Wednesday, December 5, 2012



Madre, the lake looks cold today.

Driving along the Lakeshore in a self-imposed exile to allow for breathing space and hot heads to cool.

It is almost two years now since I underwent surgery to have my cancerous prostate removed. As the anniversary approaches, and with the all but certain prognosis of permanent disabilities, I am something of an emotional basket-case at times. Especially in the last while.

It has been some time since I posted to this site and much has gone on. And nothing has gone on. Brooke and I have spent much time working on and travelling the boat. The Mary Mary is in Port Severn now and the debilitating  and lengthy Canadian winter is upon us. One of the first snowfalls today, actually. It has stopped now and I’m sitting in a cafe on Queen St., writing a bit and waiting to go to a voice audition around the corner. For an animated series about a baby dinosaur. Sort of tele-tubbies for infant dino-philes, I guess.

The rehabilitation of my prostate area is not going well. There is still dysfunction in all the important areas and it is a constant and dreary drain on my psyche. There is also what seems to be a permanent numbness in a fist-sized chunk of my upper-thigh. I asked the doctor about it at my last post-operative inspection but he had no explanation. Together with the other problems it results in all the usual things you would expect… anxiety, too much drinking, needless arguments and a general malaise that threatens to derail a lot in my life.

(On a side-note, the last time I talked to Dr. Fleshner, he mistakenly thought that I had nerve-replacement type prostate surgery. Whereas actually I had the nerve-‘sparing’ type. Unsuccessfully, apparently. When I mentioned this, he looked dubious and went to consult his records. When he came back he admitted that I was right. An innocent mistake probably, but still…)

I have a lot to be thankful for, of course. Life, a beautiful partner and a boat to float on (sometimes). Still, the other ‘things’ are taking their toll and life isn’t all it should be. Don’t really know what to do about it. Conventional drugs don’t seem to do the trick. At a loss, really.

I suppose if I knew then what I know now and had had a crystal ball, I would have opted for less aggressive treatment. Maybe the radiation route. I don’t know. I was scared at the time and wanted the surest method of eliminating the cancer but…

Well, spilled milk, right?

As the great and wonderful Gilda Radner said… ‘if it’s not one thing it’s another.’ Slowly but surely I am losing teeth. A bridge is going in next week to replace the two in the front that came loose and the one that was pulled beside them. Two and a half hours in the chair next Tuesday. Gotta grin…

Christmas is just around the corner and with it the good and the bad of that particularly anachronistic voyage down memory lane. Remembering the good ones and trying to ensure that this year is one of them.

Brooke and I are having a war of nerves at the moment. As in getting on them. Me getting on hers more, I suspect. She is not physically great herself right now and it looks like the problems that she has been experiencing with pain in her shoulders and arm and occasional dizziness may be down to her having what is called a cervical rib near her neck. That is an ‘extra’ rib that some people are born with that eventually can cause issues as you get older. Anyway, it is treatable with physio but it plays on her much as my problems play on me and that means we occasionally ‘play’ on each other. Since work has been slim for us both we also spend most of our time together. Usually this is fine but, well, you know.

So, a gray day despite the sunshine.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Final Clearance

Well, the final PSA test was taken and the news is in... Undetectable! 

I guess now I have to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I was already writing a bucket list. But now, well, I might actually have to go back to work or something. See, good health has its drawbacks.

Yesterday was Superbowl day and we held our traditional Gumbo Party and a small but stalwart group of friends got together and we laughed a lot and got a little tipsy and ate gumbo and aside from the fact that the Steelers didn't win, well, it was  pretty fine. 

Today is Monday and there's a wet yet feathery snow falling and tomorrow Brooke leaves for a week of touring her show, Trudeau Stories. Having been joined at the hip through circumstance for the last couple of months, it'll be good for her to get out and see the world again. 

I'll be back to talk about the side effect issues and some other interesting things that have arisen during my cancer battle, but for now, everything is very calm. I am starting to regain my sense of self. I am beginning to understand the notion of being a 'survivor' and the responsibility that goes along with it. :-)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Feb. 2 – Grand Hug Day

It had been another sleepless night for Wiarton Willie. He wasn’t worried though. It was always this way for him at this time of year. The world, which usually revolved its way around the sun, was now revolving around him (and his counterparts, located across the northern climes) and he was feeling that feeling in the pit of his stomach that said “Must succeed!”

As a ground hog, Willie was wise to the ways of the world and knew that as many people as held him in high regard, there was another set ever eager for his downfall. “Old wives tale!” they would shout out their windows if it should become known that his mid-winter prediction was wrong. But wasn’t he, Wiarton Willie, the best of them all, with almost 60% accuracy over his illustrious career; far and away the best, even better than Poughkeepsie Pete, his American cousin.

Willie got himself ready in front of the bedroom mirror. He pawed at his head fur, slicking it down with his drool. He stopped for a moment to investigate an area over his ear. Was he losing fur there? It wouldn’t surprise him, what with all this nervous waiting. But he was only 11 after all.

He made his way downstairs and through the kitchen. His wife, Wiarton Wanda and their 2 year old twins, Wendy and Wallace, smiled at him as he took his place near the tunnel entrance.

“We’re proud of you dear,” said Wanda.

The children could barely contain their excitement. “Go get ‘em pop,” Wallace shouted, jumping up and down on all fours, and Wendy made him kneel down for a good-luck kiss.

Willie wrapped his muffler around his neck, winked at them all and ran off into the tunnel. But he stopped just a few feet in, scrambling to a halt with a look of horror on his face. The tunnel was jammed with snow. To a depth of five feet! What was he going to do?

* * *

A couple of hundred kilometres away and slightly to the south, I woke to the sound of this snow, in pellet form, hitting the window. The storm that had been promised had arrived but in an underwhelming fashion given that the media had nicknamed the storm “Snowpocalypse”… I mean, really.

There are maybe 4 or 5 centimetres on the ground. Maybe more was still to come though. It didn’t really matter. I don’t have any concerns about the weather. I am still reeling from the latest in my relatively short but heady trip down cancer lane.

