LIVING WITHOUT A LIVER
In March I turned bright yellow. This amazed Caroline, my partner, and amused my fellow members at the Fitness Centre. I showed our GP. He was not impressed and, suspecting liver cancer, gave me half an hour to get to Kingston Hospital.
I spent the best part of four weeks in Kingston Hospital. There were aspects of this which made me suspect that a period in a Soviet Gulag would have been preferable but it had its compensations. Many of the nurses were efficient and kindly and this is where I first met Dr See, the hospital’s leading liver consultant, who proved to be a tower of strength during this difficult time. My description of the most alarming symptoms would be met with “Just as I expected” which was most reassuring.
I was given a whirlwind of tests. Numerous MRI’s and cameras shoved where cameras were not made to go. The good news was that this was not cancer but the bad news is that I had apparently no identifiable liver condition. Until an enterprising doctor looked again through the (Portuguese) medical papers that I had circulated. There was a cry of “Eureka” as he spotted Augmentin Duo prescribed, quite correctly, in Faro in January for high blood pressure. This innocuous drug had the very rare effect of stopping my liver from working. Just one of those unlucky things. I asked what the cure was. “There is no cure” they said “You’ll just have to wait and see if the liver starts again” and sent me home.
My liver did not start working. I itched violently all over, my patient partner would plaster me all over with Dermacool. I lost my sense of taste, the idea of food was sickening, I couldn’t eat. Lost two stone, kept going on Complan.
Some toxins, as Dr See explained, not being expelled via the liver, came out through my skin (the itching) and some ascended to my brain. I began to experience hallucinations. Depression set in and I was mentally paralysed, couldn’t move, just flop about on the bed. Existence became quite burdensome, I wanted oblivion, welcomed the idea of death.
It got worse. I descended into a deep blackness that was hell. Don’t ever go there. I don’t know how long this lasted, hour or days. Caroline was a gem, helping me get around when I had to go to the hospital and trying to get me to eat.
Then, wonderfully, my liver began the slow process of recovery. I went through all the same stages in reverse until I was able to live quite a normal existence. I wanted a change of scene so we went to Berlin for a few days. I’d forgotten what a delightful city this can be in the Spring. We went onto Peacock Island on the Wansee, cruised along the Spree and were bowled over by the Nefertiti sculpture in the Neues Museum. When we got home I felt much better.
Now I am virtually recovered. I get very tired and (unaccountably) very nervous. Occasionally I can’t find a word or have difficulty speaking but its all improving. It has been an extraordinary experience, one which, as an 81 year old, is quite beyond anything that I have previously encountered. The family were splendid, visiting and cheering me up, but until now I really couldn’t put the whole episode into words. This may help to explain what was happening. Now my clothes don’t fit, I look as if I had borrowed them from some large friend, but time will sort that out.
I have two wishes now. I wish that nobody else will ever undergo this experience.
I also wish that everyone could have such a kind, generous and thoughtful partner as Caroline is to me. I do not think I would have survived without her.
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