The month of July, the most testing of times,
The twenty-eighth day, forever etched in my mind,
Stark contrast to the song featured in this post,
A gem by Amy Shark featuring Mark Hoppus,
Here it comes, my descent into Hell,
I was Dante on his lonesome, Virgil couldn’t help.
June and July, 2018
During the Saturday after my follow-up appointment with Dr. G (which happened to be part of a three-day weekend due to the Queen’s Birthday Holiday) I took part in a first aid course held at the Blacktown Worker’s Club to renew my certificate. I was one of ten students cramped in a rather stuffy room with tables laid out in the shape of a horseshoe in the center of the room and a single instructor at the helm teaching us how to deal with various injuries, emergency situations and also had us practicing CPR on dummies. He used an overhead projector while teaching, taking me right back to my school days.
Wow. Those things still exist!?
Throughout that six-hour course one particular lesson grabbed my attention, the one that looked at how to treat victims of blood loss and anemia. Apparently, a quick way to gauge whether or not a victim was anemic was to grab their hand and rub one of their fingernails. If it changed from yellow to pink immediately it was a sign of a healthy blood count. If their skin is rather pale and the fingertips either reverted back to pink very slowly or not at all, then you had a problem.
Naturally, us students all tested ourselves. Much to my relief my fingernail turned pink rather quickly.
Whew! Looks like I’m still in in the clear.
On the following evening my parents and I checked out the annual Vivid Festival that they put on in the Sydney CBD every year, a four-week long event in which different parts of the city would be decorated with an assortment of flashy lights at night with the Opera House and its sails as the main showpiece. Despite putting up with symptoms during the day I had a great night. It felt great to forget about life for a while and just let my hair down.
My sister, who had to work during the day, joined us sometime during the night and we all had dinner together when we got home and then spent all of Monday resting and taking it easy. All in all, it was a great long weekend.
Trouble, however, was brewing below the surface and for the remainder of June and well into July it would manifest itself in a variety of frightening and painful ways. The opening salvo was fired when I began to have some trouble defecating – sessions in the can would yield nothing but blood.
I finished my time on the porcelain throne feeling as though I hadn’t emptied my bowels completely, try as I might. Consequently, I found myself having to ‘go’ more times than usual, resulting in further blood loss.
Still, I carried on. I would go to the International Wing Chun Academy near Chinatown in the City to train and teach, all the while keeping my ordeal a secret from my peers. My fellow students and instructors would greet me with ‘Hey, how are you?’ and I would respond with something like, ‘Yeah, I’m good’ when I was anything but.
Things, however, took a sharp turn for the worse the night before my mother’s birthday in late June of all dates.
I was roused from my sleep sometime during the middle of the night due to a sudden urge to use the toilet. My stomach was bubbling, as though it was carrying so much cargo that it would explode.
Oh boy, time to drop some bombs!
Completely bypassing that cranky, drowsy feeling that one usually experiences upon being forcibly woken up, I shot out of bed and, like Usain Bolt in the final lap, sprinted straight to the toilet and did my business on the throne.
However, this would not be like number two’s of years, even days, past. My stools came out in painful waves, accompanied by spasms in my lower abdomen area. It would be a couple of seconds of pain, followed by a few precious seconds of respite and then boom! Another painful discharge. And that sick cycle happened at least seven times with blood pouring freely as I went. It was as though someone was squeezing my bowels hard, resting for a while before squeezing again. The pain was excruciating.
What the hell is this!!!???
Being the middle of winter, it was cold that night but I was sweating profusely by the time it was over. I couldn’t bring myself to switch on the bathroom lights and look at the result and so I cleaned myself up, flushed the toilet and then trudged back to my bedroom, totally shell shocked at the hell I’d just gone through.
I spent the whole day with my mother on her special day. She took the day off from work and we went to Macquarie Centre in North Ryde where she shopped up a storm. I went two more times during the day, once in the mall and again shortly before dinner time at home. Again those waves attacked, though not as intensely as the night before.
And that’s how it went for the rest of June and for most of July. I’d sit on the can squirming and cringing through gritted teeth as a continuous onslaught of pain beat me down and the sucky part was that they occurred just about every night, cutting my sleep in half. During day time attacks I would take a look at the result after the carnage and they weren’t pretty. It looked as though someone had spilled red wine into the damn toilet with a few specks of chocolate thrown into the mix. Note that I said specks. More blood was pouring out of me than shit. That’s NOT a good thing.
And if any sommeliers are reading right now, apologies for putting that image in your minds!
The month of July, clearly, had started off horribly for me. Yet, my nearest and dearest remained oblivious to all of it while yours truly remained in denial of the situation. My father, unaware that my symptoms had escalated, suggested that I try an old remedy for hemorrhoids that might ease these symptoms. He had me sitting in a tub of hot water for about half an hour every night to see if it would appease the blood and shrink any hemorrhoids if there were any. He also offered to massage my feet every night before I slept, hoping that it would reduce any stress and anxiety I was feeling and hopefully reducing severity of my symptoms. Plus it was a great way to get in some father-son bonding time and we’d talk about everything, although it mostly involved me ranting to him about the state of my health while he listened with a look of wonder and horror on his face.