The pathology report came to me yesterday at a meeting at Princess Margaret Hospital. Apparently I’m CANCER FREE!

The offending gland, sliced and diced and cowering on the pathologists table, had yielded up its secrets. No detectable cancer cells in either the surgical margins or in the lymph nodes. “Great news”, Dr. Fleshner had said. In a word, yes. Brooke was on the verge of tears as the relief of the moment flooded over us. I was in much the same state then as I was when he lowered the boom on me some four months ago; dazed but calm and waiting for some explosive emotions to come forward. But it didn’t happen. Still hasn’t really, although I am obviously relieved at the outcome.

There are a few reasons for this emotion delay I figure. One is that, owing to a clerical error when my appointment for February was made last month, I wasn’t properly scheduled for a PSA blood test. I had been wondering how they were going to give me a definitive prognosis if they hadn’t taken blood. Well, of course, they couldn’t. So after I got the good news, gland-wise, I had to go down to blood services for them to do the PSA test. I won’t really know if I’m out of the woods until the results of that test, but Fleshner is pretty certain that it will come back with a 0 rating.

The lab was busy. When we arrived and took a number we were 93 while the counter on the wall read 50. We whiled away the time by filling out a survey that somebody gave me after the meeting with Fleshner. One of the questions on the survey was this… “Do you feel that your illness has interfered in any way with your health?” Sure, I’ll just bet it did, you know? Another question referred to my mental state. “Did you feel any of the following… worry, depression, sadness?” You were to circle one of a range of numbers from 1 (being never) to 7 (being often) reflecting frequency. It seems to me that the question should reflect quality not frequency. I mean which would you rather have… ten instances of mild worry, or one completely debilitating day of inner horror and depression? Still, as I say, it passed the time.

I did the blood thing, returned the survey to the clinic and then we went for breakfast at the Lakeview Lunch. Still no large up swell of emotion. Then we went home and did some phone calls letting friends know the news and then a bit of time online doing the same thing.

Oh yes, the other reasons for confusion of emotion. I am still going to be having the side effect issues. The incontinence and leaking will go on for a time; possibly shorter than most in my case, as control already seems to be coming back. And as for the sexual side of things; Fleshner, erring probably on the side of caution, predicts that it could be as long as a year. A year… He prescribes a course of therapy involving daily doses of Cialis. This seems a lot of Cialis to me but hey, whatever it takes I guess.

Today, I find out that my insurance doesn’t cover this (why on earth it doesn’t is beyond me. It was prescribed for Pete’s sake). The 3 month course he has prescribed will cost over $400. No wonder I get cheesy spam ads sent to me on the internet on a daily basis. I will, of course, bite the bullet on this one, but not before I have it out with AFBS. Although, they wouldn’t even answer my emails when I complained that incontinence products were not covered. I guess they figure I’m just wearing them for fun. It’s a funny old world isn’t it?

Still, here I am, seemingly on the back end of a strange and emotional and totally un-predictable 5 month journey. I will have to be monitored every three months for PSA levels. That will be for a year and then probably 6 month intervals after that. Easy-peasey. It seems that rumours of my demise were pre-emptive. Rumours I started by the way.

I’ll continue to write this blog I think. It’s been good for me. I’ll go on a weekly basis, probably. Setting down the road to healing and what it’s taking in my case. Perhaps some future prostate guys (that I have come to call The Brotherhood of the Gland) can see something there to encourage them on.

Oh yeah, and I have started a team in a fund-raising effort for cancer. We’re going to play in a one-day, dawn-to-dusk Road Hockey tournament. If you’d like to sponsor me or the the team (The Truzzers), you can go to the following website. and look us up. I’ll put it in the links area for you, too.

That’s all for now; stay warm. Grand hugs to all…

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Prelude to Eternity

Well, what to say about the last little few weeks? Here are few tag words for the Google search… Frustrating, Manic, Unnatural, Wet, Funny, Depressing, Angry, Fearful, Hopeful, Confusing, Supported, Encouraged, Desperate and Puppy… Well... everyone likes puppies, right?

New Years was stupid, as it usually is unless you’re out at a party or for dinner with your girl or friends. My girl and I watched the clock turn twelve for a while on City TV until Rob Ford came on stage and, realizing that my cancer was only part of the problem of the year ahead, we shut if off and hugged for a while and then went to our various beds. Sigh.

But what a day or so we had after we got home from the Catheter removal party... I quickly found out what every two-year old knows instinctively. Peeing is not optional. For the first couple of days there is absolutely zero control. Your window of opportunity (unless you want to sit in a plastic bag) between when it vaguely occurs to you that you might need to urinate and when the flow starts is about 7 or 8 seconds. The furthest room in our apartment is about 5 seconds away from the bathroom. Running would get you there in maybe three but running is not an option right now. After the first couple of wild streaks I was honestly thinking about getting them to put the catheter back in. How could I live like this for any length of time? It made me think about what it would be like if I was really old or poor or had no one to help me as I have Brooke. It wouldn’t be worth hanging around if you get my drift.

These have been the darkest days so far. I truly don’t know where I am going with all this. During this time, I have had some emails from friends, or friends of friends, that have gone through it all and have risked re-visiting this gloomy time to give me some words of wisdom and encouragement. Bless them for their concern. Their input has been wonderful. But my tolerance levels have still sunk to minus values. I am angry at everything and this whole stupid, messy business. I am angry that I have to wait to February to find out what new hardships may await or whether I am going to be on my way with life ahead. Everything and everyone pisses me off, even my cats (the poor innocents) and yes, even with my loving Brooke who has done nothing to warrant the petulance or thoughtless self-indulgence that sometimes escape from me.

Is this to be it? Are the rest of my days going to be about piss and pads and worrying about how far it is to the next bathroom? Even if my reports come back negative, can I live out the next twenty or thirty years like this?

Still, there is some funny to be had. Well, come on… you have to laugh sometimes. It’s so absurd. I sink into funks about my process and daily frustrations and then I think about people who really have it bad. Who are living with not just these physical humiliations but with crippling pain and with no hope at all other than stretching out the inevitable.

