Shocked to be Here Still

In 2017 my younger sister died of cancer at 57. She realised she was unwell at the beginning of the year, and by July, her journey had ended.

So, early in 2018, I thought it would be prudent to bother my GP with my own concerns. As a man then approaching sixty, my prostate was causing concern, and noticing a lump under my ribs, too, I assumed that I would be following Lesley fairly soon.

Around the time I called the doctor, I’d had a headache for three weeks. In the days prior to the call, I’d had a strange tingle, like a tiny electric shock in both shoulders at once.

Mention of the latter ensured an immediate trip to the GP. My blood pressure was extremely high, but the ECG seemed OK. With hindsight, I realise I’d probably had a heart attack in the preceding days.

On the basis of my recent loss, my own GP was sensitive to my worries. Although my PSA was high, the prostate felt ‘OK’, and she couldn’t feel the lump. However, I was referred to a urology consultant.

In the week of my 60th birthday, I had a prostate biopsy and an ultrasound on the lump. My urology consultant was confident that the prostate, though very large, was healthy. She did find the lump, so arranged both tests to put my mind at rest.

A week or so later, you know, when the news isn’t good because there are a lot of people in the room, I was diagnosed with low-grade (non-life limiting) prostate cancer. The lump turned out to be gallstones which was a relief.

By this time, my blood pressure medication was starting to work. I was put on a PSA tracker to monitor the prostate, and gallbladder removal was recommended.


aerial ocean shot
Photo by sergio souza on

In early 2019, I had a serious cycling accident, a head injury, stitches in my mouth and a haematoma on my shin that went very bad. Although I was visiting the local hospital far too frequently, a friend implored me to get the gallbladder removed. 

I’d hoped for a better run of luck to follow, not realising the world was about to go into Lockdown.

Previously I’d been a regular swimmer, I’d even managed the Dart 10K river swim a couple of times. Towards the end of Lockdown, I’d been getting very tired and had started to get odd visual disturbances when doing things like mowing the lawn. 

On August 3rd 2021, I went for a quick mid-afternoon swim at my local David Lloyd. Using the outdoor pool because the indoor one was closed, I did a quick 1K. Normally, my swims were longer. I noticed a tiny tingle in my shoulders but assumed it was due to the cold wind. Following the swim, I sat in the sauna with two other people.

I came to by the edge of the main pool with the sound of a paramedic calling my name and urging me not to try and stand up. A group of people from David Lloyd stood around me, mostly looking ready to cry. There were five paramedics, three from the local Air Ambulance who’d actually driven down.

I realised ‘something else’ had happened and turned into a sweary ungrateful man growing increasingly embarrassed by his lack of clothing!

Damp Speedos

I now know that, fortunately, the two people had still been in the sauna and were alerted by my agonal breathing. Two of the DL staff had managed to get me out, I’m about 17 stone and 6’1”, so take some lifting. Archie, a nineteen-year-old lifeguard, started CPR immediately, 90 compressions – “You’re a lot bigger than the training dummies.”

Jess and Lou, again young people, delivered the single defib shock, one was enough, and Archie did a further 15 compressions. Other team members offered to take over from Archie, but “I could have pushed for a lifetime” was his memory. My downtime was probably as low as four minutes.

My GCS was pretty good, I knew about this from the cycle accident, but I couldn’t remember my partner Karin’s phone number. I knew the ambulance would pass our house on the way to hospital and lobbied to drop by and collect her; they declined.

Damp Speedos in a Cath-Lab are fun, but by early evening I’d had two stents inserted. Three days later, I broke free of the hospital and went for a walk.

Life After

The early days were really scary, but I attempted some work in my photography studio in the first week. Afternoons were lost to fatigue for months. The pain from the CPR was massive, but within a month, I (we) went for a gentle sea swim. My shoulder was frozen, and I subsequently learnt that swimming was to be avoided because my MET score was poor.

In 2022 we visited Madrid, Rome, Paris, and Berlin, as well as London. I don’t really walk in the countryside, but we were doing 10-14K per day in the cities, Madrid was about 40º at the time too. The hills in Rome were alarming, but I now know not to stop walking at the top of them!

My greatest worry was neurological damage, I feel I’ve been unbelievably lucky to have been attended to so well and so quickly. Sometimes now, I don’t deal well with bright light well and odd aspects of my memory are very marginal; it was never great, though.

10-20 years

It’s now May 2023.

About a week ago, I had a TURP operation on my prostate, “Don’t even think about going private”, was the advice from my consultant. “We need all hands on deck with you!” 

Benchmarking is difficult.

On December 21, when I was told about the need for prostate surgery, I was in a post-Lockdown near-empty hospital. I was also experiencing serious ectopics and frankly thought, ‘if I collapse here, I won’t be found in time.’

Last week, after the operation, I chose to stop the prostate medications. The consultant warned that I might need more surgery in 10-20 years.

10-20 years would be good, I thought.

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