LIFE IN SEVERE CHRONIC PAIN – PART 3: IT ALL BEGAN WITH THE BRIGHT LIGHT

It all began with the bright light

The bright light and the noise

The chaos of the sense and the scream of desire

The intro of track 2; IT ALL BEGAN WITH THE BRIGHT LIGHT from the album Brave by Marillion

THE NIGHT I MET MY FAVOURITE ALL TIME SINGER

It was December 2012, I was going with my mate Robin to see Steve Hogarth, Marillion’s singer, perform at Oran Mhor in Glasgow. Even though myself and Robin have seen Marillion that many times, this was the first that we had been to see Steve Hogarth perform his ‘legendary’ solo shows.

What an excellent gig and at the end of the show you got the chance to meet the man. I stood in the queue with Robin, right behind us was a couple of fellow Marillio pals, Andy and Pammie. We were having a good chat and a good laugh and Pammie had asked me how I was keeping , etc. So as I was explaining to her about the first operation I had, I was telling her about me witnessing the flashing white light experience. Pammie said, you should tell Steve about that.

It was our turn next to have a chat with Steve and get our photo’s taken with the man. Then Steve had said to me, “What was that they were saying about the bright flashing white light?”. Then just before I told him, he turned round and said, “I wrote a song about that”. I couldn’t help but say for a laugh, “Aye? Was it any good?” We all had a laugh and I had told him the story. We then had our photos taken together. It’s the first time I had ever met Steve since he became the singer of the band in 1989, and what a good guy he turned out to be. It really was a braw way to finish off a braw night.

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After all the years being a Marillion fan, I finally managed to met Steve Hogarth.

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I was asking Steve to sign a copy of one of his solo DVD’s. His son Niall (I bloody hope I got the name right) was on his merchandise stall that night and what a really nice guy. Just like the auld man then.

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I asked the ‘legendary’ Graeme to join us. Graeme is a cheeky chap and is as almost as famous as Steve! It’s all in fun Graeme.

So the moment I experienced the bright light arrived.

IT ALL BEGAN WITH THE BRIGHT LIGHT

It was Monday 24th January 2011 and I had been awake since 06:00. After having showered and shaved, I doubled checked the bag I was taking into the hospital and that I also packed the medications I was on.

I had to be at Pre-theatre Admissions on Ward 33 (DCN BUILDING) WESTERN GENERAL HOSPITAL EDINBURGH by 07:45. Kirsty had taken the day off her work to come over with me. My brother in law Patrick was picking us up to take us over just before 07:00 as the traffic on the Forth Road Bridge at the time was just hellish. Thank goodness for the new Queensferry Crossing, what a difference it’s making.

We got to the Pre-Admin room for just after 07:30. I had a brief conversation with the nurse that was taking me down to the operating theatre and I was given a theatre gown to dress into. Once I was changed into the theatre gown, an anaesthetist had come to see me. He explained to me that there would be three anaesthetist’s working on me as there will be three separate surgeons working on me, including a thoracic surgeon, Fiona Kernahan, from the Royal Infirmary Edinburgh (RIE).

It was also explained to me that the procedure that was being carried on me was called a Thoracotomy and he was going to explain what it was, before moving on to tell us, I stopped him by saying, “It’s ok doctor, we were fully briefed about it the other day”. He turned around laughed and said, “And you still turned up!” We got on well and I’m glad that he had a great sense of humour as it calmed me down.

Just then, two porters arrived to take me to the operating theatre for my surgery. As I was still talking and getting ready the porters had a seat in the waiting area and what a laugh we had. So basically for me to get ‘ready’ for surgery, I had to undress, put on a pair of ‘theatre socks’, more like tights and wear a theatre gown. I had to get Kirsty to help me with the gown. We then threw everything I was wearing into a plastic bag for Kirsty to take home with her.

Finally ready to go to theatre and it was time to ‘get on the bed’. It’s a good job that the lifts are a good size there, as it managed me, the porters, Kirsty, my brother in law Patrick, a nurse and a junior doctor. Once on the ground floor it was time to say good bye to both Kirsty and Patrick. I gave Kirsty my mobile phone for safe keeping, said bye to Patrick, gave Kirsty a kiss and I couldn’t help but say too her, “See you on the other side” we both laughed, slightly nervously,  and then it was time for me to go into theatre.