Just before my operation I had accepted a job to write a humourous presentation for a dental supply company. I am amazed to find that I can still come up with jokes for this group. Well, hey, dentists… it sort of writes itself. Also, returning to the blog-writing helps and as I watch the words flow out onto the screen it helps me step back and see it, if not for what it really is, at least as it might appear to me in a different frame of mind. Maybe I’m writing it to myself for later on. I don’t know. Up and down, up and down.

During the last few weeks we (the showbiz community) have lost at least four people that I know of to cancer. Every time it comes down the pipe, people are reeling. The other day I told Brooke when she got home that our friend Peter Donaldson had succumbed to lung cancer. All she could say was a loud “fuck!” What else can we say? He was a great guy and a really good actor. A week before that Gina Wilkinson, more a friend of Brooke’s than mine, but a well-known and loved actress passed away from cervical cancer. Graham Harley… pancreatic cancer. And there were others in this time, too, that I don’t know but by name.

And hiding in there, too, is that perverse imp that sticks its head out from behind the sorrow and chirps in with “Hey, pal, your chances just went up statistically…” You can’t help yourself…

Your priorities get pretty messed up during this thing. You try to stay focused on the meaningful and what you know to be true and right, but the never-ending, dawn to dusk, in-your-face obscenity of it is that you are treading water.  You are walking on a line that could snap at any moment and send you, as it has so many others, out into the void, where the best that can be said of it is that maybe there will be peace of some kind there.

Me, I’m not ready for that kind of peace right now. I still have some trouble I want to make.

Well, it is January 26th now and next Tuesday (Feb.1) I will be getting some pathology reports. I’ll let you know. In the meantime, the incontinence situation is improving. Doing my Kegel exercises, but not really as many as I should. (Did I tell you about those? You draw all the muscles you can find down in your groin, upwards into your body and hold for 7 or 8 seconds. This hardens the pelvic floor muscles and hastens healing of bladder control supposedly. ) I’ve done a couple of short jobs out in the studios and a couple of weeks ago we even went down to the boat show. For four hours! Mind you, the convention centre has lots of bathrooms. But still, I had the energy to do it and even had fun to a large degree. We do this convention every year and it helps break up the dreary winter. This year was no exception and was especially welcome. My strength is coming back and with it my attitude is mending to some degree. There is still a lot of fear and doubt and I go through periods where the worry of it is hard to dodge. Sleep is difficult and even though Brooke has been brought back from sun-room exile, I still have to get up in the night and find my way there sometimes to stem the sleeplessness. 

The day after I had the catheter out, we had a sort of drop-in for a few friends and family. I was sort of worried that this was too close to the procedure, especially given the frantic nature of bathroom needs, but it turned out okay and nobody got pissed off… on...

We have had a couple of people over since then too, for tea or dinner and each visit is positive and although I dread it beforehand, by the time it is over I am glad it has happened and get a charge out of it. So…maybe things are getting normalized to some point. I don’t like to get ahead of myself though. There’s still February One to get through.

Yesterday my friend, Mike Davidson, contacted me as he had heard about my condition.  He, too, had some issues in the last half of last year. He found an 8cm tumour growing inwards from his sternum. They had to cut this away and repair the 'palm-sized' hole in his chest with wire and bone plaster. This they did and despite the painful procedure he's doing okay now with zero margin issues. (Margin issues, as I understand it, is a situation where the cancer has lingered in the area where the offending tissue has been removed. In my case, for instance, where the prostate was connected to the surrounding tissue. This is the most likely problem spot.) What a year.

I am including in this post a rather revealing photograph of my surgery area so you can get an idea of what's what with regard to where the entry port in to the inner realm that is Adrian, actually is.
A readers guide to Adrian's guts

Today (January 29) I had a coffee with Rob Hawk, he of the Thyroid Cancer, and he is now 5 years clear and next Friday heads to New Orleans to celebrate. See... New Orleans... that's what you have to do. It was cold today and kind of bleak, but I had an early audition for an animated movie out of Mexico and then Rob and I met up to exchange thoughts about this whole wacky cancer thing. It's good to talk about everything, especially with someone who's been there and I appreciated it. Not unlike my conversations with Ben Campbell and John McFadyen, both of whom have had Prostate Cancer and are surviving nicely.  So be encouraged, you of the League of Rotting Glands. There's light up ahead.

See you after February the First. Either way...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Merry Catheter!

The Twelve Days of Catheter. (December 17 – 29, 2010)

Okay, so the diagnosis happened, the pre-op happened, then surgery happened and now… The Catheter Days. This may be the too-much-information post that you’ve been dreading so beware…

I must say, right from the outset, that now those days are behind me and like so many other things connected with medical procedures… the anticipation was worse than the reality. (In some ways)

Ask any man what he would think about having a hose running from his bladder, down his urethra and out through his penis into a sack and the likelihood is that you wouldn’t even get a response. He would most likely be waving his hands up and down and possibly gagging as he tried to get you to stop talking about it. This was the case with me after I found out that the catheter was going to be an inevitable result of prostate surgery. And that the catheter would remain, in my case, from Dec. 16th until its removal on the 29th.

The good news is that the catheter is put in while you’re unconscious. The bad news is that it comes out when you’re not. In between, the situation varies.

On the First Day of Catheter, as I stated in my last blog, upon arriving home we found out immediately that blood clots were going to be a factor. They are the beavers of the blood stream and can dam you up very well. The clots can either be quite old and may have lived in your bladder for some time, or they can come from the bleeding that results from the surgery, where they have re-attached the urethra (that used to run through the prostate) back to the bladder. Judging by the bright red, Christmassy kind of colour mine were, I believe they were new. Blood clots can also bring on a pain that you never knew was possible… bladder spasms.

Chances are that if you have spasms during your hospital stay you will probably have them at home. Of course, as in my case, not having them in hospital doesn’t mean you won’t have them at home.

