Sunday, 30 April 2017

Ten Years... Happy Diagnosiversary to me!

Tuesday May 1st 2007. It was cloudy and a bit miserable I recall. Perhaps some drizzle.

For the previous three or four months I'd been going through a barrage of tests for those clever-ologists to find out what was going on.



My brand new neurologist, a bookish little chap with small round glasses, had made me do various eyes-closed tests, touch my nose, touch each finger to each thumb in rapid succession, and some creative variations on walking in a straight line. He had also poked my feet with a pin a few times. I hadn't realised how numb they were until that point. Still a bit ouchy though.

My new urologist, meanwhile (the waterworks specialist), poked me and rummaged round in rather different places. Though fortunately not with a pin.

Off I was sent for a scan of my brain and spine (MRI). Strange, unpleasant, buzzy. They forgot to scan my spine so I had to go back. Strange, unpleasant, buzzy again. I blogged about one recently, trying my best to describe the awkwardness of it all... http://onemanandhiscatheters.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/my-oh-my-oh-mri.html
And a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as a spinal tap in the USA and in the world of pop... It's truly horrible, lying side-on in the foetal position and having a doc drill millimetres away from your spine to extract a few drops of liquid. After the pain-killers, the sensation was a 'grinding' one. But it hurt like buggery for three or four days afterwards.
Finally a very strange test - as if the others weren't bizarre - where I had to watch some dots on a screen while receiving constant mild electric shocks to my hand. Ours not to reason why...

Weeks had passed by while the experts scratched their chins knowingly. Or more likely while my file sat in a sky high in-tray gathering dust. And all that time Mrs W and I sat there with rising blood pressure, biting our nails and wondering what was wrong with me. Joining the dots, we suspected it might be serious... Constant pins and needles; weakness in my left leg whenever we went for a walk or a run or a bike ride; bladder issues, with many a quick roadside stop, many a tree and bush enjoying my emergency visits; and 'blue pill' sales doing very well thank you...

A neurology appointment letter finally crashed onto our doorstep, but it was set for a month or more away. We just couldn't wait that long. Suspecting our GP might already know, we booked a hasty appointment with him. Big mistake. Huge. Our GP did know, but did he care? Had he thought about how to to tell us I had an incurable disease?  That MS symptoms vary from person to person and that the disease can be just as extremely mild as it can be extremely serious? Of course not.

The conversation is hazy in my mind, but I remember the GP's attitude. Relaxed, chatty, arrogant. As if he was telling us I had a verruca. He sent us off with no information or reassuring words whatsoever and I remember his closing nonchalant farewell, "Good luck old chap!"  Grrr... If he wasn't retired now, I'd find a way to get him retired. The rest of the surgery is great so I won't name and shame.

Home we drove in a daze and after a tearful hug, onto google I headed. Another big mistake. Huge. Within minutes, because it's usually the worst cases that make the headlines, I decided I had only a few years to live at best, and effectively my life was over.

Happily, I couldn't have been more wrong. Life is good, if challenging on a daily basis. With the love and support of family, friends, colleagues, carers, charities, volunteers, social media, health professionals and my amazing employers, I'm ok, honest. I need a wee though. And maybe a nap.

I dedicate this blog to incompetent GP's everywhere. Thankfully they are in the minority.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

One Man and his Catheters: Oh Flip. PIP... The document of doom...

One Man and his Catheters: Oh Flip. PIP... The document of doom...: It had to happen eventually... I've been dreading it since it was announced, and a hefty envelope finally crashed down on our doormat, t...

One Man and his Catheters: Matt Dawson, me and Motor Neurone Disease

One Man and his Catheters: Matt Dawson, me and Motor Neurone Disease: Matt Dawson (ex-England Rugby Union captain, British and Irish Lions star, sparkly Strictly Come Dancer, long running captain on TV's Qu...

One Man and his Catheters: My, oh my, oh MRI...

One Man and his Catheters: My, oh my, oh MRI...: Bzzz, click, whirr, tock, bzzz, bzzz, silence. Click, click, Pacman-like beep, click, bzzz, more bzzz. Silence. Long Bzzzzzzz. Silence. Then...

One Man and his Catheters: Blue Lights, Morphine and a Resuscitation Room

One Man and his Catheters: Blue Lights, Morphine and a Resuscitation Room: OK, so there's me booked to speak on Wednesday to 500 health professionals at the thrilling 'Infection Prevention and Control 2017&#...

One Man and his Catheters: On Porridge and Patients…

One Man and his Catheters: On Porridge and Patients…: So my escape from hospital was brief by any depressing standard. Out Saturday evening in time for a delicious Thai takeaway, shared with ...

One Man and his Catheters: Death sentences and Life sentences. The blue pill ...

One Man and his Catheters: Death sentences and Life sentences. The blue pill ...: Hurrah! I'm out of hospital after a total of 13 nights fighting a bladder infection and temperatures twice steaming scarily over 41 degr...

One Man and his Catheters: Carer creep - The other side of the coin

One Man and his Catheters: Carer creep - The other side of the coin: Before my very eyes - or more poignantly, before my amazing wife's eyes - I am turning into an utterly cliche 1950's man. Just sit m...

One Man and his Catheters: Grief is Like a Box of Chocolates...

One Man and his Catheters: Grief is Like a Box of Chocolates...: So my wonderful, beautiful sister passed away last week aged just 46. She leaves behind a brilliant husband and two great - and I think resi...

