Psycho – Caught In The Storm

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.

Welcome to Vivid!

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.
Nice, huh?
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.

Feeling queasy from reading all that? Here’s another cool shot from Vivid

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.

Uh-oh.

Then I felt that dull pain creep down towards my lower abdomen.

Oh boy!

Then I felt it near my butt.

OH CRAP!!!!!

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?”

“No. Why?”

“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.

Yes, this is a long and disturbing post. Here you go, another cool shot from Vivid.

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.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

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.

Wrong.

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?”

“Hello, good morning.”

A chill suddenly ran down my spine and my entire world collapsed around me.

It was Dr. G.

 

Oh shit……..

We Didn’t Start The Fire – All’s Well….For Now

Another tune by Billy Joel, aint no fire started,
An unwanted mission lay ahead, took another step towards it
Relief for now, as you shall see,
Trouble was brewin’, but for now I felt relieved.

 

June 13, 2018

From my initial consultation with Dr. G up to our follow-up appointment a week later I picked up no new symptoms, much to my relief. I continued to put up with my existing symptoms but other than that, life went on. I also took the time to submit a stool sample to a pathology clinic located in nearby Mt Druitt as Dr. G had requested.

Never thought I’d ever have to do one of those but I went with the flow.

I continued to work and train as normal but made sure to note down any strange feelings, if any, that I experienced. Thankfully, there were none. If anything I felt like I was getting fit and strong again and regaining whatever muscle mass and fitness I may have lost during those two and a half weeks gallivanting around Canada and Alaska with barely a workout session in. During that trip I threw myself into full holiday mode, including eating like a pig, and yet I still somehow lost weight. Must have been from all the walking.

 

My mother accompanied me to the trip to Dr. G’s clinic for our next meeting. Another fifteen minute drive from home was followed by waiting in the lounge for Dr. G to call my name. Not as many patients in the waiting lounge this time around compared to the previous week, mostly elderly patients undergoing routine check-ups and one pregnant lady, staring pensively at the TV screen in front of the room while her young son, all three or four years of him, sat beside her and played with his toys. I wondered how he would handle the idea of sharing his toys with his new younger sibling?

I felt rather confident and upbeat as I sat waiting, relieved that we were taking another step towards healing my body. Plus the much sought-after softer seats near the stairs leading down to the exit had some seating space available due to the relative lack of patients so I got to experience that rather than sitting on the harder chairs in the center of the room, closer to the front desk and the TV that, after a prolonged period, made you feel quite stiff and agitated.
After about twenty minutes Dr. G called my mother and I into her office. My mother and I walked behind her and I took a seat by her desk while my mother sat on one of the other chairs near the window. My mother complimented Dr. G on her outfit and I’m sure that after dealing with patients day in and day out it must have been music to her ears.
It was a bright, sunny day outside, albeit slightly chilly as it was already early winter. Still, I took that sunshine outside as a good omen.

 

My mother and Dr. G caught up very briefly before we got down to business. Dr. G began our discussion with a typical opening line; “So we took a look at your blood test and stool results…..”

Oh shit, here we go……drum roll, please.

A smile suddenly formed on Dr. G’s countenance, “And I’m glad to say that there is nothing drastic for now.”

YEE-HAAAWWWW!!!!!!

I was doing cartwheels in my mind, at least until the ‘for now’ part of her statement belatedly sunk into my thick skull, sending my euphoria into a screeching halt.

‘For now!?’ The fuck does that mean!?

I guess I wasn’t completely out of the woods just yet. Dr. G continued, “You will still need to undergo a colonoscopy to find out what is truly causing your symptoms.”
And there it was again, that dreaded ‘C’ word. In my mind it would be a cold day in hell before I would agree to such a procedure but it was becoming clear that I had no other option left. I was an outlaw on the run, finally cornered at a dead-end by the police and forced to surrender against my will.

Still, my mother breathed a sigh of relief and probably nearly cried, much to Dr. G’s amusement. Looks like her big baby boy would live to fight another day. I was by no means given a clean bill of health but for now, a decent result was a positive distraction and a small victory of sorts. According to Dr. G my hemoglobin levels were still at healthy levels despite me shitting blood for a while now and my stool and urine samples did not reveal anything shocking. My white blood cell count, however, was affected, a sure sign that my body was at war with something within. I guess a colonoscopy would unmask the culprit.

Dr. G’s tone then became serious once more. “While we still don’t know what is causing all that blood in your stools it is most likely colitis,” she said.
My heart sunk in an instant. Ulcerative Colitis was one of the two nasty motherfuckers under the inflammatory bowel disease umbrella, of which the cause is unknown and for which there is still no cure other than to remove the sufferer’s bowel should the disease worsen. It’s meaner, nastier comrade went by the name of Crohn’s Disease.
“Could it be anything else?” my mother inquired.
Dr. G nodded thoughtfully. “Of course,” she responded, “but we won’t know for sure unless he undergoes a colonoscopy,” turning back towards me she noticed that I suddenly had a rather glum look on my face and so she quickly added, “other than that, you’re still in good health so no need to worry too much.”

Good ol’ Dr. G. Always an optimist.

She then printed out a paper copy of my medical results and wrote a referral for a gastroenterologist that she was personal friends with and requested that I book a session with him.
“He’s one of the best in his field and his clinic is not too far from here,” she said, “Try to book the earliest appointment with him possible.”
“Yes, Doc.”
“And come and visit me in two months’ time so we can take another blood test and see if there are any changes,” Dr. G added, “but if anything happens before then, if you feel that you are getting worse, let me know immediately.”
“Yes, of course.”
It was then that I heard a voice in my mind call me the world’s biggest liar. You’ll find out why soon enough.

 

And that was that. My mother and I thanked Dr. G for her time before we drove home. I then went straight to the internet and looked up the gastroenterologist that Dr. G had recommended in order to learn more about him. I needed to make sure that this guy was legit and not some phoney masquerading as a professional.
The website for his clinic included the obligatory location and contact details and a photo of his best head shot, but it also included a brief bio on the man and his team and he even had some reviews and testimonials from previous patients on google! These testimonials described a man who was very committed and knowledgeable of his field and had a way of making patients staring down the barrel of some pretty invasive and nerve-wracking procedures feel calm and at ease. He also avoided medical mumbo-jumbo when discussing matters of the health with patients, using language and imagery that they can understand without coming off as condescending.

 

I was impressed. Damn, this dude is the real deal!

 

For those who have been following my blog for a while now, I think it’s been somewhat established that I have a phobia of anything related to clinics and medical procedures, which is one of the reasons why, like a damn fool, I didn’t take action until shit hit the fan. Since I was a child the prospect of going to ‘see the doctor’ made me squirm. The thought of people tinkering around with my anatomy in any way shape or form made me uncomfortable and I cringed at the idea of being confined to a hospital, and at the time of these events that hadn’t happened yet and I wished to keep it that way although it was all but becoming an inevitability. These good reviews convinced me that this guy, whom we will meet at a later entry, was for real.

