I’m back home after a week-long spell in the Royal London Hospital recovering from seven hours of surgery on my lower spine. The experience proved arduous, as grueling as it sounds, but the good news is that I’ve survived and should draw tangible benefit from it.
What happened was that the revlimid therapy which I had been taking for more than a year – and whose exorbitant expense I had written about – became ineffective, and as a result the myeloma lesion on my spine became active and angry. The pain running up and down the left side was doing me in and I was losing the use of my legs. Although there were risks and difficulties involved with the surgery, it did at least offer the possibility of getting to another period of relative stability and mobility and was therefore worth the effort.
As best I can ascertain, what the surgeons did was to cut into my lower back to excise most of the lesion (a tumorous mass protruding from the spinal marrow, which is the site of myeloma activity), thereby freeing the major nerve from painful impediment. At the same time they did some restorative work on the weakened vertebra, shoring me up with titanium screws and bits of my own nerve and bone fabric. Although the whole area is now sore in the extreme, that devilish left-side stabbing pain which was driving me over the edge has gone. A welcome relief in itself.
I now have at least the prospect of a future where I can live, write, contribute, enjoy. How long that might last no one knows. Prognosis-wise, I’ve long since sailed off the myeloma charts. That’s an awkward reality that poses tricky questions of perspective and priority, but today’s not the day for dealing with any of those. Today’s for watching the Test match in combination with a hefty dose of prescribed pain relief. A cocktail of cricket and oxycodone should do nicely for the time being.
Friends will not be surprised to find me using this whole experience, trying as it’s been, as another occasion to praise the NHS and the lost gods of British social democracy.
For readers in the US, India and elsewhere, let me explain that I’ve just received entirely free of charge and without so much as an invoice, claim form or bill, a week’s comprehensive hospital treatment, including all food, a mountain of medications, specialist services from nurses, pharmacists, doctors, occupational and physical therapists, pain consultants, 24-hour High Dependency Unit special bed, not to mention the surgery itself and the variety of staff involved in that complex exercise. And all I was ever asked to do was sign a consent form for the surgery acknowledging the usual risks.
As far as my experience as an individual patient was concered, this treatment took place entirely outside the allegedly inescapable ‘cash nexus’, without any reference to the market imperatives that govern most of our lives. To receive it, I was not required to dance the capitalist dance, merely to be a human in need. And it turns out society was perfectly able to afford me this right without falling apart.
Sometimes what seems utopian is really just within our reach, a simple practicality, if only we’re prepared to grasp it.
July 28 2014