One Man and his Catheters: And they all lived differently ever after

One Man and his Catheters: And they all lived differently ever after: Once upon a time (exactly 25 years ago in fact), 12,000 young, enthusiastic and adventurous people descended on a mysterious location one ho...

And they all lived differently ever after

Once upon a time (exactly 25 years ago in fact), 12,000 young, enthusiastic and adventurous people descended on a mysterious location one hour east of Paris. And all these youngsters were magically transformed into 'cast members' by passing through a special little school called Disney University. We came out smiling and laughing, excited about a wondrous new place about to open called EuroDisney. We were immortal.

And lots of us were given jobs like room-cleaning, popcorn-selling and heating up french fries. Some of us got super lucky and landed once-in-a-lifetime jobs like driving a steam train, playing a famous character and dancing in parades, performing as real live cowboy, or looking after VIPs and celebrities.

I landed that last job. I genuinely did have a wonderful other-worldly experience in the company of the likes of Gloria Estefan, Kevin Costner, Clint Eastwood, Eva Gabor. And Michael Jackson. Here's me front left in a garish blue uniform, and MJ hiding at the back after we mobbed him with dozens of characters and a marching band.

Also in the picture is the best Mary Poppins I ever met. She was played by Ali Flavell, cheeky and in character enough to turn to Michael Jackson and ask earnestly, "And who might you be young man?" He loved it...

We were having a whale of a time. Or so we thought.
Ali (aka a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Mary Poppins) was about to be diagnosed with a brain tumour, whilst I was showing the first, mild signs of multiple sclerosis. Ali underwent some seriously aggressive treatment back in the UK, and made a pretty good recovery after six months of rehab. Meanwhile. I blundered on, oblivious to the ticking time bomb in my brain and spine, the protective sheath around my central nervous system being quietly chipped away by my own immune system.

I wasn't diagnosed with MS until 15 years later, Ali started getting unsteady on her feet over time as the ravages of her radiotherapy treatment kicked in. Both of us are now in wheelchairs.

12th April 2017, Ali and I met again at the 25th anniversary celebrations of EuroDisney (now Disneyland Paris.) Here we are, neither of us any good on our feet, but both happy as Larry. For the avoidance of doubt, I'm the one on the left, and she's the pretty one on the right.


Life goes on. Both of us are married, both of us are parents to two boys. I live a happy, if very different life to the one I imagined. And in times of doubt, I fear very much for what my future holds. I can't talk directly for Ali, but every single pic I see her in, she has a beaming smile. And when I talked to her last week, she was full of plans for the future. And just like 25 years ago, she remains blessed with an enormous sense of fun.

I came away elated from bumping into Mary Poppins again, and more determined than ever to live life to the full. Who knows what's around the corner? We're both rather better off than Michael Jackson after all...

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Grief is Like a Box of Chocolates...

So my wonderful, beautiful sister passed away last week aged just 46. She leaves behind a brilliant husband and two great - and I think resilient - boys, 10 and 11 years old. Her death wasn't unexpected, but she struggled on so very bravely at the end. Three weeks in intensive care, with the NHS throwing everything at her and trying every possible solution to help her pull through. Close, so very close, but tragically no cigar.

Ironically, I was for a while in the same hospital, at the same time. Just not in intensive care.I was having my own tough little stay, but paling into total insignificance, as I knew very well I was coming out. Twice I was wheeled one floor downstairs to say what I thought might be 'adieu'. I put on a brave face the one moment she was vaguely conscious, and the last visit I was sobbing and breathless with despair as I knew this was the last time I would see her alive.

I loved her from the moment she was born, and she loved me back. Perhaps mum would correct me, but I don't recall a single cross word between us. Ever. Even when I came back one day and found my Action Man dating her Cindy Doll. Even when the majority of my early girlfriends got the cold shoulder and the death stare because they - apparently - didn't reach the exacting standards required for her brother.

This picture dates from 1988. I drove through Europe with a German friend and my sis joined us when we reached our final destination, Greece. We had run low on funds and were surviving on a diet of olive oil, salt and tomatoes, together with stale bread for dunking, bought cheap or begged at the end of the day from bakeries. Her arrival and shameless fluttering of eyelids and cheeky smile won us endless free helpings of calamari and ouzo from beach barmen desperate to win her affections. None of them did.

I miss her desperately. I'm still sending her texts and when I feel brave, calling her mobile just to hear her voice... I'm crying at the most random of things. Today among other moments it was looking at the blue sky and wondering where she was up there. And Eva Cassidy played on the radio floored me.

Mrs W and I have always talked about two moments that shaped our life together irrevocably. A fire in 1999 that destroyed everything we owned. We were left with some window-boxes, their geraniums and the clothes we were wearing. And my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis in 2007. From the fire, after the initial shock, we learned that material 'stuff' matters so much less than we think. And that only photographs are precious. From my diagnosis we learned to live life to the full, to fill our days with happy memories and to love those special people around us all the more. I usually remember those lessons, though MS frequently manages to get in my way.

Fire? Multiple Sclerosis? Right now they feel nothing compared to the passing of a loved one.

What have I learned from my sister's death? I don't know. It's all too raw at the moment but for now I'm hugging my children more. And through the fog of grief, I'm feeling lucky to be alive, I'm determined to appreciate the little things, and to hang on to all the amazing, happy memories of life with a cheeky little sister.