A year ago today I went into St George's Hospital with lung cancer. A daunting prospect at the time. The next day I was operated on by Mr Hunt and he removed one third of my right lung. (He did have my permission.)
I came round in Caroline Ward. Felt okay, no discomfort, no pain. Heather and Cyril visited; doctors came round and checked me over and said I could go home. Great, I thought, but I could tell Heather wasn't so keen on the idea. "It's a bit quick, don't you think?" She said.
She was clearly thinking of last year, after my bowel cancer op in East Surry Hospital. I was discharged after about four days and then, the next day I felt so bad, so sick, I was rushed back in. But I got over it and after a couple of follow-ups with Mr Smith, the surgeon who had operated, I was fine, cured, cancer gone. Until, a year later, it was found on my lung.
So, this time I was home for less than a day before the pain started and I felt as if I couldn't breath.
Back into St George's.
Not a happy time for me, or Heather, or Cyril. To my relief the pain was tackled first. Two doctors came to see me and suggested I have a spinal nerve block procedure which, they assured me, would sort the pain out. It did. And much more.
The evening following the procedure, I was taken in a small fifteen-seater bus, with other patients from the ward, to a Redhill restaurant where we ate. A nurse kept coming to see me concerned about my pain, but it was now only coming in waves, there were periods when it left me altogether. The two doctors who had pertformed the spinal block precedure were there, talking to another patient and persuading him to consider having it too.
An hour or two later we were back in the ward. The pain had gone but that night I had some dreadful dreams preceded by psychedelic patterns on the wall opposite my bed. I concluded there was some sort of fault in the lighting circuits causing them. The swirling abstrct colours slowly spread across the ceiling and were difficult to ignore. Also difficult to ignore was one of the nearby patients who seemed to spend the night calling on God to help him. It seemed that God didn't for he kept repeating the plea until the morning when he eventually fell asleep, as did I, too.
In the morning Heather was there smiling down at me, but looking concerned. Still no pain. There were large flies buzzing aroung the bed that I kept flapping my hand at, as I told her about the night before.
"What are you doing?" She asked as I continued my attempts to brush the flys away.
"Flys." I said. She gave me a strange look.
"You went to a restaurant?" she asked
"Yes," I waved my hand around the ward, "there was a bunch of us. They took us in a coach."
She smiled, shook her head, "I don't think so, love. I think you are on some sort of drug.""
"What do you mean?"
She shook her head, "It didn't happen. You have just had a serious operation, you are in hospital. They wouldn't be zipping you around the countryside in a mini-bus, visiting restaurants, would they? Think about it."
I thought about it. But it was so real and it took quite a while for me to accept I hadn't gone to a reataurant in Redhill with some of my fellow patients. The spinal nerve block procedure I had undergone allows the slow release of morphine which stops the pain but, of course, has side affects - one of which is hallucinations. I had another revelelation later that day: I thought the ambulance that had been called for me had taken me back to St George's - but no, I was in East Surrey Hospital!
I have never taken drugs so had no conception of the affect they can have.
I know now.
a-year-ago-today.htmlVery warm today, sunny, blue sky, it's the start of the predicted heatwave, obviously, and long may it continue.
A letter to me from the Department of Health and Social Care, dropped on to the front door mat this morning signed by Matt Hancock, the Health Minister and Robert Jenrick the Minister of Housing, Communities and Local Government - the man, incidentally, who is presently accused of a suspicious manoeuvre involving millions of pounds; don't know the details but nothing new there as when ever there is a government minister involved in a scandal involving money we never get all the details. Apparently, Boris has said, "The matter is closed," so like the Dominic Cummings incident, a few weeks ago, we won't be getting the truth.
Anyway, the Right Honourable Minister, Mr Jenrick, tells me, (again) I am clinically extremely vulnerable due to COVID-19 But the shielding advice I had been given (stay indoors, avoid non essential face to face contact) is changing because the chances of meeting someone with the virus has considerably reduced, so the shielding is to be relaxed, and from August 1st there will be no need to shield at all. I think they are rushing it, and we may come to regret this hurry to get back to making money. But what do I know?
Mr Jenrick didn't mention, in his letter, the trouble he was presently experiencing.
It is such a beautiful day I put the bike batteries on charge and when Cyril emerged suggested we go for a ride today. He agreed straight away. We took our usual route down to Dormansland ("Posh-land.") and took a different course to last time. Along the footpath by the side of the railway. It is straight but narrow in parts and up and down. A problem occurred when we reached the bridge just before Dormans Station. There are steep steps up to the road and getting the bikes up them proved to be quite a challenge. We managed it in the end and rested on one of the seats on the platform. The tannoy came on every few minutes telling passengers, (there weren't any) to observe the two metre rule and wear face covering - now the law on all public transport. We watched a couple of trains come through and then made our way back through Dormansland Park. At one point, on a hill, I stopped and couldn't get going again, tried a couple of times, but the electric motor didn't engage, so, no momentum, no balance. I fell off. C circled back, tutted and helped me up. No injuries, except to my pride, and we made our way back to the entrance to the wood, meeting on the way a fellow cyclist, and resident of Dormanland who had self-built his 4 bedroomed house and was an ex Gatwick worker. He is expecting delivery tomorrow, he told us, of an electric scooter, an item I am interested in having myself.
