Mike and Diane Wilson -
Free Spirit Writers
|Let your spirit soar into the free space of tomorrow|
Life, Death and The Thing
So what's happened for me to consider life and death?
On 22nd May 2007 I received an invitation to take part in a survey. A screening study for abdominal aortic aneurysms was to take place within the Hull and East Riding. I heard from the Medical Centre on Station Avenue that the condition affected men in my age group (over 70), and it remained completely hidden until it was perhaps too late to treat. The main artery in the abdomen becomes enlarged, like a bulge, which then occasionally and unexpectedly bursts.
"Specialists at Hull Royal Infirmary are looking for better ways to discover this condition," said the letter. I filled in a questionnaire about whether I could detect the aneurysm by feeling my stomach. No I could not.
My appointment for the first ultrasound was for Thursday, 16th August, 2007, at the Health Centre. I had no problem in deciding that I'd go down and have the ultrascan. What could I lose? The bus was free to the Health Centre and I'd be doing some NHS pen-pushing paper-shuffling bureaucrat a favour by allowing him/her to tick a few boxes on a report sheet somewhere.
So I duly turned up at the Health Centre at the appointed time and date. I wasn't kept hanging about long and eventually I was on the examining couch, shirt rucked up under my arms, while the nurse spread jelly on my belly. She ran the device around for a few moments before she announced that I had one. An abdominal aortic aneurysm.
So, what is an AAA? The language to describe it is polite but misleading. The official explanation goes something like this: "Your blood vessel between your heart and the junction of the arteries feeding each leg has enlarged. If it gets to a certain size it could rupture. Should it rupture, there is little chance of you reaching Hull Royal to have it fixed. Very little chance. If you do get there, and they can fix it in time, there is only some hopes of you lasting beyond two or three weeks." That doesn't sound too bad.
What it really means is: "If this thing bursts, you're likely to die. If you get to the hospital, you're likely to die even if they operate. If they do operate and you make it through the operation, it's likely you'll die within a couple of weeks."
It was revealed to me that the AAA was 4.95. Whether this is in inches or centimetres, pounds or grammes, minutes or seconds, pints or litres, I was not told, so I guess it's width in centimetres. The nurse then said AAA's are usually left until they are 5.5. I thought that mine was a bit close to the disaster size.
So I was delighted when I had an appointment for a follow-up ultrasound scan, this time at the Alfred Bean Hospital in Driffield.
That appointment was changed after some discussion at the Health Centre. A doctor I saw there found out who was the top man in the AAA field and we made a private appointment to see him. Then the NHS came with an appointment that was before the private one. I discovered that there was no advantage at all in going private. A Health Centre doctor said private was acceptable for varicose veins and face lifts, but for AAA and such the background facilities of the NHS were best.
So I eventually met Professor Peter McCollum at Driffield on 26th September 2007. I had another scan and a chat to the professor. He answered all our questions and Diane and I were satisfied that all was being looked after.
By this time I'd written to the Bridlington Free Press saying how pleased I was to have had The Thing (my AAA) discovered and how I felt sorry for all the men in Brid who might not have answered the first invitation to a scan. A follow-up letter comforted me. It told how another chap had undergone the surgery and was now fine.
My next appointment was for 6th December at Driffield. Here the nurse took the readings and announced that the AAA was a little larger - 5.05cm. She said that at my appointment with the professor he would probably say that they would keep an eye on it every three months for the next year, two years, three years. Diane and I could have hugged her.
On the 20th December Professor McCollum said otherwise. He said we ought to have a CT scan. He said he'd arrange for a CT scan in January with a view to operating "some time in the first half of next year."
On 4th January we received a letter giving me an appointment at Hull Royal Hospital for a CT angiogram aorta: Friday, 1st February, 2008, at 10.30am.
At the time of writing (10th January 2008) there are no pains, no physical signs that I have an AAA. I continue to be in good health otherwise ("Excellent health for your age . . . " Professor McCollum)
Story continues on 1st February
Arrived at Hull about 8.55am and walked directly to Hull Royal. It was freezing cold and very windy. We had a tea to warm us up then went upstairs to CT reception. Got there about 55 minutes early, but at least it was warm. We sat around a few minutes and I was called in. The two fellows on duty were hilarious, laughing and joking all the while. They hooked me up for an injection and sent me through the machine. I lay back and thought of England. Well, not really, just mentally recited some of my funny poetry. It seemed only a few minutes later and I was out of the machine. Ten minutes after that the thing in my arm was removed and we were off. It wasn't yet 10.30, the real time for my appointment. Got to wait a week or two before I get a letter telling what's next.
So far, so good.
Received a letter confirming an appointment with the professor on 1st April. Then I hope to find something concrete - er, perhaps make that specific - about The Thing. Otherwise all is well.
And everything is still all well, although 1st April is looming large - just like The Thing. We're still in high spirits and facing the prospect of surgery within three months. After all 1st April is exactly half-way through "the first six months of next year" as the Professor said on 20th December last. It seems as if everything has moved very quickly since the first letter, but when I look at the top of this page I found that it all started on 22nd May. Dash it all, that's ten months that have flashed by. More will be added on 1st April.
Diane and I saw Professor McCullum at 1.45pm today at Hull Royal. He showed us the result of the CT scan on the screen and we could see that the AAA was a fat elongated sausage between the heart and the junction of the two arteries that serve the legs. It is now 5.8cm. He asked if everything was the same as before and it was. I wouldn't know I had The Thing without their reassurance that I have. I still feel fine, no breathing difficulties, don't feel weird, queer or odd (well, no more than usual I suppose). Then he said, calm as you like, "OK, then we'll do it on 2nd June." At last! A date. He mentioned the three per cent risk factor but I don't mind that. He said that the last two procedures he did were difficult, but that the patients are on the mend. He thinks mine will be a relatively easy operation. Apparently my level of health and fitness gives him little to worry about. I'll be admitted to Hull Royal (tenth floor) on Sunday 1st June. I'll also have to visit the hospital about a week beforehand to have blood tests etc. So, fingers crossed for a safe and precise procedure.
The discovery of The Thing led to some changes in life. I wished to drop some of the volunteer work I was doing for NAWG and I now have a slightly lighter load.
In other areas, for instance my own writing, there seemed to be an urgency to have things completed. So I compiled booklets about my grandfather's war and Goosey Wilson. I also completed one about Roman Rudston.
I also reset and published Historical Sketches of Bridlington and am currently (early Jan. 2008) completing Prickett's History of the Priory.
Elsewhere I found I was not in the least comforted by the faith I had grown up with. I've accepted atheism and the understanding that if I go, I go. It will be upsetting for Diane and others, but I will know nothing about it. I will not be aware that I have lived and regretful that I am no longer alive.
That's why I urge you to read Why doesn't God heal amputees?