What choice would you make for your future?

Two hands making a heart

Just over a year ago I experienced one of those life-changing medical moments that redefine how you think about yourself and what you are doing with your life?  In this post, I set out my experience, what caused my problem, the simple solution to my problem, and the important steps I have taken since to re-balance my life.

Being stoic instead of pro-active!

My wedding anniversary is on 2nd August. Last year it was on a Saturday, and two days later I was due to head off for five weeks holiday. Unfortunately, this time, last year, I could not swallow, food or drink, for two days before and on my anniversary. In fact, the night of my wedding anniversary, I went out for a meal with family, my son and his wife and my youngest sister and brother and their partners.

They had an excellent meal. I couldn’t eat or drink a thing. I suffered in silence, as this was a regular occurrence with me and had been for some years. Mind you, I’d never had a bout quite so severe, but I knew it would pass.

Listening to people’s advice and concern

Throughout the meal, everyone shared their concern with my situation. My sister and brother were adamant that I should visit Accident and Emergency, knowing that this event was way more than normal for me. I said I would think about it.

I woke the following day, and my condition had eased. I was able to eat breakfast and drink my morning tea. However, my wife was keen for me to go still to the hospital and get checked over. We decided maybe that would be for the best, so we left home at 09:15 and arrived back home just around 13:30.

When your world stops spinning

The staff at the hospital Accident and Emergency were very thorough, despite me feeling a bit of a fraud as my throat had cleared. They clearly explained what would happen. The nurse triaged me, gave me a muscle relaxant, sent me for X-ray, and they took blood samples. Eventually, I saw the duty ENT specialist. That’s when things went haywire!

When a clinician mentions the word TUMOUR and CANCER in his assessment of your problem, your world suddenly stops spinning. My heart lurched, and my mind began performing high-speed cartwheels. I had a simple issue; this was not life threatening, surely?

The good news and the bad news

His advice was to have my condition properly assessed straight away. I would require an endoscopy examination. The good news was I was guaranteed an appointment within two weeks. The bad news, I was meant to be going on holiday the following day.

The doctor said it would probably be OK to have it checked out on my return, but, as my clinician, he advised getting it seen to straight away. I walked out of the hospital with my mind in a total spin!

What to do next?

My wife and I discussed the situation endlessly on our drive home. She was keen to do what was best for me. I was eager to go on holiday and get things looked at on my return. I eventually persuaded her that this was the best course of action.

I didn’t count on the intervention of my family. My sister and brother both arrived in quick succession at our house, as I was packing to go on holiday. After some rather lively conversation, I changed my mind. I would head to my doctor the next day and set the referral in motion for a more thorough examination of my condition.

What was it?

Two weeks, two endoscopies, and a CT scan later, I was diagnosed with Barrett’s Oesophagus, and a hiatus hernia in my diaphragm, which was exacerbating the problem. The condition is an irritation of the lower oesophagus caused, in my case, by years of acid reflux. The examination also revealed some diverticula in my throat, which was occasionally trapping food particles, and hence the problem with swallowing.

Fortunately, the diverticula were biopsied and found to be benign. The doctor also started me on a drug to control the acid reflux, known as Omeprazole, and it has changed my life. Then I was given the all clear by the medical team and my insurers to being my holiday. Feeling immense relief,  my wife and I flew out the next afternoon and had a fabulous three weeks abroad!

So, what did I learn?

Then, and now a year on, my reflection remains steadfast. Your choice for the future must be to maintain your health, whatever the consequences. You must do this for your sake, as well as for those you love and who love you. All else fades into insignificance.

For years I had put up with the acid reflux, instead of having it investigated. The reason, when I thought honestly about it, was simple. In 2000, I’d had an endoscopy, which was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life. I knew if I wished to investigate the acid reflux, I’d have to have another endoscopy. I did not want to repeat that unpleasantness. Hence, I put up with regular problems, like not swallowing properly from time to time, for years! How utterly stupid of me!

What do you need to do now?

So, for those of you who think you are way too busy to deal with trivial, health-related stuff like I did for years, my advice is simple. Deal with it, now! Don’t put it off for whatever reason. A simply misconstrued perception caused my years of suffering. I dealt with it stoically instead of proactively. It took someone mentioning the C-word to make me stop and think. It took the love and concern of people dear to me to tip me over the edge into proactivity.

Thinking back, I didn’t realise just how powerful my misconceptions were. I had two endoscopies in less than ten days, plus a CT scan. They were a breeze! Why? Because in 15 years, techniques, technology and procedures have all vastly improved. The endoscopy no longer felt like swallowing a garden hose. They even gave me still photographs of what they discovered inside my throat. Their understanding of my issues was amazing.

How I re-balanced my life

I read the quote above recently, and it helped me to understand why I’d behaved the way I did for so many years. The truth of my particular situation proved not to be as I perceived it. The world fifteen years on from 2000 is a very different place. In fact, it is a very different place year on year, as the pace of modern technology, the digital age, and medical advancement marches on.

Now I don’t ignore the signals my body gives me. I take my medication daily, and know when I forget to do so! I don’t allow fear, of perceptions rather than truth, to stand in my way of making strong, sensible decisions. The results have been remarkable. I’ve gone a full year without another non-swallowing episode. It was a regular feature of the previous fifteen years. It is fascinating to reflect on the power of fear and misconceptions!

I almost delayed a very important process for the sake of going on holiday. The reality is I can go on holiday anytime, just like I can work anytime I wish. However, I only have one ME – and it’s important to me and many others that I remain as sound as I possibly can, in mind, body and spirit.

I started a new regime in my life as a consequence of my experience. I have nightly and morning rituals that include meditation, regular exercise, inspirational reading, reflection and gratitude – giving thanks for all that I have. I feel extraordinarily blessed and long may that continue.

So, what about you?

Reading my story, does this make you think about your situation? Do you make the right choices for you and others? Do you make light of matters that maybe are more serious? Do you take out time for you, respond to your body signals, and focus on the important things in your life?

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