Why I decided to SHARE my blood for medical research

The word share surrounding by multi-coloured speech bubbles

Although I attend clinics at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee on a regular basis, on account of my having inherited autosomal dominant polycystic kidney (ADPKD) disease from my dad, the last time I visited Ninewells Hospital in Dundee was when I accompanied a really close friend to her clinic appointment.

While I was waiting for her to finish, I got chatting to a woman in the waiting room who turned out to be a coordinator for SHARE. She told me about the scheme and I signed up straight away.

What is SHARE?

SHARE, the Scottish Health Research Register, is a new NHS Research Scotland initiative created to establish a register of people interested in participating in health research.

When you sign up for SHARE you agree to allowing them to use coded data in their various NHS computer records to check whether you might be suitable for health research studies.

One example is in allowing SHARE to use any leftover blood following routine clinical testing.

This can be incredibly useful when it comes to developing new tests, treatments and cures for a wide variety of health conditions.

Why I joined

Every time I visit the renal clinic—currently every six to nine months—I have blood taken to check my kidney function. They can’t possibly use it all when they do their tests, so I thought it sensible to give permission for my leftover blood to be used for research purposes.

As I write, there are currently 177,848 people registered.

You can find out more on the Register for SHARE website from NHS Scotland.

 

Viral meningitis is a pain in the neck!

My bed at Victoria hospital, Kirkcaldy
My bed at Victoria hospital, Kirkcaldy

Earlier this year I decided to blog more honestly about what’s really going on in my life and in my head.I haven’t done much of that, although I’ve wanted to. The reason is this has been, in many ways, the hardest year of my life both physically and emotionally. It culminated in me being admitted to hospital a couple of weeks ago with a suspected brain haemorrhage that turned out to ‘only’ be viral meningitis!

Skipping back a couple of months to the start of May I visited my GP feeling very run down, and suspecting that I had a mouth infection. I did. My GP looked really shocked at just how run down I looked and he signed me off immediately with stress.

Work was crazy, I wasn’t sleeping, I hadn’t had a proper holiday since October 2013, and my relationship with Jane was in a pretty bad place for a number of reasons. I don’t want to say too much just now about the problems that Jane and I were facing except to say that they were pretty serious, and that I cried in a way that I hadn’t done since… well, since my dad died in 1998.

Things are much better between us now, I’m happy to report. Relationships Scotland have been a good resource and a good support through this crisis. I’m sure I’ll blog more about it in due course.

Headache

Fast forward to the afternoon of Wednesday 23 July. At work, I noticed that I had a headache. I don’t get headaches very often, except when I’m particularly dehydrated and being the carrier of a kidney condition I’ve learned over the years—not least following a rather terrifying visit from two Leningrad medics approaching me with a scary smile, a mouthful of unintelligible language, and a loaded syringe at my bedside on a school trip to the then-USSR in 1988; the UTI/kidney infection that they had come to diagnose prevented me from attending what would have been my first NYC course at Darley Dale (#2) in April 1988—to keep myself well watered particularly in the heat. And boy! hasn’t it been hot of late? Our office was unbearably hot, we had just acquired a new web developer and he had been squeezed into our already overcrowded office. With five desks in the room now it was getting cosy in both a literal and metaphorical sense. I took a couple of swigs of water, hunted for a couple of painkiller tablets from my rucksack and determined to sort it out properly once I got home.

The following morning (Thursday 24 July) I woke up, reached for my glasses, checked the time on my phone and then noticed that I had what looked like a small flashing square in the middle of the field of vision of my left eye. I put it down to having looked at my phone in the dark. It felt like the effect of when you stare at a bright light, like the sun (just in case you couldn’t think of any examples of a bright light… a torch might be another example. Or a mobile phone screen. Or the illuminated bulb from a lighthouse. I digress.)

It’s fine, it’ll pass.

A couple of hours later I was sitting at my PC at work and mentioned to my colleague Steve that I was struggling to see properly. The small flashing square in my left eye had grown a little and was really beginning to affect my ability to focus clearly. Maybe I was just too tired? Perhaps it was related to my high blood pressure, although the renal people seemed to think that it was under control. Never mind, I had an appointment to see my optician the following afternoon, she’d be able to look into my eyes and determine if there was a problem.

Optical migraine?

