Sunday, 2 December 2012

This year's Dexmas season begins...

Just a year ago I was sitting in a bed in the Southern General's very fine neurosurgery department, bored and slightly bewildered  from a night rendered sleepless by general hospital racket, an octogenarian escape artist in and mostly out of the bed opposite and his nightwear, a 3am catheter removal, and regular unironic professional awakenings to check I was sleeping naturally and knew who the Prime Minister was.

Either through the sleep deprivation or some sort of morphine hangover, I felt particularly disinclined to open the second door on my advent calendar – the previous day's had been in the side of my head and the choccy had been horrible. But I otherwise felt pretty good, under the circumstances.

Now, exactly 12 months later, I feel pretty good again. Well, actually I feel slightly sick because one of the cats licked my hand while I was typing that last par and left a brown residue. Other than that, though, post shower I'm all right.

I haven't been feeling so good for the last couple of weeks, though. Not ill, but tired again. I was told that chemo fatigue could last for up to six months after I stopped popping the poison back in August, but it had calmed down a lot and I'd hardly had to take a day off since September. Yet just around the beginning of November it started to come back, and around a fortnight ago it got worse, this time with an exciting new edge of… well, a kind of low feeling (I'm hesitant to use the word "depression") which made the weariness just that bit more wearisome. I'd also had a weird set of intermittent allergy-like symptoms - sneezing, runny nose and congestion, but none of the other nasty cold stuff - for about six weeks, and the pressure in my sinuses was starting to give me headaches.

I'd been warned to watch out for headaches, but these were mild and passed quickly, so I wasn't concerned. I emailed The Beatson, but they didn't get back to me, so I assumed they weren't very concerned either. But I went to see my GP, who took some bloods, gave me an antihistamine, and signed me off for a week's rest.

Which I needed. I went in to work the next day because I had a meeting and wanted to make sure everything was set up for my absence, but I must have looked a bit unfocussed and was told to go home. I then spent the next few days flubbing around the place doing little more than eating or sleeping, with the cats watching me with a triumphant air, seemingly convinced they'd won the larger of the two feeding monkeys over to their ways. One of them also began to see me as a conveniently well-padded immobile warm thing on which to sleep, but that was OK because I was starting to regard her as a sort of personal furry draft excluder. For most of the past week I've slept the days away, and it has been chillier.

I don't really like sleeping during normal waking hours because it seems like a waste of precious, escaping time. There are also side-effects, one of which turned out to be further headache potential from failing to nod off in a comfortable position and waking up with a stiff neck until I could crack it out. Another turned out to be waking up and reaching for my Android tablet, only to find its black, shiny surface covered in sticky pucker marks, as if someone had been repeatedly kissing it. Well, I quite like it, but I'm not that taken with it. Seems one of the cats had been sitting on it. So that made me feel a bit unwell for a while.

At least the antihistamines had sorted out the sinuses. But I'd discovered the other ill-effect of daytime sleeping, which is letting broadcast media get too deeply into my psyche when I'm in a suggestible state.

As usual, I was starting my day with GMS on the radio for the Scottish news and an entertaining grumble at the presenters for not asking the questions I would have asked, followed by BBC Breakfast on the telly, which I watch largely because I feel slightly sorry for Bill Turnbull ( it's his wee face when he has the latest point-free celebrity talent-vacuum plonked in front of him for interview, and I feel I can almost read in his expression: "I used to report from The White House, you know", a sigh, and then, "never mind, just two and a half years to the next general election".) Problem was, though, that if I then fell asleep during Olly Murs or Joss Stone or whoever that morning's personality gap was, I'd be out until lunchtime, which meant I'd wake up irritatedly humming the theme from Bargain Hunt. 

At least, I think it was Bargain Hunt – it might have been Cash in the Attic, I'm not certain – the one presented by the slightly effete, mustached man who reminds me vaguely of Lenny the Lion. Actually, it might have been the theme from the one about the rescue helicopters instead. I really don't care much – it's just the start of the evidence that falling asleep in front of the telly just doesn't work for me in terms of relaxation but subconsciously adds to my inner pool of bile and spite. 

If I've managed to switch to a news channel and it's midweek during the day, I might just wake up shouting during PM or FM Qs, but if I've gone to Channel Four I might sleep all the way through Countdown and then wake up feeling hate-filled because Noel Edmonds has come on. Sleeping later is worse – I've been so tired that kipping off  mid-evening hasn't affected my night's sleep, but I have now found myself with a compulsion to enter Masterchef, not because I fancy my chances as a cook, but because I want to stand face-to-face with Greg Wallace and say, "right, baldy, you and me, car park, square go, now".

So, anyway, that was my pattern for last week – sleeping, despising… oh, and hoping for a virus. That was because the blood tests I'd had were for a viral cause for the tiredness, but also for diabetes, so a wee bug seemed like the far preferable option.

Then on Thursday I went back to the GP and it turned out I didn't have either of these things, so she gave me some antibiotics and signed me off for a further fortnight. Later on she phoned me to say she'd been in touch with The Beatson, who weren't terribly concerned but wanted me to go in for a scan ( I was due one soon anyway) and to start taking the steroids again.

It's a low dose – 2mg a day – but that's four times as much as I was taking when I came off them back in July. So I took that on Thursday afternoon, and took the same again on Friday morning, and by Friday mid-day I was ripped to the molars on dexamethasone and no longer doing the dinosaur after I'd hauled myself to my feet. Instead I almost skipped down the road for lunch, insofar as that is possible for an overweight, middle-aged Scottish man, and then felt a bit of a con as I emailed into the office to say I'd been signed off for another two weeks' rest. But I couldn't have gone in then – I'd have been unbearable. Anyway, once I'd finished my paper and got myself all worked up about Leveson I was exhausted again and had to go back for a bit of a sleep, from which I woke up hyper at teatime and chattered at Clare all evening. I thought I was being quite insightful and witty, and she rather charitably agreed when I checked, which suggests I was possibly also being slightly paranoid.

I've been much closer to normal levels of energy since, but there is still a slight steroid edge – looking over what I've scribbled here this morning,I can see it in my own writing. It doesn't exactly read like The Diary of a Drug Fiend, but it does read a little like The Blog of a Slightly Cynical Man who's had Too Much Coffee.

Under more normal circumstances I'd probably have left out the bits about the cat residue and Greg Wallace, for instance. But this is supposed to be an accurate record of what's going on for me as the cancer treatment proceeds, so here you go - you can keep the weird bits, too.

It's now Sunday evening, and I think I need a nap. By tomorrow, I think I'll be more used to the steroid again. I've been on higher doses before, and coped fine.

By then I'll be waiting for my MRI appointment, and then comes the scanxiety. More on that next time.

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