PART 18 of My (Our) PC Adventure: see the full story HERE>
By LIN TUCKER
A few of weeks before Christmas, 2008, a very worried Jim told me that our GP had found some roughness when performing a digital examination of his prostate.
He’s the family worrier, so I went into reassurance mode with comforting words such as “found something early”, “stats in your favour”.
I must internalise worry, because no alarm bells rang: maybe it’s the two years of nursing training I did, so I understand the odds are usually in the patient’s favour.
Besides, Jim has had regular checks and his PSA reading was never high. Well, that’s what we thought then.
Fast forward to Christmas Eve: my niece from Canada has arrived to spend Christmas with us. Jim says he still hasn’t heard about his biopsy test results. I say “no news is probably good news. However, if you’re concerned, why don’t you call the surgery.”
He calls, and the nurse says yes, the results are back, but you will need the doctor to interpret them. A small tingle replaces the former insouciance I have been feeling.
Some time later, the doctor hasn’t called back, so Jim phones him and is told that the tests show cancer cells present, but the situation is not considered so urgent that it couldn’t have waited until after Xmas. An appointment will be made for him to see a urologist.
The cancer word is a bit scary, although Christmas and a vacation with an old nursing friend are enough to keep my mind from dwelling too long on any worst-case scenarios.
Jim doesn’t follow the accepted male ideology that you ignore symptoms; he is not shy about getting medical advice and for this I’m grateful. It means that as a partner I’m fully informed about the options, as – being a journalist – he will have done exhaustive research.
Knowledge is powerful as a tool for my peace of mind. If I can rationalise, I can cope.
I took him to the hospital for the biopsy prior to Xmas. Although the procedure is not entirely pleasant, Jim didn’t find it too much of an ordeal. But after the effects of the biopsy, which was quite invasive, he needed a bit of looking after.
Jim made another visit to the urologist just after New Year and returned with material to read and view, and a request to discuss it with me and make a decision about treatment.
At the end of January, I go with him for the treatment consultation. The urologist is young enough to be up-to-date, but old enough to have some gravitas, which is very comforting.
We’re informed that three of the 12 samples have shown cancer. On the positive side the cancer is not of an aggressive nature.
The urologist mentions “margins”, where the cancer cells might have migrated to the surface of the prostate and affected other tissue. Not quite so straight-forward after all.
On balance, though, things are more favourable than not; I tend to concentrate on the positive.
Right from the beginning, Jim is keen on having a radical prostatectomy rather than brachytherapy. I’m a little worried that he’s making the decision on a cost basis, but the literature seems to lean that way. The urologist says he is a good candidate for surgery.
Jim can have the operation done at the public hospital by the same urologist, so we wait for a date. Hospital surgery waiting lists vary and Jim is hoping it will work out during his between journalism courses, a break when he can have plenty of recovery time.
His wish is granted – March 25, the day before his students graduate – oh well.
By now we’re in early March and I’m given the “realignment” news at work. I’m numb: another team has also been disestablished. Work is a flurry of shock, questions, and a couple of weeks’ consultation period.
The following weekend, we’re off to New Plymouth to enjoy the wedding of Jim’s niece, Jaclyn. It should be a wonderful weekend catching up with his nephew’s newish son, family and friends and getting our minds off the pending surgery and redundancy.
The operation itself doesn’t worry me unduly. However, the risks of anaesthetic are very real and I’m feeling some disquiet, while trying not to show it.
The wedding day is wonderful, perfect even. The weather shines, the venue is fabulous, the bride’s mother and father behave well (their rift is still somewhat raw). Tensions are non-existent. Jacs is marrying an Australian and he has plenty of family and friends for support. The speeches are hilarious and heartfelt. The bride’s sister, Philly, makes a very warm and loving speech to her big sister. We leave at 11pm and they’re all dancing up a storm.
Next morning, we’re sleeping in when we’re woken with a message that Rob is trying to get hold of us: some accident…Philly’s seriously ill in hospital. We get to the hospital and find she is in an induced coma and they have called a helicopter to take her to Wellington, but they need to carry out emergency intervention!
We try to console each other, joined now in a wave of horror equal to the joy of the day before. It is all surreal. We take Rob’s wife home and keep busy with household chores, when we’re called to say the outcome is not good. We rush back to the hospital.
I stay outside minding the young ones, who are moving quickly into shock, recalling the morning’s events of hearing screams, Philly on the floor of the unit, having apparently fallen from the balcony above.
