It was a brain tumour – it had to be. How else could it be explained? The GP said no heavy lifting, so maybe there was an outside chance of it being an enlarged blood vessel, ready to haemorrhage at any second.
Everyone has something they are frightened of. Something so unimaginably horrific they never want to confront the possibility of it ever happening. For me, it has always been the unlikely scenario of being trapped in an enclosed space deep underground, or the, equally unlikely until now, horror of an inoperable brain tumour, growing insidiously and without mercy deep within the white matter. I had lost my mother to cancer just two years previously, so I was well aware of how quickly it could escalate.
OK, so tumour or blood vessel…. something to think about as I lugged the heavy suitcases and baby paraphernalia into the car for our Cornish holiday. People were being positive, telling me it might be a trapped nerve, but how could it be a trapped nerve if it was affecting both my eyesight and my hands and feet? What if the vertigo (which had come and gone over the last few years) was something to do with it, as well?
I blew the dust off the Family Health Encyclopaedia… Hmmm… Brain… Disorders of the brain… Brain tumour…
Headaches – I had a headache yesterday, so check!…
Doublevision – Check!…
Sensory impairment – Check!…
Balance problems – Check!…
Memory problems – yeah, I’ve been a bit forgetful lately, so check!
Let’s cut to the chase…
Life expectancy, six months!…
I asked my wife to make sure that she took plenty of photographs of me and the kids over the coming week. She rightly replied with the advice to get a grip and until we knew what it was it could be anything.
As an eternal optimist, I wasn’t completely convinced that this was my last ever holiday with my family, but the possibility did weigh heavily on my mind. Despite this, it didn’t ruin the week. Not completely, anyway.
Every morning I checked to see if the doublevision was still there and it was. I pressed my fingers together to see if they felt pins-and-needly still and they did. I watched my calf muscles roll around and twitch under their own steam, and in the early hours of the morning, I noticed every twitch and felt every bump, mole and pimple on my scalp wondering if they signified anything. But the fact I had other stuff to think about and plan for and had places to go took precedent and occupied my mind somewhat.
There was nothing I wanted more than to be able to ignore everything and for it all to go away.
When I came home and found a letter from the hospital, booking me in for a CT Scan the previous week, everything came crashing back. A sleepless night followed and continuing the line of reasoning that I needed to keep busy to stave everything off – I headed to work…
A colleague asked if I’d had a good holiday.
I burst into tears.
On the end of the phone, the hospital asked if I could come in for the scan that very morning. When the NHS moves fast, you know it’s serious. I made the 20 mile trip from work, getting changed and picking up my wife on the way.
Up in the CT Scanner (“Like sticking your head in a washing machine”) I screwed up my eyes, trying not to think about the rays entering my skull and unlocking the horrors within. I also wanted to avoid the picture of cherry blossom on the ceiling of the scan room, strategically placed to calm the nerves.
Afterwards, I phoned my regular GP and he took the time to reassure me that it could indeed be anything, not just the worst-case scenario, and I could have something to help me sleep if I needed it.
I was now on the books of a consultant neurologist.
With my stomach tying itself in knots, I re-capped my symptoms with one of his grim-faced registrars. I spent 45 minutes undergoing the usual tests. I did my trick of not being able to walk heel to toe. I watched a pen travel in front of my face from left to right and back again. I had the soles of my feet tickled, and the tops pricked with a pin. My reflexes were tapped with a hammer. I had to read an eye chart, walk a distance in a straight line, remember a phrase, say what day of the week it was, resist having my arms lifted and pushed against… all sorts of tests to ascertain what was wrong with me and how serious it was.
Only when I returned to her office, did I voice my fears.
I was fixed with a stern look: “It’s not a brain tumour. Don’t worry.”
Instant relief… Phew!
Apparently there were a number of reflections on the CT scan which might, just might, possibly be inflammation caused by MS… Maybe… and if it was MS, which it might not be, to remember that a lot of people with MS lead long fulfilling blah.. blah.. blah..
Is that all!
I can deal with MS!
Hang on though, who do I know with MS?…
“Ermm… my old neighbour had MS, and she was a bit crazy, like talking to a little girl. No short term memory at all. Kept repeating herself…”
“blah blah… advances in treatment… every case is different… blah blah…”
It’s not a tumour then – I can deal with MS.
The upshot of the meeting was that further tests needed to be done before anything could be confirmed, starting with an MRI scan.
A couple of weeks later, I found myself in the MRI suite of the hospital, with all metallic objects removed and a new pair of cheap trakkie bottoms on (with the metal eyelets cut out of them) that I haven’t worn since. A number of pieces of paper were blu-tacked to the wall warning local ex-steel workers of the damage that might be done to them with a large electro-magnet and the accumulation of metallic dust in their systems.
The very amiable MRI bloke asked me if I wanted some music while being scanned: “Rolling Stones or Beach Boys?”
“Er, Beach Boys please.”
So there I was awaiting polarisation with headphones some padding and a metal cage wrapping my head so close it made contact with my nose.
“OK – this first scan will take two minutes, don’t worry about the noise, if you are uncomfortable or anxious at all press the buzzer”
>>Poc Poc Poc… ZZZUM! ZZZUM! ZZZUM! ZZZUM! ZZZHING! ZZZHING! ZZZHING! ZZZHING! VAMM! VAMM! VAMM! VAMM! …good vibrations… she’s giving me excitations… GRRANG! GRRANG! GRRANG! ZZING! ZZING! ZZING! CLUNNG! CLUNNG! CLUNNG! CLUNNG!<<
Lying perfectly still, afraid to swallow in case it mucked up the scans, I spent an hour in a noisy white tube, a little claustrophobic, but OK because I could press a buzzer and I could occasionally exchange banter with the radiologist. All this, while the intricate inner workings of my head revealed themselves on a computer screen just beyond the window of the adjacent room.