Friday 25 July comes and the optician is satisfied with the health of my eyes. My prescription hasn’t changed again (I am still using my prescription from 2010, which is unheard of—from 1979 until 2010 my eyesight has steadily deteriorated, until now. Oh the irony!), and I managed to see beyond the flickering blob, now about ten times the size it was the previous morning. Emma, the optician, wondered if I was experiencing an optical migraine.

This was the first time that someone had offered a diagnosis. I’ve never suffered from migraines in the past so that explained perhaps why I was unfamiliar with the symptoms. I looked it up online and learned that they could be brought on by stress, heat, dehydration. It was all beginning to add up. The article explained that they affected only one eye and would last a maximum of 72 hours.

Fever

I woke suddenly in the middle of the night, very early on Saturday (26 July) morning, my teeth were chattering and I felt frozen. I was so cold, but sweating. I was clearly in the middle of a fever. This wasn’t good. I stayed in bed on Saturday morning but by lunchtime my condition had worsened and Jane phoned NHS 24. After about three hours of pestering them they organised an appointment at the out of hours’ service at St Andrews community hospital, and Jane drove me there.

I saw a kindly but slightly dishevelled GP who examined me, and from my generous gift of a small pot of wee, coupled with my medical history, he diagnosed a urinary tract infection. The eyesight distortions he reasoned was caused by “untreated sepsis”. Armed with a filled script for antibiotics I returned home to bed.

More GPs

Sunday (27 July) I got worse. More fever. More headache. More chest pain. More… everything!

Monday (28 July) I saw a local GP. She changed my antibiotic and gave me something for the migraine. “If that doesn’t work in 24 hours,” she said, “come back tomorrow.”

Guess what?! On Tuesday (29 July) I returned and saw my own GP. He reckoned that we hadn’t broken the migraine. We were now seven days into the headache, which had now moved from the left hemisphere to the right, and my right eye was now affected. He sent me away with a two day prescription for a very strong painkiller.

It didn’t work. I got worse.

On Thursday (31 July) I was back in the health centre waiting room and saw a fourth GP. While sitting in the waiting room at the health centre I mentioned to Jane that the last person I saw who looked as bad as I felt was an ex-girlfriend who had salmonella septicaemia which she’d acquired from licking the bowl of uncooked cake mix!

Dr Mitchell called me into his consulting room. I told him my sorry tale and he looked worried. I always seem to see him at my worst. Dr Mitchell gave me what I discovered later was a full neurological examination, phoned Victoria hospital in Kirkcaldy and had me admitted immediately. After packing an overnight bag Jane drove me there.

Visual distortions

Having never knowingly had migraines, which I guess really means that I’ve never had one, the visual distortions were quite beautiful at times. “They are very pretty,” I told more than one GP, “but I really don’t want them.”

As I’ve already said the main effect that I see is a flashing shape in my primary field of vision. This is now in both eyes. The one in my left eye currently looks like a stretched out group of islands; the one in my right like a ragged oblong. Both create a blind spot that makes it hard for me to focus on anything particularly well.

At the centre of my vision it feels like I’ve been staring at the sun, so everything is much brighter, except for this black, flashing spot in the centre.

Then I’ve also experienced random flashing lights across the whole width of my vision, plus what I can only describe as multi-coloured glitter that randomly scatters itself across my view. And if that’s not enough I’ve also been experiencing small crosses, like plusses + mapping their way across my view of view. Like I said all very artistic and at times mesmerizingly beautiful but also quite unwanted.

Admissions

Following a blood test and a CT brain scan I saw a consultant who told me that it definitely wasn’t a UTI, he suspected that I had viral meningitis. Not bacterial, he assured me, that’s the deadly one. To be honest, I felt quite relieved that this condition had a name. At least I knew what we were fighting.

Ward 43

View of the car park from my hospital side room on Ward 43.
View from my hospital side room on Ward 43.

That night around midnight I was moved upstairs to a ward. I slept surprisingly well.

Friday morning ward round and another consultant swept into my side room with his entourage of junior doctors and nurses. He was kind, and stood behind me with his hands on my shoulders—I felt supported and cared for. A few moments later though he took away my certainty in almost everything for the next five days. He was doubting the diagnosis of viral meningitis. He’d had a chance to examine my medical history and was beginning to wonder if I’d had a brain haemorrhage.

The word that had haunted my family’s medical history since 15 March 1983—beware the ides of March!—the date that my dad collapsed in Nottingham (his birthplace) having just delivered the 1982–1983 ITT/IEE Faraday Lecture, and actually mid-interview with the BBC. Needless to say that interview never got transmitted.

