Neal Dempsey, My Life Story


Interruption into The History

Real Time

January 2005.

I have decided to interrupt the narrative because events have obliged me to. When I began writing my life story, I felt in good health and had no reason to believe otherwise and wrote at a leisurely pace. In 2004 Elisabeth and I had decided to go on a holiday taking in a large part of Scandinavia, but in particular we wanted to come down the coast of Norway by Norwegian Ferry, calling in through most of the Fjords on the way. We did this, but during the trip I felt lethargic and weak, and not the least inclined to join in any of the trips or events specially arranged for the passengers. I spent the larger part of the voyage sleeping and found myself becoming increasingly short of breath. We arrived back in our home at Upton upon Severn on Wednesday 16th June, the day after my 70th Birthday.

I felt so ill after our return I straightaway went to see a doctor at the Surgery. The Doctor was Doctor David Webster, He arranged for me to go immediately to Malvern Hospital for a Chest X-Ray, and supplied me with a 10 day dose of anti-biotics; with strict instructions to complete taking the tablets, have a repeat X-Ray on the 10th day and afterwards, to return to see him. By the end of the treatment I felt even worse. Breathing now was becoming almost impossible, and quite naturally I felt weak and totally uninterested in what was going on around me. As soon as I had had the second X-Ray, the Radiographer advised me to go straight to see the surgery Doctor who on this occasion happened to be Doctor Wilson. Dr Wilson prescribed a further two groups of tablets and told me to see him when the dosage had finished. However this was not to be, by the end of the week both Elisabeth and I were in tears, the pain and respiration was so unbearable. The next morning we went straight to the Doctors surgery and saw Doctor Wilson almost immediately. He was extremely kind and sympathetic and spent most of the morning in between patients speaking to various people at the Emergency Medical units at both Worcester and Birmingham hospitals. Later that morning he gave Elisabeth a letter to take me to Worcester Hospital.

Once there we were again treated with the utmost kindness and sympathy. Blood samples were taken and yet another X-Ray picture. I was allotted a bed space and I expected to be admitted to the ward, but I was still in so much agony, I could not have cared less at that stage. In spite of this, I could not help but laugh at the farce that began to take place. A Doctor of either Indian or Pakistan origin came to me to explain that he was going to take some fluid off my chest. This he explained would take away the pain as the fluid inside the chest was compressing the lung and preventing me from being able to breath. This seemed sensible to me; he brought along a tray of needles and dressings and so on, and spread these all over the bed. He then put several pillows on top of each other, for me to lean forward onto to make me more comfortable. He then sat on a stool behind me and started to try to push a needle into my back. I put up with it and was sure that in a moment the pain would ease. I had visions of the relief of pain when the puss is relieved from a painful boil. But after a few moments of this he got up apologised and said, "Please excuse me I will have to get a sharper needle. You are a very strong man and you have broken the needle." He disappeared for a few moments, sat down and started again. By now the pain was becoming even more difficult to contain, so I asked him quite quietly, "Doesn't a Doctor usually give a local anaesthetic for this kind of procedure?" He stopped again for a moment and then said, "Yes, I'm sorry, I'll be back in a moment."

The tears that were seeping out of the sides of my eyes at this time were not those of laughter. He came back in a moment or two with a second Doctor who was English. He didn't apologise or say anything in fact until we were both resettled. I think he may have seen the tear in the corner of my eye because he then said, "I'm sorry but these procedures hurt a bit. It cannot really be avoided." He then proceeded to insert a large local anaesthetic into my back and when it was numb took out 2 Litres of fluid from within the right hand side of my chest cavity. The relief was unbelievable.

Several samples of tissue were taken for pathological examination then the wound was sealed and I was sent home. My situation didn't alter all that much, in fact the truth was that it had become worse, so the following week I was admitted into the ward for an overnight stay. A larger drainage needle was inserted and a second two litres was quickly drawn off. I started to go into shock and a nurse (From the Philippines) closed off the flow and a third bottle was fitted, but this time the flow of fluid was monitored and kept to a very slow rate. The anti-biotics were quite obviously having no affect, so I was kept in for further X-Rays, Blood Tests and a C. T. Scan was taken of my chest. Doctors kept muttering to each other about whether I was a smoker and whether I had ever worked in an environment where Asbestos was also being used.

