In this brave new technological world where the frontiers of medical science are pushed back daily, is there no one who can come up with a better way of assessing pain than:
A&E Doctor (calm and professional): On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you assess your level of pain, Mr. Millar?
Me (writhing on gurney and losing grip on reality): 10 and getting higher.
I was in pain. I never envisaged that such pain could exist – or that I could survive it. It is truly amazing the level of punishment that the human body can take - and recover from. I slumped into an uncomfortable chair in A&E, knuckles white as I gripped the arm, looking with pleading eyes at any possible member of the medical staff that walked past. Whatever happened to triage? Could they not see that I was seconds from passing out? The hell with anyone else in A&E. This was self-survival at its best!
And who, in their infinite wisdom, determined that pain-killers could not be administered until the condition has been diagnosed? Eventually they conceded. Then karma struck! As morphine coursed through my veins, the gods flipped the allergy switch and I had a new set of conditions to deal with. Some quick thinking on the medical staff’s part saved the day and I discovered what was to become my best friend in the months to come – the drug dilaudid. Supplemented by Tylenol-3 and my “little pink pills” (more of this later), I was on the path to a pain-free, floating above the bed existence.
Eventually, I was admitted although this appeared not to be based on any medical rationale. Rather it was deemed that a 50-year old man who never had a major health issue in his life and whose last, brief hospital stay was for a vasectomy (ouch – and another humorous anecdote for another day and another blog) should not be writhing in agony on the gurney.
So off I went into the general hospital population. I have little memory of where I ended up although probably it was in the GI Unit. Even with health insurance - Canada may have “national health” but insurance still rules! I could not afford a private room, but was fortunate ending up in a 2-person room, rather than a 6-person bay.
For those who are of an age to make a decision and who have been diagnosed with cancer, there are basically two options. Roll over and die or fight – and possibly still die. I have no problems with whatever choice anyone makes. I’m stubborn and selfish, so I chose to fight - but it was a very close call.
I was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2005. At the time was living in Nova Scotia, Canada. I had no warning. OK actually I had, but being male I ignored it. And here’s my first piece of advice – do not ignore the small signs. When I reflected back, I realized that all the minor spotting of blood in my shit was my body telling me to get a check-up.
So on a sunny, Friday evening in May 2005 a sharp pain bent me double ending the argument I was having with my ex-wife in our kitchen. There followed a scramble to lever me into the truck and a 30 minute drive to the local community health center. The journey was interrupted several times - we had to stop and allow me to throw up.
At the health center, I took my place in A&E along with many others suffering with anything from a bad cold to – well, yours truly with undiagnosed cancer. I gripped the tubular steel chair arms tighter as the pain level rose and actually managed to bend them significantly – probably down to cheap furniture and adrenalin rather than my natural strength. Eventually, the seriousness of my pain got noticed and I was bumped up the queue. An x-ray, a perturbed doctor indicating a shadow which he was unsure of, and a strong suggestion that I be packed back into the truck and taken to one of the main hospitals in the city followed. Apparently my truck would be quicker than waiting for an ambulance!
And there began a long, sometimes painful, sometimes humorous journey of cancer surgeries and therapies, colostomies, foreign metal objects and lawyers. Hopefully this particular blog series will make people wince, smile and nod in agreement at some of my experiences. It is likely not going to be in date order so I beg forgiveness in advance.
I would love to hear from you. Feel free to comment or take issue with me.