Over the course of that day the plan on how to investigate my condition changed three times. The telling of the final version was interrupted by someone coming to take me for two further CT scans of my brain (one of my veins, the other of my arteries).

“Sorry, I’ve just phoned to cancel that,” the junior doctor told the porter.”

“Has he just stolen your punchline?” I asked.

“Yeah, and he’s thrown my flow… what was I saying?”

He was telling me that they’d decided that three CT scans in two days was exposure to more radiation than I deserved. That would have involved me being injected with a dye, waiting for it to pass through the veins in my brain, scanning that, waiting again for the dye to clear, then re-injecting me to do the same for my arteries.

Lumbar puncture

Plan C was to give me a lumbar puncture that afternoon, and wait for Monday to poke me into the MRI scanner to do both veins and arteries at once, using magnetism rather rocks that glow in the dark.

The lumbar puncture was less painful than I had feared. I was rather delighted to learn that the other name for a lumbar puncture is a ‘spinal tap’, the name of a spoof rock band from the 80s, whom I saw live at Wembley at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert in 1991. They closed with the bassist, Derek Smalls, walking up to the microphone and shouting, “Goodnight Wimbledon!”

Slow days

Saturday and Sunday were very slow days. I had a lot of time to think about what was going on. If it was a haemorrhage was I at risk of having more? My dad had had three. What if that happened? At worst I would die. I didn’t want to die. I thought about Jane, Reuben, Joshua and Isaac. I thought about my mum Rosalie, my sister Jenni and brother Eddie. I cried. What if it left me disabled, or brain damaged, as it had with my dad? I thought about losing my job, about the possibility of needing to move house. I had to stop my imagination running off before me, concocting all sorts of tragedies.

In the end I decided not worry about it. Whatever had happened had already happened. Besides whichever path I explored quickly ended with “…and then the doctors would need to do something but I don’t know what that is due to my lack of medical knowledge”.

Saturday and Sunday became quite peaceful from that point onwards.

LEGO Star Wars X-Wing micro fighter and card.
Something to alleviate the boredom over the weekend. A gift from my friend Gary.

MRI scan

On Monday my MRI was postponed until the afternoon, and then about an hour earlier than I’d been told a porter came to collect me. It seems that my scan had been rescheduled yet again. He threw a blanket over my shoulders and wheeled me through corridors, up and down in lifts, to the old part of the hospital which quite shocked me, to be honest. It was tatty, there were holes in some walls, sheets of plastic hanging from the ceiling to shield raw brickwork. I felt like I was being pushed through a war zone! (I was feeling quite melodramatic, and I couldn’t see very well…!)

This was my second MRI brain scan. I enjoyed it just as much as the first, which wasn’t much. I am quite claustrophobic so the idea of being shoved head-first into a tube filled me with dread. The radiographer invited me to lie down on a long, thin stainless-steel tray which I could see would be pushed into the scanner on a track. With my head in the right place she placed a shaped cushion under my knees to make me feel more comfortable; I felt like I was being packed for shipping. Then she gave me a bulb on a long tube.

“If you feel uncomfortable or want to stop for any reason,” she told me, “just squeeze this and we’ll come and pull you out.”

I nodded.

“And don’t worry, it’s been used plenty of times already today, so I know it’s working.”

Perhaps a little too much information? I could feel my heart rate quickening.

The radiographer placed a pair of headphones over my ears, and then lowered a cage over my head.

I was really beginning to panic now.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“I’m really anxious.”

“About the procedure or the results?”

“Both.”

“Oh dear.”

And with that I was moved head-first into the machine. I closed my eyes; I didn’t have my glasses on anyway so I wouldn’t have been able to see anything anyway. Not that there is anything to see, apart from a big old helping of pure claustrophobia.

My head was spinning. I could feel the panic surging within my chest. My stomach was doing somersaults. I could hear a voice within my head screaming at me to squeeze that bulb with all my might. I wanted out. I just wanted out.

And then the rational part of my brain spoke. I needed this scan. I needed to know what the results were. I needed to know if I had had a haemorrhage; even a small one. I’ve done this before, I can do this again.

I took a deep breath. My eyes were still firmly closed. And another breath. Then I began to recite the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!”) which I’ve used in the past to help settle myself. And another deep breath. I could feel the panic lessening.