I agreed that I had worked in an area where smoking tobacco was common practice; in the Navy, it was virtually encouraged. I stressed however that I had never to my knowledge worked in an Asbestos saturated environment. I had smoked or rather kept a cigarette alight for its duration, but I had stopped smoking in November 1960. After that time I had used a pipe but only for something to do with my hands, more often than not. But the doctors seemed much more concerned with, indeed they were insistent that Asbestos dust was the cause of my problem. I insisted that I could not have knowingly been anywhere near Asbestos dust since I left H.M.S Palliser where it was used for insulation of the ships sides and lagging of the numerous pipes running around the ship like a spiders web in November 1960. They then said the timescale was about right, it took 40 years for the signs and symptoms of this disease to become apparent, without telling me which disease they were talking about, and asbestosis was all I could think of, but they suggested it was not that.

Finally it was decided to transfer me from Worcester Royal Hospital to Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham, for an investigative operation. I was eventually transferred there by ambulance with the drainage tube still in my chest and the amount of fluid being drained off amounting to just over 7 litres and slowly coming to a stop. Here again there was a lot of nodding of heads, more X-Rays and countless blood tests being taken. The surgeon in charge this time was a gentleman from the Eastern Mediterranean, (I think Egypt). He was very reluctant to do the operation as he said it would be very drastic and would not show any more than they already suspected. He therefore decided on a procedure whereby they would take away the drip and inject a talcum solution into the drainage tube thereby closing both sides of the Pleura together and so inhibit the fluid collecting in the cavity. (It subsequently proved to be the correct thing to do.) I was discharged home with an arranged meeting with a specialist at Worcester in 4 weeks time.

After 4 weeks and a few telephone calls arrangements were made for me to see yet another Specialist at Worcester. This time an Irishman, who seemed unimpressed with what had happened so far. No one at this date had even suggested a provisional diagnosis, even though they hazarded a few guesses. He said he thought I had Mesothelioma of the right side of the chest. He explained that while I was on the ship I had inhaled an Asbestos dust, which had got into the Pleura on the right side of my chest and started a Cancer, which spread much like a fibre through the pleura causing it to harden and become rigid like leather and so prevent me breathing, but to confirm his diagnosis he would need to do one small investigative operation at Heartlands Hospital which would mean a stay of two or three nights. This was arranged and eventually acted upon. On my return to home Dr Wilson became very solicitous and started to visit and care for me at home. The most onerous task that Doctor Wilson had to undertake was to inform both Elisabeth and myself that it had been confirmed that I did in fact have a Mesothelioma in the right side of my chest, and that it was both incurable and inoperable. The only treatment available was palliative care, that is to say he could only treat the symptoms, there was no cure for the disease. The treatment for myself therefore was pain killing drugs, these in their turn make one very sleepy, I am only able to be active in a very light way for a very short time and tire very quickly and easily. Every comfort was arranged and arrangements were made for me to attend at Cheltenham Hospital for Chemotherapy under the supervision of a Doctor Ferrugia (An Italian, so you see now I have travelled all around the World by proxy of the Medical staff) this treatment is ongoing, and has been the cause of my lassitude over the last few months. I tire very easily indeed and can only concentrate for a small amount of time, but I shall press on. Grandma Eltome has bought me a small electric scooter, which henceforth we shall refer to as the rocket, because I cannot keep up with it on foot. It can be quickly dismantled and will fit into the back of my car, so we can go to the seaside for our holidays and whiz along the seafronts annoying all and sundry. Elisabeth not to be outdone has bought me a superb armchair, which will do just about everything but make me a cup of tea or take me to the toilet. So now I shall progress with my saga.

So to return to my story that I have neglected for so long.

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