PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1989 - JULY
Sunday 2 July
Ichynops. I sit at the table in the bay of my lounge. By my left hand sits the orange tree that was given to B as a leaving present by the staff at the RHS. She gave it to me since it wouldn’t have lasted hours in her dark flat. It has lived well in this light position. Recently, however, I noticed an infestation by scale insects. Strong treatment was called for, pesticides and some ugly pruning. New leaves have grown very quickly to replace the lost ones, but the whole looks less gainly now. It needs a more experienced hand than mine to prune it properly. On the right corner of the table sits a large old-fashioned sweet jar with a bunch of flowers. These flowers are quite unusual, from the stem down they are quite ugly, but their heads are exquisite. Ichynops. Bought for under £1 at the Aldeburgh vegetable shop 10 days ago they are only just flowering. The buds, if you can call them that, looked like perfectly round spiked balls, already unusual enough in their spherical shape and their bluey-greyness. But wait till they bloom. Each individual spike pushes forth a lance with a white tip, like a cross between a model from molecular physics and an artist’s exquisite drawing of symmetry in the abstract.
Work. As I expected, the last week at work turned out to be fairly hectic - not least because I found myself doing both production and marketing work. We finished ‘EC Energy Monthly’ Wednesday afternoon, and sent it down to Rog. He said he would happily print it on Thursday (instead of Friday), which meant we might be able to send out our mailing on Friday. I had fought Carol to do an extra mailing - all the Coal Report subscribers - since the newsletter was carrying details of the Court case between German coal producers and the Commission, a case that is likely to prove highly significant over the next year. Come Friday, we sweated away to stuff 500 envelopes, not to mention photocopying x number of letters. All Carol had to do was provide the labels. Did they arrive on time? No, of course not. The time advantage that had so fortuitously fallen my way, that we had so carefully tried to take advantage of, was lost. Dissatisfaction with Carol’s marketing is reaching critical proportions.
Rail strikes. The rail strikes are not helping a smooth production schedule. They do not affect me personally, as I ride to work/college on my bicycle. That’s not true actually. They do affect me in that the character of the traffic changes. Behaviour is more erratic, more vulgar, more impatient, panic and stupidity set in, and there is a greater density of traffic, not only cars, but bicycles and motorbikes - many of which have ben brought out of a dusty garage for the day. I would assess that for my particular style of riding, and route perhaps, the dangers are tripled or quadrupled on strike days.
The strikes also affect me indirectly because for conventional Kenny they are a significant hurdle, meaning he arrives late and leaves early. He is starkly conservative and unimaginative in his root. (I have newly discovered a Canadian writer called Robertson Davies. In the first book - ‘The Rebel Angels’ - of a trilogy, his heroine, Maria, a PhD student of exceptional intellect, talks often about the ‘root’ and ‘crown’ of behaviour - this is a very useful metaphor.)
A third way the strikes affect me is because Adam cannot go to the nursery, since it now closes on strike days.
Testicle tumours. To a matter vastly more personal and insignificant. About two weeks ago, I noticed a swelling in my scrotum. I am somewhat of a coward when it comes to discovering the truth about my own body. (I remember, for instance, being entirely unwilling to feel my leg after being thrown from the exploding house during the Darwin cyclone, in case there were bones sticking out of it, or in case I couldn’t feel it at all.) And so I didn’t actually examine my testicle, the right one, much. On Friday, in Aldeburgh, I did give it a cursory feel, and it seemed extraordinarily large. It shocked me, so I rang my GP and arranged an appointment for Monday. Having had a good feel with plastic gloves, he seemed quite concerned. He said it was probably an infection, put me on Septin Forte and arranged for me to see a specialist on Friday. At St Mary’s Hospital, I had to wait an hour before seeing Mr Witherow. I don’t think I had my wits about me particularly, and I didn’t ask him to explain sufficiently. He examined my scrotum as well as my rectum (which was horribly uncomfortable, the memory of the pain stayed with me for some time). The problem that struck both doctors (the GP and Mr Witherow) was that I felt no pain, and the most common cause of such swelling - i.e. epididymitis - is a painful condition. Mr Witherow proceeded to organise an urgent ultrasound appointment, to get my testicle scanned, and another appointment with him next Friday.
Yesterday, though, in the bath I got a little braver, and actually tried to feel the shape of the testicle. I could feel a nasty horrible lump on it. Panic. I rang Raoul to ask him whether a week’s delay would make any difference if it was cancer. I was wondering whether I should go private. However, Raoul, ever generous in such matters, offered to pull a few strings at his hospital. Not necessarily because of the time factor, which he assessed as not that important, but a) because speeding up the process could save me weeks of anxiety; and b) because I would be in a place where I’d be referred to a much better (Raoul’s opinion) surgeon. St Mary’s reputation in the treatment of cancer is bottom of the league, he said. I have to call him Monday lunchtime and be prepared to drop everything. I am, I am.