And so the following morning at around 10am I gave his clinic a call and after a brief discussion with his secretary about how much my health insurance would cover I made a booking for an initial consultation. I was told that he was overseas at the moment but that I would get a spot on the earliest possible time, which turned out to be in early August, about a month and a half away. Fine by me, Dr. G wanted me to submit another blood test within two months anyway so at least by that time I could see them both roughly around the same time frame. Besides, the earlier the better. And so I accepted the date immediately.

 

Mission accomplished.

 

In the meantime, all I had to do was monitor my symptoms. The bleeding persisted, but I drew comfort from Dr. G’s report that there was nothing seriously wrong with me – for now. I carried on with the hope that it wouldn’t get any worse than this. These symptoms had disappeared before and I didn’t close my mind to the possibility that they’d disappear again, this time for good, even though at this point that was wishful thinking. The symptoms now were worse than they were in April.

Unfortunately, I would soon learn that this was merely the calm before the storm – a storm that was brewing and waiting to unleash all manner of hell upon me.

Down On Me – The Feathered Thief

A bumpin’ track from Jeremih and 50 Cent,
Back in twenty-thirteen this was ringing in my head,
Here it comes, a rather short entry,
Of a lunchtime gone wrong, it’s quite a funny story.

 

One Saturday five years ago, I went to the city to attend a work-related conference. It was a glorious sunny day, the heat from high summer had evaporated and the Ice Age-like temperatures of winter hadn’t yet arrived and so it was neither too hot nor too cold. The skies were also a nice shade of blue and the air was nice and crisp. People took full advantage, out and about dressed in their best autumn clothes, laughing and chattering as they strolled about with friends and family without a care in the world. It was one of those days that served as a positive distraction to the grind of daily life and nothing could possibly go wrong.

 

Well, almost never.

 

The conference was held at the old Sydney Convention Center at Darling Harbor and at around mid-day my stomach decided that it was time for lunch. I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast and I was famished.

Should have brought some snacks.

I ducked into the nearest Subway, which was located near the old IMAX theatre, and ordered a six-inch meatball sub and a six-inch chicken classic. I decided to eat my lunch outdoors, by the water where I could have a great view of the boats on the harbor and different buildings and skyscrapers that towered in the background while the sun shone down on me. It was a decision that I would come to regret.

Hungry as hell, I devoured that meatball sub with gusto before moving onto the chicken classic. I stared at the view before me as I ate and allowed the sun to warm me up. I blocked out the sounds of people walking and talking and allowed my mind to wander but my moment of serenity would be rather short-lived. You see, it was also around this time that I noticed the ever-growing presence of seagulls hovering around waiting to deny some hapless person of their food. They can get quite aggressive, sometimes brazenly taking fries from people’s plates whilst they were still eating. I guess to those damn seagulls picking up dropped crumbs or waiting for people to leave their tables can become boring after a while.
I shooed them away when they got too close and continued eating. These birds were not going to deny me of my peace and my food.

 

One of them, however, had other ideas.

 

When I was down to the final two bites of that chicken classic sandwich a seagull suddenly swooped from above as if out of thin air and grabbed the damn chicken from my sandwich in its beak just as I was about to bite into it again.

What the hell!?

Having caught its next meal that blasted bird flew off to parts unknown, probably laughing all the way.

 

I stared at the empty piece of bread between my hands, totally shell shocked. Not only had that feathered thief taken the essence from my lunch, but it had also left some black spots on the bread, which I can only assume was dirt or worse, maybe digested bits from last night’s dinner. Sitting outdoors for a meal wasn’t such a crash-hot idea after all.
When I finally snapped out of my trance I crumpled the bread in my hands, put it inside the subway bag and then slam-dunked it into the nearest garbage bin. Then I headed back towards the Convention Center, still shaking my head at this unexpected turn of events.

Pain – Enter Dr. G

My favorite track by the great 2Pac,
A gem from the Above The Rim soundtrack,
Now we meet one of the key players,
Helped this man reclaim his swagger,
So a round of applause to the
one and only,
A good woman that we’ll call Dr. G.

 

June 6, 2018

On the very next day after my post-dinner confession my father and I visited the medical center where my mother’s doctor worked. It was a good ten to fifteen minute drive away from our home and we arrived half an hour early, giving me enough time to take a seat at the waiting lounge and fill in some paperwork. Seated around my father and I were patients whose problems were obvious; people whose legs or arms were held in a cast, some wheelchair bound or reliant on crutches; an elderly patient with a vacant expression on her face, signs of a mind that has deteriorated, seated on a wheelchair beside her carer; pregnant women with their partners, people undergoing rehab etc. They were certainly a far more varied bunch than the folks that I had encountered at the other clinic the previous day.

After passing the time by watching the morning news on the TV screen at the front of the room and playing with my phone, the doctor called me in.

 

Let’s call her ‘Dr. G’.

 

Dr. G was a fast-talking bespectacled Filipina woman, probably in her late 50s to early 60s. She was quite tall and had short hair that was dyed a caramel-brown color. She also counted my aunt and uncle as patients and I had crossed paths with her during a family gathering at their place a couple of years ago but she didn’t seem to remember me.
With all due respect to the doctor that I had spoken to the previous day Dr. G was much easier to open up to. She had an upbeat and vibrant personality and she looked at the problem from all angles before coming to conclusions and wasn’t afraid to ask questions, even the tough ones.
Her office was also much more welcoming, it was spacious and had a window with a nice view outside. Her desk was far more organized despite being piled with the usual charts, paperwork and stationery and she also had a fax machine-slash-printer on her desk next to a desktop computer. Her stethoscope and other doctor’s paraphernalia were also kept in different drawers rather than just sitting scattered on her desk, although yesterday’s doc did not have the office and desk space of Dr. G’s.

I opened up to Dr. G about my symptoms and as I spoke she took down notes and typed them into her computer before printing out some information sheets for me to read on possible ailments based on my symptoms; hemorrhoids, anal fissures, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and the two nasty thugs of Inflammatory Bowel Disease known as Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. She decided, for now, to rule out bowel cancer, as she didn’t want to think of the very worse and because I showed no other distressing signs other than blood in my shit. If anything she noted that I looked relatively normal, just a little thin perhaps, though I’ve been of a rather slim build throughout my adult life. A colonoscopy would provide a much clearer picture.
I quickly scanned through the sheets and hoped to God that I did not have either one of those Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s can increase the chances of developing bowel cancer in later life, can affect daily living and there are no known cures for either of them – other than to remove the bowels.

Um, no, HELL NO!!!!

Much to my dismay Dr. G suspected that it might be ulcerative colitis as it was rather common for young people these days. God, I hoped she was wrong!