About 2pm, she is pronounced dead and we go back to Rob’s to prepare for the coming funeral in four days. The Aussies and guests silently file back to what was going to be a post-wedding friendly international cricket match. Instead, the wake starts.
The family tensions buried for the wedding quickly resurface under the stress. The estranged fiancé and his family are also in the mix; it’s not pretty. Eventually, we farewell the yellow coffin.
Due to the funeral, Jim has to change his pre-op check date, hoping he will not lose his place in the operation queue. I am hoping for this, too, as I don’t think I can stand any more waiting to get his situation resolved.
Away from the funeral-wedding, we start to prepare mentally and physically for the operation. When we go to town he walks home to Hataitai over Mt Victoria to get fit. I’m unable to concentrate much at work.
Jim and I head for Wellington Hospital at 6.45am on Wednesday, March 25. He has a bag packed with PJs, clothes and toilet gear. We spend an hour or so in a small room with no windows where he changes into the sexy nightgown, socks and hat. No need for the contents of the bag – I take it home. Nobody gives clear instructions that you will spend the small time in hospital in their gear and won’t need clothes until you are discharged.
A number of staff come in with their various checklists and tick off all the boxes, some for a second or third time. Part of me is glad they are being so careful and another part is just screaming “get on with it”.
We are then escorted up to pre-op, where he is put in a bed. More checks and a visit from the surgeon. I’m relieved when he promises to call me after the op, which should take three to four hours.
I wave Jim through the doors and set off home. We live only about five minutes away, and there’s no point hanging around the corridors.
I had intended to go into work, but there’s no point: my mind is mush. I go home and wait. About noon, one of Jim’s work colleagues calls. I tell her no news yet.
At 12:25pm, the urologist calls…relief, all went well and looks good. I figure that is code for no obvious signs of marginal cancer cells…hope I’m right. I let out my breath.
I have Jim’s cellphone, so I text all and sundry, call close family, and head back to the hospital about 3pm. It’s going to cost a fortune in parking fees.
He’s sitting up in bed looking morphine-sleepy. I don’t stay long, leave money for a morning paper, his cellphone with all the incoming well-wishing messages. It was good to touch him and know he’s okay
Next day, I come back at about 10am when visiting starts. He’s had a reasonable night, aside from bringing up the jelly he tried for dinner. We visit until lunch, then I leave. I go back to tuck him in late afternoon.
That night wasn’t quite so good, bit of pain. Next day it’s up and showering, the drain having been removed. He may come home tomorrow.
Yes, after the night from hell (including him wrenching the catheter tube out and wetting the bed thoroughly), having been moved from the “must-be-watched-closely cubicle” across from the nurses station to one around the corner, he is happy to be coming home.
Eventually we’re allowed to take him, and his spares home. I drive carefully, but Newtown roads are not in good shape. You would think streets and roads around a major hospital would be smooth.
At home, Jim is doing well and the first night we attach the extra catheter bag for the night and all goes smoothly.
We are lulled into a sense of false security. The next night, the valve joining the bags doesn’t work, so I’m changing a wet bed at about 3am. The following night I get to change it twice. Finally we get it right.
He gets the catheter out after six days. This process is very interesting, as this is a teaching hospital and I learn a lot. I take JT home with his “pad”. I’ve purchased a “dry sheet” for any accidents: I’m too old to be changing beds in the early hours of the morning. I sleep patchily as it is.
At work on Friday I get a call from JT at 3pm. He sounds in severe pain: “Come home, please. I need to go to A & E.” I make the fastest trip home. On the way to the hospital, he tells me how he came to be in that state. Feeling chipper he found that he was getting some penile action, so he tested it to the point of orgasm, which caused muscle spasm of the acute variety.
Oh no, I thought. I hope this doesn’t put his recovery back at all.
ED do their thing with so much pain relief an elephant would be downed. Then he’s finally able to pee and the pain stops. He can go home.
But this is not to be the last of his tribulation. That night he has trouble peeing and at 3am I get the car out of the garage (why do all these things happen at this hour) for another trip to hospital. Sorry darling, but I’m just so tired.
But then he passes a massive clot. Much relief, more mess, but the pain is over, and recovery resumes.
Eventually, the blood in the urine passes, and normality (whatever that is) returns.
Each day I come home, JT looks and seems to feel better. I am so enjoying his recovery. So far, so good.
NEXT: Spreading the news.