I’m scared of flying – everyone knows this, including lots of innocent passengers I’ve scared alone the way!
One outrageous occasion that springs to mind was when flying to holiday in the Greek islands. On this occasion, I decided to bolt it to the front of the plane screaming that I wanted to get off 10 seconds after take off . As other passengers nervously looked at me, I was then calmly wrestled to the floor by a very experience stewardess who preceded to give me her seat followed by a large G&T. As I was gasping for breath, she very cleverly realised that my panic stemmed from simply not being in control. As a result she took the brave decision (before cockpit lockdown era) to stick me in with the captain for the next 3 hours! I was given headphones to listen to ground control and was charmed by the cheesy chat of the Greek pilots who preceded to tell me all about the islands including the best nightspots as we flew over them!
Landing into Santorini at nighttime was simply beautiful, and as we came down I kept thinking – ‘wow this is incredible i need to learn to fly a plane!’ Whilst this hasn’t cured my fear of flying, it certainly means I maybe need one less whisky at 6am to actually get on the plane! Oh apart from the mid-air loss of cabin pressure (see above picture) 6 months ago!
Everyone has a little bit of madness inside them. Some might argue I was given a slightly larger dose than others – I don’t disagree. Whilst it’s the madness inside that rally’s our fire and zest for life, it can, at times, take over and cross the line! Ive recently learnt, that it’s not only flying that rials me, but hospitals too, are a breeding ground for this crazy spark!
I was booked in for an anterior resection at King Edward V11 hospital in Marylebone, during the first week of January to remove my tumour. I knew I was in for a week stay, the operation would be around 5 hours long, David Mellville (the surgeon), and I had agreed on an open surgery, I would be in high dependency for a while afterwards and would likely need a stoma.
After initial registration I met with a wonderful stoma nurse called Becky from St Marks who reassured me that waking up with a stoma would not put an end to tight dresses and nice (albeit mismatching!) underwear.
Despite my overwhelming fear inside that made me want to bolt it out the front door, I calmly kissed my husband goodbye and walked to the operating theatre.
I had a very kind anesitist who managed my operation so well that all my fears of going to sleep and waking up in panic disappeared with his magic drugs, and not to mention the fact that they changed the operating order so I could go first.
I woke up 5 hours later and my first question was if I had a stoma. Despite having a rectal tumour I was very lucky (with the skill of my surgeon) not to have a bag and with a few extra shots of morphine I was greeted onto high dependency (in the ‘Royal’ room no less!) by the operating team and my husband who were pleased with the way the operation went.
The scary thing about operations is waking up with lots of leads and drains monitoring your body – you feel like you have become a robot and everyone has become obsessed with the amount you wee! Despite morphine which made me spin, whirl, smile and not sleep (typical me), I could not relax. By day 2 the ‘inner madness’ in me lost the plot when they removed my central line, and it took 3 doctors to convince me I did not in fact have a hole in my neck (no joke, but I blame the drugs for playing with my mind!). By day 4, two of my best friends and family were rightly concerned about my lack of sleep for 3 days that meant, by my own admission, I was going a little insane – although my make up was covering it well! It was at this point that my surgeon with his excellent emotional intelligence, recognising that I just wanted to be home asked me what I wanted to do. To that I replied that I was fed up with jelly and just wanted mash potato and red wine! ‘Of course you can have that’ he exclaimed and with that said ‘for your own good I’m sending you home!’ Unfortunately this was delayed by 24 hours due to my spectacular vomit all over a wonderful nurse!
Don’t get me wrong, the hospital was brilliant, I had a new found appreciation for how hard everyone works in healthcare. When, for the 10th time in a row at 3am, I needed my bed changing because my bowel simply can not control itself, or me deliriously pressing my buzzer just to slur “I don’t think these sleeping tablets are working”, as I drift in and out of sleep, or as I lie on my drip and make it beep for the 20th time that hour – it’s all seen to with a calm caring smile that doesn’t show how stressed they possibly are.
If you find it difficult to let someone else be in control, finding a surgeon to slice you open and ensure you come out in once piece is a challenge! I trusted David from day one, clearly experienced, passionate about doing a good job and with a human touch that can’t be learnt. When I met him he told me something he tells trainee doctors -“if the treatment you are giving the patient is different to what you would give the royal family and you wouldn’t recommended it for your daughter – then why are you suggesting it for this person? He told me he’d treat me like a daughter and that he did. He walked into the hospital one morning to see me crying at 7am because I hadn’t slept for the 3rd night and he looked genuinely concerned. He proudly paraded me around the hospital 2 days after the operation to show me historical photographs as we discussed our favourite opera, and he still made it across London to me at 9pm one night because the tube strike meant it took him 2 hours to reach me. I felt that he did this all with genuine compassion to ensure that I, like all his patients were ok – that he’d done his best. I asked him one day If he was medically worried about me, he told me from the heart that he worries about all his patients – I know this to be true.
I have to be honest that this threw me more than the initial diagnosis. You get your head around the idea that you ‘may’ have cancer, tests seem to point to ‘no spread’, and the operation goes well. In everyone’s mind this was an early cancer – treatable by surgery alone. I was planning on being back at work in a few weeks, with this brushed under the carpet as a ‘little blip in the road’. I hadn’t even ‘googled’ chemotherapy for Bowel cancer (unlike me!) because I was so convinced that I wouldn’t need it.
Having agreed on a referral to a oncologist known as ‘the best in the business’ at the Marsden, I walk out of hospital numb again knowing full well that my journey was only just starting. I thought I’d used every ounce of my strength and grit that people talk about to get me to this point.
That night, I grabbed both my wonderful children and held them tightly until we drifted off realising this was just ‘one more step’ along the road I must go.
(Note to reader: I’m currently writing this retrospective blog at 40,000ft in the air, am rationalising my fear of flying by telling myself, ‘I’m more likely to die of my cancer than on this plane’. As I take another gulp of my G&T I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry!!)