 

Dr. G then escorted me to a separate room to get a blood test done. Two nurses were waiting there and one of them requested that I take a seat and roll the sleeve of my right arm up (I was wearing a sweater that day). She then jabbed me in my arm, taking three vials of my blood. Since it was the first time in a while that I had had an injection it did sting a little.
I also submitted a urine sample before I returned to Dr. G’s office where she gave me a small cup that I was to leave a stool sample in and deliver to a pathology clinic before my next visit, which she scheduled for the following week in order to give sufficient time for my results to come through.

Before we left, Dr. G asked me if I was willing to check for hemorrhoids and fissures first. Feeling like I had nothing to lose, I reluctantly agreed. I pulled my pants down, climbed onto a bed near the back of her office and laid down on my left side, while she put on a pair of disposable gloves and lubricated the index finger. She drew up a thin blue curtain so that my father, who was seated on one of the chairs near the door, wouldn’t see what was about to unfold.

‘You might feel some discomfort,’ she said.

Yeah, no shit. I was trying hard not to freak out. What follows is the reason why the particular song chosen for this blog brought this memory SCREAMING back into my mind.
Seconds later she stuck her index finger ‘up there’ and probed around. I gritted my teeth and tried hard not to cry out. Thank goodness I had my back to her so she wouldn’t have to see my face contorting into weird shapes of agony. I swore out loud in my mind.

 

HOLY SHIT!!!! FUCK!!!! JESUS CHRIST!!!! GOD DAMMIT!!!! FUCKING HELL!!!! GAAAAHHHH!!!!! FUUUUUUUUUCK!!!!!

 

Yeah, you get the picture. I’m not sure if my nervousness had dulled my pain threshold or if I was shocked since this was the first time that I had one of those done, but man, IT HURT LIKE HELL!!!! I probably should have gone to confession on the following Sunday, that was too many expletives and using the Lord’s name in vain during a few seconds of pain.
Hey! That rhymes!
Anyway, having put up with that little bit of ‘discomfort’ I slowly sat up, pulled up my trousers and collected the paperwork that Dr. G printed out for me. We shook hands before my father and I left.
“I’ll see you next week,” said Dr. G, “Don’t forget that stool sample.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” I replied.

Man, it felt uncomfortable to walk for a few minutes. ‘Discomfort’ my ass.

No pun intended.

 

Pray For The Day – Return Of The Beast

An underrated tune by the rapper Ja Rule,
Had hits in the day though he was a damn fool,

Looking back on the day that I finally bit the bullet,
Symptoms returned so I finally said ‘fuck it’,
What follows is the beginning of the war,
No turning back, Soldier, the battle is on. 

 

May & June 2018

Soaring high in the sky, I was Superman with his cape on,
The baddest dude from the planet of Krypton,
‘Twas mid-Autumn and I was still savoring the victory,
Over my own body, plus the stress and anxiety,
But what goes up must come down, the cliché rang true,
Stared me in the face and cackled, ‘it’ll happen to you!’
Suddenly I was Icarus, I’d flown too close to the sun,
Those wax wings melted, here comes the fatal plunge.

 

Life returned to normal rather quickly after we returned home to Australia from up north. I resumed my duties at the International Wing Chun Academy, where I both trained and instructed, and I also started applying for work again (I’m a contractor so work is kinda up and down for me). I also caught up with friends and family and one Saturday shortly after our return my father and I helped my sister assemble a cabinet for her apartment, which was frustrating and quite awkward at times but we got the job done. We definitely had moments that were worthy of a sitcom.
Heck, I even set myself a new fitness goal for the next few months. I had watched that film Black Panther on the cruise ship during the Alaska leg of the trip and upon seeing the character Erik Killmonger (portrayed brilliantly by Michael B. Jordan) on screen I set myself a personal challenge to try and attain his physique. Given that I am genetically inclined to be on the lean and thin side it was probably a fool’s errand but hey, a man can try, right? Time to pump some serious iron and eat like a horse!

You could say that life was pretty good. But that being said, while I had put the health scare from the previous month behind me I still checked every time I ‘went’ to make sure that things back there were still normal. Everything was hunky-dory for a while but one day in late May, I was in for a big shock.

 

NOT AGAIN!!!!!

 

I couldn’t believe my damn eyes. There were bloody streaks in my stools again! I guess those two weeks of zero symptoms during the trip was only a temporary reprieve, it was too good to be true.

Maybe I shouldn’t have returned home.

I then began to wonder if my diet contributed to these symptoms. I thought about the foods that had I consumed during the trip and decided that maybe there were things I was eating and drinking back home that were negatively affecting my body.
Dairy? Reduced.
Water straight from the tap? Reduced.
Any form of junk food? Gone.
Yet the bloody stools continued. On-and-off initially but then gradually became a regular occurrence before intensifying quicker than I could believe and also brought new symptoms with it. In addition to the blood I noticed that I was beginning to lose weight even though I was pumping that iron hard trying to get Erik Killmonger’s build. I also found myself having to go to the toilet more times than usual on some days, at one point I went more than five times in one day. It’s as though I had pissed off whatever disease was within and after a few weeks of devising a new game plan it had returned to take its revenge on me, talk about vindictive!

However, an incident that occurred a few days after the symptoms became aggressive finally convinced me to see a doctor after weeks of ducking and dodging. I won’t go into too much detail about it, it’s both disgusting and embarrassing, but all you need to know is that something happened following a workout one morning and quickly became more frequent.

That’s it, can’t run and hide no more.

And so one morning during early June I got dressed and, rebelling against my brain’s orders to turn back and go home, trekked off to the nearest medical center.

 

I went to a medical center that was walking distance from my home, registered at the front desk and then sat down on one of the chairs in the waiting room, surrounded by other would-be patients. It was a long time since I’ve had to do this so I was feeling rather nervous. I looked around at the people around me, most of them looked rather healthy but I guess everyone has a secret battle that no one knows about.
I didn’t have to wait too long. After about ten minutes one of the doctors summoned me into his office. His space didn’t look too welcoming, it was small and rather cramped, had no windows and the air was quite stuffy. The walls were also a dull cream-color, his desk was piled high with paperwork and stationery and of course, he had the obligatory health and anatomy charts, medical paraphernalia and a model of the human body sitting on his table next to the pile of paperwork.
I felt as though I had walked into a mad scientist’s lair and that this dude was going to conduct some weird experiments on me. As for the doctor himself, he was a rather short, middle-aged Asian man with glasses and a head full of dark hair with grey streaks. He spoke in a quiet and relaxed tone, almost a whisper, that matched his unflappable demeanor.

