memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘brain tumour’ Category

Extraction at dawn

Extraction at dawn.

Tom would love to hear from you

Hi everyone

Jo here, Tom’s niece, gatecrashing his blog again!

Tom is back at the Lar working very hard at getting better. He’s medically stable, well looked after but rehabilitation is slow and frustrating. Tom’s mind is sharp as a razor as ever, but he’s frustratingly not able to type, read or use the computer. However, he’d LOVE to hear your messages, words of support, notes or anything else. It really does make a difference and lift Tom’s mood. Do leave a comment here (They’ll get read to him) or email me jo[at]minestronesoul.com

x Thanks

Jo

Hemmed in by events

I’m checking into hospital on Monday 11th Feb for another bout of neurosurgery (round 4) so all my psychic energy will be focussed on that.

And if you were to ask how I felt about this, I would reply:

Vexed, displeased, irked and gutted

Fed-up and put-upon,

Hemmed in by events,

Squeezed by fate

HEMMED IN - PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

HEMMED IN – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

A bit like this picture in fact

Minnows in the shallows

There are lots of odd and surreal things about this place which lead me to think I have already arrived in that twilight zone between dream and reality.

MY SON - PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

MY SON – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

Take the case of people tapping their head significantly (but medically dismissively) and jerking their chins towards some of the poor souls who get up from their places while a meal is still in progress and start to meander in slow motion between the tables as though exploring a maze to which they have forgotten the way out.

Logically we are facing a scenario whereby one half of the oldsters are tapping their heads significantly and jerking their chins towards the other half.

(Ironically there is only person here about whom they could validly tap their heads significantly and that person is me, with my recurring brain tumours, the fourth of which I’m about to have surgically removed any time now).

Tap tap they should go

Tap tap

Tap tap

We are all just

Minnows in the shallows

Don’t you just hate it when

Don’t you just hate it

When that cheeky

Chirpy little guest

Uninvited but tolerated

Lodging in your attic

Weaving his nest

Hibernating the winter

Harmlessly slumbering

Unobtrusive

Unassuming

Unnoticed

Suddenly awakes!

 

Morphed into a

Lumbering bully

He moves down

A floor wedging His bulk

Back to the bone  

Nudging and pressing

The complex software

The control pilot

The precious jelly

Of my brain.

 

And now the tender thoughts

The subtle arguments

Will be from my skull

Untimely ripped

And the interloper

Plucked out

Leaving blunted edges

And blurred prospects.

 

And don’t you just hate it

When the breakfast cereals

Go soggy

In your

Painted

Bowl.

ART-WORK by THOMAS MILNER

Extraction at dawn

Now listen up Mister

Bad news

We’re going to have to send in

Another extraction team

Midwinter spring

Early at dawn

We land on the beach

Two teams

One to crack open the cliff

And the other

Search & destroy squad

Enter and locate and extract

That goddam cell

Any questions Mister?

Sir, no Sir

Are we reading from the same page Mister?

Sir, yes Sir.

The six noble gases

The noble gases are a group of chemical elements with very similar properties. Once termed as inert, they are all odourless, colourless, monoatomic gases, with very low chemical reactivity.

The six noble gases that occur naturally are helium (He), neon (Ne), argon (Ar), krypton (Kr), xenon (Xe), and the radioactive radon (Rn).

Why am I suddenly interested in these gases?

Well for two reasons:

  1. No aspect of the physical composition of the universe can be totally without interest to any thinking person.
  2. Tomorrow morning I have go for my annual MRI scan to check the rate of growth of my brain tumours and liquid helium is used to cool the superconducting magnets (a.k.a. those noisy little buggers) in modern MRI scanners.

Modern MRI Scanner

Returned to life

Suddenly I heard the sound of someone whistling, a cleaner perhaps or a technician of some sort and something in me flickered back to life.

I gathered air into my lungs, help me!

Get me out of here!

