the brain surgery, and because I had forgotten to bring my drops with me, I thought that was probably the cause. I wasn’t too concerned but felt I should see a local doctor and get some drops to replace the ones I had forgotten at a local pharmacy. Easier said than done! Towns in Fiji are not plentiful nor well provided for and pharmacies are few and far between. As the day went on, my sight deteriorated further and further and, by mid-afternoon, the “blind” had spread halfway up my eye so that I was, by then, looking through a semi-circle, the top half only.
I was becoming quite concerned.
I had been to see the doctor at the hotel and, based on what she had said about her suspicions, I felt that I should call my eye specialist in Melbourne and ask him for advice. It was a Monday and, given my location and urgency, he took the call and suggested that I probably had a detached retina. My Dad had suffered in the same way and been alright so that was almost a relief. I knew that it was treatable, at least. He went on to say, “you should get that confirmed by a specialist optician as quickly as possible and get home on the first flight”. That didn’t make me any less anxious. We scurried around changing flights and finding a doctor, neither of which was an easy task, but we got there in the end.
We headed to Nadi and found the address of the surgery for the “eye specialist” and sat waiting in the dingy, dusty waiting room. Eventually, a pleasant but somewhat distracted older man (he was probably my age but seemed much older!) ushered Liz and me into his office. We explained the situation and that we would be asking him to have a look at my problem and talk to my doctor in Melbourne. On my phone, of course, which made him visibly relax.
He went to the back of the consulting room and pulled out a very old, very dusty and somewhat decrepit briefcase which contained a device which looked as though it had not seen the light of day in some decades. I’m sure it hadn’t! Eventually, he consulted some yellowing, written instructions which he had found in the old briefcase, turned the device 180 degrees to the right way up and used it to examine my eye. Filling us with absolutely no confidence at all, he said “I am pretty sure that you have a detached retina and I will discuss this with your doctor”. When he asked us to leave the room whilst, with my phone, he rang Melbourne, we knew that he had no idea at all but we hoped that he might be able to describe something useful to my doctor.
Eventually the conversation ended and he wandered out to the waiting room, where we were patiently doing as the name implied, and handed me back my phone. My doctor was still on the phone and, expressing some concern, confirmed his original diagnosis, based on what the Fijian doctor thought he saw through the ancient machine, and asked for flight our details. He told us to ring him when we landed and he would advise the details of the appointment he was going to arrange with an eye surgeon. “Don’t miss the plane” were his comforting words.
We landed in Melbourne that very afternoon, found an airport hotel, rented a car and, first thing in the morning we drove to Frankston (about 50km away) and saw the surgeon in his rooms, by lunchtime. He confirmed, absolutely, the diagnosis and directed us to return to the Eye Hospital in Melbourne, where this whole saga had commenced and told us that I was being operated on at 6pm. A very busy day!
So much for a free holiday! We had now paid for flights back to Melbourne, where my specialist was located and were now looking at further flights to home, on the Sunshine Coast and hotel expenses, etc! What no-one had told us was that following eye surgery, because of the pressures in the eye and the way that a gas bubble is introduced to stabilise the retina, the patient(me) can’t fly for at least a week! How to get home? I wasn’t able or allowed to drive and it was too far for Liz to drive us so we arranged a train trip from Melbourne to Sydney and then the overnight train from Sydney to Brisbane. So far so good. It should be a relaxing journey home and slightly cheaper than plane tickets.
When we got on the train in Sydney, to travel to Brisbane, they informed us that, because of “track work” we would be transferred to a bus in Lismore, on the north coast of NSW and travel the last four hours to Brisbane on a bus! That doesn’t sound so bad but the transfer to the bus took place at 3am!
We made it to Brisbane’s central railway station, found a cab and headed to the airport (did I mention that, when we left for Fiji, we left our car at Brisbane airport?). There, we collected our car and drove the nearly two hours home. Our journey home from Melbourne, which should have taken no more than a few hours, had taken a total of 35 hours!
We were exhausted.
As a result of the detached retina, my vision in my left eye is still distorted and probably will be, forever. Having said that, the eyesight in my left eye would have been non-existent without the excellent care and advice that I received in Melbourne!. I developed a cataract in my left eye but the doctor was able to rectify that with a minimum of fuss and I have one developing in the right eye but that will take years to deteriorate to the extent that I need any surgery.
Notwithstanding my many years of working for a variety of companies in a multitude of capacities and with, by most measures, a great breadth of experience, I was totally unprepared for a brain tumour and even less prepared for the news I received whilst recuperating. The lesson for me was that I had failed to live by my own rules . It is a great reminder to consider all possibilities, whenever possible. If you are in doubt, have a look at De Bono’s “black hat”. When making a decision or dealing with any situation, especially a crisis, and considering the options, always think in terms of “what if”. Having considered those options, it is very important to then consider, “and then what?”
Remember, dishonest people are in the minority (no more than about 5% of the population are inherently dishonest, I reckon) but their best camouflage is to appear honest and trustworthy. By all means, be a trusting person (I am!) but if that trust is betrayed , show no mercy!
Seek out expert advice . Be prepared to seek a second opinion and a third, if necessary. Then, make your decision objectively and rationally.
Experts , for whose advice I had paid good money, should be obeyed. I have consulted many experts and always have had to remember that they are exactly that. I have always sought the best advice that I could at the time and gone with their advice. Times will change and advice will change, however, all you can do to seek the best advice available when you need it the most.
No matter how wonderful modern medicine is to be able to put us back together, despite our own, sometimes naïve, view of ourselves as being invincible and doing our very best to break ourselves, don’t forget Moon’s Law Number Two, “each year of age equals a day of recovery”. The broken bone or pulled muscle that took 10 days to heal when you were 10 years old takes 10 weeks when you are 70 years old. Trust me, it’s true!
It’s only when I faced the reality of a “real” loss, like life itself, eyesight or mobility, that I understood that the pursuit of money and fame and fortune is temporary and, at best, fleeting. Yes, money can buy a fancy car and a beautiful house but if you’re not around to enjoy it, what’s the point?
You can lose things and break things which can be found and repaired or replaced but that is not true of life. I do not believe in god. I find it hard to accept the presence of a “superior power” or being that allows for the suffering of innocent children, the abuse of various people in the name of faith (whatever faith that might be, all faiths seem to have the capacity to kill human beings who do not share their views) or for torture, murder, ecological vandalism, genital mutilation or other atrocities. They are human failings and a real “power” would prevent such suffering, in my view. When it’s gone, it’s gone . We all die but it is the manner of our living that differentiates the happy from the sad, the optimists from the pessimists and the humorous from the unfunny.
Don’t be the sad, the pessimistic or the unfunny person in the group. Enjoy each day to the full and be sure that you learn something new each day. Be a happy, optimistic, funny sponge.
Some of us are not desirable organ donors!