I took a seat next to his desk and he asked me what my problems were. I reluctantly opened up to him about the shame and horror of shitting out blood almost every day, how the symptoms vanished during my trip only to suddenly return with a vengeance a few weeks later. It was the first time I had opened up to anyone about this and I’ll admit that I felt some relief but also a hint of embarrassment at the nature of my symptoms though I’m sure he’d heard of similar cases throughout his career.
Having heard my little story, the doctor immediately gave me a referral to book a colonoscopy. He gave me the details of a gastroenterologist in Blacktown who can look inside my bowels to determine what was wrong with me. I immediately became sus.

That’s it? Straight to a colonoscopy? No other health tests? Man, fuck that!

Nevertheless, I thanked him before leaving.

 

Confessing to the doctor was hard but the toughest part was yet to come – I had to tell my parents. I’m the type to normally keep personal stuff like this to myself but trying to hide records of doctor visits and, eventually, surgical procedures was going to be impossible.
They had to know.
The rest of the day was mostly spent trying to rehearse exactly how I would break the news to them. I also remember that afternoon I watched an old episode of Law & Order SVU on DVD. It was the season finale of the show’s seventeenth season, where the character of Sargent Mike Dodds is shot while trying to break up a domestic dispute and eventually dies of his injuries in hospital with his father, Chief William Dodds, by his side. This is going to sound over dramatic but man, the image of Chief Dodds weeping uncontrollably when his son is pronounced dead, and then the following scene of Mike’s funeral, somehow gave me all the motivation I needed to confess. I hate to sound drastic but since there was still no official diagnosis I did think that it could have been something as minor as hemorrhoids to something as severe as cancer.

What if this shit is cancer and I end up biting the dust?

I’d be lying if I said that the thought never crossed my mind, drastic as it may seem.  My parents having to put me in the dirt over this was not part of my life plan and it certainly wasn’t part of theirs. I sat on the living room sofa for most of the afternoon, waiting for their arrival, getting myself ready for showtime.

 

I set the moment of truth for after dinner that night. Conversations like these would kill the vibe, not to mention appetites, during a family meal. Consequently, I ended up taking my time in eating my food and when the moment of truth arrived the nerves attacked me hard. I had to force myself to carry out the plan.

Speak up, Boy! Here’s your shot!

And so while my father quickly ducked into the bathroom I approached my mother in the kitchen as she was washing dishes and cleared my throat.

‘Mom……I have to tell you something.’

‘What’s up?’ her tone was relaxed and casual. That took some of the edge off.

‘I…..uh……went to the doctor today.’

She stopped washing once those words escaped my throat and looked straight at me. Oooohhh boy, here we go.

‘Why?’

‘You see……something’s been going on with me for a while now….’

And from there I proceeded to spill my guts out to her about my symptoms, before the trip and after the trip. I also made sure to disclose that these symptoms vanished during the trip.

I looked her in the eyes the whole time, reading her facial expressions as I spoke. They were a mix of concern, terror and perhaps some disbelief over the fact that I kept them a secret for so long and honestly, I was half-expecting her to go off the rails. But thankfully she remained calm and didn’t lose it – or perhaps was so overcome with what I had just revealed that she forgot to get emotional.
Dad emerged from the bathroom during the middle of my confession. He immediately sensed the tension in the air.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
I repeated to him exactly what I told Mom and soon he was wearing the same shocked and bewildered look on his face.

Having finally spilled the beans to a healthcare professional and to my parents I finally felt as though I could breathe again. My mother spoke up after a few seconds’ silence and noted that it was rather suspicious that the doctor I’d visited immediately ordered a colonoscopy without further testing and so she suggested that I get a second opinion from her doctor, something that my father agreed with. Well, the idea of having to undergo a colonoscopy made my skin crawl so you better believe that I took her advice. Anything to delay having to book that shit!

 

I went to sleep easily that night. I had finally unloaded the heavy burden that I had carried with me for the better part of the year and had also taken the first step towards eradicating this thing once and for all. Call it the first big step towards victory.
But it was far from over. My parents warned me that I could be facing a potential battle on my hands and that I shouldn’t become complacent but I already knew that. This fucking thing nearly pushed me into complete insanity so I was well aware of how serious it was. But for now, it felt good to finally get that shit off my chest and breathe again. I drifted off to sleep relieved yet still hoping and praying that it wouldn’t be anything too severe and/or life-threatening.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep doing my thing. No one else needed to know about this outside of the people I confessed to, at least for now. It would be our horrible little secret.

Glory Of Love – Time For A Drum Solo

This tune right here takes me back to the 80s,
complete with memories of childhood antics,
what follows is one of the earliest I can recall,
one of the craziest, too, that boy had no sense at all.

 

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who, at the time, I hadn’t seen for a few months. We updated each other with the usual things like work, family, places visited or events attended and all that before the conversation shifted over to music and then somehow ended up being about the earliest memories that we can recall from our respective lives. We both agreed that the earliest memories that one can recall in general are those from when they were three or four years of age and for me there’s one particular early memory that comes to mind, mainly because my father often reminds me of it whenever we have one of our little trips back to memory lane – and because it was a perfect reminder of just how silly and destructive children can be when left to their own devices and I was not immune. If I were to compile a list of the crazy things I did as a child this would be in the top three.

 

It was a Saturday morning and I was three or four years of age. My father and mother decided to go for a drive in my dad’s brown Mitsubishi to go grocery shopping. My sister and I were supposed to stay home with the sitter but after I had begged and cajoled them endlessly they allowed me to tag along. My sister, still very young at the time, stayed in and most likely went back to sleep following a light breakfast.
We pulled up into a marketplace and found a vacant spot in the parking lot. It was still quite early so there weren’t too many cars in the lot. We found a spot not too far from the shops.
‘I’ll be quick,’ Mom said, ‘wait for me here.’
And so off she went, leaving the boys to chill in that brown car.

Being a very young child it wasn’t long before I got bored. I guess I should have stayed home. My father did too although at times I think he was happy to just sit down, close his eyes and relax. We talked for a little while, which wasn’t very easy since he was seated on the driver’s seat in front while I was in the back seat and so I was essentially having a conversation with the back of his head. I’ll bet he felt like a chauffeur or taxi driver trying to make small talk with his client.
But after a while Dad decided that he needed some fresh air and a chance to stretch his legs. I opted to stay inside the car so he rolled down his car window to let in the air before stepping outside to stretch and clear his head.

 

Little did he know that the little knucklehead inside the car was about to shatter his calm and something else into smithereens. Get ready to pay for what was seemingly an innocuous mistake, Pops!

 

You see, my father had accidentally left a small screwdriver on the floor in the back and yours truly had gotten his little paws on it. I began playing with the little thing, wondering what its purpose was. As a fan of superheroes and cartoons I quickly decided that it was a weapon and so began to engage in a fencing match with an imaginary opponent. If only my father could have taken a peek through the windscreen, he would have seen his crazy kid swinging at air and spitting all over the back of the passenger seat, imitating the sounds of swords cutting through the air and the blade piercing through flesh and armor in between punctuating each strike with grunts and screams that would have made Bruce Lee face palm himself.