Friday 7 July
To continue the details. On Tuesday I kept my appointment for ultrasound at St Mary’s. Again I was kept waiting, this time because my notes hadn’t arrived. In the end, I had to explain my problem to the consultant. I lay on the bed for about 20 minutes while she stroked my testicles repeatedly with an instrument, the shape and size of an electric razor. Much of the time, she was gently pushing around while watching the image on screen of the inner tissues. She told me the equipment cost £300,000 or so. Looking on, upon my testicles and scrotum, was another lady, also rather good looking, who must be a trainee. The consultant was young and from New Zealand. In fact, she studied at Dunedin, the very college where I used to hawk Sandoz drugs. She told me the underlying testes was fine but that the epididymis was very swollen. She found no evidence of hydrocele. In summary, she told me that she could not be sure the problem wasn’t benign, couldn’t advise against surgery, but she was willing to put money on it being an infection only. I am a little concerned about how the results of her examination will be transferred to Mr Schearer, the consultant who has agreed to see me on Thursday at the Royal Marsden. (Raoul said Bob Schearer will do anything I ask, but to trust his opinion implicitly.)
On Wednesday I went to visit the medical library but could find no mention at all of epididymal tumours and was therefore relieved. On Thursday, I saw Mr Schearer, he had two people with him plus nurses etc. I told him the basic facts, and the summary of the ultrasound findings. He took a quick feel of my testes, and said quickly that the problem is all epididymal. He went on to say that there are rare cases of epididymal tumours but there is no way to know quite what the lump is without taking it out. He explained that the lump may already be affecting the transit of sperm, and that when the lump is removed altogether, the testicle may be inoperative. I saw him consider the situation in his mind for a few seconds before advising me to have the lump removed. Schearer is considerably older than Witherow. I felt I could trust his experience, indeed Raoul said I should. I told him OK, and within minutes he had fixed me up with a bed for Sunday, he will operate Monday.
And this is why Raoul’s referral is so useful - the thing can be sorted out that much quicker. NHS beds are supposed to be at a premium, but this consultant has got me one instantly. I am not immediately impressed being somewhat dazed by the reality of having my genitals operated on, but, afterwards, I realise the advantage of such swift action. Witherow could have dithered, and, in any case, it is always better to be under the scalpel of a more experienced surgeon, all other things being equal or unknown.
I’m afraid I have not been strong. Without any pressing work, any projects, I have tended to do nothing since the lump entered my life. I have been lazy, apathetic, idle.
10 July, Royal Marsden Hospital
The long slow wait for an afternoon operation. I was promised a big breakfast at 6:00-6:30. In the event I was woken at 5:30 to be asked what I wanted for breakfast but I couldn’t see that there was any choice - tea and toast and cereal. It came a few minutes later, only the toast was one piece of bread. Now I’m starving, don’t they worry about your blood sugar levels? A cup of tea moves through my stomach faster than a consultant’s Porche races from the hospital to his mistress’s flat. Why I need nine and a half hours to empty my stomach is anyone’s guess.
I arrived here about 4pm yesterday afternoon. Since then there has been a succession of visitors, rarely the same person twice: three different doctors, one last night, one this morning, both of whom checked my balls to see if the lump was still there, the second going so far as to mark my groin and designate an area for shaving. Just now, the anaesthetist has been for a chat. She will give me some relaxant pills - three perhaps because I’m looking a bit tense - and then up in the anaesthetic room she will inject the back of my hand. That will put me out within 10 seconds; then gas takes over for the duration of the operation - 30 minutes.
They are all old men in this ward, mostly here for routine or minor operations on their waterworks. One dignified gent carries around a portable bladder with him. Every now and then he disappears off to the toilet to empty it. The nurses are jovial with varying senses of humour: one happily threatens you with an enema and talks of stewed fruit as though it were as appetising as some misplaced intestines, while another, Helen, feigns a serious face, or one distraught with sympathy, whenever a patient over-reacts for effect.
Monday 17 July
The operation knocked me for six. I have done nothing for seven days but watch television, listen to the radio, and read. No, I lie. I went into the office on Thursday to oversee the finalising of ‘European Energy Report’. But I was there just a few hours; pain got the better of me, it was so uncomfortable sitting. Indeed, it is still uncomfortable sitting now, I doubt how long I will be able to continue writing. This evening I go to the GP, hopefully to have the stitches out - if that doesn’t relieve the agony, then they have tied up the wrong bits inside. Unfortunately, it is not just the blend of acute and diffuse pains and tensions in my abdomen and genital area, but I contracted a cold last Wednesday, which has weakened me physically and mentally, punctured any resolve I might have had to use this time at home more fruitfully. I have a constant tickle in my throat, a stuffed up nose, and the occasional urge to sneeze, the resolution of any of these three symptoms causes instantaneous agony across my stitches.