The daily process is thus… Before bed I attach the night-bag (a hefty, large volume bag) to the outlet spigot on my catheter hose. This bag sits on the floor by my bed and I am pretty much relegated to sleeping on my back. (Brooke has been relegated to sleeping on the sun-room bed for the duration of the catheter days, as much for her own safety as mine. Having said that, it would mostly be my hard luck if a sudden turn at night yanked the hose out... In the morning I make my way to the bathroom with the hose and bag and then switch over to the smaller daytime bag which is strapped to my upper thigh. Then I dump the bag contents, wash the bag out and clean myself up. During the day I will probably have to change the leg-bag a couple of times.

It’s amazing how quickly you can get used to something and after a few days I was quite comfortable with it all. In fact, it’s a positive boon for watching a three-hour football game. You can drink beer or whatever and not miss a second of the action. I understand from a friend that certain amongst the more depraved of the casino inmates actually keep catheters in voluntarily so that they won’t have to give up their spots at the slot machines before they pay off.  Ah, humanity, a proud and noble species.

And so, this is Christmas… It was mostly about urine and opening presents. We had put up a tree and did our decorating before the surgery date, and so also with the present buying. We had let the relatives know that we wouldn’t be going around doing the family thing this year and instead, had a lovely Christmas eve by ourselves and had Dungeness Crab with Bay Rub (one of our favourites and if you haven’t tried it you’re missing out) We opened presents, sat next to the video-fireplace on the big screen and listened to music. Brooke got me a PlayStation 3 to help me pass the time during the next few weeks. This she would come to regret to some degree as the first game I bought was Saboteur, a game in which you, as an Irish saboteur in Nazi-occupied Paris, are charged with the task of liberating the French. You do this by blowing things up mostly. Around January 2, I am forced to wear headphones or only attack things with weapons that have silencers attached to them.

The days following Christmas are a bit of a blur now. The blood clots became more of an issue and the bladder spasms happened a bit more often and for longer periods. Then the 12th Day of Catheter arrived and with it, Extraction Day. As if to remind me of my ultimate mortality, (and truly this is now bordering on boringly repetitive), fate decided to give me a going-away present on the day that my catheter was to be removed. In the morning a series of clots after I had risen (the worst time for this) resulted in a bladder spasm that Saddam might have described as the Mother of all bladder spasms. My Irish Saboteur could have taken down the Eiffel Tower with this one.

The pain was so intense that I almost passed out and it wouldn’t stop. As much as I wanted to suffer it in silence (because Brooke was home and about) I couldn’t and as much as I was preoccupied with the shafts of fire traveling up and down my lower areas, I was also fascinated with the sounds that I was making. If only I had a tape-recorder going, I thought at one point, I could get a lot of money for this. At one point though, I thought that I would go mad and I actually hit my head against the wall a few times just like they do in the movies. After about a half-hour the pain started to subside and as quickly and unexpectedly as it came it departed. I got dressed properly and went out into the hall. Brooke was sitting on the floor, pale, with her arms around her knees and leaning against the hallway wall. “Sorry for that,” I said. “That’s okay,” she replied, weakly. I don't think it was.

Then we put on our coats and went to the hospital. The nurse that greeted us turned out to be the one that was going to remove the tube. I had thought that maybe we might see a doctor at this point, but no. I was ushered into a ward where one other man lay in a bed. He was having a conversation with his wife or something about the upcoming procedures (pre-op) and still had the catheter to experience. He was nervous about it. I smiled to myself, knowingly. The nurse put me on a bed and pulled the curtains around it. I removed my lower clothes and got ready.  The nurse, who had gone out for a moment, re-entered. I asked Brooke to leave the area which she did willingly. The bag and spigot was removed. I was told to breathe deeply.  The nurse took one end of the hose and… well, the feeling is hard to describe. Not so much painful as weird. Well, a little of each actually, but a great relief and it was out and that was the end of that.  We had brought some continence (or lack thereof) products with us.  I put one in place; we went to the car and came home… Later I would think of that man lying in the other bed contemplating what was to come and I sighed a sigh for him. Soldier on, my brother. Soon Paris will be ours.

And that was the Spirit of Catheter Past.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Hospital Stay

Dear Reader…

I have been remiss in maintaining the blog, I know. But these last few weeks have been very difficult and each time I have sat myself down and tried to unleash, it just hasn’t happened. I will explain more about this as I catch up, but here, for the time being is a report on my post-operative hospital stay. Bear with me…

Dec. 16th, 2010

I wake up in the recuperation ward with a nurse named Laura a few inches from my face, shaking my arm and saying Mr. Truss… Mr. Truss… Please, such formality. Call me Mr. Spaceman.

I think that maybe I smiled at her and she said something else and then asked me how I felt. I responded positively, in so much as I felt nothing, and then looked around the room. It seemed vast and endless and lined with thousands of beds; each bed containing a person in some state of discomposure. I remember that it was the chance of not getting into one of these beds that almost canceled my appointment. I guess it was a good day in the operating theatres as no bed lay ominously empty.

I fall back into a black sleep.

Sometime later I wake up in my superior-grade, private room on the 6th floor of the hospital. I have an I.V. in one arm, an oxygen line in my nose and a sharp pain in my stomach. I move my head to one side and notice that there is a tube attached to a sack coming out of either side of the bed. I suppose one to be the catheter. Could there be two catheters? No, that doesn’t make sense. Pain stops me from twisting to get a better view.

Figure 1: A Room with a View

The light coming in through my window (that later I find out looks out onto University Ave.) is bright and starting to hurt my eyes. A nurse named Delma comes in with a warm smile and in a soft, Caribbean voice murmurs “Ahh, you’re with us.” “I think so,” I reply.

I’m a bit hazy now about the events of the next short while, but she explained a couple of things to me and then gave me a cup with some ice to suck. No liquids for a bit, she tells me.

Then Brooke comes in. Brooke, who has spent the afternoon in what I can only imagine to be a hell of its own particular bent, and now comes in with a broad smile and moves to my side and kisses my cheek. The smile that she has on offers a thousand words. I had imagined that if things had gone well and she had been informed of it, that this would be the kind of smile she would have on. Not the sort of empty-encouragement smile that I felt I had plastered on most of the time when I visited with my dying father, despite all attempts to be sincerely upbeat.