But that got boring after a while. So I decided that it was time for an epic drum solo to shake things up. Others would have used the soft, cushy seat as drums but nope, this kid right here had other ideas.
Let’s use the window!
While Dad continued to daydream outside I pointed the screwdriver towards the window and then did my best Travis Barker imitation.

 

Rat-ta-tat-tat……SMASH!!!!!

 

My father immediately spun around and his eyes grew wide as saucers in shock at what I had just done. There were shards of glass on the cement right next to the car’s back door on the right side where I was sitting and a gaping hole on the window. What remained of that window glass was sprinkled with cracks, giving the window the appearance of being snowed on.
Luckily, I suffered no cuts since the shards of glass had fallen outside. Perhaps unsure whether to be worried or angry, my father immediately stormed towards the back door, opened it up and lifted me out to dust me off in case there were pieces of glass on me. He then snatched the screwdriver from my hands and shook his head in disbelief.

“Why did you do that!?” he asked, rather irate.

If I remember correctly I just stared back at him with a mixture of fear and anticipation, knowing that I’d broken a part of his ‘favorite toy’. I knew that some type of big punishment was sure to come my way but at the same time I was bemused at how such an inanimate object could cause such mayhem. I don’t even remember hitting the window that hard! He then proceeded to reprimand me for my little demolition job and if I recall, I think he might have given me three light taps on my right hand, the one that carried my weapon of choice. They weren’t particularly hard taps and Dad didn’t lose his temper but I got the message loud and clear and tears welled up from my eyes. Some feisty little tough guy I turned out to be, I surrendered after a stern tone and three light taps on the hand.

 

Yeah, that’s probably the earliest memory that I can recall. And my father still recalls it vividly to this day and would often remind me of it whenever we reminisced about the ‘good ol’ days’. In fact, he reminded me of it again recently when I told him about my blog.

“Are you going to include the glass story?” he inquired.

“Of course!” I replied.

Then we both laughed.

Downeaster Alexa – That doesn’t look normal

April & May, 2018

Heard this song during a road trip to Melbourne,
for my nephew’s first birthday, my cousin’s son, yeah it was a lot of fun,
But days prior something had triggered alarm bells,
Didn’t know it then but I was about to enter the pits of hell,
I fought that secret battle, almost broken, but came up triumphant,
Victory was mine, I’m da man, but the war had just begun.

 

It started one day, out of the blue. Something seemed odd one morning when I went into the bathroom and did my business.

Heh……that doesn’t look normal. Is that blood?

I dismissed it as a one-time thing as I cleaned myself up and then went about my life as though everything was normal and for a while it was – until it wasn’t.
Over the next few weeks one-time became once in a while. And then it became a few times a week. Then it became almost every day. Sure, I had ‘good days’ but the ‘bad days’ began to add up and and alarm bells rang in my head. But like most men I was reluctant to come clean to a medical practitioner and went straight to Dr Google instead. I typed up my symptoms in the search bar and hoped for a not-too-drastic-diagnosis.
Hopes were dashed.
I read all the possible ailments that could be manifesting within me based on my symptoms and melted in my seat. Damn near all of them sounded serious and could potentially lead to something more life-threatening if I didn’t take immediate action. Over the next few days anxiety set up camp in my mind and was soon joined by its good friends disbelief and rage as I struggled to come to terms with what was happening to me.

Shoot, just the act of going to the toilet began to fill me with dread! It became a cruel game of hit or miss, wondering if there would be blood today or not. It certainly threw my emotions into a spin, on good days I’d breathe a sigh of relief only to then have that feeling obliterated by the presence of blood during the bad days. To make matters worse my appetite deteriorated to the point where I often had to force myself to eat. This was not good. In addition to bloody stools a loss of appetite was also a possible symptom of inflammatory bowel disease and of that hideous monster known as bowel cancer.

Great. I guess I’m doomed.

Man, I sure hoped that this loss of appetite was merely a byproduct of the stress that I was under but given my additional symptoms it could very well have been something much worse. I’d become paranoid quicker than I could believe and any ache or pain that I experienced, however minor, had me in a state of panic.
Going to sleep at night also became an ordeal. I would spend half an hour lying in the dark while my mind tormented me before I finally drifted off, screaming internally at my inner demons to return to the depths of hell and leave me alone.

 

I remember one particular day towards the end of April where I was in my room, sitting on my bed and trying to keep myself together. I kept these symptoms to myself, presenting a strong, relaxed front for my family and friends, but inside I was suffering. Whatever it was inside me, I felt that it was becoming serious and I contemplated speaking to a doctor but fear and pride prevented me from doing so. I was not prepared to confess lest my worst fears were realized and so like a sick coward I chose to live in ignorance and denial rather than face the music. I could practically see the words ‘COWARD’ scrawled in blood-red letters across my forehead whenever I looked at my reflection on the mirror.

As I sat on my bed I thought about how keeping my mouth shut could potentially come at the expense of my livelihood, perhaps even my life. Imagine that, life as I knew it taken away from me because I was too much of a chicken shit to speak up. And the more I thought about it the more I got pissed off at myself for not having the balls to just tell someone!

God dammit!!!! Your life could be on the line here and you’re not gonna do anything about it? What the hell is wrong with you!!??

AAAAARRGGGHHH!!!! I was wracking my brains out to hair-pulling levels over this shit! This must be what a nervous breakdown feels like.

I tried to distract myself with a good book and music, which had long been my winning remedy for stress, but this time it was useless. The raging storm within drowned out the beats and tunes from my ipod. And when I finally found my legs again I paced back and forth around the room while my emotions ran around in circles like a fucking carousel.
In addition to the fear I was angry. I don’t have a family or personal history of serious health problems, let alone bowel problems, I’ve never abused drugs, I don’t drink, I tried not to stress over little things, I was active and ate healthily. In other words, I did everything that the ‘experts’ recommended for a healthy life.
And this is my fucking reward!?
Seriously!?
What kind of bullshit was that!?
It made me so mad! I could have put my fists through my bedroom walls multiple times. I hate to sound like a petulant child but I did ask myself ‘why me!?’ a few times on a given day. That was my anger, stress and shame talking right there.

 

The timing of these symptoms also could not have been worse. You see, I was weeks away from a family holiday to the USA and Canada when they intensified and I guess part of the reason why I didn’t take action was that I was afraid it would cancel our trip. It was stupid of me to put it off like that but I was really looking forward to this holiday and would have been damned if these pesky symptoms denied my parents and I of it. When I thought of it that way fear and anxiety gave way to serious denial disguised as defiance and false-bravado.

Fuck this. I’ll see a doctor after the trip.