No use. Those waves persisted. In fact, their frequency increased a week after they began. Now, I would be woken up every two hours at night for sessions at ‘the torture chamber’. That’s right, every two fucking hours, resulting in fragmented sleep. Shit, I still cringe at the thought of it. By now my face was sore from twisting my face in agony whenever I emptied my wrecked bowels.
Somehow, I still functioned like a regular human being. The broken sleep didn’t seem to affect my day to day life, though my anxiety and frustration were growing. But as it was with everything else, I kept all this shit hidden. My father would ask me if I was ok and I would dismiss him with a casual ‘yeah, all good.’
Man, I wanted to choke myself with barbed wire whenever I heard myself say that shit. I was lying through my teeth for the sake of self-preservation.
You fucking liar! You’re getting lit up inside and spilling blood every damn day. You are NOT all good.
And before I knew it, a new villain joined the party. At around mid-July, Australia experienced a severe ‘cold snap’ and we certainly felt it in my area. Various news outlets on TV and the internet accompanied their reports with images of frozen lakes, people dressed in snow gear and even some poor farm animals with icicles hanging off their noses and mouths, standing in the middle of fields rendered white from all the frost. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Ice Age had suddenly landed smack bang in the middle of Australia and as a result of this brutally cold weather I came down with a nasty flu.
Great. Just great.
I was still leaking blood and putting up with those crazy waves and now I also had to contend with a nose that cruelly switched between blocked and runny, a head cold and a scratchy throat. Talk about trying to fend off several assailants at once, I felt like Julius Caesar trying to break away from the conspirators that were stabbing him simultaneously from all angles, only to succumb to their cruel blades.
I took it easy for a while, hoping to at least recover from the flu as quickly as possible. However, even when my runny nose and head cold subsided I began to suffer from chills. It might have had something to do with the weather but man, I just felt cold, especially at night. My parents, who had taken to sleeping with hot water bottles during cold evenings in addition to electric heaters timed to switch on and off between dusk and dawn, suggested that I give it a try and I did.
The good news is that the hot water bottle and electric heater combo seemed to ease the waves that had plagued me over the last few weeks. It did not eradicate them completely but it reduced their severity and the night time attacks, mercifully, faded away. The bad news was that it also left me overheated at night and I would wake up feeling hot, sweaty and irritable, like I had just run a marathon. I might as well had just traded one set of pesky symptoms for another.
And so I reduced the temperature of the heater and kept that hot water bottle further away from me, so I wouldn’t have to feel the full force of the heat.
Remember how, in the previous blog, I called myself a big liar when I swore to Dr. G that I’d see her should my health deteriorate? Well, let’s just say that she received zero phone calls from me during these last few fucked-up weeks. But in my defense my initial session with the gastroenterologist was fast approaching and based on his reviews, he was the only guy that I would trust to examine me in such an invasive manner. If I had to undergo a colonoscopy then I only wanted the very best to take me through it and he was it.
The last few weeks of July, however, would ultimately lead to my Waterloo moment.
It began when, after weeks of hiding my secret from everyone at the International Wing Chun Academy, a few of my peers began to notice that I looked pale and told me as such. Some also bluntly stated that I looked sick and thin, like I hadn’t eaten in weeks.
Not going to lie, I looked at myself in the mirrors on the Academy’s walls and their concerns were totally justified.
It wasn’t just my physical appearance that was affected. I also noticed that my performances during drills and fitness sessions began to wane and I even felt lackadaisical while teaching students.
What’s going on here?
Having once been a small, chubby, non-athletic child I prided myself on my strength and fitness, having started working out in my late teens to transform my once-weak physique into a muscular, ripped and athletic one. Now here I was, feeling winded after warm-ups, lacking power and focus while practicing techniques and being too drained to say good-bye to my fellow students and instructors at the end of every class I took part in, something that I always made sure to do.
Hell, I even missed a few days of teaching and training due to feeling lightheaded. I put it all of this down to the bad flu that I caught weeks earlier during that severe cold snap. But there were more alarming signs that suggested it was more than just the flu. I almost blacked out several times during my own workouts at home on days that I somehow managed to summon the energy to train. Any movement that involved jumping or getting the heart rate up like burpees and sprint intervals would leave me dazed to the point where the room would fade to black as my head pounded and my ears rang, as though I had been transformed into another dimension of pitch-black nothingness, with no one around to hear me screaming as I struggled to stay on my feet.
Oh shit, am I dying!?
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Those weeks of blood loss, cramps, broken sleep and illness had caught up to me. Those painful waves had thankfully gone away at this point but they evolved into something even nastier, if you can believe it. You see, I had deteriorated to the point where I had some ‘close calls’ that sent me scrambling for the nearest toilet, like I had suddenly lost control of my bowel movements. Needless to say I developed a phobia of wandering too far away from a public restroom when I was out and about. That urge could happen anytime, anywhere.