She confirms this. Sitting in the family waiting area with her sister Lisa, Dr. Fleshner (who I still haven’t seen in person to this point) arrived in scrubs and, towering above them in his six-foot-something frame, told her that the operation went very well and that he was optimistic that the removed prostate contained all the nasty bits. Also, the nerve-sparing went well. This will be important to the expectation of manly action later on. He told her this and then, apparently, got changed and flew to Paris. I guess I won’t be seeing the great man anytime soon.

I can’t remember now exactly how long Brooke stayed but it must have been a few hours. The pain is stark but manageable, assuaged by the steady drip, drip, drip of the morphine. Ah… morphine.

After Brooke leaves I am visited by the ‘team’. I suppose because Fleshner is now in France sucking back oysters on the Champs D’Elysees, Weebly is now in charge and together with a team of four or five blue-clad interns, he pokes me a bit, tells me that everything looks good and a swift recovery looks promising. He also tells me not to let anyone (by ‘anyone’ I imagine he means the nurses unless he expects someone to wander in off the street) put anything into or take anything out of my catheter tube connection. I am happy to comply. Later I find out that some doctors (but not all) consider flushing the catheter tube too risky to have done by a nurse. I have yet to have the courage to actually look down there at it. Dr. Weebly also remarks that I appear to be one of the lucky ones who have neither a terrific sore throat from the surgical breathing tube that was jammed down my gullet nor sore and swollen lower legs. (I never did find out why I would have that.)

He also explains the mystery tube. It is the Jackson-Pratt tube, named after either two doctors named Jackson and Pratt, or one doctor from an Ivy League school. The JP tube (as it is known to my caregivers) is a drainage tube to take poisonous bile away from my incision area. I am told that this is working well and soon the sack would have to be replaced. Many sacks and bags will be drained in the next few weeks.

The team moves on and as he passes the bed Dr. Weebly gives me a pat of encouragement on my big toe. He is somewhat awkward about it. I like Dr. Weebly. He seems to know his stuff and his bravura pre-op and now with his teaching group, belies, I think a certain insecurity that makes him seem more human to me than the others who seem more like a herd of deer on the Trans Canada, caught mid-headlight, when they actually have to tell me something or give me attention. They (the student doctors) are all about keeping up with the A-team doctors and impressing them with their keen thirst for knowledge and attention to detail. Understandable, this hesitation, I suppose. I sense the game that all these people must play with each other on a daily basis and that has been the fodder for so many day-time soaps and medical series. I really do have confidence in them… though I suppose I have little choice there.

Many more nurses come and go. In fact, during the two and a half days that I will be in here, I never see the same nurse twice. About ten different nurses have charge of me for different shifts over that period. Some, but not all, of their names are Evelyn, Claudine, Iris and Melissa. They all vary in warmth and connectedness, all have different approaches to pain-killing and all have different instructions on doing similar things. By this I mean, catheter cleaning for instance. One would tell me what to do and how to organize the equipment and then the next nurse would come in, look down at it, cluck and say “Who did this to you? I see you have done such and such. You must never do this again. It is very dangerous.” Only once did I bother telling the nurse that I was doing such and such because the previous nurse told me to do it this way. It seemed pointless after a while. (On a side note: I found this behaviour extended to the nurse in my home-care situation as well.) But, again, I have to say they took care of me pretty well with minor exceptions.

A word on pain-killing… Dear Hospital, (should you ever read this blog) here is my advice on pain-killing. After morphine drips have ended, don’t start further medication with the smallest, least-effective pill available. The first nurse, who gave me something after the morphine, came in carrying a small, red Motrin tablet. This was absurd. I could have eaten a bowl of them to no effect and it was only after much button-pushing and complaining that I eventually worked my way back up to something adequate. When it comes to pain… give me the best you’ve got and we can work our way down from there. I’ll tell you later if it was more than I needed. I don’t have time to work my way up the pharmaceutical ladder. Stop the pain now! Just saying…

Friday, Dec. 17th, 2010

This is my first full day in hospital. I have spent a not too bad night. Every couple of hours someone enters, usually with a flashlight but not always, and wakes me up to give me something or change my catheter bag or bile sack.

I have progressed to juices now and even had a little broth earlier. Oh yes, and a mistake had been made earlier. Around 7 pm the previous evening a candy-striper had shown up with a complete meal. I couldn’t really muster the enthusiasm to eat it right then so I told her to leave it on the table and I’d try later on. This apparently saved my life as I was, under no circumstances, to try to eat anything solid. The nurse who discovered it on my table almost had a heart attack.

Anyway the night passed away. There was some pretty intense pain along the way but I still managed to sleep for bits of time.

Brooke returns the next day and we pass some time. I have to get up and start moving about, the nurses tell me. I have been putting it off, not feeling very confident about the whole thing. I have decided on my own to remove the oxygen tube from my nose. It doesn’t seem necessary as I am breathing fine and seem energized to some degree. I have been given a funny device to exercise my breathing so that fluid doesn’t collect in my lungs. It resembles a bong from my younger, wilder days. (For those who don’t know, a bong is a thing that looks like a large pipe, usually made from plastic or glass and is used to smoke illegal substances with the aid of water and sometimes ice. The effect is to cool the smoke.) I feel ridiculous using it so I opt for breathing exercises that I learned in theatre school. Finally, a use for them…

Figure 2: The Hospital Bong

Eventually, we try to move around a bit. I have to be mindful of all the tubes and, of course, my bare ass hanging out. We cover that bit with a reversed hospital gown so that no one in the halls will be nonplussed. Getting the legs over the edge of the bed takes forever and smarts quite a bit. But finally we do get that done, I stand into slippers that Brooke has provided, and I stutter around the room pulling my I.V. stand with me and holding my JP sack close to my hip. I am moving, but very slowly.

