Only after we had been given an explanation for my symptoms did we begin to properly face up to them and accept their severity. I had first noticed a decline in my energy levels at a damned inconvenient time; just as we were preparing to move house from suburbia and take up residence on a small island (yes, really) off the coast of British Columbia. The timing was poor in more ways than one; aside from it making important, moving -related everyday tasks (including work) far more troublesome than they had any right to be, it also gave me the perfect excuse to pretend it wasn’t really happening and to shrug it off as a combination of lack of sleep and advancing age.
Once we had moved house and had begun a planned extended break from work – with luxuries like a no0rmal sleep pattern thrown in as a bonus – things should have improved. But things did not. Again, with a strange twist of sardonic humour, the universe arranged for my wife and I to both undergo a period of extreme fatigue. Once more my symptoms were masked as we convinced ourselves that we were ‘decompressing’ after leaving the suburban way of life behind. It had never suited us, and fitting in with that whole ‘scene’ (man) had always been something of a deliberate effort for us both. It made sense to us that our eventual ‘escape’ had left us emotionally and to some extent physically exhausted.
In due course, my wife ‘recovered’ and regained her old energy levels. Her big fat (and getting fatter despite reducing his food intake) lummox of a husband, however, did not. In fact he got worse. I became more and more tired and listless. Mentally, I began to slow down too. Sleep came more and more easily to me and most strangely of all, my body changed shape at an alarming rate. What greeted me in the mirror one day was no longer something that I recognized as my own body. I was turning into a pear.
Through all this, as I have already mentioned, I became aware of a change in my eyesight. I had begun to not notice some things, and gradually my eyesight began to be consumed with a strange fogginess. From time to time I would think about it and conclude that I was simply aging, but for the overwhelming majority of the time I pretended that nothing was happening; that everything was really alright. Such is the lot of the hypochondriac in denial; I was too scared to face what I believed (something unknown yet fundamental) might be happening to me. I simply couldn’t face that reality, whatever it might be.
When my eyesight had deteriorated beyond the point of being ignored, I finally sought out professional advice and diagnosis. As it turned out, that initial diagnosis (a macular hole in my left eye) was completely wrong, but fortunately it entailed a referral to a more experienced specialist. His speculative diagnosis and referral to a neural ophthalmologist proved to be the game-changer, and a quick and painless CT scan revealed the truth about what was going on inside my head.
To be fair to the man, he was excellent. He showed us the images, gave us the news and discussed it with us in a compassionate yet professional way. He showed great empathy and patience, answering our questions gently and completely. We owe him our gratitude for the manner in which he dealt with the shocked couple before him. It was his office that we had left in a state of this-can’t-be-happening bewilderment, my life apparently in the balance, and with no positive absolutes to cling to. That was the moment when we had held each other and wept for a future that we thought had been ripped away from us. That was the moment I began to think about saying goodbye to my children.
Our next appointment was with the eminent surgeon, an appointment which first alerted us to the fact that the medical profession had decided what to do with me. Having steeled myself for an encounter with a grey-haired, rotund man (forgive my sexist moment) with impressively bristling eyebrows, I was surprised to find myself talking to a slim, fit man of approximately forty, who appeared be in possession of completely tamed eyebrow hairs as well as a cheerful, if business-like demeanour. The meeting was intense, filled with lots of information, lots of questions, and lots of…other stuff. Once it was over, I was completely exhausted, both emotionally and physically.
They were going to go into my head through my nose, for goodness’ sake! I’d never heard of such a thing – hell, I’d never even considered such a thing was possible! The need for urgency, however, was clear. My physical condition had deteriorated rapidly to the point where simply walking a few hundred metres left me physically drained, and sleep filled most of my days. I was, in effect, winding down to a complete stop.
Three weeks later, then, my beautiful, strong, wonderful lady and I arrived at the hospital in Vancouver at the appointed time. That time, by the way, was 5.30a.m. I registered my presence and we waited together until I was called into the pre-op room. There, this magnificent woman whom I am so proud top call my wife, helped me struggle out of my clothes (I had been reduced to stumbling about) and into the standard hospital dignity-absorbing gown. After twenty minutes of waiting and talking to one another against a backdrop of beeping monitors and hushed voices, we said our goodbyes (I struggling to hold it together – and I don’t mean the gown), she was escorted to a waiting room and I was wheeled on a gurney out of pre-op and admitted to hospital for the first time since I was a toddler. It’s fair to assume that I was somewhat apprehensive about having things pushed up my nose and into my skull.
At this point - I am advised by my erstwhile, medically-trained spouse, due to the drugs they gave me before anaesthetizing me – time starts misbehaving itself in my memory (what there is of it). I was semi-conscious when they wheeled me into the suite of operating theatres. Amid great hustle and bustle I asked whomever might be listening how many operating rooms there were (for some reason it suddenly seemed relevant), and being informed that there was a suite of twelve theatres. I recall being quietly terrified by the appearance of the suite, which to my addled mind had the appearance of a white-tiled butcher’s shop. Or abattoir.
Somebody greeted me in a hale-and-hearty kind of way as my immense gown-covered bulk arrived under the lights in THE room. I managed a feeble mumble in reply. A different voice began to talk to me and unseen hands began to pull at my hands and arms. The voice said “Now I’m just going to give you some medication in a moment.” and I watched an oxygen mask (which seemed far too small) descend onto my face – I swear it was exactly like a cheesy movie representation – I remember one breath, one blink, and then…