Then the music started. From a sheet in the waiting room I had selected to listen to a selection of the hits of the rock band Queen. I know Queen, they were my favourite band as a teenager. I have a copy of the guitar that Brian May made with his father Harold, manufactured by Burns—that’s how much of a Queen fan I was.

The music was SO LOUD! I began to get anxious again. I’m not sure I can do… And then the scanner began which almost drowned out the music, which immediately made sense of volume.

I have no idea what an MRI scanner does, except that it uses powerful magnetic fields to take 3D scans of your body. If I was to guess based just on the sounds and vibrations that it makes then I’d say that it mostly does drilling. A lot of drilling.

BRRRRRRRR! DZZZZZ DZZZZZ DZZZZZ! BRRRRRRRRRRRRRR! CHACKA CHACKA CHACKA! BRRR!

For thirty minutes.

I lay back and as much as I could, I imagined that I was standing in front of an open window listening to Queen while someone was digging up the road outside. And as much as I could I tried to relax and enjoy the experience. About five or six songs in the music suddenly stopped.

“Gareth, you’re doing great!” said a feint, high-pitched Scottish voice in my head. It was the radiologist. “We’ve got one more scan to do, which should take about five minutes. Then we’ll come and get you.”

On my way out of the scanning suite I was told that the results should be available in about two hours’ time.

I returned to the ward.

These icons annoyed me during my stay in hospital. Why are they not drawn from the same angle?!
These icons annoyed me during my stay in hospital. Why are they not drawn from the same angle?!

 

Results

I had to wait about 24 hours, though, before they were conveyed to me.

The following afternoon a neurologist came to my side room and talked me through the results and then carried out a similar, but more thorough, examination to the one that Dr Mitchell had done with me about five days before.

The MRI scan was clear: no aneurysms. No clots. No brain haemorrhage. No stroke. The worst had been ruled out. A felt myself relax a little. They did find a cyst in my brain, but this is quite common, seemingly, and is nothing to do with my polycystic kidneys.

Given the combined results of the various blood tests, the lumbar puncture, the CT and MRI scans it looked like my wish had come true: I had viral meningitis. I would never have dreamt that I would ever wish for meningitis, but given the other options it seemed to be the most preferable.

Discharged

I was discharged that afternoon, given a small pot of strong co-codamol tablets and sent on my way, with the promise of an outpatients’ appointment at the ophthalmology clinic to examine my eyes more closely and determine whether there was any long-term damage.

Progress since…

For the first week or so since returning home I did little but sleep, up to about 18 hours a day.

My eyesight is still affected but continues to improve in very small increments each day. I do feel as though it’s going to be okay, or at least my optimism is carrying me in that direction whether I feel it or not. Today the blind spot in my left eye has all but disappeared, but still flickers a little; the blind spot in my right eye appears now to be shrinking and becoming less opaque.

I saw the ophthalmologist on Thursday (14 August). That appointment didn’t quite go as I had suspected. He reported that my retinas (in both eyes) were quite mottled, but he didn’t understand why. I’ve to go back for more tests, but I’m pretty sure it’s related to the viral meningitis; a friend who has had this disease reported experiencing something similar.

The GP has signed me off until the end of this month, to give me a good chance to recover without feeling that I need to race back; not that I could drive yet, or see my desktop computer at work.

I am currently typing this on my PC at home with the screen resolution set to 1280 x 1024 (instead of 1920 x 1080) as I was getting tired of using the accessibility screen magnifier set to 300%.

The trial continues…

Update

Tuesday 19 August. I’ve just revised the dates as I realised that I was a week out. This began on Wednesday 23 July, not 30 July.

Why you shouldn’t screw your flip flops to your feet!

A pretty drastic way of ensuring that you prevent your flip-flops from falling off is to screw them on!
A pretty drastic way of ensuring that you prevent your flip-flops from falling off is to screw them on!

This week hasn’t quite turned out as planned. For one, yesterday morning I had to manually remove a No.8 (40 mm) screw from the bottom of my foot and go to hospital for a tetanus booster injection.

Reuben and Joshua have been on holiday from school since Wednesday, and as they have repeatedly asked if they could have ‘a sleepover’ a Grannie in Selkirk’s I took these three days off too and planned with my Mum to head down yesterday morning (which would also have been my Dad’s 69th birthday).

The plan was to take a leisurely drive to the Scottish Borders and then spend the day showing them a bit more of Selkirk: where I grew up, where I played, where I went to school, and also to visit my Dad’s grave and lay some flowers to mark his birthday.