In total I will get up and walk about three times this day. On the second attempt Brooke walks me around ‘the circuit’ that is a path down the hall, around the nurses stations and back up to the room. As we slowly make our way along we pass others doing the same thing. One guy, around 55 or so, hurtles by with a proud smile on his face. “This makes 30 circuits for me.” Braggart… I’ll show you, I think, and increase my speed to .015 MPH. I make it around once and that’s it. Brooke is wary of my pale face and shaking limbs.

Figure 3: Hospital Boy on The Circuit

Brooke goes away for a while with the promise to be back around 4 pm. I have progressed now to some solid foods and that goes down well. There is absolutely no indication of bowel movements and, in fact, there won’t be any for an ominously long time. Just as well really, for negotiating that with all this paraphernalia would be daunting if not impossible without humiliating help.

When Brooke does return it is with some sobering news. She has just run into our mutual friend, actress Lindsay Leese, in the hallway. Lindsay and Brooke exchange pleasantries along the lines of “Gosh, are you visiting someone here?” “Yes. Are you?” “Yes…” There is hesitation and then they move on not having actually said who it is either is visiting. This is the protocol of the cancer ward, I suppose… don’t ask, don’t tell. However, Lindsay has probably figured it out as she knows of my connection to Brooke. Brooke finds out by other means that Lindsay is in fact visiting Gina Wilkinson who is just down the hall and is another actress that we both know. Gina has cervical cancer which was discovered in November. When I leave tomorrow, Gina will be in the process of marrying her partner Tom at bedside. By mid-January she will be dead. That is the wall that we face.

After Brooke has left for the day I read for a bit, try to use the small laptop I brought with me and listen to a couple of tunes on our I-pod. None of these things last very long though as the medications I am taking leave me drowsy and I keep falling asleep. I have determined that unless I really can’t do it I am going to go home tomorrow. The two days I have spent here seem like an eternity and I am ready to get into my own bed. Besides, tomorrow is Sunday and there’s football to watch.

(Side note: Also, there is the hospital food. Now I realize that there is a long standing tradition of hospitals trying to kill patients with the food and that, if nothing else, it has provided fodder for a long line of stand-up comedians… but, holy smoke. It’s as if there is some competition to make the most taste-less, unsatisfying, ill-prepared food possible. Well, if there is such a competition, it’s hard to believe that Toronto General didn’t win it, hands down. Getting some reasonable sustenance is goal enough to endure the process of getting out of here.)

Saturday, Dec. 18th, 2010

Going home day…

I am chomping at the bit, as they say, and have been awake from about 7 a.m. I have done a couple more circuits of the ward and am pretty confident about getting down to the truck.

I call home at around 9:30 to find out what state Brooke is in and when I can expect to be extracted. I must admit, I am somewhat disappointed to find out that it won’t happen until after noon for various reasons, but I guess that’s okay, it’s not like I have an appointment. Brooke has been preparing the home for my arrival and the cats are all dressed in clean fur and waiting by the door.

Some nurses come and go, including the woman whose job it will be to remove my JP tube. I’m not really thinking about this much although later it will prove to be intense. I’m watching a light snow fall outside and mentally imagining myself making my way out of this room, off the ward, down the elevator, through the main parking doors and into the truck. This seems to me right now like I might as well be taking part in the Iditarod. But bring it on, I say.

When Brooke comes to the hospital, I have already packed everything and am pretty much ready to go. The nurse who is on duty has me sign off on the quality of care statement and the “yes, they told me everything I need to know as I go home” form. The intern on duty has already stopped by to see me and has said she thinks I’m good to go. I wanted to thank her, and by extension, the whole medical team so I tried to form the right sentences on the fly but didn’t do a very good job. I can’t begin to express how impressed I am with the whole group and how grateful I am for this chance to further my existence. I will have cause in the near future to doubt myself regarding this procedure but I can’t fault them on the work. At least at this point…

One last bit of medical work. The removal of the JP tube... Now it seems the nurse to whom the chore fell of taking this tube out didn’t realize that she was meant to do it. She thought that it would be done at home by a home-care nurse. We corrected her about this and she went to seek the confirmation of a superior. She got this and returned with a slightly apprehensive look on her face. I don’t think she was comfortable with this particular procedure. She removed the dressing, took the collection bag off and removed the one small staple holding the tube in. “Don’t look if you don’t want to see this”, she said and I advise you, gentle reader not to look either. Grasping one end of the tube she tugged on it to get it moving and then with one strong pull ripped it out. I have always wondered what it would be like to be shot by a bullet. Well, this was kind of the reverse of that with the bullet coming out not going in. The portion of the tube that was inside me must have been about six inches long and it is like no feeling on earth to have something like that pulled from your stomach, let me tell you. You can feel every inch of it as it moves along under your skin. She patched up the hole, redressed it and nervously made off. Of all the pain I felt in the hospital, the pain of this extraction would become the most problematic for the next few days.

We do the finally getting ready. I put my coat on and, with my new catheter bag strapped firmly to my leg under my pants, we start the trek to the car. We pass down the empty hallway, past Gina’s closed door, past the nurse’s station. The nurses are scurrying. The life of the hospital continues as the endless stream of cancer patients moves in and out like ants to and from an anthill. Too many ants...

As I step from the lobby doors into the underground parking lot I get my first dose of reality as a cramp tightens up around the catheter and I have to balance against the wall while Brooke gets the truck.  She returns and I carefully get into the passenger seat. Brooke gets in on the driver’s side and we’re off.

Every bump and street car track vibrates through my poor old body, held together with stitches and tubes as Brooke slowly drives along, trying to avoid potholes and stoplights as much as humanly possible in a city such as ours. I am not looking forward to the two flights of stairs up to the apartment but when we do eventually pull up in front, I find that it isn’t too bad and, one step at a time, I mount to the summit.

