A close shave with death
Years ago, Sunday afternoons used to be a time of sheer relaxation and enjoyment for me. Fast forward to my middling years and they, or rather one Sunday in particular was a hair-raising dance with death. Let me explain.
Picture the scene. I wake with serious and I mean the most serious pain in my left bottom rib. It’s not for any other reason than my cancer, probably bone metastasis but it also could be swollen lymph nodes. Anyway, throughout the day, hot water bottles, my usual efficient TENS machine and a frequently increasing frequency and dosage of Morphine were failing to address the pain. On a pain scale of out of ten, I can honestly say hand on heart that these regular waves of pain were approaching 20 out of ten. Intense, ouch, just doesn’t cut it.
We both went upstairs around 3.30pm to watch TV on the PC to take my mind off of things but no amount of distraction would alleviate the pain. By 5pm, in agony and with a scale of 30/10, I asked my darling wife to take me into the local emergency room of the Claude Bernard Hospital, Albi.
The previous experience there had not been a pleasant one and so I was on guard from the moment we arrived. A scan was done which advised that both my kidneys were failing, the creatinine levels were rocketing skywards around 40 and a normal human body was unable to deal with these - so it was decided to send me to my usual urological hospital again in Albi named Toulouse Lautrec by ambulance.
The handover was deeply traumatic for me because of the language issue and also because due to the Covid 19 no visitors were allowed, under ANY circumstances. Luckily, I’d brought my phone and was able to spend (in the entirety of my stay) £77 on phone data credit to allow me to while away the what would eventually be the next five days watching British TV.
The care in T Lautrec hospital is peerless. Sadly, despite its reputation and France’s for producing knock out food, the manger there was dire. Indeed it was shite. Right, let’s get back to the kidneys. Told that both of mine were failing, the left one had a JJ stent in it placed there last October which had now become defective. To me, it was most probably the cause of the high creatinine levels. The right kidney had swollen in size, cause unknown but I was told that a stent in that kidney was out the question due to the urethra and swelling. Option 1 and all was a replacement stent for the left and time out on the right kidney. Decision made, I went straight down to theatre where a anaesthetist who more than resembled Heinrich Himmler and who had the real name of Dr Allemand (Germany) attended to my anaesthetisation. Dr Germany walked, nay shuffled slower than a penguin on Mogadon. In fact he looked so old, he could well have been Himmler in a surgical gown! It was most off putting.
Frightened to the hilt, German man firmly placed the mask over my nose and mouth and knowing I was English and couldn’t speak a word of French, gave explicit instructions in French of what I should do next. I had to guess so started breathing deep and counted down from ten. Having reached six, I was under and in about an hour, found myself in recovery which I have to say was a much more pleasant experience.
Back to a private room, yes the French do do healthcare in style, I awoke and watched TV all night on my phone. In the morning, I had my bloods taken. In spite of my hopes that the defective stent being replaced would mean a much lower creatinine count, I wS shell shocked to note it had gone up, considerably, to 65! At this rate, I would be dead soon. In my little room in France with limited view over industrial rooftops and without the hand or love of my wife to wish me on my way because Covid does this to people, I started to panic.
My surgeon, realising that something had to be done ordered an immediate échographie (I don’t know the English equivalent) and it was suggested that although they still didn’t know the cause why it had swollen, unless cancer had infiltrated it, I should try and reduce the swelling by nephrostomy. I knew this would mean an external bag but if it meant more time with my wife, I didn’t care. Prepared for theatre again by a couple of specialist nurses (French hospitals have a nurse for this and a nurse for that) I was whisked down to theatre again, this time by a fluent English speaking nurse called Dominic. It was sheer bliss being able to communicate what I wanted and all my fears and queries as he was able to articulate these back to the other staff involved in the op. Sadly, despite this, all my surgeon’s bedside manner consisted of was to do in answer to my question, “what if my creatinine levels do not fall), make a knife across the throat gesture and say “Mort!” It was so sickeningly off putting, I nearly got up before Heinrich Himmler slammed the oxygen mask over my face again!
You see, in France, surgeons, doctors are very different to the UK. Often heavy smokers, they dress completely casually for work - jeans, T shirt and do not like being questioned by patients. In France, patients have no right to kindness or service and the surgeon knows all. Ask about your own care and they see it as an affront to their professionalism. Still, I didn’t have no options so put up and shut up.
The long and the short of it was that after surgery, my creatinine fell but only a few points, my surgeon explained to my French speaking translator friend that I had days left (this was subsequently changed to weeks then possibly months - and I left hospital after two operations and five day stay. To say that holding my wife again and sleeping in my own bed was amazing would be an understatement. So, post op care will be a GP visit on Sunday at home, home nurse on Monday, bloods every week and in three weeks, I will return to hospital for a scan to see whether the right kidney has shrunk sufficiently to negate having to use a nephrostomy bag. I don’t care, I just want to be alive.
My queries to those with experience of kidney failure is how the prostate disease spread works in the failure of kidneys, what it does, treatments that may work (the surgeon has said dialysis is out of the question so is transplant (this is France after all). Why, despite my urine being clear, me processing lots of fluid a day and having a healthy urine output, is my creatinine is not falling substantially. Answers on a postcard would be very gratefully receive .
Bazza - Barry