But my voice echoed silently around my head; there seemed no escape from that grim chamber. After what seemed an eternity a small door opened in the wall of the cave and two nurses came in and transferred me onto a trolley and wheeled me into the subdued lighting of the intensive-care-unit, all in complete silence.

Now there was an attempt to insert tubes of various colours (blue, yellow, red) into my lungs   (colour-coding, I thought automatically) and fought it and worried about it for hours and days. Every now and then someone from my past life appeared at the door of ward and pleaded with me to accept the tubes, but I still resisted. Then a new rather forbidding-looking doctor appeared, a middle-aged woman dressed in a green smock, and said let me get at him I’ll sort this out and then managed to cut the right colour (blue) and I, the bomb, was defused, problem sorted what a relief!

I felt myself ebbing down and sideways and agonized and struggled with my demons. Abandon hope all ye who enter here. I was trying to run across a muddy field in winter but I could not move. I stared down at my feet – they were buried up to the ankles in clammy ooze; I changed direction towards a cliff to jump over – and thus wake up – but I couldn’t get near to the edge I just couldn’t get near enough to that edge to jump I just couldn’t get near the edge I just couldn’t …

I heard the clatter of a helicopter landing outside, bringing someone to visit me no doubt; who on earth could it be I wondered; but it was only some boring local politician whom I had never even heard of. The doctors urged him to try to make me speak but I wouldn’t, I was completely unimpressed by him and even refused to shake his hand. I was too busy trying to concentrate on a new voice saying my name, calling me to wake up. I want to but I’m still down here below the surface of the water … I tried to raise myself to the surface into consciousness but you know what it’s like, that sinking breathless sensation trying to stay in a dream, trying not to wake up … Tom, Tom the soft voice repeated, can you hear me? I woke up holding my sister-in-law’s hand, nodded weakly to various people and then went to sleep.

And dreamed and dreamed – terrible dreams.

One night in the ICU I heard a faint hissing sound. From my bed I could see the corridor to the left of the open ward and saw an extraordinary sight, a double figure gliding by on silent wheels, a male dwarf driving the contraption with his wife bolted to his back facing the opposite direction. Apparently they only came out at night (they lived in one of the private wings of the hospital). It was a tragic accident said one the nurses, impossible to operate, just imagine it, I thought, stuck together forever, what horror! One night I woke to find them at the foot of the bed staring intently at me, the man then wheeled round for the woman to have a look.

More macabre hallucinations followed. I used to wake from these with my bed soaked in sweat and my body thrashing about. Sometimes I used to cry out so loudly that the nurses, (back in the neurology-ward now) used to have to wheel me into a special room so as not to disturb the other patients. My paranoia persisted – I imagined that some of the medical staff were conspiring to do me harm, (probably because of that vision of the doctor in the crypt).

I suffered.

I did not endure it.

Every morning the doctor would make his rounds and at my bed he would read the report of my night’s delinquencies, glancing at me from time to time quizzically. I asked him for ever stronger medication to sleep.

One day after lunch a new doctor appeared beside my bed and talked to me gently and sympathetically. She evidently specialized in patients who were mentally disturbed or were suffering from drug-induced paranoia or post-operation trauma. She came every day for about ten days and patiently listened to my babbling rants. But she helped me to start rebuilding my shattered self-esteem and dismantled psyche. She said she found me an interesting person and that one day I should write it all down, which is what I have just done.

All this was over five years ago and I still survive, living in care, wheel-chair bound, fractious at times and obsessively neurotic.

I am an alien in this place and read much of the time.

At night I go elsewhere in my dreams but in the morning here I am again.

The anguish of that time will never really leave me.

Life is a roller-coaster

After being struck down for the first time with one of these cerebral tumors, for a while my life slipped through a series of dramatic cracks in time.

I was on a roller-coaster.

Stomach-churning plunges into the broiling abyss were followed by heart-soaring rushes, like a lark I soared into the great blue yonder. I was the pebbly sandy tide surging forward and then being dragged back at the mercy of the moon.