Huxley the cat is the first at the door as per usual. BC the cat is asleep on the bed that I collapse onto as soon as I can and Hattie the cat is hiding somewhere as is her way. We get me out of my clothes and into some pajama things that Brooke has been so cute as to provide. The night-time sleeping urine drainage bag is attached and placed on the floor beside the bed. This wasn’t easy to accomplish and there was much swearing and cursing as first I alone, and then with Brooke, tried to get the main bag to work and drain properly. We finally find the culprit, a massive blood clot, which has blocked one end of the tube and is gumming up the works. We get the bag working and all settles down. I had forgotten the warning about blood clots that I will pass for the next few days.

I have been given Endocet, an opiate, for pain. I take one and drift off into sleep around 6 o’clock. Home… Today, as the posters from the 70’s explained more as a call to action than an acknowledgment of the obvious, is the first day of the rest of my life. What kind of life though? Only time will tell.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Der Prozess


Well, here it is folks, the aforementioned D-day fast approaches and with it the vast, dark world of the future unknown. Mind you, I have read quite a bit about it so I’m not entirely in the dark. But you could also read about what it would be like to, say, encase your head in rubber but the reality would probably be quite different, I suspect.

This past week has been a whirl-wind of inertia. Hurrying up to go nowhere, I have had sleepless nights, good nights; no appetite, voracious urges… in other words, things are topsy-turvy.


Today, in anticipation of surgery, is no-solid-foods day. I will exist solely on a diet of water, juice, orange jello and broth. Actually, now that I’m writing it down, that sounds like quite a lot actually. But boring... Coincidentally, today I am not very hungry anyway, so that works out well.

As is so often the case in my business, work always comes at the wrong time. I found out a couple of days ago that today I will be recording an episode of Nearly Naked Animals, a cartoon show I do some characters on. This day I will be voicing the character of Shrimp and Captain Fizzy. How’s that for sublimely appropriate? Still, it is good to have something to take my mind off tomorrow for a couple of hours.

At the recording session I run into Robert Hawke who survived cancer himself and now does a one-man show called Norm VS Cancer, about it all, that he takes to hospitals and medical conventions and the like. I didn’t tell him about all my stuff, but I will after the operation.

Then it was off home to take a load of laundry to the laundromat and then Brooke and I are going to the movies. Which we do... We have a glass of wine at Milestones out on the Queensway and then enter the movie complex to see The King’s Speech. There is nobody about and we are early so we play Star Wars and race cars in the arcade until the movie is ready to go.

The movie is great but we are beside a woman with a huge pail of popcorn that, not unlike the horn of plenty, refuses to subside. After 45 minutes, I consider murder but decide to not anger the gods before tomorrow. The movie ends, we go home. The rest of the evening is quite pleasant and, strangely enough, I have no trouble falling asleep.



7:30 a.m. I wake up and have that great moment when you are first regaining consciousness and you are still sort of out of it and everything seems fuzzy and nice. Unfortunately, after about ten seconds of that ,reality hits home and you remember, if anything, hard stuff that you have to do that day.

Brooke is awake too and after brief acknowledgement of that fact we lie, staring at the ceiling and listening to the cats pacing around outside the door waiting for food and entertainment.

7:45 a.m. Time is ticking. We will have to leave for the hospital in about a half an hour. In all the mayhem of the last few months and stresses that build up, intimacy can be hard to accommodate. I have felt the tension of this for some time now and with the impending hardship and the remote but distinct possibility that the physical ability to produce in the bed might be more ambitious than practical, I have been saddened by the prospects. But as things so often do, fate takes a hand. And places it on your thigh. We make love. Good decision.

Now we have about 10 minutes to get ready and drive to the hospital, which we do, dragging a bag with way too many items and clothing in it. We have anticipated my every need.  I have a lap-top, an I-pod, books,  a cell phone and charger, pants, toiletries, a house-coat, underwear (be sure to wear the briefs not the boxers, I have been told) and other odds and ends. I have taken less on weekends to visit the relatives. It's surprising one of the cats didn't make it in there.

9:00 a.m. We arrive at the Surgical Admissions desk, second floor, Toronto General Hospital, where two cheery male clerks take my particulars, have me sign a couple of forms and usher me into the inner waiting room. There we sit, waiting for whatever the next step will be and very aware that we have had nothing to eat or drink. Well, I couldn’t anyway but Brooke is feeling the pinch. She is sharing the pain.

Everyone who comes and goes into this room (patient-wise) looks old and sick or frail. I don’t. Not anymore than usual anyway. I am youngish and appear healthy and hale. What the hale am I doing here? This must be a mistake, right? Strangely though, I am not nervous at all.

I remember that we were meant to page the lady in charge of my Vitamin D study. (Oh yeah, I didn’t mention that early in the process I volunteered to be part of a study trying to determine if Vitamin D can actually fight the progress of Prostate Cancer. I am part of a double blind study group which means that nobody, including the doctors, know whether I am receiving normal amounts of Vitamin D, super amounts like 40,000 I.U. or none at all. I have been taking my liquid D for the last three weeks.) We send for Sanda who arrives shortly thereafter with her assistant, Monica, in tow.

Sanda has bad news. Apparently my operation is ‘on hold’ because of a shortage of beds in the recuperation room. This could mean anything up to a total re-scheduling.  That wouldn't be good. However, Sanda thinks that because Dr. Fleshner is the head of the unit here (something I didn’t know and I am somehow comforted bythe knowledge that he is the big Cahuna) so it is likely something will be done.

Sanda takes us to a small room where I give her blood for her study and she also takes urine that I hand her in a small jar. There was some worry that I wouldn’t be able to do this but the river is still flowing apparently. We bid a sad farewell to Sanda (who actually has been the source of much inside information over the last few weeks and was reason enough to take part in the study) and return to the primary waiting area. There is only one other person there now, waiting as I, with a loved one, for their entrance onto the stage of the operating room.

10:10 a.m. I am informed by one of the cheery clerks that the hold is over! Sanda was right. A bed has been found. The downside of this is that now they are actually going to operate. Finally, the Sinking Inn begins to move. I am now in a mode of certainty that is both exciting and fearsome. This, however, quickly fades as the whirlwind that my late admission to the process has caused and that MUST culminate with Fleshner’s entrance into the operating theatre no later than 11 a.m., starts to blow. The well-oiled machine that is Toronto General Hospital kicks into hyper-drive.

