My newsletter to friends and family… From My point of view – Tilster
For Sale: One Husband
Recently reconditioned but with a few parts missing, fully functioning with some tender care & maintenance!
January 22, 2014 Just look at those legs!!
Before I begin our saga, know that we are well. I had to think long and hard, procrastinating about how and when to share with you our latest adventure and how it has played itself out.
In the Beginning
How could you know that a simple blood test and a trip to Starbucks right after, would be the entrance into a dark tunnel filled with fear, doubt, anger, hope and recovery? Now, ten days after entering that black tunnel, we are re-emerging into the light.
As many of you are aware, Mike hasn’t been feeling his normal self lately. We put this down to the turbulence of retirement, allergies, changes of climate and country ….. never thinking it might be anything serious. At the end of September, we returned to Bahrain in response to an urgent plea from our former school; they were seriously short of teachers. Retirement not being quite what we thought it would be, it didn’t take us long to consider the offer and to accept. Within weeks, we were in Bahrain, happy to be back. Mike kept complaining about cold/flu – like symptoms and a burning in his chest so in November, we went to the ENT (ear/nose/throat) who did indeed find severe allergies and treated Mike for them. We decided to holiday in California for the winter break during the last two weeks of December, returning to Bahrain January 1st. While in California, we went on a hike with our good friends Shelley and Bernard but after the first 15 minutes, we had to turn back as Mike couldn’t make it.
We have a favorite place we like to go walking here, called Arad. It is a 3km walkway around a man made bay where the sea water fills the bay during high tide and leaves a mud flat during low. It is a beautiful place to walk, populated with flamingoes in ever-growing numbers, newly sprouting mangrove trees and all kinds of herons attracted by the multitude of fish. Usually, I have to stretch my legs to keep up with Mike but in the first week back, it was Mike who couldn’t keep up with me, having to stop often to allow him to catch his breath and to allow the burning in his chest to subside. After that walk, we stopped by the hospital to make a follow up appointment with the same ENT. He checked Mike, said all was fine and escorted us up to the cardiologist. Immediately, the cardiologist took an ECG, sent Mike off for a chest X-ray and ordered blood tests, a stress test and a heart ultrasound. However, we had to wait a day for the last three tests as insurance had to okay it first. A few days later we had the okay from insurance to go ahead. Between fasting and working Mike eventually went in early on Jan. 13th which happened to be a holiday for us. You know what it’s like when you have to fast for a blood test …. you want a coffee and some food right after so off we went to Starbucks. We were just ordering our coffee when we received an emergency call from the technician at the lab, pleading/insisting that we come back for a re-test of Mike’s hemoglobin. We asked if we could finish our coffees – she said yes but to come as soon as possible. Still, we weren’t all that worried….what were we thinking??
Mike’s hemoglobin level turned out to be at “a panic level” of 4.9 (normal for males is 13 – 17). We found out later from doctors that anyone having this level is usually unconscious but because Mike’s body had adapted to this, he was still able to function. (Mike says it’s because he never uses his brain LOL!!) We were next escorted to the ER. They wouldn’t let him leave. The task? To find out why his hemoglobin was so low.
Days of Discovery and Doubt
So …. an internist was called in who explained that given Mike’s age and symptoms, the most likely cause was internal bleeding in the gastric department. He was scheduled for an emergency endoscopy and colonoscopy. You all know about the preparation for that!! In addition he was given three units of packed red blood cells within the first night and day of being admitted. After that, he was feeling pretty good, other than the fact he couldn’t eat anything. The procedures showed a bleeding lesion and a tumor in an area of the colon called the ‘hepatic flex’ the bend of colon that passes in front of the liver on it’s way to join the small intestine. That’s important because of it’s proximity to the liver. Mike was still recovering from the sedative when the Doctor called me in to talk to her. She showed the pictures, explained that what I was seeing was a tumor …. and there my mind stopped working on anything other than the “C” word. “Yes” she said in response to my query, “99.9% sure! It is cancer!” She went on to explain and tell me what the next steps would be … a CT scan to see how much of the area was affected (we learned later that if the CT scan had shown any involvement of the liver or other surrounding tissues, they would not have done surgery right away. It was a good sign, not that we knew it at the time). The CT scan came back clear which meant that the liver appeared not to be involved. The procedures and the results of the procedures and CT scan were on Wednesday, Jan.15; surgery was scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 18. That whole time, Mike felt great (thanks to more RBCs) even though his favorite pastime (eating) was limited to clear liquids. On Saturday, the day of his surgery, we found out that our doctor here had arranged for a laparoscopic specialist to be flown in from Muscat, Dr. Lada. He was delightful….born and educated in Belgium….came to see us beforehand, drew us pictures and told us that he came just for us….that he wasn’t going to be in a hurry….so he inspired confidence. The surgery took three and a half hours ….doctors were pleased with how it went. They took out half the colon and a bit of the small intestine for re-attachment purposes as well as all of the associated lymph glands. Needless to say, for the first 24 hours Mike was in excruciating pain. Since then, we have come to learn more about what happened and what the tumor is. But first, let me delve into the anger part of our adventure.