In fact, it nearly occurred during what would be my last wing chun class for the next few months – during which I was assigned to teach. We were warming up before class, running laps around the room mixed with some light calisthenic work when suddenly, I felt my stomach rumble.
Then I felt that dull pain creep down towards my lower abdomen.
Then I felt it near my butt.
Normally I would have made a beeline for the restroom but by this time I had become fed up and pissed off and so rather than give in to the urge I gritted my teeth and kept on running, determined to show this sadistic motherfucker who was boss.
Don’t blow it, Son. Don’t you fucking blow it!
I would have been damned if I messed myself in a place that I considered to be my second home in front of people that I considered to be close friends. Fuck that, not on my watch!
Luckily, the urge soon passed and the class went ahead as normal. That damn beast had the last laugh, though. I paid the price for my defiance upon arriving home, shortly before bed time. That beast sure was vindictive.
It’s safe to say that by this time I had spilled enough blood to feed an entire community of vampires. But wait, there’s more!
My bowels and respiratory system aside I also noticed that my shoes had begun to feel tight lately, like my feet had suddenly grown by two shoe sizes. At first I thought that it was due to my lack of movement whilst recovering from that flu, having spent most of it in bed or sitting on the couch watching TV or reading, but the evening after that near miss at wing chun, as I took a shower, I looked down at my feet and my eyes nearly shot out of their sockets.
Oh my God!!!!
My feet had swollen up to double their usual size. They looked like sumo wrestlers’ feet! Incredibly, my father didn’t seem to notice while he massaged them, I had to point them out to him that night.
“Hey Pop, notice something weird about my feet?”
“Look closer. They’re swollen.”
He took a closer look and gasped. He looked up at me with disbelief written all over his face.
“How long have they been like this?”
“A few days.”
My father had yet to fully comprehend what he’d just seen when my mother walked into the living room for a drink of water. Talk about impeccable timing, she sensed the air in the room immediately.
“What’s going on?” she wondered.
“My feet, Ma,” I said sombrely, “they’re swollen and I don’t know why.”
My mother practically shoved my father out of the way as she took a look at my feet. Her eyes widened.
“Son, I think it’s time to see the doctor.”
I let out a deep sigh, finally surrendering to my symptoms.
“Yeah,” I conceded, “let’s do it.”
And so shortly before going to bed I walked over to my study table, fired up the computer and, once online, made an appointment to see Dr. G.
My last-minute appointment with Dr. G was set for the following evening, a Thursday. Thursday night is grocery night for most people and since her clinic was located at a shopping center parking spaces were rather difficult to come by. Luckily, we spotted a car attempting to exit just in time.
The medical center was not very full when we entered and so we did not have to endure another rather lengthy wait. Dr. G called within less than ten minutes.
When my parents and I walked into Dr. G’s office she took one look at me and her face said it all. She had that look of disbelief and pity, like she’d seen what my friends at the Wing Chun Academy had seen, a pale and thin shell of a man. And if she was livid at me for now calling her when shit went from bad to worse she did an excellent job of keeping it hidden.
I cut to the chase right away, admitting to her that I had recently suffered a bad case of the flu, that I was beginning to feel lethargic when exercising, that my feet had swollen up and that the bloody stools had persisted since our last meeting. Having listened to my confession, during which she remained stoic while my parents seemed to squirm on their seats, Dr. G ordered me to do a urine test and take another blood test, which I did. She must have surmised that perhaps my blood count would be different this time and while my urine sample didn’t reveal anything serious, the blood test would look at the bigger picture and should be ready within two days. We booked a follow-up appointment for the next Monday.
But there was a caveat; “If your blood test results are of grave concern,” said Dr. G, “I will phone you over the weekend for the next course of action.”
Oh boy…….nowhere to hide this time.
“Around what time?” I asked rather nervously.
“Any time between nine and mid-day,” she replied, “keep your phone by your side.”
And with that, we drove home for a family dinner and I prayed for a miracle before dozing off to sleep. At least my sleeping patterns weren’t interrupted anymore, that had to be a positive sign.
July 28, 2018
Two days later, I woke up rather early, ate breakfast and changed my bed sheets. I liked my bed. I’ve had the same mattress for more than ten years and it was still in good working order mainly because flipped it over whenever I changed sheets to maintain its shape. I flipped that rather heavy mattress easily and managed to put my sheets together in less than five minutes without incident. Lately I’d began to feel nervous about over-exerting myself out of fear for that blacking out feeling returning to haunt me, but this time, I felt ok.
OK, this is a good sign.
The sun was shining outside, allowing some warmth to pierce through the morning winter air and I felt good. My hair had become unruly as of late and so I went to get my haircut accompanied by my father as he felt that he too was due.
I took a shower upon arriving home to wash the specks of clipped hair from my head and neck. It was eleven, almost mid-day and so far, no phone call from Dr. G. Perhaps my blood test results weren’t so bad after all.
I had just finished dressing up when my phone suddenly rang. I slowly picked it up and checked out the screen. The incoming call was from an unsaved number and so I had to answer it.
“Hello, good morning.”
A chill suddenly ran down my spine and my entire world collapsed around me.
It was Dr. G.