After France and the wonderful sense of optimism I’d found, returning to England, knowing what was ahead of me, was not easy. If I’d had any real idea of what the treatment would be like: what it would do to my body and spirit, I would have been even more downhearted. However, that was all ahead of me, and I was at least pleased be close to starting treatment at last.
First of all, before treatment proper could begin, I had to have a PEG inserted, to allow me to be fed when I could no longer eat in the normal fashion.
This procedure involves making a hole in the stomach and abdomen and inserting a plastic tube which is held in place with two clamps, one internal, one external.
For some reason, general anaesthetic is not offered for this procedure, all that’s on offer is a sedative which makes one feel mildly euphoric – a sensation akin to having imbibed a glass of wine.
Then the barbaric procedure begins. A metal gag is secured in one’s mouth and a long, thick tube inserted through it and down into the stomach. The shock of this immediately negates the effect of the sedative and one’s gagging reflex goes into overdrive.
‘Just relax,’ the nurse said, a trifle impatiently I thought.
You try relaxing with two feet of black polyester tubing the thickness of a baby’s wrist stuck down your throat you stupid cow! I wanted to scream at her. But protest was impossible because my mouth was full of medical implements, and my rising anger only made me gag even more.
But then things take a decidedly medieval tone. Without even a shot of local anaesthetic, an incision is made in the abdominal wall. This hurts. What made it worse was the fact that the student doctor performing the operation was nervous and made several cack-handed attempts before he was successful. The nurse kept snapping at me to ‘Keep still!’
If I’d been able to rise, at that moment I would have gleefully demonstrated to her what it feels like to have your entrails speared by a novice wielding a scalpel without the benefit of anaesthesia.
After the incision is made, a small, plastic tube is inserted through the the hole and into the stomach and clamped from the inside. Once this is done, the long black torture implement is at last withdrawn from the gullet and the tube is secured on the outside with a plastic clamp and surgical tape.
One is then told to ‘keep it dry’ for at least a week and dismissed.
I said to the nurse afterwards that that was one of the worst experiences of my life. Was I particularly sensitive?
‘No, it’s always like that.’
‘It’s barbaric,’ I replied.
She merely shrugged and turned away.
That was a low point in treatment and I later made a formal complaint to the hospital about the unfeeling nature of the staff. Although this was the only occasion I had for complaint. During the rest of my treatment the staff couldn’t have been nicer and bent over backwards to make sure I was as comfortable as could be.
After the PEG – the mask.
The purpose of the mask is to hold the head in place during treatment so that the x-rays can be accurately targeted. As such, it is designed to fit snugly over the face and attach to the bench beneath by means of four reinforced lugs.
One grey, overcast morning towards the end of September, I presented myself at the ‘Mould Room’ in Derriford Hospital, and was told to lie on a cold, hard bench while a warm plastic solution was poured over my face. For the ten minutes it took to set I had to keep absolutely still – this was not an entirely pleasant experience. But even worse was the large plastic ‘lollipop’ of the goo that dentists use to take impressions of one’s teeth that I was forced to suck on to keep my tongue in place.
The lollipop was to prevent my tongue from sliding backwards, but it was so large it made me gag. When I complained about this, I was informed that, unpleasant though it was, it was absolutely necessary to keep my tongue in one place during treatment. After all, as my tongue was where the cancer was, it was imperative that it was precisely aligned with the x-ray beam. I was stuck with it.
A few days later, once the mask was ready, I was called in for ‘line-up’ – a sort of dry-run, where not only do they make sure the mask does its job of holding you down, but they also draw a complicated network of lines on the mask itself, which allow the radiographer to accurately line up patient and machine for each treatment.
It was a long process. But after forty-five minutes, the sweatily-confining mask and the awful lollipop gagging-tool were removed. I was visibly relieved, but was assured by the line-up team that the actual treatment wouldn’t take nearly as long.
Now I was ready. The treatment started the next day – at last I could begin to think positively about getting rid of this cancer.
Posted by AndySecombe 12:26:47 26.06.2007;
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