Today, the media tell us, Boris will announce that from July 4th the restrictions on the catering industry will be lifted and the rule of maintaining two metre distance between us all will be reduced to one metre. Shame it isn't now, the met people are forecasting a heatwave over the next few days, a state that is ideal for pubs I imagine.
Is this good news? Well, the heatwave is and no doubt landlords and restaurant owners will think it is too but I'm not so sure. The government seem to have got things wrong throughout this epidemic - usually late decisions - so I am not too confident that these latest changes are going to run smoothly.
My sister, toward the end, displayed symptoms of dementia. Loss of memory and confidence being the most obvious, and it keeps crossing my mind – will this become my fate? I have always had a bad memory, forgetting where I’ve put the car keys – things like that. Heather has often joked, “If you get dementia, nobody would know.” But recently my bad memory seems to have got worse. A drama comes on the television that Cyril and Heather assure me we have seen, but I do not recall it at all. This afternoon, for instance, I was in my chair in the summerhouse when H called out to me, “I’m off now!”
I got out of the chair and walked up to the carport, “Where are you going?”
“I told you this morning, I’m doing some shopping.”
“Did you? Well, remember, keep away from people, six or seven feet, okay?”
“Yes, yes, don’t worry.”
I do worry, can’t help it.
I didn’t recall her telling me she was going shopping today. This kind of memory lapse seems to be happening more often and it’s just a little bit worrying. I haven’t talked about it. I’m sure if I did Heather would want to pack me off down to the doctors for tests and once they’ve got me down as a possible dementia candidate who knows where I will end up? No, I won’t mention it.
I follow politics. Had I ever had the opportunity to go to University I would have studied the subject. "Politricks" was how my late Uncle Jim described the subject. During one of our stays in America, I followed the antics of Trump and his cohorts; watched the Congressional Hearings, watched the political debates on CNN, NBC, ABC, and even viewed (against my better judgment) Fox News.
In America, I found it faintly amusing. The way the goings on in Congress and the White House were dissected and analysed by the 'experts;' while Trump's daily tweets were leapt upon and talked about in depth ("Are the President's tweets official policy?") But over there I was divorced from it. It was nothing to do with me. It was just entertainment; interesting, funny at times - that's the way they do it here, was my thinking, it was fascinating but it didn't really affect me.
Now I'm home again and into the politics here again and it is not amusing and it does affect me. What a mess it all is, what a scandal. In the few short weeks, I have been home the politicians have been up to all sorts of politricks, their reputations have sunk to an all-time low. Mrs May promises £10M to Northern Ireland in order to keep herself in Downing Street. She insists the 1% pay cap to nurses, firemen, police, teachers and other public sector workers will remain while the MPs themselves get a 1.4% rise on top of the 10% raise they had in 2015. The Queen is to have her income doubled to £82M "to cover the cost of essential works at Buckingham Palace."
It is revealed Prince Phillip took a ride on the Royal Train to Plymouth to attend a dinner at the Royal Marines Barracks. Cost: £18,690. Prince Charles took a two-day journey to Lancashire, Cumbria and West Yorkshire from Windsor on the train. Cost: £46,038. The train was used 14 times last year and its cost is between £800,000 and £900,000. An official is quoted as saying it was 'good value for money.' He was serious.
The council leader and the chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea Council have resigned over the scandal of the Grenfell Tower disaster. They couldn't stand the heat so they have got out. They were lucky, over 82 of their constituents couldn't get out. According to The Telegraph the CEO will be entitled to compensation of around £100,000. How much will the poor people who were able to flee from their burning homes in the middle of the night get in compensation? I would like to know the answer to that.
Some years ago, not long after my 80th birthday I was on the tube travelling from London Bridge to Eauston. The Underground was crowded, people everywhere. I dragged my wheelie case aboard and clutched hold of an overhead strap as we accelerated out of the station trying not to bump into anyone.
A young man sitting nearby stood and said, "Sit down, sir, take my seat."
It was the first time that had happened to me.
It was because I am old.
Tuesday, 19th May 2020 (Date written)
Today is forecast to be the warmest so far this year, up into the high seventies so C and I got the electrical bikes out and had some exercise.
We took the same route as last time we went for a ride, which was on VE Day, 8th May. Down Furzefield Road, turned right along Eden Vale, through the wood and into Dorman’s Park.
Dorman’s Park is very posh. It drips money. Many of the houses are in the millions, some several. The roads are smooth, a delight to ride on, not a pothole in sight. Most of the traffic you see, and of course there is very little, are workers vans and pick-up trucks attending the houses – painters, carpenters, roofers, electricians, plumber – people put on this earth to serve the rich. Dorman’s Park is as far away from the slums of Manchester, where, as a teenager I lived for a while, as it is possible to get.