This is it, I thought to myself, along with that many different kinds of thoughts. Once in the room before the actual operating theatre, I couldn’t get over how many medical professionals in the room.

I finally got to meet Fiona Kernahan, a thoracic surgeon from the RIE and she asked me a range of questions about how I was feeling, how was I feeling about having surgery, was I aware of the procedure being used on me , etc.

I can always remember this room being really busy. I asked a staff member if there is always this much staff about for surgery. The answer was a simple “no” and when I asked why there so many medical staff there, the answer was simply, “all these people here are here to assist with your surgery”. 

One of the doctors was then telling me about the reason why so many staff were in the room. He explained that three surgeons would be operating on me, so 3 registrars were there to assist the surgeons and 3 anaesthetist’s are also needed.

I was also told that there was a few students training to be surgeons watching the whole procedure and some were actually basing their thesis on me. He was a good guy this doctor and very informative, but as he was getting to the point of the operation, he was rudely interrupted by a nurse. I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing. 

The nurse interrupted the doctor all because she didn’t have my date of birth for the wrist band and the band around my left ankle. I couldn’t believe it, so I turned around to her and said, “Do you mind, I am trying to hear what the doctor is saying,” I can remember one of her colleagues then handing her a file with my details on.

Then after that, it was explained to me that I would be getting the anaesthetist’s to put me to sleep and that I was to count from 10 to 1. After I was told all that, I was then taken through to the actual operating theatre. 

The first thing I remembered was how many people was in the operating theatre, and I said that to a nurse. Then my consultant came to speak to me to see how I was feeling (eh pretty nervous) and to assure me that everything would be ok.

Then it was back to the anaesthetist’s I spoke to earlier and this was it, time to finally be knocked out and put under the knife (my words). It hit me then that everything was now out of my hands and I would rely on the people in this room to carry out a high risk procedure on me.

“Mr O’Neil, you will feel like it’s a little prick on the skin when we first put the needle through your skin, then I will get you to count from 10 back to 1”. “is that sound ok Mr O’Neil,” “yeah fine by me”.

Then I heard him say, “Right, quiet everyone, this is it”. “ok Mr O’Neil if you can count from 10 to 1 now”. Before I started counting, I said, “Please call me Kevin, to me Mr O’Neil is my dad”. I was so nervous I just had to say something before that count. Then the next thing I knew I got the sign to count.

“ 10, 9, 8, 7,……….”

Before I was told that I had to have surgery, I always wondered what it would be like going through surgery. The night before all this was happening and when I was trying to sleep, I kept thinking about my late mum and how brave she was when she was going through all her health problems what she had for many years.

My mum also had gone ‘under the knife` several times in her life and I remembered how horrible it was when we were waiting to hear the outcome of the operation(s). I had wondered the night before what this would be like for Kirsty,my sons, my dad, my sister Theresa and her husband Patrick and many more family members. After all, I would have no idea what the wait would be like Kirsty, the way I looked at it, was I was a big piece of ‘raw meat’ getting ready to be cut up! (I did work in a butcher’s shop when I was at school and I was a butcher’s apprentice for over a year!)

The bright light and the noise

The chaos of the sense and the scream of desire

After the count down, I remember hearing;

“Kevin”…….”Kevin”……..”Kevin“. I thought to myself, “Who the fuck is whispering my name?”

Kevin”…….”Kevin”…….” Kevin”. This time my name was getting said louder and louder now. Then suddenly, I was standing in a ‘bright white room’ and in the distance was a shadowy white figure with an arm waving‘.  It was like this figure was waving as to go over to it and join it. I was really confused and wondering, what the hell was going on? But the room I was standing in was so beautiful and peaceful.

I can remember ‘the shadow figure was looking at peace with itself and waving ‘its’ arm periodically for me to join it. I can remember thinking to myself that this room was ‘amazing,’ but who was waving over to me?

