Just to be clear, prologuing a blog post is not the same as proroguing Parliament. Among other things, I own this blog. Justin Trudeau does not own Parliament. We do. I am prologuing to explain what I’m doing. Trudeau prorogued to avoid explaining what he is doing.
One of the hazards of starting a blog like this is that sooner or later life gets in the way. Read through the collected works of John Lennon and you’ll learn that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. Read through the collected works of me and you’ll see that quote used widely. And wisely, I hope.
Last February, on Valentine’s Day, I was diagnosed as having a rare and malignant neuroendocrine tumour on my pancreas. Instead of a dozen red roses, I was given a dozen and a half weeks of chemotherapy treatment. Near the end of it, I came down with yet another rare condition: an abscess in my lower spine. Discitis, it’s called, and it’s very painful.
For most of the months of July and August, I couldn’t think straight for long enough to sit straight and write a coherent paragraph. The set up I have for my computer work is an ergonomic nightmare. This doesn’t usually matter, but for those two summer months, the doctors who were looking after me did some of my thinking for me. They decided to hold off on the last bags of Irinotecan until they cleared up the abscess. No more chemo until the infection is gone. Now I’m back to where I was a month or two ago.
I am not certain I’m out of the woods yet, but I think I’m getting there. I can see a clearing up ahead. A little touch of meadow lying below the pines and the maples. Birds chirping in the trees. Squirrels chattering in the branches. Patches of sunshine lie on the grassy ground, inviting me to absorb as much of the newfound warmth as I can fit into my ever-evolving 21st century world. It’s one of the many health challenges that jump on us in this summer of living dangerously.
It has been dangerous, no doubt about it. I have now had two follow up CT scans to monitor the effect of chemotherapy on my tumour. After almost 18 weeks of pumping poison through my veins, it is smaller than it used to be. Down by about a third, they said. Everything was on target. At least, it was until it wasn’t.
Approaching the eighteenth week, almost the end of chemo treatment, I got bit by discitis. The first sign of it was the sudden disappearance of the annoying grin on my face. The second was the sudden appearance of the mother of all sore backs.
The staff in the Guelph oncology department said it wasn’t a consequence of the chemotherapy. It could have been a consequence of one of the side effects of the chemotherapy. The Irinotecan and Carboplatin have a way of weakening the body’s immune defenses. A bacteria could have snuck into my body at any time in the near past and waited for an opportunity to jump out and trip me up. That’s the scientific explanation that I learned in my first and only semester of Google Medschool.
Other doctors, all of whom successfully completed their education, took longer to pin down the cause of my sore back. The first one to give a diagnosis put it down to a pinched nerve. This was a bit off the mark, but not unreasonably so. A pinched nerve usually is the culprit.
OK, the emergency room doctor said to himself, this guy arrived here in an ambulance with a back so sore he couldn’t move. What should I tell him?
OK, the doctor said to his patient, you have a pinched nerve. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.
Sometimes even ER doctors are so anxious to see the zebra that they miss the herd of horses.
If it’s not a pinched nerve, which it wasn’t, it’s often arthritis. But again, not always. Sometimes there’s more to it than that. Like now.
Somewhere along this chain of doctors, someone thought to take out the guesswork and arranged for me to get an MRI. This gave everyone a good look at the meat and potatoes of my spinal column. An MRI machine is a lot like a single passenger space pod. It shakes, rattles and rolls for as long as it takes for the team of technicians to emerge from their hiding places with a report that only they can understand.
They found a 2.5cm abscess between two discs in my spine and some sort of strep infection sitting where it doesn’t belong. I’m not well-schooled in spinal strep infections but let me tell you this: they are sore as a bugger. Not only that, but they are even more painful after they settle in.
Despite the best efforts of an assortment of neoliberal politicians who keep winning elections in our country, we still have a reasonably decent health care system. When we really need it, it rolls up its sleeves and gets to work. It did for me. I got to spend a week in the Guelph General Hospital where more nurses and doctors brought their skills to my bedside. I estimate that almost a dozen different doctors have mumbled Hippocratic oaths under their breath as they hunted down the cause of what ails me.
That explains a lot of the delay in keeping this blog up to date. It threw me off balance. There is no doubt that cancer, or anything related to it, is a frightening thing to confront. Future posts on this front will be a lot less frequent.
A constant hope is that if we can bring ourselves to understand the monsters hiding under the bed, they will become less frightening. But when I shone a light on my tumour, I discovered some other truths that hadn’t worried me before. Now they do.
If I recover the energy to resuscitate this blog, I’d like to look at issues such as mortality and morality, or ability and agility. Maybe I’ll just play the odds. After catching two very rare fish, one right after another, the odds against reeling in a third must be enormous.