Latest posts by Martin Moodie (see all)
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Two men. Two fates. Two vividly contrasting sets of emotions.
This week I underwent a medical procedure known as an endoscopy, a miracle of modern science in which a camera is fed down your throat complete with forceps to photograph and if necessary biopsy a particular organ. All that’s missing is Steven Spielberg directing and Hugh Laurie starring as the doctor.
It’s not the most pleasant of experiences but what my anaesthetist referred to as a “gentle gin and tonic, followed by something stronger” [Johnnie Walker Blue Label, I blearily requested] did the trick and I was blissfully unaware of what ensued.
After I came round the Doctor who conducted the procedure explained to me what he had seen, and taken. He was kind but pragmatic in his terminology. My stomach tumour had shrunk “significantly” he said, adding, “That’s good news.”
I asked him about the next step in my treatment – an operation planned for October. To my surprise, he told me they would be removing my whole stomach as well as my spleen. I expressed some disappointment, saying I thought the operation would only involve partial removal.
Patiently he explained that the procedure (known as a gastrectomy) was necessary because my surgery was “curative”. I hadn’t heard any word related to ‘cure’ since I had been diagnosed, so this was music to my ears. A whole symphony in fact. I could have kissed him. Maybe next time I will.
I learned that they build you a new stomach to replace the old one. It’s smaller, like a pouch. From a Kiwi, I am turning into a kangaroo! One apparently eats less in volume at any sitting, but more frequently. A grazing kangaroo if you like. If you see me hopping around trade shows in future, you’ll know why.
But the point of this story and the full resonance of the word ‘curative’ were to emerge as I sat in my bed recovering from the anaesthetic before I was allowed home. The man in the next bed to me (an upbeat fellow of similar age who I had met several times during hospital chemotherapy sessions) emerged from his own endoscopy and lay there talking to his wife.
The specialist arrived to talk to them. This time the message was very different. The tumour had not shrunk, and there was too much scar tissue to operate. “What does that mean, palliative care?” asked the man of the doctor. “Yes, I’m afraid so.”
It was, no doubt, a shattering moment for him and his wife. Palliative care (from the Latin palliare, to cloak) is any form of medical care or treatment that concentrates on reducing the severity of disease symptoms, rather than striving to halt or cure it. Put more bluntly, he was dying.
Two men with two very different messages that night to their loved ones. Why had the dice rolled right for me and badly for him? Is it fate? Something greater? Explain this to me if you can.
Such a literal life or death situation is about as humbling an experience as you can have. It makes you breathe in the life around you in great big thankful gulps and realise just how wonderful each day on this planet is. Don’t lose a day, don’t forget to be good to people and to reach back to those who reach out to you. Life is rich. It is also short, sometimes brutally, painfully short.