I was woken around 06:20 by Reuben leaping onto my bed. “When are we going to Selkirk?!” were his first, excited words.

“After breakfast,” I replied getting out of bed.

I still had to throw a few things into a bag but first, looking out of the bedroom window into the backyard, I realised that the bin needed to go out—the paper-recycling lorry would be round soon.

After a quick detour to my study to pick up an R-kive box that I use for storing paper to be recycled we tripped downstairs and as Reuben and Joshua got comfortable at the breakfast bar I said I’d just be a minute and I headed outside into the cold, pulling on a jumper.

I also had my flip flops on. I love my flip flops. I love walking around in bare feet but I have quite flat feet and so it gets painful quite quickly. These Quicksilver flip flops have been perfect: giving my foot the cushioning they need and my arch gets the lift that it deserves. And they left me walk quite comfortably on stones, even gravel. (But not wood screws, as it turns out.)

I stepped across the stones and tipped the contents of the R-kive box into the grey wheelie bin before I started to pull it towards the gate and the main road.

I stopped. The back door was still open. I reached over and pulled it closed, only to turn around in time to see the wheelie bin tipping over and spilling half its contents into the backyard. “Oh no!” I groaned righting the bin and then getting down on my hands and knees and scooping up handfuls of scraps of paper that were now being blown around in little eddies around the yard.

I looked over at the R-kive box. Surely it would be quicker if I scooped the paper into that: less distance to travel. I stood up, stepped across the gravel and reached out for the box, sitting on top of the blue general waste bin.

“Ow!”

I stepped on something sharp; stones likely. I lifted my right foot and gave it a shake. It was common for small stones to slip beneath my foot and my flip flop. I heard a few stones fall out and click on the gravel beneath. I put my foot down and quickly lifted it again.

“OW!”

A sudden fear went through my mind: something has gone into my foot. A sharp stone? There’s a sharp stone embedded in my foot! It seems to have gone through my flip flop too.

The paper continued to blow around the enclosed backyard. I needed to clear that up first and as I couldn’t exactly walk without pain anyway I dropped to my knees with the blue and white R-kive box and crawled across the gravel to the paving stones.

I could feel the panic rising within me.

“Joshua!… JOSHUA!” I screamed. The back door was still ajar; it hadn’t closed entirely.

I frantically scooped up the paper into the box: scraps of A5 notepaper, newspapers, food packaging.

“JOSHUA!”

I pulled myself up using the bin and tipped the contents of the box into the wheelie bin once again. Joshua appeared at the door, “Yes?”

“Joshua! Get Mummy please. I need her help. I think I have a stone in my foot!”

Joshua ran off as I closed the wheelie bin lid, turned around as carefully as I could and tried to make my way into the house. The pain was excruciating now. My sense of panic was growing. I held onto what I could grab and I began to hop up the steps and in through the back door.

“Jane!” I yelled. “JANE!”

“I’m coming!” I heard her reply, sounding slightly irritated. Jane was recently diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, a back condition that has left her in a lot of pain herself. She had spent much of the night squeezed into Isaac’s bed beside him and she was struggling to get out of bed.

I collapsed onto the sofa in the kitchen as Jane arrived.

“I think I’ve stood on a sharp stone,” I said quickly. “I think it’s gone into my foot.” I was beginning to go into shock by this point. And the pain was so intense that I felt like I might pass out.

“Breathe… breathe…!” I told myself. “Slow your breathing. Deep breaths.”

Jane switched on the lights and took a closer look. “I think it’s a nail!”

“A nail?!”

“Oh, hang on… it’s a screw!”

“A SCREW?!”

It was a screw. It turns out to have been a No. 8 (40 mm) Pozidriv screw. As my colleague Steve confirmed later: those are the painful kind!

Jane couldn’t get a grip on it. “I think I may need to cut your flip flops off,” she apologised.

“Do it!” I said. I’ve watched Casualty on TV: I know how it goes.

After another failed attempt I realised that I was going to have to do it. I’ve often prided myself on such a strong grip. I didn’t realise that one day I would have to manually unscrew a No.8 from the bottom of my foot!

I sat up, took a deep breath, crossed my legs and took a closer look. I felt sick.

If a man, trapped in the mountains can saw his own arm off using a Swiss army knife, I found myself thinking, then I can remove a screw from my foot.

“Which way does it go?”

