You can’t beat expectations when you don’t know what to expect

A few people have asked me what’s been wrong with me, why I’ve recently had surgery and how I’m doing. I thought I might write it all out in this (long) blog, partly so anyone can understand what’s happened (if they’re interested) and probably more to help me understand what’s happened. 

I say that because what is abundantly clear is that I have had no real idea what I was getting into. If nothing else then for sure, this past, rough week, has been what you might describe as a ‘learning experience’.  

So let’s go back to the beginning. Even before the beginning. i’ve been incredibly fortunate during my life. I’m 53 now (!) and until now I’ve not suffered with any serious illness. I think I had a general anaesthetic before I was 10 for something minor, but nothing since – so no health issues at all for over 40 years. No hospital stays, no medical challenges, no problems. As I say, very fortunate. 

Back a couple of months, in November, I started to get a runny nose. And I started coughing. I remember thinking typical that I get a cold on one of my rare days off work last year. I had to rule out the obvious. A runny nose isn’t a symptom of Covid is it? Well according to my lovely daughter Holly it could be so I went and took a test – negative happily. So just a cold. I threw as much as it as I could (unlike me to be proactive on these things), including a big spend in a health food shop after all the pharmacist-suggested meds had failed to make any difference. 

Nothing shifted. My nose continued to run constantly. So after three weeks of this, including an embarrassing moment where my nose dripped without any control on a live event at work in front of over 1,000 people – fortunately it was so quick that I don’t think anyone noticed but it was there on the video, I realised I needed to do something more.

I reluctantly contacted my GP (don’t they have more important things to deal with?) through their impressive online service. Having left my details on the Sunday, the GP called on the Monday morning and immediately felt I needed to be referred to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. Amazingly the doctor he referred me to was able to do a phone consultation that evening and then see me at his clinic the following day, where I also had a CT scan, followed by an MRI scan by the end of the week (a weird experience in itself). These scans, my symptoms and then some test results confirmed I had what is called a CSF leak. I have rudimentary (or non-existent) Biology at the best of times so I’d never heard of this condition, or the Cribriform Plate; so I needed to learn fast. CSF does have a meaning within Johnson Matthey, but that wasn’t helpful with this condition. 

The one weird thing about this is we have no idea of how this happened. Apparently this is a condition that occurs more with slightly younger females (often obese) more than with males of my age. So where this came from who knows, unless is was a sharp elbow to the head from my wife 🙂 

My initial consultant passed me onto a colleague who was expert in dealing with such conditions. The view was you can live comfortably with a CSF leak for years but the risk is not so much what’s coming out but that if something (the fluid) could come down then something could go up the other way, and by that they meant infection (in particular meningitis) so for this condition they are keen to operate as quickly as possible. 

I’ve been lucky to be able to go private. I was told by my first specialist that this is a condition that the NHS would prioritise though it would be a few weeks before getting the operation and with the current covid situation that could be exacerbated. Having never needed to use my private medical cover I was finally to make a call on BUPA, and they have made life very easy. Like so many others before me though I’ve nothing but good things to say about all of the medical professionals who have treated me (NHS and private). While going private, both specialists I’ve seen, have spent plenty of time supporting the NHS through the covid crisis. So that meant less availability for operation slots and with Christmas in the mix I was given an operation date of 4 January – which happened to be on my mother’s 80th birthday. What a wonderful way for her to celebrate. 

Through Christmas my wife demanded I shielded. Even trips to supermarkets were forbidden. I’m sure she was right. No point risking any delay due to covid. On Saturday 2 Jan I was up early and in central London hospital at 9.00 for some pre-assessment tests. I must have passed them (including a further negative covid test) as I was back at the hospital just after lunch on the Monday, for my operation. 

As I said earlier I didn’t know what was going to happen. Sure my specialist had explained the procedure but I didn’t have any expectation of what would happen afterwards. Take it easy and don’t work he told me, but yeah, when work is largely through a laptop surely I’d be back on it within a couple of days. 

I confidently went down to the theatre around 4.00 on that Monday afternoon. Next thing I knew it was around 11.00pm and, groggily, I began to come back to life.  

Remember this is a procedure happening just above my nose. The operation is performed through my nose (better than the other option through the skull). Yet it was amazing how many parts of my body were involved. The doctor had taken tissue from my left thigh to help repair my cribriform plate. He needed to put in a lumber drain as I was leaking the CSF fluid quite badly and the anaesthetic was put in through my right hand. That night, Monday going into Tuesday was – well, it was different. I had fluid coming into me as well so needed to pee every hour which was incredibly difficult with so many sore places and not being able to move. That was a long night. 

The Tuesday was a horrible day. I had a constant drum banging in my head. I collapsed the first time I tried to walk. It was an easy decision to stay in hospital an extra day. 

I came home at lunchtime on the Wednesday (6 Jan). Since then, the past few days have been rough! My expectations of being back at work within 48 hours were ridiculous. My nose is half blocked by a ‘pack’ that oozes a yellowy brown yuckiness (totally natural I’m told). This pack will be removed through a second general anaesthetic operation, fortunately quite soon on 18 Jan. So I can’t breathe too well (at least not through my nose). The worst thing is the constant, debilitating headache as the pressure from my blocked nose takes its toll. My left leg remains very sore too, probably not so surprising as the first look at the scar yesterday confirmed it was a much bigger incision than I realised. I don’t have much energy which is probably not surprising given I don’t have much of an appetite. 

I’m trying to do a little more each day. Even writing this blog is helpful getting me ready to work more this week. I’m yet to have a bath partly given my leg bandage, and I’m scared to shave or go anyway near my nose. 

I’m also feeling guilty as I worry that my work will slip. I like to be on top of things and there is plenty to do – January was always going to be a busy month. Colleagues have been great and supportive but still I can’t help feeling guilty and I’m grateful to them, and to Mike & Kevin who have kept the Listening work going while I’ve taken a leave of absence.

So here we are. Marking time, taking my meds and counting down the days until my second op. Only 8 days to go now. Can’t wait! I’m hoping I’ll get over that much quicker and be back to normal in a day or so. Let’s see.

When you’re not well it is amazing how people support you. Both family and friends, whether it’s through the calls and texts or even the fabulous box of doughnuts that Holly is enjoying. So far this has been an easy lockdown as I would obviously have ‘locked down’ regardless. 

I recognise now that this is was much more serious than I ever realised. The impact of the anaesthetic, of the incisions and the ‘pack’ has been much tougher than I had guessed. With my laid back style, I sort of took it all in my stride, and didn’t think too much about why it has happened or what was to be in store for me, assuming I’d continue to be fine immediately after it was done. Fortunately I should recover fully, hopefully quickly in the scheme of things. Last week was hard though – this week won’t be a picnic and these are not experiences I am in a hurry to repeat.

I said at the beginning of this that it was a learning experience. What have I learnt? Firstly to listen, not just to the medics, but colleagues at work who said don’t be too quick in coming back. They knew. I’ve had reinforced the importance of the people around you, reinforcing that however good life is things can change in an instant so it is important to appreciate what you have and make the most of things.. And appreciate the kindness of so many people. A massive thank you to everyone who has asked after me, to my friends and family and most of all to my amazing wife who has really put me first and looked after me. Mind you, it was probably her elbow that caused all of this in the first place…

Keep well everyone. 

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