What an idiot. It’s amazing, what the ego can do. On one hand, it can propel one to achieve goals and dreams that once seemed out of reach but on the other hand, it can drag one into awkward, dangerous and even fatal situations. My new line of thinking convinced me that two weeks was not a long time and that I wasn’t seeing symptoms every single day and every single time I went. I also wasn’t physically incapacitated and didn’t feel any serious aches and pains so whatever this is, it couldn’t be something too drastic. I thought that it would get worse before it got better and then fade away.
But I wasn’t dumb. Not completely, anyway. In the back of my mind I knew that I was taking a potentially dangerous and foolish risk but I also thought that sheer strength of mind could overcome anything. I just had to tough it out for the next two weeks.
And so After a few weeks of on-and-off symptoms and with feelings of uncertainty hanging over my head I packed my bags and boarded a plane bound for our holiday. My health aside, I was also uneasy about the long flight. I hate flying and let me tell you, the thought of flying from Australia to Canada made me nauseous. But I accepted that it came with the territory. Once I endure the flight and my feet hit the ground and my lungs take in the fresh air I’ll be excited.
There was also some good news before we left – I showed no symptoms the day before the flight. It was a massive confidence booster and I slept soundly that night but at the same time I wondered if this was permanent or temporary.

I got my answer soon enough. After we had endured a non-stop flight from Australia to Toronto we had a few hours’ of respite in Toronto before another shorter flight towards Calgary (we would return to Toronto during the second week of our trip). I was exhausted from the long distance flight when I boarded this flight and was seated next to a total stranger, who looked rather weary but probably not as worse for wear as I was.
About an hour or two before the plane landed in Calgary, nature came calling. I trudged towards the toilet, hoping that there would be no more symptoms. I sat down and fired away and then slowly looked at the result.

AW HELL NO!!!!

The blood had returned yet again! Talk about the floor opening up beneath me, my heart rate and stress levels once again shot up as I buried my face in my hands in disbelief.

This can’t be happening!

I cleaned myself up before returning to my seat where I collapsed like a sack of rocks, totally dejected. I was in a fog for the rest of the day and once the plane landed and we took a cab to the hotel I was just going through the motions. A walk around the city of Calgary in the afternoon after checking into our hotel provided some relief, as I was able to shake off that long flight and get my body moving again. But my mind was still a mess, unbeknownst to my parents. They probably thought that any distracted and zombie-like behavior on my part was due to the long flight and the broken and uncomfortable sleep patterns that came with it. They were aware of my dislike of long flights but thankfully they didn’t seem to notice anything.
Had I not been tired from the long flight I probably would have stayed up for half the night with worry, if not all night. But I was out like a light as soon as my head touched the pillow, fatigue thankfully having overcome anxiety and serious disappointment.

 

Crossing at Banff

But you know what? Something miraculous happened the following day. The next morning, after an unusually refreshing deep sleep all things being considered, we checked out of our hotel in Calgary and made our way towards Banff via tour bus. After spending most of the morning and mid-day exploring Banff’s beautiful city we ducked into a restaurant for lunch. Shortly before the food arrived I felt that urge once again and so like a condemned prisoner headed for the gallows I trudged over to the restrooms to do my business. I felt like John Coffey from that movie The Green Mile, taking that long walk to the electric chair. But I wasn’t optimistic and laughing about watching Mr. Jingle do his thing in Mouseville. I was riding waves of emotions ranging from fear to bitter acceptance of my fate. The disappointment that I had experienced during the flight had sapped me of my optimism and so I was expecting the worse. If there was blood, so be it. I’ll take it on the chin and try to enjoy the rest of the trip before booking a trip to the doctor once we got home.

Ok, let’s get this over with.

Much to my surprise, everything looked normal.

Are my eyes playing tricks on me!?

Man, I didn’t try to debate it in my mind for long. Relief washed over me and I nearly cried tears of joy. I felt as though I had won the lottery! I could have done cartwheels in that restroom had there been enough space and if I didn’t care about personal hygiene. I cleaned up before strutting back to my seat to re-join my parents, suddenly rejuvenated.

I enjoyed a delicious lunch and dinner that day and slept soundly at night. For the rest of the week we explored various parts of Canada, from small towns to mountains and woodlands and even snow and ice. Trekking around a glacier of solid ice without snow boots on was memorable, my leg strength and balance were definitely tested. Seeing deer, mountain goats and other various animals on the roads was also pretty cool.
We then spent the next week chilling (literally!) in Alaska via cruise ship, where the weather veered between sunshine and rain but always with a persistent cold wind in the air. It was a nice place where lumberjacking and fishing was the life plus the people were nice and laid-back.
We returned the following week back to Canada for a few days to explore the Rocky Mountains by train and then hung around the city of Toronto before flying back home, non-stop (ugh!).

Fishing village in Ketchikan, Alaska

I had a big smile on my face for the duration of that trip. Why? For the remainder of the trip I experienced zero symptoms. That’s right, ZERO! Everything seemed to be normal again and as the days went by I calmed down and really began to enjoy the holiday, no longer troubled by nervous feelings whenever I had to ‘go’.

 ‘See? You were freaking out over nothing. Told you this thing would pass.’

Indeed. I guess that whatever it was that had driven me to insanity was just temporary after all. Life was great again, and more to the point, my sheer strength of will had carried me through. I was really proud of myself and even allowed my ego to come out and play for a bit.

I overcame the beast within. Damn, I’m awesome!

I kept such thoughts to myself but I was grinning from ear-to-ear for the remainder of the trip.

Although the flight home was still every bit as uncomfortable as other long-distance flights from years past my demeanor was far more relaxed. I sat on my seat watching comedy films on the in-flight entertainment, satisfied with my little victory. Everything was good in the world again.

Or so I thought…….

Time to fly home

 

 

 

 

 

If You Don’t Know Me By Now – A Shocking Revelation

A ballad by Simply Red sparked this memory,
Of a time not long after I was just a baby,
Sometimes we must learn things the hard way,
No sugarcoating or soft landing, much to our dismay.

 

It was a typical Saturday morning in the suburbs. The streets, normally chaotic on an average weekday morning, was empty and barren and homes were closed shut while their inhabitants caught up on much-needed sleep, that precious and necessary part of healthy living often taken for granted due to the demands and pressures of working life.
I was very much a member of the weekend sleep-in brigade. I could more than hold my own with the best of them but in my defense I was a four-year old child. The need to get up and make money wouldn’t apply to me for many years to come and my young body needed all the sleep it could get. Saturdays for me were spent in the playroom acting as a one-man instigator of traffic chaos and endless violent car crashes for my toy vehicles and the promoter of some rather crude yet epic battles between Batman, Superman and the other superheroes that resided in my toy box before my younger sister and I summoned our inner Leonardo DaVinci with the playroom walls as our canvas, much to our parents’ chagrin.

Good morning!

I guess you could say that I was your typical playful and spirited child. God I miss that kid!