Today, it is very warm and sunny, peaceful and quiet (as it should be in such an up-market area). As we ride around and along the various roads, enjoying the tranquillity of the day, the only sounds we hear, from over the recently trimmed hedges by gardner are the well-modulated voices of millionaires enjoying tea on the lawn, or more likely, cocktails by the poolside. This is an enclave for the so-called “celebrity.” Peter Andre the singer, and Adele are said to live here, or used to live here. Tom Cruise, John Travolta, are rumoured to have houses in the area, I wouldn’t be surprised.
We cycle around for half an hour, stopping several times to take photos, me becoming more convinced, as I take this area in, that fate has dealt a cruel blow by not allowing me into the over-privileged class, (royalty, billionaires, overpaid TV personality’s etcetera) where I feel fate should have placed me.
Okay, so I’m jealous, or is it envy? I think either would fit.
We enjoyed our ride, it’s good to see how the other half live. Sometimes.
It’s no wonder the end of my days keep creeping into my thoughts, eight weeks ago I had a letter from 10 Downing Street, no less, in it Boris told me about the steps being taken to combat coronavirus and instructing me to stay indoors for six weeks and various other rules. This morning I had a text from the NHS Coronavirus Service (the latest of several) informing me “You have been identified as a someone who may be at high risk of severe illness if you catch coronavirus.” It told me that support is available to get food or basic care should I need it.
It’s all very good and I’m impressed, but it’s another reminder of the stage I have reached in my life, isn’t it?
My sister’s lung cancer was inoperable, she had it in both lungs. Mine was operable, and I went into St George’s Hospital, London, last July, and one third of my right lung was removed. Since then I have been unable to run up the stairs, or, in fact, run. But still, what’s the hurry when you are 83?
Apart from that minor irritation I also get out of breath easily – which I suppose is not surprising considering Dr Nimako removed one third of half of my breathing apparatus. I can and do still ride my (electric) bike and I take walks now and then. Some weeks after the lung op I had an appointment with an oncologist. She told me radiotherapy in my case was not necessary but I should consider chemotherapy, “to be on the safe side,” she said. She spent some time explaining what it could do, went through the side-effects, and ended by saying the percentage of people’s condition being improved in this way was around 5%(!) I declined and here I am almost a year later and I don’t regret that decision in the slightest. I’d heard too many negative stories about that treatment to risk it and had spoken to a couple of people who had endured it, and both said I had done the right thing. Even Sandra (one of the Macmillan nurses assigned to me, more of later) agreed.
Another reason death is on my mind these days is, I think, because Stephanie, my sister, died on January 9th this year and there is not a day goes by that she doesn’t slide into my head for a minute or two; incidents when we were kids, the time we shared a flat in Crumpsall, Manchester for a few months, various love-affairs she had, most of them unhappy until she met David, whom she married, had a son, Jason, divorced David after 25 years although still in love with him, I am sure. This daily reminder of her is a form of mourning, I guess. We got along quite well, she could be good fun, she could be bloody annoying. But she’s not here now, and I don’t like it. I miss her. It was lung cancer that got her, she was 78, had smoked since she was 16. Wouldn’t – no – couldn’t - give it up, and although she said three years ago she had we suspected she was still having a sly drag before the bloody things finally got her.
For any of you smokers reading these words, let me add this, in the hope it will make you consider things next time you light up: - I gave those damned things up when I was 40. Yet last June, 42 years later, after a biopsy, I was told, “Sorry, Mr Thornhill, you have lung cancer.”
“But I gave cigarettes up over forty years ago,” I said.
He shrugged, “Most of the people I see are ex-smokers,” was his reply. So, as they say in the north: Think on.
It struck me yesterday already I am over a month into my 84th year and time seems to be rushing by faster than it ever has done before. It’s rather concerning. The end is creeping ever closer.
We are in lockdown, have been for weeks now. To me it makes sense, this coronavirus is spreading like wildfire, and anything that helps to keep it away from us is okay with me, as, I am told, I am one of the most vulnerable.
When I was told by Neil Smith, (surgeon) I had bowel cancer it shocked me but didn’t frighten me. I never thought it would kill me, and, so far anyway, it hasn’t. Then, a year later when I was told, by another surgeon, “Sorry Mr Thornhill, you’ve got lung cancer.” It did shock me, but it didn’t frighten. I think the reason for that is, because 90% of the time I feel fine. And everyone tells me how well I look - accompanied by comments like: “Nobody would ever believe you are 83!” All very encouraging and flattering and good for my ego, but realism soon creeps back to remind me I AM 83 and people do die at 83 and nobody would be shocked if I suddenly went in my sleep, (my preferred choice of demise). Well, I think wife Heather and brother Cyril would be if it was tonight. People would probably ask, ‘how old was he?’ And then nod and say something like oh well, a good’age.