10:15 a.m.  The pre-op orderly orders me out of my clothes and into two hospital gowns, one forward the other backwards and I quickly do this, getting my foot caught in my pants and having to hop about trying to take my socks off. I remember from my scuba equipment experiences to slow down a bit. The socks come off and together with the rest of my items (except for my reading glasses, that experience tells me I will need even if I think I won’t) I stuff them into the provided plastic bags. Ducking my head into the waiting room I shout to Brooke, “C’mon Cookie, we’re on the move!” Brooke gathers up the coats and we’re about to follow the orderly down the hall when…

10:20 a.m. We are accosted by Dr. Weebly and another intern, assistants to the great man, and Weebly takes me into the dressing room where he quickly sketches out on my gut where they are going to cut me open. “I know it seems sort of barbaric,’ says Weebly, ‘but we wouldn’t want any mistakes, would we?” This seems a given to me but I smile and nod and make some quip about organ harvesting. He doesn’t get it and I don’t blame him. Weebly, it should be noted, looks nothing like a Weebly but in fact looks like Ben Casey. Again I am reassured.

10:25 a.m. Weebly and the intern shuffle us quickly into the pre-op room, point at a bed and hurry off to complete other operative tasks. I sit on the bed. Brooke is holding the bags of clothing. We look at each other. There is a small window of opportunity for a smile. We do so. Then, just as in the movies, all hell breaks loose. In the next fifteen minutes about 12 people of various medical practices swoop by. I can’t possibly remember all of their names and their jobs but here is a list of what they did to the best of my memory…
  • ·         Take blood pressure and heart levels
  • ·         Remove yet more blood
  • ·         Talk to me about my relative state of mind (good so far)
  • ·         Prepare an I.V. needle and insert it into my left hand (they have a little trouble with this and it kind of hurts)
  • ·         Have me sign consent forms (Knew I’d need those glasses)
  • ·         I am questioned by the anaesthesiologist and she and her team determines that I am fit to knock out.
 10:35 a.m. Weebly, accompanied by a small army of interns clad in royal blue scrubs, shows up and asks a few more questions. They all look at me. They all look at each other. “Right then,’ says Weebly, ‘kiss kiss.” This is apparently the cue for Brooke to say goodbye to me and I can see from her eyes that she is on the verge. She bids me farewell, tells me that she loves me, and kisses me. “See you on the rebound,” I toss over my shoulder jauntily as Weebly and a male intern wheel the bed away. I can’t believe how cool I’m being.

10:40 a.m. I am in transit. I can’t see Weebly, he is pushing the bed. The younger intern guiding the foot of the bed glances back at me and smiles. “All set?” he asks. “No, I’ve changed my mind.” I say. He laughs not knowing that I kind of mean it. They reach a junction in the hall. “Which way?” says the young intern. “Straight,” says Weebly. Young Intern reaches out to push a door access button. “No,’ says Weebly, ‘straight to the left.” They turn left, we wheel along. They pass the operating room. “Stop” says Weebly. It’s that one back there. O.R. 1.” I am reminded of the classic scene in Spinal Tap where the band tries to find the stage. They back me up and with a squeal of tires we come to rest in the Operating Room.

10:45 a.m. In the O.R… Just as in the movies the room is abuzz with activity. People are readying syringes, sharpening knives, etc. A burly orderly helps me roll out of the bed onto the operating table. The table itself is barely wider than I am and I’m surprised by this but it figures, I guess, as they have to get in close to the action when they work. Two arms swing out from the side of the table and I reminded of the lethal injection tables that you see in movies with capital punishment themes. And just as in the movies, my legs and arms are strapped and taped in respectively. “Guess I’m not leaving now,” I say to the taping orderly. “Nope, I guess you’re not,” She replies with a smile.

For the next few minutes people hover doing various things. Occasionally they stop by to ask me how I’m doing. As I lay looking up at the big lights that will soon be turned on, for the first time I find a sense of panic is beginning to take root. A small kernel at first, I worry that it might become too big, too soon if I don’t take control. I hear the media-friendly blip of the heart monitor. “Is that my heart rate?” I ask of no one in particular. Someone responds to the positive. “Good then, I’ll see if I can slow it down for you.” “That’s very Zen,’ says the voice with a laugh. “That’s me,’ I say and start to try to calm myself down with deep breathing. It seems to work. The feeling of panic subsides. I return to my limited observation of the room.

10:50 a.m. The Anaesthesiologist approaches. She is an older woman of about 55 or so and speaks with an eastern European accent. She is good humoured and quips along as they attach the anaesthetic drip to my right hand. This isn’t as painful as the I.V. insertion on the left hand but has its moments. Being as this is a teaching hospital, there are always about 2 or 3 trainees observing or doing simple things. The doctor has allowed the younger woman beside her to do the puncturing. “Don’t be afraid to ask for advice,” the doctor says to her. I concur.

10:55 a.m. Another young intern or orderly or something enters with a monitor that the Anaesthesiologist has asked for. Apparently it isn’t in the greatest condition. “I don’t think those boys down in supply like me anymore,” she complains softly, trying to make the monitor work. As they begin to administer the first of the anaesthetic, the orderly, Jason, has started a blood pressure wrap on my other arm. “Oh, no, Jason, you can’t do that while we’re pumping in.” “Oh, right, sorry.” Pause. “That’s all right Jason, don’t worry.” Teaching hospital, teaching hospital...

“Now, Mr. Truss… “

“No, please, Adrian…” 

“Now, Adrian. Just breathe deeply.” (This as they put the breathing mask over my nose and mouth) “Say goodnight, Adrian…” I admire her certainty as a professional but after 15 seconds, nothing has happened. “Hmmm,” she says, “Are you not feeling anything?” 

“Actually I’m feeling everything…” I hear the gas being turned up. There is a slight smell beginning and I can feel a bit of a tingle starting at my toes. Then there is only dark peace.

11:00 a.m. They operate.