 

My education was limited at this point to the very basics; the alphabet, counting from one to ten (the number one hundred in my still-limited mind was the biggest number in the world, nigh on impossible to count towards and the end of the numerical system), learning all about shapes, colors and basic grammar, learning how to color in pictures without straying from the lines and all that jazz.
As far as I was concerned, ‘work’ was some mythical place that all adults went to every day, except for my teachers and the parish priest who, for some odd reason, were exempt. I also had an extremely limited grasp of the ageing process and still found it hard to believe that everybody was a child once, too. I believed that all the adults around me never had childhoods and were somehow born as adults.

Nice, huh? Such is the perspective of a young child.

There was also another concept that I still did not completely understand, and that was of life and death. I was aware that people died, that they went to sleep forever before their ghosts headed off to the afterlife or stuck around to play tricks on people. But never in a million years would I have guessed that death was an inevitable part of life that touched everyone.

 

Finding out the truth was a massive blow. And a silly story.

 

We had just finished dinner as a family and afterwards I sat on the living room sofa with my father where I proceeded to bombard him with an endless fuselage of questions in addition to anecdotes about the little adventures that my sister and I got up to in the play room during the day. My mother washed dishes in the kitchen while my sister, seated to me, played with her toys, totally uninterested in my conversation with Dad.

Somewhere in between questions and my own brand of storytelling, the subject of one of our deceased relatives found its way into the conversation. Having assaulted him at all angles with my inane chatter the topic of conversation was bound to wind up in a weird place eventually. My father went on to gently explain my late uncle’s cause of death, eschewing the graphic details in favor of keeping it short and concise. I don’t remember my follow-up question word-for-word but it did involve being amazed that so many ‘famous people’ were dead and wondering if it would happen to me. Like I said, I didn’t think of death as inevitable and was hopeful that I would be spared from it. It probably would have been better for me not to dig too deep but alas, youthful curiosity killed the damn cat and then some.
I’m pretty sure that my father was dreading the day that he would have to explain this to me but knew that it would happen eventually. There was no easy way to do it, so he opted for keeping it honest and and straight to the point.
“Everybody dies, Son,” he replied, “It’s a part of life.”
My eyes widened with disbelief.
“So does that mean you and Mom will die?”
“Yes.”
Wide eyes were now accompanied by a knot in my throat.
“Does that mean me and my sister will die!?”
“Yes.”
Sensing the fear on my face he added, “but not for a long time if you’re careful.”
Yeah, that didn’t help at all. Me and my big mouth!

 

Once my mother had finished up in the kitchen we as a family climbed upstairs where the sprawling bedroom and play room were located. Man, I can still remember that bedroom, it was the biggest room in the home and housed two beds. My sister and I slept on the bigger bed while my parents shared a bed nearby. A television set sat in front of the room, next to the wardrobe. A massive shelf along one of the walls housed photo albums, books, my parents’ cassette collection (it was the 1980’s, baby! Retro, huh?) and one of those old-school stereos that you would often see in early 1990s hip hop music videos.

Our parents helped us wash up before bedtime. My sister promptly fell asleep but I stayed awake for a while, still reeling from the conversation that I had with my father. As my parents laughed intermittently at the TV program they were watching, I reflected on the concept of death and how one day it would come for me. I was still in disbelief when I finally nodded off.

 

I would be dead one day, just like the others, huh? Wonderful.

 

But it was an important and necessary thing to learn, I guess. Had to happen sooner or later.

 

 

 

 

The Wonder Of You – The diagnosis

‘The Wonder of you,’ recorded and covered by many,
But made famous by some guy called Elvis Presley,
The Conor O’Brien version is the focus for this entry,
Though the story is anything but rosy,
So read on, my friend, and you will see,
The toughest battle of my 2018.

 

August 6, 2018

I sat on the queen-sized bed in my parents’ bedroom, trying to make sense of it all without giving in to my emotions. It was easier said than done, as I had felt as though I was kicked hard in the guts and was now trying to resist the urge to regurgitate what little food was inside of me.
I tried the good ol’ ‘take deep breaths’ routine, hoping that it would restore my sanity. It’s a tried and tested method that worked in the past, surely it would bail me out again, right?

Wrong.

Stay strong, kid. Don’t cry!

The room smelled like a typical older person’s room, that mixture of linen sheets, vicks vapor rub, lotions and soaps, the type of atmosphere that invites calm and serenity. The blinds were almost lowered shut, rendering the room rather dark and gloomy in stark contrast to the sunshine outside.
The darkness matched my mood, however. As for that calming atmosphere? Forget it. The cacophony of emotions within had overcome all but the sturdiest chunks of my armor and even those were beginning to disintegrate.

Earlier during the day I had undergone a colonoscopy following months of worsening symptoms, culminating in a short hospital stay during the previous week. Call it insanity or perhaps complete denial, but despite the health dramas I was hopeful that there was nothing seriously wrong with me. Whatever it was, I thought it could be healed quickly and painlessly and I’d be good as new again in a matter of days or weeks at most. I’d never had any serious health issues before and I felt that this would be no different.
Shoot, I even exchanged jokes with the specialist and his team as I was escorted to the large screening room that would seal my fate, populated with hospital beds and viewing monitors and the walls painted an austere white. In such a serious atmosphere I guess I wanted to lighten the mood a little and it kinda worked, I did get a few chuckles out of my lame jokes. Wearing nothing but a hospital gown and plastic covering my head and feet, I was quite a sight yet totally prepared for what lay ahead.

 

No turning back, it’s go time!

 

While I felt a sense of excitement at finally knowing what it was that was causing me grief, I was understandably nervous. I’d never needed to undergo any medical procedure that involved me being knocked out before so this was all new to me. Nevertheless, I climbed onto one of the beds in that all-white room and lay on my side as the anesthesiologist began to pump drugs through a tube stuck through a vein in my right hand. Before he pumped the drugs I jokingly asked him if I would feel pain. He smiled and reassured me that I wouldn’t feel a thing and that it would all be over before I knew it. He was right. I drifted off almost immediately once the anesthesia kicked in.

I woke up feeling disoriented and hungry, the result of not having had anything to eat or drink since the previous day. I’d never been hungover before but I assumed that it probably felt something like this minus the throbbing headache, nausea and regret. I was escorted into a recovery room for a light meal, which I proceeded to devour while a large television screen in the front of the room flashed the morning news. Not that any of my fellow patients noticed as they were busy eating and/or still trying to shake off their own drug-induced sleep. I felt relieved and liberated that it was over and I’d finally learn what was wrong with me.

I was halfway through my meal when the specialist approached me to give his diagnosis.

“You have a form of ulcerative colitis known as severe pancolitis,” he said solemnly.

