Saturday 18 April 2009
Cape Town Medi Clinic
Bed F21 with a courtyard view
I’ve never suffered from headache’s. The rare moments where I have had headaches I’ve rarely taken any kind of medication. The only painful head pain I’ve ever experienced was during and following several dental operations to remove excess teeth during puberty, wisdom’s et al. This was technically not head pain, but in my jaw. But like anybody who’s been ‘hurt’ by a dentist, it feels all the more intense because it’s so close to your brain.
I can remember wondering if an amputated toe could possibly hurt as much. If somehow the nerve impulses could somehow loose some of their urgency if they travelled over a greater distance. Anyway, the question was there and obviously not important enough to ever answer because I didn’t go on to study medicine and neurology, instead I chose to become a student and practitioner of a different kind of signalling science, choosing to explore and learn how to send signals through the ether, through the air, using the power of light to flicker and touch a different set of nerves, to trigger a different set of impulses, some painful, some not, some exhilarating, some edifying.
And so to last week. I was making love to Sarah when I started to feel a tension, a fiery burn up the right side of my neck. Perhaps if I was watching TV at the time I would have paused sooner. As it was I was consumed and otherwise occupied. I only realised what was happening when the pain exploded like petrol thrown onto a flickering fire. Suddenly this white-hot hand seemed to reach up out of my neck, gripping the right side of my head, squeezing my ear, my eye. It was like the worst kind of sinus pain I’d ever experienced and more. I fell down on the bed and all I could do was dive down into something like sleep where I felt I could escape the worst of it.
Sarah fearing the worst kept waking me up every hour to check on me and in this way we made it through the night (thanks Louis Ferdinand Celine). The next day I spoke to my two doctor friends, one who happenes to be ‘my’ doctor and between them we established that a sudden painful headache without any other symptoms may not be a ‘worst case’ scenario and I promised to report any other changes in my condition.
For the remainder of last week and this week I had a mild headache that half wasn’t there. If pressed I would admit that it was hanging around the right hand side of my head. After a lifetime of no real headache’s I was beginning to wonder what this was about. Then on Wednesday everything shifted.
At lunch I had an experience that I later described as a ‘blood sugar’ moment. I suddenly felt like I might feint and asked Sam to get me something with sugar while I slid off the chair (in the middle of Melissa’s in Constania nogal) and lay on the slate floor wondering what was going to happen next. The juice arrived and five minutes later I felt that I wasn’t going to feint after all, climbed back on my chair, seemingly normal.
If you keep reading you will soon begin to regard this word “normal” with some suspicion. I suspect you may come to realise, if you haven’t already, that normal has got very little to do with anything interesting and life-affirming.
Back at my office later that day I was seeing a client out and when I got back to my office I had another one of these ‘blood sugar’ moments only this time it was much scarier. I had visions of passing out and nobody being able to get to me so I leopard crawled to my office door which latches from the inside and made sure the latch was off. Then a scrambled for my cell phone and called Murray, my doctor, and with some urgency asked him to get to me as quick as he could. Like the angel he is he sprung into action.
When I began to feel like everything was going to be ‘normal’ I felt a bit foolish that I’d summoned Murray who was by this time weaving his way through rush-hour traffic to rescue me from who knows what. When the second biggest headache of my life hit me a few minutes later I got back on the phone to Murray pronto. He had only one thing to say, “I’ll be there now and I’ll bring some shots”. It was then that I knew he was an angel.
Everything happened simultaneously after that. Murray arrived, Sarah arrived, Sarah’s sister Liz arrived and Murray gave me the biggest Voltarin injection straight into my ass cheek. At first I thought the pain in my ass cheek was an attempt by Murray to distract me from the red hot pokers drilling through my eye and ear sockets. But when the I got home a few minutes later and the ‘migraine’ had receded into a more manageable painful headache I was so grateful.
I have to acknowledge that up to and until this painful Wednesday I had been more than a little laze’s faire about the whole sudden headache episode of the previous week. If Sarah had had her way we would have zipped off to Port Elizabeth for a CAT scan the day after the “First Headache”. I balked at what I thought was a complete over-reaction. I thought that if it was serious that I would have other symptoms. And in the absence of ‘other symptoms’ I felt it more than appropriate to just take it easy. As will be revealed later, I had in fact been having ‘other symptoms’ for about four weeks before the “First Headache”, but more about that later.
When I woke on Thursday morning with a nagging headache on the right side of my head I acknowledged that Wednesday qualified as ‘further developments’ and that I was now ready to be tested. I saw Murray for quick physical and then we headed over to the Christian Barnard Medi-Clinic in Cape Town city centre for a CAT Scan.
The radiologist who inspected my scan was surprised at me sitting down next to him as he viewed the plates and a bit put-out I’ll add. I realised very quickly why when I saw a very visible bit of something pushing my brain this way and that in the middle of my head. Not be drawn out at all he mentioned something about a ‘lesion’ and bleeding and that he would give Murray the run-down.
If you like me haven’t been hanging out in hospitals then you will also be wondering what on earth a ‘lesion’ might be. As it turns out it's not 100 well drilled Roman soldiers. It turns out that it’s doctor speak for a tumor or growth. But not necessarily in that order.
This was the first moment that the word ‘Tumor’ had popped into my head and no sooner had it landed I promptly put it down again. It has a real hot-potato like quality. It actually radiates a tangible energy. I imagine in the cold war days if you lived in the west and thought McCarthy was the best thing since automatic dishwashers then the word ‘Communist’ may have had a similar radioactive quality to it.
Murray booked me to see a highly regarded Neurosurgeon, Dr Grant White, and the plan was to see him with the CAT scan on Thursday and let him guide us from there. From ship to shore, from pilot to guide.