The cut runs parallel to the groin for about three inches from the base of the penis half way along to the hip. Through this incision, the surgeon reached in and pulled out my testicle. He then proceeded to slice off, I suppose, the lump, or a bit of the lump, from my epididymis. He then stuffed the baggage back through the slot and into the scrotum, and stitched up the cut, like a roulard.
Two or more hours before surgery, I was told to change into the operating gown and to swallow three sleeping pills. I vaguely remember waking as two orderlies manipulated long wooden poles into the sheet on either side of me and lifted me onto a trolley. I don’t even remember being wheeled through the ward. (Although there is nothing in my diaries about my last hospital visit - to have a wisdom tooth out - and I can’t even remember which hospital I was in, I do vaguely recall flying through hospital corridors while lying on a trolley.)
My next conscious moment was waking with Barbara and Adam in front of me. They didn’t stay long for it was already seven or so in the evening, but it was a pleasure to see their smiling faces. I had been expecting to be wide awake after the surgery, and to be ravishingly hungry for supper. I think, beforehand, I even asked the nurses if some food might be available earlier than supper. But, in fact, I didn’t even want to drink water.
I read during much of the night - I wasn’t very tired for one thing, and for another I vomited twice, both times when I tried to sit up. The most awful green coloured bile splattered across the bed and my clothes, the second time it happened at 3 in the morning. How embarrassing. The nurses said it was connected with the anaesthetic, and they wanted to give me an anti-sickness pill or injection, but I felt my body had been pumped full enough of drugs. Late in the night I sat up again, felt better, asked for a cup of tea. I was about to be sick once more when I felt I should get up quickly and go to the toilet rather than splutter across the bed again. I really had to hobble, bent double like an ancient man, but it did the trick. I felt that by being vertical I had resuscitated my body and passed through the sickness phase. I asked for a sandwich, and read for an hour or more. I might also have nibbled on one of the chocolates given me by Angela. She had come to the hospital during the afternoon whilst I was in surgery, and left me some mints and a card.
Two and a half pages was all I managed to write yesterday. I thought I was nearly better, but the journey to collect Adam and return proved a labour of Hercules, so painful were the stitches and so slow my walking. I have far from finished recording my thoughts of the last horrendous week.
I spent the Tuesday night in hospital seemingly making rapid progress. By the afternoon, I was walking quite well, if only backwards and forwards, across the ward. It was suggested I stay in the ward until Wednesday. I was seriously thinking of going to the office from the hospital on Tuesday afternoon (knowing that everything was going to be more complicated on Wednesday because of the rails strike). During the afternoon, a tall, strong, ginger-haired young man came into the ward and was placed in the bed next to mine. He must have been well under 30, and was very different from the rest of the old fuddy duddies. He had quite a brash exterior, but after a few simple exchanges he was keen to talk. Stephen. Two years ago he had read an article in ‘The Independent’ about TT (testicular tumour). He had had a lump on his testes for six months. He went in for a biopsy, similar operation to mine, and came out minus a testicle. Since then, he has been undergoing regular chemotherapy. He had now arrived at the Royal Marsden, having come from Bristol, for a further operation. The cancer had moved up inside him, and the surgeons needed to cut a few things out. He was going to be two weeks in the hospital, with three months off work after. Not long after he arrived, one of his consultants arrived, drew the curtains around his bed, and explained all that was to happen. I could hear everything! Horrible, horrible, horrible. There were to be various tests and scans before the surgery, including a check that both kidneys were working because he might lose one in the operation. He was also told he might lose the ability to orgasm, though erection and some seeping of semen would still take place regardless. Soon after, the senior consultant appeared with half a dozen others in tow - where do they all suddenly come from - and went over some of the dangers again. Stephen asked as many questions as he could think of.
I plied Stephen with questions. He had had absolutely no symptoms from his cancer, except the oversized ball before they took it away. All the turmoil in his life, all the pain, all the discomfort was from the treatment of the insidious disease, and none from the disease itself. Coincidentally, he worked as a chemical buyer for Courtaulds, and was thus very familiar with ‘European Chemical News’ and Platts. He had just returned from a week’s bicycling holiday around Ireland. He told me that he was taking as many holidays as possible, living life to the full, not saving money for example. Yes, the cancer had changed his view of life. He said he had also become more tolerant of other people. A friend arrived, having cycled an hour to get to the hospital. He was full of words and actions and youth. They went off to get a pint quickly; at 8pm Stephen was due for an enema. The surgeon wanted his bowels empty in case when he was snipped about they cut a bowel by mistake.
