Hard to swallow

Following the discovery of pre-cancerous cells in my oesophagus, two appointments were made for me at Southampton General Hospital.

The first was for a barium swallow. This would show whether there was a pouch or some other form of obstruction in the upper part of my oesophagus and seemed a fairly simple and straightforward procedure. As always, I was early for my appointment and was taken in almost immediately by a young nurse or clinician. I can’t remember exactly how she described herself. She took me into the room where the procedure was take place and introduced me to the two young men who were already inside.

“When are the grown-ups coming?” I asked. Rude I know but I just blurted it out. They were all so young and looked to me like they should be on work experience schemes. But no, these were fully trained and experienced and fortunately, good humoured.

The barium swallow involved me eating a coated “marshmallow”. Simple you might think. Well, I have never been a fan of marshmallows and this one I had to chew and then swallow at precise moments when instructed to do so, for the purpose of imaging. The coating on the marshmallow was, I believe, obtained by taking it outside, dropping it on the ground and collecting dirt and grit and whatever else might cling to it. It felt like I was chewing soggy sandpaper.

The imaging was to take place while I balanced on a platform which was rotated while I was told to adopt various poses and at intervals given the instruction, “swallow”. Easier said than done. The whole point of me being there was because I had difficulty swallowing. The irony of the fact that I was being asked to swallow the least edible item, possibly, of my entire life, was not lost on me. I began to chuckle, which made swallowing even more difficult. Some banter was exchanged between me and the guy operating the equipment. I had to remind him that he should concentrate on his job and leave the jokes to me.

Eventually, I was able to swallow all of the concrete flavoured marshmallow and the ordeal was over. Soon after, I received the news that nothing was revealed by the procedure. Sometimes nothing is good.

Shortly afterwards I was given an appointment for another Gastroscopy during which the pre-cancerous cells would be removed. I would have to be sedated for this one, which meant I would be unable to drive home and would need to be looked after for the night.

My daughter Melanie volunteered but in order to save her from hanging around, potentially for hours, I said I would make my own way in and she could collect me later. Well, although it was before lockdown, I was already taking precautions to avoid the coronavirus. I had stopped going to the gym and was doing all of my shopping online. except for one trip to Portsmouth to buy some new running shoes. As difficult as I find it these days to run on hard surfaces, I have to ensure I get as much exercise as possible. I digress. I broke my new running shoes in by walking the 8 kilometres from home to the General Hospital. I did not want to risk getting Covid-19 through using buses or taxis.

On arrival at the hospital I was taken through various checks and was delighted to find out that the oximeter showed 100% take up. It’s worth doing the exercises.

The procedure went by in a blur although I was amazed by the amount of people involved. Although I was not so aware of the scope this time during the procedure, I certainly was afterwards. I had an extremely painful and sore throat and swallowing was even more difficult. Liquids only for a couple of days, although it soon settled down.

It was not long before I got the results of the EMR as it is called. They had removed 90% of the cells but wanted me back soon to remove the remainder, as the cell characteristics were changing. Unfortunately, lockdown was upon us before it could be scheduled and I have been waiting ever since.

Having received two letters advising me of delays, after the second, I phoned the hospital to discuss my situation and when I mentioned my symptoms, I was told to call my GP and ask for an urgent referral for a colonoscopy to investigate for possible colorectal cancer. My GP duly obliged with the referral and I am going in to have both procedures carried out on Monday July 6th. Please don’t let it be both ends at the same time. I had to have a covid-19 test today as I will be admitted for an overnight stay at the hospital.

It’s hard work at times trying to manage one’s health, particularly during a pandemic. Stay Safe!!