Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Reading Between The Signs...

So, my husband and love of my lunch, Michael Lindley, has recently started a blog detailing treatment and progress following his being diagnosed with a brain tumour on 21st May 2018, which you can read by clicking here

You'll be pleased to know that Michael's blog isn't some dreary, medical narrative of maudlin gloom and impending doom...oh, no, indeedy not. Whilst Michael's blog is extremely informative, detailing symptoms we'd all be wise to look out for, it is also refreshingly 'real' and wonderfully humorous and uplifting, so do be sure to read it.

For my part, well, in this post I intend to outline a few things that may be of use to folk out there from the perspective of someone so close to a loved one as to notice symptoms they themselves were not aware of.

At our fav location, Edinburgh, as a pre-surgery treat.
Gawd bless steroids!
I must point out, however, that up until diagnosis I had no idea what the cause of Mike's problem was and THAT is why I'm writing this, so you know what you're looking out for.

Of course, some of my observations may not necessarily lead to a diagnosis of a brain tumour as other conditions may present similarly but it'll do you more good than harm to read on for future reference if only from the point of elimination should a similar situation present itself to you or yours.

Anyway, here I go...

It's impossible for me to pinpoint the exact time I noticed a difference in Mike. The most I can offer is that, only a few weeks ago, me an' 'im were sat on the settee together sharing opinions like we do as self-proclaimed TV critics when in mid beratement, I turned to Mike only to be somewhat startled by the strange expression on his face.

Now, many programmes can have such an effect on a person, two episodes into Britains Got Talent and my face is thrust into an impressive and unnerving display of facial contortionism (maybe I should audition!) but Mike's expression was beyond even that trigger.

He didn't present anything medically worrisome as might be indicative of a potential stroke, no, it was simply that his facial expression was not one I'd seen before in all the years we've been together. He looked remote, detached even but also a bit unfriendly. I know, vague, but it's all I've got 'cos no-one knows him as I do and that'll be the same for you with yours.

Just time for a quick libation before leaving Edinburgh.
It would have been rude not to...

I am very much aware that had anyone else been with us that night and had I mentioned this to them, they wouldn't have noticed the strangeness I'm referring to and that's an important point.

When you are really close to someone every nuance of their mannerisms, the very minutiae of their little personal foibles become etched into your psyche and when there's a shift, no matter how slight, we notice it. That's why we are best positioned to pick up on a thing when summat is awry.

And yes, there could be numerous reasons as to why Mike was looking at me like that, repulsion being one of them (I was wearing my granny nightie for comfort...about as sexy as Boris Johnson in a mankini) but I still wanted to mention the difference in Mike here 'cos I feel every snippet of change is worthy of that mention 

Here's a list of other changes that followed over the ensuing weeks:

1)  Anxiety & Feeling of Foreboding:

Mike was tending to another techno-cockup of mine on my phone when he suddenly stopped. He was quite shaky and said he felt very anxious and fearful. He also mentioned, with a hint of embarrassment, experiencing a sense of impending doom. I'd never heard those words from him before in relation to himself and immediately I worried that I was a causal factor. Mike was obviously stressed and I thought maybe he could be depressed too. There was a lot going on around us causing all kinds of pressure and, on top of that, I've always felt that me and my mental health issues must put a strain on Mike even though he's never told me that.

A trip to the doctors also leaned towards Mike being depressed leading Mike to contact Minds Matter.

2)  Odours: 

Mike had mentioned experiencing a strange, vile, lingering stench in the house synonymous with sewers and drains. Having readdressed my personal hygiene regimen and invested in a multi-pack of Extra Strong Mints I turned my attention back to Mike who was becoming more and more obsessed with the smell to the point of him contacting Environmental Health and United Utilities in the hope of the matter being resolved.

Much to their credit, both organisations were quick to react but no evidence of a causal factor was discovered.

Certain medical conditions of my own leave me without much of a sense of smell so I was useless in trying to help determine the cause or verify the odours presence.

3)  Left-Sided Weakness:

As the maker of all things munchable and quaffable Mike came in from the kitchen one day, a coffee in both hands. The left-hand coffee was about to spill over the floor and I brought this to Mike's attention through a series of sharp, high pitched shrieks accompanied by a swift "Ffs! Watch what you're doing!"....(Look, that wooden floor's a bugger to clean so don't judge me!)

This happened again a week or so later when I also noticed that Mike was presenting a very subtle heaviness with his left leg, almost a drag but not quite. As before, only I would know him enough to notice this. After saying that, though, it was so subtle I began to question myself.

Was I imagining this? Was I over-analysing a situation as I've often been told by folks who've also accused me of being paranoid! Well, maybe they haven't exactly called me paranoid out loud but I know they're thinking it!

It is worth noting that throughout all of this period we had visited various doctors several times in an effort to identify what was going on with Mike and each time depression and anxiety were considered the sole issue.

My eldest daughter is a nursing sister currently taking her Masters Degree at uni and I have to say, she's damn good at what she does...and no...that's not 'mum' talking, it's a simple truth, anyway, her skill set has been a blessing throughout all of this and she advised Mike to ask his GP for an all bloods test. This we did and the results were clear. 

We were delighted but still perplexed. 

An ECG was arranged. Results were fine here too as they were regarding Mike's blood pressure.

In essence, all such tests revealed no hidden menaces.

3)  Fatigue:

Fatigue had been present throughout this period but the intensity of it graduated to such a level that Mike found it nearly impossible to stay awake. And any sleep he did have provided no feeling of rest.