I considered at this point of sending for my Black & Decker electric screwdriver. At least it has buttons to differentiate between in and out.

I grasped the screw head tightly between by fingers and began to turn it anti-clockwise. It was coming out! It was coming out!

Just over an hour later I was sitting in a treatment room at the minor injuries unit in St Andrews community hospital having the wound washed out and getting a tetanus booster injection to my arm.

An hour because we’d phoned NHS 24 for advice and well… they promised to phone back within three hours(!) and I couldn’t wait any longer; and Jane had phoned her parents asking if she could quickly drop the boys off at theirs so that she could drive me to the hospital and her dad had insisted that they be dressed first… and they really weren’t up for playing that game. Forty-five minutes to get three dressed on a non-school day was actually pretty good going, compared with other attempts.

So the trip to Selkirk was postponed, I got my pain relief under control, and I sat with my leg up for most of the day.

Today it really hit me: I felt floored, I had no energy, I slept a lot. Tomorrow… well, I think I have an infection brewing. I’ll be phoning the doctor first thing.

Update

Friday 14 February

I have an infection in the foot. I’m not long back from the GP with a small bag full of medication:

  • 28 Flucloxacillin 500mg (4 per day)
  • 21 Ibuprofen 400mg
  • 100 Co-codamol 30/500mg

My mum recommends Listerine original for infections of the feet, but my local chemist only has mint or anti-cavity.

Two minor operations and one long recovery

scalpel

#1 The eye-watering operation

On Tuesday 2 April I drove north with Jane to Stracathro Hospital (52 miles north of Anstruther, on the A90, 38 miles south of Aberdeen) for what would be the first of two minor operations within a week.

This first procedure, which would see me admitted to hospital for the first time since I emerged into one on a very cold and dark morning on Remembrance Day, November 1971, was for a ‘gentlemanly operation’ to ensure that no more little Saunders’s would be making an appearance in the years to come—at least not from this branch of my family tree; a procedure, under local anaesthetic, which would sever the vas deferens but make a vast difference.

With Jane having suffered from post-natal depression since 2008 it was the least that I could do to remove at least some of her anxiety about what lies in the future. Still, I have a further three months and two samples to go until I’m given the all-clear…

Oh, and there is the small matter of two nasty post-op, NHS-sponsored, iatrogenic infections that have laid me low for most of April.

On the day

I was remarkably calm the day of the procedure. I had half expected to be very anxious on the morning of the operation but I really rather enjoyed our drive up to Dundee, crossing the Tay road bridge in the warm morning sunshine and then skirting our way around Dundee to the east to meet up with the A90 towards Aberdeen. It was a pleasant change to have Jane to myself in the car, no children interrupting every few moments, although they are usually very polite in doing so, “Mum! Mum! Mum! … excuse me?” I was also surprised to see so much snow still piled at the sides of the road, when we had had so little this winter and what we received had always melted within hours of falling.

Stracathro hospital was surprisingly far away. (Are we nearly there yet?) It was built in 1939 as an emergency hospital for WWII military casualties. It reminded me very much of Peel hospital, at Caddonfoot situated outside Galashiels between Selkirk and Peebles, built around the same time for the same purpose.

Seemingly the first patients at Stracathro were victims of an air raid on Montrose in 1940, followed by civilian casualties from London, Birmingham, Coventry and other English cities, and later by soldiers from all theatres of the war, all delivered by train to the nearby station at Brechin.

We parked the car and navigated our way to the day surgery ward in time for my 08:30 admission. The waiting room wasn’t much more than a large abandoned ward with a handful of chairs pushed to the edges at the far end.

The operation

“Ah! Hello!” came the cheery greeting from the nurse in charge. “You’re first here, so you’re first on the list that’s how it works here.”

Seemingly Stracathro carries out a number of minor operations for three health authorities: Fife, Tayside and Angus, and on Tuesday mornings they alternate week-about chopping off the bits of men from Fife and Tayside, four men every 90 minutes. That week it was Fife’s turn. And as it turned out I was not just the first to arrive, I was the only one to arrive. Two had phoned to cancel, one just didn’t turn up. Cowards!

In theatre, besides the surgeon there were two nurses. One was assisting the surgeon, the other it would appear was simply there to sit in the corner and talk incessantly about the weather, and the snow, and how she had spent an entire afternoon digging out her cul-de-sac, where all the old folks in the street had stood watching from the comfort of their living room windows and where none of them had made her a mug of hot chocolate.