“Kevin”……”Kevin”……”Kevin”. Once again my name was getting louder and louder. The shadowy white figure was now waving even more and it was getting closer, closer, closer, with its arm making a gesture for me to go over and join it”. I must admit, I was tempted to join it. However I heard;

“Kevin”…….”Kevin”…….”Kevin”. Again this was getting louder and louder.

Just right after that hearing that, I suddenly I could hear “ Kevin, please slowly take a few deep breaths and then  slowly open your eyes, now if you can give me a big deep breath then a big cough”. So I slowly opened my eyes, took a big breath then a cough. 

You know when your asked by your GP, consultant, nurse, etc,you have to force yourself to do it and cough, even as I write this article right now, I will always remember how sore it was that simple cough. I mentioned this and the doctor said, “Kevin you have just had major surgery and you have trauma to the body and it will be like this for a while. You will always know that you have had major work carried out on you”. The cough helped me to loosen away the ventilator in my throat and mouth. The taste then in my throat and mouth was horrible.

I was then helped to sit up in the bed and I was asked some questions like, “Do you know where you are Kevin?” “Yeah, some hospital in Edinburgh,” “which one Kevin,” “no idea” I said. Then one of nurses asked me for my date of birth, then asked me how I was feeling and then would I like some tea and coffee. My reply, in a soft voice, “Could I have a coffee instead please?” The reply was, “Off course you can and what do you take in it?” “Two sugars and milk please?

Before the coffee came, one nurse got a small basin and she gave my face a quick freshen up with a flannel. We had a brief chat and I can remember saying to her about the amount of ‘tubes’ in my body. I didn’t have long to wait for my coffee, and at the time that was the best coffee I had ever tasted.

The coffee was brought to me in a plastic beaker with a lid and a straw, and the nursing staff were helping by holding it for me so I could have a drink. I only managed to eat one slice of toast but I managed the coffee. It must have been about 10 minutes that passed and the next thing I knew, I spewed it back. The nurse watching me was right in there cleaning me up.

I kept thinking when I was in recovery that I was forgetting about something, then it dawned on me “has anyone called Kirsty?” The staff told me that they had called her when I was out of surgery and she would see me later.    

It must have been around 18:30 and the time had arrived to be transferred to the High Dependency Unit (HDU) on Ward 33. I can remember the team explaining everything I was wired into at the time, including that all too important hand pump. The hand pump was for me to press on an average of once every five minutes and morphine would give me instant pain relief. Well that’s the theory anyway!

The ward sister came down to the recovery room along with a member of the ward’s nursing staff. Its funny the things you can remember.

When I was coming out of theatre, and when I was being pushed in the bed to the lift, I remember one of the porters saying to a man getting into a lift, “Excuse me sir, but we need the lift to take this important man to High Dependency”. The man agreed, but his man’s face was a picture, so I turned round and said, “That really is good of you,” he turned and said to me, “well it looks like you need it more than me”. I couldn’t help myself, so I said to him, “Do you reckon? Why do you make that out then?” He wasn’t so smart and so smug after that comment.

We finally got to HDU and I was then getting settled into the ‘bay’ my bed was going into, I had a sense of déjà vu, it then dawned on me, my mum was in this ‘bay’ after her brain tumour operation a good number of years ago.

I wasn’t that long settled in when Kirsty, my sister Theresa and my brother-in-law Patrick came to visit me. They all came bearing gifts as well; sweets; chocolate, juices, magazines and Patrick stopped at MacDonald’s on Telford Road for a cheese burger for me.

I had asked Patrick to get me it just prior to me going into surgery. I remember it tasted great and it went down well, but it came back up even quicker!

The next thing I knew, Kirsty pushed the button for the nurse to come to us and Theresa and Patrick jumped straight into action and helped get me cleaned up. They got me cleaned up really quickly and I settled back down. I must have drunk some amount off water right after that.

I couldn’t get over warm it was in HDU. I was constantly having sweat wiped from me. I was also feeling really tired, but it was explained to me that I will be like that for a few days due to the amount of different drugs in me due to surgery and now pain management.

As time was getting on it was time for my visitors to leave. It was great seeing them, but I was at the stage that I needed to sleep. Over the years and all the different operations I have had, Kirsty notices very quickly when I am tired and then need to rest.

It was now time to settle down and go to sleep. Sleep, it was more like a rest!

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