Days of Anger
I slept on the couch in Mike’s room that first night. (I have spent most of every day in the hospital with Mike.) Willing as I was to do that the next night as well, Mike insisted I sleep at home in my own bed. His insistence, in addition to the associated aches and pains of sleeping on the couch, convinced me, so off I went – home. I was exhausted so by 830 pm I was in my PJs, ready for bed when Mike called, in an overpowering fit of rage. He had been in a deep sleep, full of pain meds and every and anything else they could pump him full of. The hospital admissions called him on the phone, out of this deep sleep, to tell him that insurance wouldn’t cover his hospital stay and that he had to pay 7500 BD or $20,000 USD!!! At 830 at night, the day after surgery!! Everything had been pre-approved! On came my clothes, up went my heart rate, into high alert, adrenalin on!!!! Raced over to the hospital to find Mike, so angry that pain was sidelined, stomping around the room hanging on to his drain (abdominal drain to collect blood and fluids from the surgery site), trying to call, threatening the nurses he would check out of the hospital, blood pressure up “higher than a cat’s back” and everyone around him scurrying around, trying to calm him down. Into that mess, I stepped. Tried more or less successfully to calm Mike down, put him into a wheel chair and wheeled him down to admissions (the phone in our room wouldn’t work) to call the insurance office in Dubai….. of course, there couldn’t be a solution….but they could at least have waited until morning for this bombshell. Put him back into bed and stayed until midnight. Then I went home to a more or less sleepless night. Next day, we went into action, making calls, writing letters, threatening the school, talking to the hospital admissions, doctors rallying fully behind us, and meanwhile having everyone reassure us that all would be well etc etc. The insurance company did what all insurance companies do….they find any reason possible not to pay. Here were theirs:
Cancer is chronic – they don’t cover it.
It’s a pre-existing condition – they don’t cover pre-existing conditions.
We came back to Bahrain, late in the school year, just so Mike could get treatment!!
Our responses?? Thanks to the encouragement of our dear friend Carol, Mike went to my doctor in Kamloops while we were taking care of Peaceful Cove Resort and had a blood test. Thanks again to Carol’s coaching, Mike had it done at Life Labs and so was able to access the results online here and thus be able to prove that 10 months prior, his hemoglobin was normal as were the markers for cancer. That took care of number 1 and number 2. As far as coming back – Nargis, our HR person at the school, took care of that by telling them she is the one who asked us to come back and teach. Mike wrote a scathingly brilliant letter to the insurance company, outlining our point of view, a copy of the blood tests with the added threat that should it be necessary, a court of law would most likely see it our way. Then, it became a waiting game. We didn’t have long to wait….yesterday, Jan. 22, we were informed by the insurance company themselves, via e mail, that they would cover us 100%!
Days of Recovery and Hope
Now, it is today, Thursday, January 23rd. Mike is still in hospital, continuing his recovery. Today, we learned from the oncologist that the preliminary pathology indicates that he will NOT need chemo or radiation treatment. He has what is called an adenocarcinoma….slow growing….they think they have gotten it all. The lymph nodes have been pronounced clear as have the surrounding organs, and the tumor did not penetrate the outer wall of the colon. It has been there for a while so we consider ourselves lucky. In fact, we are filled with gratitude for the way everything has turned out. It could have been so much worse…! Apparently, if it had been known Mike had such a tumor, he would not have been permitted to fly because of the high risk of it bursting in midair. It is anticipated that Mike will be allowed to go home in a few more days.
Days of Learning
God, the Universe, the Fates, Karma, Entities or Deities of choice……keep trying to teach us the lesson of living in the moment. And so….in contradiction of the lesson we have just learned…..we are busy trying to plan how and when we want to return to Canada LOL! The real lesson is to take every day as it is offered and to cherish every moment you have with your loved ones. This latest episode of life has clearly shown us that there are no guarantees…Mike says, the Germans have a saying…..”Der mensch denkt, Gott lenkt.” Roughly translated it means “Man pleads, God leads!” When will we ever learn to let God lead?
PS: Bidding starts at all the money in the world……not enough!!!
Love & hugs
Tilly & Mike