During the operation the surgeon asked me if everything was all right.

“This is very odd,” I said, grimacing.

The surgeon looked at me.

“Certainly… unusual.”

“I’ll accept unusual,” he replied.

There was a slightly awkward silence.

“I mean… I’ve not had this done to me before.”

The surgeon burst out laughing, stopped what he was doing, looked at me and said, “No. No you wouldn’t have.” He smiled then returned to chopping up my bits and melting the severed ends with a soldering iron.

The nurse in the corner took that as her cue to continue with her epic tale of shifting snow.

And I can tell you another thing. After all these infections, I’m certainly not having another one!

Next!

After a returning to the ward, and once my stats had returned to normal (my usually-high blood pressure was refreshingly low after the procedure) I was allowed to dress and leave. No tea and toast for me. Not even the whisper of a biscuit. Or nuts! NHS cut backs, eh!

I emerged into the waiting room just as the next batch of men were arriving. Well, two of them, anyway. One rather brow-beaten looking man was accompanied by a heavily-pregnant wife and—very obviously—his mother-in-law.

“She’s expecting her fourth!” the mother-in-law exclaimed to anyone who was listening. “So A’ve come tae make share he gets it cut oaf!”

And so the long road to recovery, and back to Anstruther, despite the information sheet accompanying my admissions papers assuring me I’d be well enough to return to work the following day.

#2 The eye operation

My second minor procedure was simply to remove a cyst that had developed next to my left eye this year. I noticed it in mid-January and by the time it was removed it had doubled in size.

This minor op. was done at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, where all three of my boys were born, during the Monday afternoon ophthalmic clinic and by the Charge Nurse. She was brilliant—by which I mean she was very good at her job, not that she was particularly shiny.

And guess what?! No infection. Mind you, I’ve had so many antibiotics this month I’d probably live through another plague. Or even survive a Big Mac meal from McDonalds.

Recovery

Neither procedure, the vasectomy nor the cyst-removal, was particularly traumatic although I did feel rather sore and wobbly for quite a few days afterwards—certainly more than the one day that the information leaflet suggested; but then I guess that everyone is different.

The post-op infections, however, really did knock me for six: everything from pain to fever, shaking and confusion. A skin infection to begin with, followed by a particularly nasty UTI for which I am now on my third course of antibiotics, which will last another three weeks.

Thankfully, though, I am now on the mend and greatly looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow morning.

A day of highs and lows

Isaac
Isaac

Today has been quite remarkable, emotional, upsetting, beautiful and mysterious.

Isaac

Jane and I walked into the living room this morning to witness Isaac taking, what we now suspect may have been a petit mal, an absence seizure. Isaac was lying on the floor, staring into space, quite floppy, quite unresponsive but still breathing. We cuddled him until he came round after about 20-30 seconds.

He’s been fine for the rest of the day, kindly and carefully looked after by his grandparents.

At the time we’d simply assumed that was zoned out and heading off to sleep because he’d been up really early and it was around the time he would be going off to sleep anyway. Not to mention that his two older brothers were notorious for falling asleep on the living room carpet.

It was only in conversation with my Mum (retired nursing sister and midwife) on the phone this evening that she wondered whether it might be a petit mal. We’ll keep an eye on him and get him checked out at the GP on Monday morning.

Edinburgh

I then drove Jane down to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh to allow her to visit her maternal Grandma, who is really very unwell. It turned out to be a most upsetting visit. Lots of prayers and lovely, caring thoughts for Jane, her family, and wee grandma please.

Meanwhile Reuben, Joshua and I had a lovely visit to Homebase at Straiton to buy an indoor broom, which Reuben chose (it was the red one). We were there for AGES while R+J asked “What’s that?… What’s that?… We’ve got one of those, haven’t we!… Can we go upstairs now… I need the toilet!”

Thank goodness for Sainsbury’s next door. After team wees we bought a few essentials (sausage rolls, pasta, strawberries, raspberries and two LEGO Ninjago warriors for two lovely boys who were just an absolute delight to be with all day. I love them all so much.

And now the boys are in bed, although Reuben has been sick (just as Joshua was last night), and I was feeling ready to sit and weep when I wandered through to the living room to watch Andy Murray beat Marcos Baghdatis at Wimbledon. Wimble-well-done Andy! A good ending to an unusual day.

I pray that tomorrow is less dramatic but equally full of cuddles.