Other accompanying factors I noticed included

4)  Waning appetite:

Mike has a healthy appetite, usually, but I'm always telling him off for speed eating (a legacy from his work and a tight time schedule). However, he'd started to eat less than usual and quite slowly, mostly with disinterest.

5)  Growing dishevelment:

This was most odd for a man as pristinely kempt as my Michael. Don't misunderstand, he didn't look as if he'd been living rough in a wheelie bin, he just wasn't as motivated to shave or to do other things that are part of his usual daily ablutions.

6)  Apathy:

Mike couldn't have given a flying wotsit about anything.

Had I announced that I'd made myself a pair of shoes from banana skins and applied a generous coating of extra slippery oil to the bottom of each with the sole intention of wearing them to scale the outside of our house up to the roof where I intended to demonstrate my rendition of Michael Flatley's Riverdance...Mike would have smiled nonchalantly before drifting back off to sleep (part of me worries he'd have done that anyway pre-tumour...hm)

I'm going to tell you a thing now after taking a long time deliberating whether or not I should. And I've decided damn right I should because, once again, it may help you one day.

However, before I do I need to shout from the rooftops (devoid of well-oiled banana shoes) just how proficient, thorough, professionally adept, caring, compassionate, informative and all round amazing the NHS have been throughout all of this, as they remain to be to this day, I am grateful to say.

Unfortunately, a certain 'out of hours doctor' did not fit any of these categories. I shall explain further.

On Sunday the 20th of May we went to see an out of hours doctor.

Conscious of how busy and under pressure the NHS is, myself and Mike have never liked to add even more pressure to this already stretched yet vital service by casually turning up at A & E, after all, every doctor we'd seen so far had diagnosed Mike's symptoms as being indicative of depression but I didn't want to let go of our search for an absolute diagnosis because the little voice inside of me, which we all have, was insisting I carry on. 

Hence the out of hours visit to the surgery.

Succinctly, I went on to present all of Mike's symptoms to this 'doctor'.

I emphasised Mike's tendency to drift to the left and his very subtle left-sided weakness. The man's tone was quite flippant. He even joked about Mike giving me cyanide...no, I don't know why either! Eventually, the guy (I really struggle to give this person the title of Doctor...I have a feeling he downloaded the relevant credentials to qualify that!)...instructed Mike to sit on the bed at the other end of the room. I held on to Mike as he made his way towards it because he was unsteady.

The guy took Mike's blood pressure. Mike
began to drift backwards to the left. The guy said with a bit of a laugh "You're falling back, there Michael. Do you want to lie down?"

Mike declined and was asked to return to his seat. The guy then said. "Well, I'm not sending you to casualty".

Please believe me when I tell you that the inference of this man's dismissive tone suggested our sole intention had been to be referred to casualty as some kind of shortcut rather than await the lengthy process of referral. I didn't know what to say to this.

I repeated Mike's symptoms again and was told "Look, just go to your GP tomorrow if you're still worried. The most I can do is take his blood pressure which I have and it's fine".

And with that said, we were dismissed. Mike was tired and desperate to get home. I was still struggling to process what had just happened.

Early the following morning after consulting with a GP at our own practice and after my going through everything over again, including the neglect of the out of hours person, I went with Mike to A & E at Whiston Hospital,  St Helens, where he was quickly tended to and examined by a team of highly professional and skilled NHS staff.

In a very short period of time from Mike being presented at A & E to Mike undergoing various tests and scans it was swiftly determined that Mike had a brain tumour and from that day to this, I have only praise for all of those involved with every aspect of Mike's treatment and ongoing care. Just as with Whiston Hospital, everyone at The Walton Centre for Neurology & Neurosurgery, have proven outstanding in their care, professionalism and speedy attention to Mike's treatment. I know I am repeating myself but I truly cannot thank these people enough.

As for the 'out of hours' guy, I'll be bringing his behaviour to the attention of relative parties in due course because I would hate to think that some other person presenting at his surgery with their own symptoms would be as badly and as dangerously treated as my husband.

Anyway, I'm telling you all of this in the hope it just might help one of you one day.

We're each unique so, as said, symptoms may differ and present themselves in various ways and not all of those symptoms lead to the diagnosis of a tumour but, if in doubt, it's worth getting the issue investigated.  And never be afraid to question a doctor's diagnosis.

In essence, listen to the little voice we each have inside of us and be guided by that.....unless that voice says "buy Crocs"...should such a suggestion cross your mind I suggest YOU present yourself to A & E for a psychiatric assessment!

As for now?

Well, tomorrow (Wednesday 20th June) Mike goes to the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre to prepare for the next step of his treatment and that's a good thing. 

Me an' 'im......Can't help lovin' that Mike o' mine...
I mean, we know this is going to be somewhat of a rough journey but the support we are receiving from our wonderful family and amazing friends (in the physical & in the virtual on social media) and, of course, from every priceless person in the NHS involved with Mike's ongoing treatment and welfare, remains to be incredible and a much appreciated and essential lifeline helping to keep our spirits strong, so, thank you, every one of you, sincerely, thank you.

There isn't a day goes by where myself and Mike are not voicing just how much we appreciate all that is being done to help ensure that me an' 'im get to share many, many more happy years together...loving the other more than we could ever express in words or otherwise.

Anyway, that's it for now...gotta go 'cos my little voice is telling me to go stuff a huge slice of chocolate cake in my mouth....

Take care....and stay healthy! *licks cake crumbs off keyboard*... 

©  Copyright Lynn Gerrard