Wireless access point

Initially, I met with my oncologist at the (private) Parkside hospital in Wimbledon but he quickly recommended that my subsequent scans, treatments, procedures and consultations were all handled by The Royal Marsden who have hospitals in Chelsea and Sutton so all my data and records were available on one single computer system for all medical staff who ever needed to review my medical history.

After the PET scan (which didn’t reveal any hidden small mammals up my back passage), I met with another oncologist at Sutton on Wednesday 5th October together with a couple of nurses who explained about the lengthy list of potential side-effects and counter measures.

Having been initally diagnosed on 26th August and although lots had happened in the intervening six week period, I was getting slightly frustrated that the elephant in the room was this malignant tumour in my bowel. While we knew how large it was (7.5cm) and where it was (low down), we didn’t know how long it had been present nor did we know how fast it was growing.

For all the tests and procedures, we still hadn’t done anything directly to start attacking this pesky lump that was fermenting away, sub-dividing to create more cancerous cells, and without being overly dramatic, threatening my existence on this mortal coil.

So, just as I was looking forward to being told the date of the first chemotherapy session, another hurdle was placed on the running track in front of me.

‘Before we can start chemo, we’ll need to put a portacath in which will make everything much easier for you and for us’.

Chemotherapy involves lots of blood tests – before every treatment, blood is taken to check your white blood cell count. In addition to the chemotherapy drugs, steroids and anti-sickness are also injected into the body.

For aggressive, intensive chemotherapy, doctors prefer to administer all these drugs via a portacath as it saves the hassle of trying to locate a suitable vein on the patients arm or wrist. Chemotherapy can also recess the veins which make conventional injections more difficult.

So, the portacath procedure is done under a general anesthetic but as an outpatient and I was duly booked in the following Monday with the first chemo treatment two days later on Wednesday 12 October.

My initial, brief consultant with the surgeon wasn’t overly inspiring – he hauled me into central London for a brief (but presumably lucrative) 5 minute consultation which mostly reiterated what I already knew. He rudely interrupted me as I gave a brief medical history and told me of the three possible side-effects (‘infection – but that happens down the line’, ‘puncturing the lung but as I am a specialist with 15 years experience that won’t be a problem’ and ‘line getting clogged which is why the nurses flush it every fortnight’).

Another day, another hospital – this time, the Cromwell in London. The facility appears to serve a lot of foreign people – not clear whether it’s embassy staff or rich businessmen but I can report they show Aljazeera TV and have copies of Arabic newspapers in the reception area.

The surgeon went up a little in my estimation with his pre-op visit by showing some humility and kindly answering my wife’s questions.

The procedure lasted 3 hours and I came home with a square dressing just below my left collar bone and felt absolutely fine.

Again, I found myself reflecting on the wonders of medical science. Last year, my father-in-law and I wall-mounted an LCD in my son’s bedroom. We had all the parts and tools ready and the simple instructions to hand. Inevitably, one hole went into ropey plaster and the screen was not horizontally aligned to my perfectionist’s workmate’s satisfaction so we drilled another hole. The whole process took us 3 hours 15 minutes and our lunch was lukewarm.

A skilled surgeon took less time to make a very neat incision into my chest and insert a short piece of thin rubber tube into my bloodstream. Amazing, just amazing.