Sunday 17th March Pauline took me through to St John’s Hospital in Livingston, I wasn’t nervous, I haven’t done nerves since my first WHW race in 2003, I was looking at it like doing a big ultra, I knew what was ahead would be hard, and whatever happened I would do my best.
Monday 18th was the operation, being anaesthetised is not like being asleep, I remember being prepared for the op and then suddenly I was coming round thinking that was quick, except it was twelve hours later. I felt ok, but I was on a morphine drip, my mouth and the right side of my face was numb, I was breathing easy and could wiggle my arms and legs. This is where my fight started, getting my bearings on what will be the new normal for me, two thirds of my tongue has been removed and replaced with skin, blood vessels and muscle from my left wrist, my wrist has been covered with a piece of skin from my tummy. I was in Intensive Care until Tuesday afternoon, having my vital signs checked every hour. It was reassuring when they stuck an ultra sound gizmo in my gob and I could hear my heart-beat pulsing loud and strong in the transplanted tissue. I was moved up to a single room in the plastic surgery ward and on Tuesday night Pete and Pauline came to visit, they were really surprise how almost normal I looked, we had been told about the possibility of massive swelling and bruising, and apparently I wasn't too bad, I never saw myself for quite a few days so I just had to take their word for it. I smiled when Pauline said the stitches up my chin were so small and neat and looked like a little Devil’s Staircase. (The reason for the scar being zig-zagged is because the eye is drawn to straight lines so when it fades it will hardly be noticeable) I was tired but still fairly bright, I’d only missed one night’s sleep and for an ultra-runner that’s a doddle. With having a trachea tube I couldn't talk, but when folk asked questions that only require a nod or a shake of the head, and it is amazing what you can say with hand signals and a note pad and pen, it wasn't too hard making myself understood.
After another night of being checked hourly, and with the sound of the oxygen pump and feeding pump whirring away and the noise of the ward I had second night with no sleep. I was warned that the third day was the day where most folk who have gone through this took a dip. Yep, it was a struggle, not any particular painful thing, that was being controlled by drugs it was the overwhelming everything at once. Lying on my back for days was just not right, neither was having my left arm bandaged in a big tight dressing from knuckles to elbow, a breathing tube attached to my throat, two drainage tubes in my neck, one in my left arm, a catheter in my bladder and intravenous antibiotics in the back of my right hand. I felt like a beached octopus. The room was kept uncomfortably hot to make sure my blood vessels are nice and open. I was lying doing nothing but sweating like I was running a 10k on a summer’s afternoon, my arse was stuck to the damp sheets and my back ached.
Pauline had plastered the toilet door with photos of my running highlights, West Highland Way and family gatherings. I found it hard to look at them without doubting my ability of ever being healthy and outside again. But day by day the tubes were removed and by Friday all I had was the feeding tube. Besides being nil by mouth I was also nil by bum, but Friday was the day that things moved and not just my bowels, I was in my own jammies at last and was able to get out of bed by myself, I went for a pee around every two hours, not because I needed, it was because I could! I also managed to sleep for the first time since Monday.
The tunnel was coming to an end, Pauline and Pete brought in Mel’s iPad that she has generously lent me and I was back in touch via facebook and email. It was such a comfort having all your support and visits, and all the cards and wee presents I’d been sent too, a guardian Angel, a beautiful hummingbird brooch with the words in the card “A wee strong bird that can go very far!” brought a lump to my throat, and some that had me rolling with laughter, a People’s Friend (yes I did read it, but not the serial stories, I wasn't wanting sucked in like watching an episode of a soap) the hack saw with the cake. Knowing I was in the heart of a lot of prayers was a comfort, I embrace all faiths and my uncle who’s just back from a holiday in India sent me a little statue of Ganesh, he’s the Hindu god for luck and good fortune, and his belly gets a little rub every day. Some practical stuff, hand cream, lip balm, note book and pens, some knitting to keep me out of mischief and one thing I’ll never forget, (I still didn't have the go ahead to eat anything with substance,) the first proper food I had in nearly a fortnight, it took me all night to eat it with a spoon, a delicious Scrumptiousness cake!
I was coming on leaps and bounds and started to question some of my treatment, like did I need to be fed through the night? Also, I didn't believe 1700 calories a day was enough me, I was polite but in my mind I smiled and though “Oi don’t you know I have the metabolism of Rampant Lion!” I also opened my window a crack and what a difference, my room was far more comfortable. I had a little giggle to myself when three different nurses were checking my vitals said, “That’s better than mine!”
I was to be kept in over the Easter weekend, no bad thing I suppose because if I was let out I would have went to Perth to watch the Anglo-Celtic Plate 100k and 50k races. But I followed the progress on twitter and facebook, not as good as being there but the next best thing available to me. Doctors stopped examining me and on morning rounds just stuck their head round my door just to say Hi and if I needed anything I knew where they were.
On Tuesday I was allowed home and what a pleasure sleeping in my own bed. Getting out and about, but I'm being good, no running until the skin graft has healed. My right shoulder is dodgy with nerve damage, my speech isn't too bad, I am being understood, saying the letters L and R need a lot more practice but I’ll get there. It is hard though, from the oxters doon I’m in excellent health and chomping at the bit to go for a run but I'm gathering my strength, I still don’t know if I've to get radio or chemotherapy but I'm prepared if I do. On the grand scale of a life time what’s another six weeks of treatment and feeling rough for a wee bit longer. I’ll find out on Monday.
But before that I've got a great night out ahead on Saturday, a fortieth birthday bash where I’ll be returning a lot of the hugs and love I've been sent.
One more thing, I will not be called a cancer victim or sufferer. I am a cancer survivor!