In an instant, the confidence I had prior to the procedure was shattered and I felt my blood turn to ice. I suddenly lost my appetite although I still went on to finish my meal. So much for positive thinking, the doc couldn’t have hurt me more had he taken a sledgehammer and smacked me upside the head with it. Once I had finished my meal I was reunited with my parents, who had taken the day off their respective jobs to drive me to and from the clinic. We bought the drugs prescribed for me at the chemist before the drive home.

 

I was pretty much numb during the drive home, answering all of my parents’ questions in short sentences and frantically looking up my diagnosis on goggle on my phone, which in hindsight wasn’t the best idea as it only exacerbated the anxiety and disbelief that I was feeling. I read up on pancolitis and the lifestyle adjustments I might need to make and let me tell you, it was both horrifying and depressing.
And to top it off, there was no cure for this and my chances of developing bowel cancer in later life had shot up. Unless some medical breakthrough happens, this shit was a damn life sentence unless I undergo a surgical procedure to remove my bowel.

 

To quote a certain tennis great, “You CANNOT be serious!!!!”

 

Which brings us back to where this whole story began. Upon arriving home, I went into my parents’ room (it was the closest bedroom to the front door and I was too sickened and wrecked to wander far in order to find a place to rest) and sat on that bed trying to figure out how to move on from this mess. I had great difficulty accepting that this health condition could be with me for the rest of my life unless I resorted to extremely drastic measures. And like I said, my chances of developing bowel cancer had increased.
But what really drove me up the wall was the fact that someone like me, healthy as a horse and with no family history of this shit, could even come down with it in the first place. It’s almost as though I got this shit through sheer bad luck. The thought made me so mad and so sad at the same time! It was, indeed, very difficult to comprehend.

“You have ulcerative colitis,” the specialist’s voice rang in my mind, “the cause is unknown and there is currently no cure other than to place it in remission or to remove your bowel if remission is impossible.”

“This could stay with you for the rest of your life.”

I might as well had been one of those poor bastards standing in the courtroom before a judge and jury of my peers dressed in orange, hands cuffed as the judge slugged me with a life sentence for a crime I didn’t commit.
It all became too overwhelming and I felt tears of frustration and anxiety roll down my face. Even the hardiest of rock formations can be overcome by torrents of raging waters and in this case, my hardened exterior was eventually obliterated by the flood of emotions that I could no longer contain. So there I sat, crying my eyes out like some sort of chump. The taste of defeat was, indeed, extremely bitter.

My moment of torment was interrupted by the presence of my mother, who had entered her room to change into her pyjamas. I’d venture that she was mildly surprised to see her grown up son sitting on her bed blubbering like a baby and likewise it felt rather embarrassing and awkward for me that she had to witness it.
My pride wouldn’t allow me to say it out loud (yet here I am admitting it online, how about that?) but her presence was a Godsend. Yeah yeah, go ahead and call me egotistical but at the state that I was in it was the last shred of dignity and so-called masculinity that I had left to cling onto. I really needed someone beside me right then to pull me out of the hole I had fallen into and who better than my own parent?
And so my mom sat down beside me and we had one of those heart-to-hearts, during which she went on a motherly lecture about how she and the family would always have my back and that I had to fight on and all that. She ended her sermon with the following words;

 

“Move on from the past and have faith that life can only get better.”

 

With that, she left the room to give me some time to absorb her words. As clichéd as her talk may have seemed at times, it worked. A fire was suddenly lit within me, the tears dried up and I felt as though I’d seen the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. I immediately stopped weeping and looked out the window at the sunshine outside, suddenly rejuvenated. I recalled the words of one of my favorite film characters, Rocky Balboa;

 

‘It aint about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!’

 

And with that I picked myself up off the bed, walked out of the bedroom and into the kitchen for a meal; banana, oatmeal and two boiled eggs, a late breakfast you could say. Don’t forget, I hadn’t had a decent meal since the previous day and the light meal I had after the colonoscopy wasn’t exactly filling.
Unlike my parents’ bedroom the kitchen blinds were open, allowing the sunlight and warm air to put some color and warmth into the room, a reflection of my suddenly-motivated state of mind. The sunlight shone directly into the window and I felt the rays on my skin as I sat by eating, and on this rather cold winter day it was refreshing.
The refrigerator in the kitchen, conspicuous with the collage of fridge magnets plastered onto it, was also in the path of the sunlight and I stared at my mother’s fridge magnet collection, each taken from different parts of the world we had visited, as I ate. Up to now I am still amazed at the number of places that we, as a family, had visited, both at home and abroad.

As I chewed my food I imagined myself inside a boxing ring, my hands encased in red Everlast gloves and wearing bright, still-glossy blue trunks, standing in a neutral corner while the referee hovered over the crumpled form of my opponent, the letters ‘UC’ emblazoned on his once-white trunks, now rendered pink from the blood that leaked freely from his nose and lips. He lay on the canvas barely conscious after having absorbed my final multi-punch salvo that sent him spinning downwards. The referee need not have counted to ten over him, such was the state he was in.
My chest heaved as I stood in my corner. I took a few licks in the heat of battle but escaped relatively unmarked and my heart pounded as I waited for the adrenaline to die down.

“Stay down, dude,” I silently pleaded to my comatose opponent, “stay the fuck down!”

I watched as the referee completed his count and once he waved his arms I leaped triumphantly in the air, my arms aloft, a guttural roar escaping my throat as the audience roared back in appreciation. I then fell to my knees as tears flowed down my face, the adrenaline having given way to emotion. It was of no consequence to me, I had just vanquished some mean monster that was supposed to beat me into submission. I was written off by just about every ‘expert’ out there and believe me, the victory was sweeter than a box of chocolates. I sat there on the canvas, savoring my unexpected victory as the crowd chanted my name.

I snapped back to reality as I followed up my meal with a glass of water accompanied by a couple of those pills prescribed for me to combat my disease. The hopeless, sobbing mess from half an hour ago was long gone, replaced by a determined young man prepared for war. To hell with that whole, doom and gloom bullshit. I was gonna show the lot of them that there was no way in hell this damn disease was going to beat me.

 

Bring it on!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello world!

Hi, everyone and welcome to Musical Memories.

I’m just a normal guy that likes reading, writing, working out and, of course, listening to music.

I am also battling ulcerative colitis, which, at the time of this writing, I was diagnosed with three months ago. The main story line looks at that health battle, the highs, the lows, the lot.
Other posts are based (sometimes loosely) on my past experiences, as well as a few short stories and poems that I’ve come up with. Music usually has a way of drumming up memories and inspiring me to write. Totally gets the creative juices flowing.

Mind you, some of these posts might be the complete opposite of the tone and message of the particular song chosen and so I’ve included a brief intro at the top of each post as to how that song compelled me to write the blog post.

So sit back, relax and read on!

 

Note: Apologies for the coarse language in some posts but I wanted to keep these posts honest and straight-from-the-heart. Stories based on true events have had some names changed to keep people anonymous and events slightly altered based on how much I can recall.