Friday 23 July
Hot sultry days continue. I do not remember such a long sustained period of summer weather in this country. The conditions in the office verge on the intolerable. My own enjoyment of the heat has been tempered by my wounds. Although I have had the stitches out my movements are still constrained, my physical strength and energy are limited. A week ago yesterday I went back to the Royal Marsden to see Bob Shearer. He told me the lump was just an infection after all. As he took the stitches out - for there were no nurses available - I realised that all the pain had been from one stitch in particular which was too tight. The removal of all the others was painless, the removal of this one was excruciatingly painful.
I’m not sure if I felt any real relief. All along, it was as though other people were reacting for me. I could never take it at seriously. The evening before I went back to see Shearer, I lay in the hammock and tried to imagine what I would do if I was given just three months to live, just six months to live, just one year, just two years. It frightened me to realise I was devoid of ideas. I would certainly move to live in the country if there was time, but a three or six month period would probably give me no more time than to tidy up my affairs. By far the trickiest dilemma would be how to manage the relationship with Adam. For me personally I would want to spend the maximum time with him, but for his own well being this would probably not be the best course of action. A staggered withdrawal would be better. But, in truth, I was unable to imagine the real problem of my life being suddenly limited, my brain couldn’t sense it.
A semblance of normality rushed back into my daily life the moment the stitches were out, the pain was gone, I could move freely. I had gone into the office on the Wednesday - again super early by mini-cab - and collected a volume of work to do at the weekend in Aldeburgh. But, as B didn’t come with us, it took all my strength and energy to look after Adam, so I was unable to manage any work at all - none, not even a diary entry or two. Nevertheless, the time spent with Adam was glorious. I allow myself to become absorbed in him, he becomes the centre pin in my life.
He now talks such a lot. I think he is supposed to have a vocabulary of about 50 words, and be able to string three words together by the time he is two. Well, he is way beyond that. I’d say he can do four words and is beginning to use verbs a little. His vocabulary is large, and he will say almost any word you ask him. We continue to play our alphabet game together. I say each letter first and he follows me, keeping eyeball to eyeball contact. I pause after Y, and he says Z on his own. He has the hang of basic colours now, and will identify red, blue, green, yellow, black, white, grey and sometimes pink and orange too. He can identify two as opposed to one, and is on the verge of comprehending three. He also knows what comes after nine when counting fingers.
Reshuffles: Whenever there is a government reshuffle I get the blues. I wish someone would reshuffle me. It has turned out to be a very messy affair, and political commentators have made the best of it. The messiness stems from both Thatcher’s invitation to Howe to have Hurd’s job without telling Hurd, and her press secretary’s comments that the job of Deputy PM given to Howe is not very important. There is no doubt the cabinet does look fresher with Major in the foreign job and Patten looking after the environment, but a whole new generation of obedient loyalists have probably been swept into position. Howe was doing a good job abroad, Thatcher needed his wisdom and experience. Major will do what she wants at least for a while.
It is very interesting to see Parkinson moved out of energy. Andy Holmes believes he must have begged her to be moved since he’d made such a mess of the electricity privatisation. The luckiest man alive, Andy calls him. Certainly transport seems a strange move since there is very little political capital to be found as transport minister. But Parkinson is a puppet, does the leader’s bidding. Getting the electricity bill through Parliament needed insensitivity, lots of it. The same quality may be needed for British Rail. John Wakeham has taken over as the energy minister, the man we must watch, admire and ridicule. There is still very much to do in the privatisation process. Wakeham is described as a fixer. He will have a lot of fixing to do. The rail strike, by the way, is over. The NUR held out after the other two unions agreed 8.8, but, seeing a few thousand members breaking the last day strike, it has sensibly agreed to 8.8 too.
Kenny and I have a bit of panicky week. The previous week, he was away on holiday, and I was off too, with my wounds. So we had both EER and ECE to handle. There were no problems with EER, since we had sufficient copy for 20 pages probably, but ran only 16. ECE was saved by Lucy sending an extraordinary amount of copy. I had nothing else much, and none of the papers I’d requested from Brussels had arrived. I begin to wonder about the newsletter’s viability, and to to get depressed about my job. New work, new opportunities come through meeting people, making contacts. I have none.
Here is some real news to impart. My brother, Julian, is getting married, 16 September. So soon. So soon. Sarah is pregnant. They found out for sure a week ago. Since then, they have moved like lightning, or rather Sarah’s mother has. Churches, caterers, invitations. Good grief, the whole shebang. I speak to Julian once in the week, he is worried about Mum and Michele being in the same room together again. I wonder if he is going to ask me to be best man, but he says nothing. He has probably asked Simon who is his closest friend. I am a little peeved, perhaps relieved. I have become so self-conscious in my old age, I would probably dry up. I’m pleased they are having a child, the age difference with Adam will not be too great once they’re a bit older. As Mum says, Adam will be able to boss him/her around - like I did Julian.
Paul K Lyons
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