Hospitals and care-homes witnessed my triumphs and then my falls from grace. I was convulsed, my limbs twitching in spasms before being medicated back onto the dreary plane.

In short, I was not my usual self.

I went back to work after the first time – you’re cured, mate, the doctors said, and indeed I believed that I was. The habit of control was still strong in me and I itched to take up the reigns again. We agreed Lisbon and I, that I would not have a regular teaching schedule but that I would do the odd private student and ease myself back in gently.

No such luck, no sooner had I allocated all the intensive courses (it was September, the last the three summer-course months) than I got a call from Lisbon: could I possibly give an hour a day in-company to the three young probationers who worked in the Chambers of the Company Lawyer, which happened to be located in the Rua dos Clerigos?

So next day after lunch I went round to the office which was housed on an entire restored floor of an old 18th century stone building in the old historic part of Porto. The offices were extremely tastefully restored, laying bare the original granite where possible, white walls and gleaming polished wooden floor with minimal furniture; one waited on a low chunky sofa and leafed through glossy art catalogues from Sotheby’s and Christie’s; the collection of paintings displayed discreetly around the reception was dominated by a large sea-battle-scape featuring the blowing up of the French flag-ship L’Orient at the battle of the Nile, one of Nelson´s decisive fleet engagements leading up to Trafalgar. It was a glorious painting in a rich carved gold frame signed by an artist at the top of his game – Sir William Beechey R.A

(I could have committed murder for that painting).

So I started going there every day after lunch to increase the language skills of the three charming young lawyers. I found that, decrepit as I felt myself to be, at least I had not lost the ability to make women laugh – that particular chip in my brain had remained intact. From time to time I chatted with their boss, a tall, burly urbane gentleman, whom I already knew slightly (he was our company lawyer) and expressed my admiration for his Beechey. I mentioned diffidently that the same painter had executed a full-length portrait of a member of my family, an earlier and much simpler work painted in 1794 at the beginning of Beechey’s career before he got his knighthood and became a member of the Royal Academy.

MAJOR GAMALIEL MILNER of BURTON GRANGE attr William Beechey

As for the language course, it turned out one might say satisfactory and my life settled back onto an even keel.

The Lombard Reflex

I get to considering local common characteristics of the village people.

They do love a good noise, don’t they? Last year I read about the Lombard Reflex, the theory developed by the French physicist Etienne Lombard (specialist subject – Stating the Bleeding Obvious) that in a noisy crowded room people will raise their voices to give weight to their opinions, thus adding incrementally to the ambient noise pollution.

That theory doesn’t apply to some of these people though – they start off loud and work their way up through the decibels to just plain deafening.
They do love a good noise don’t they, bless them. They presumably equate noise with having a good time, the pleasure principle, as exemplified by the village feast. Saint’s days, municipal holidays, football victories, none of these events goes unmarked.

It’s time for a village feast.
First the PA system is strung up among the pollarded trees of the square in front of the church and stalls of tat and seriously unhealthy snacks – egg-mixture dipped in batter, deep-fried in boiling fat and then sprinkled with sugar (a riddle inside a mystery wrapped up in an enigma) are deployed. Then comes the booming voice of the DJ testing for sound – what the system lacks in quality it certainly makes up for in quantity. Then we’re off!

The banshee wailing of some local chanteuse (with impressive tubes) is belting out folklore favourites, repetitive and relentless. The people drift contentedly among the trees in the warm summer night. (They are music-illiterate – this is the only music they know).

For me It’s a bit like living, I imagine, in a normally quiet sector of the Western Front where, every now and then, there’s a small (and pointless) battle with the whoosh and crash of in-coming shells and the bang and boom of out-going ones with the distant dull thudding crump of explosions in the next sector of the line – It seemed that out of battle I escaped/down some profound dull tunnel … Then at midnight the thunderous BOOM of the celebratory fireworks, (when I first came here to this room some years ago, I nearly jumped out my skin; I thought we were being invaded from the sea – the Greek navy’s opening straddling salvo perhaps, testing the range to strike at the air-force base down in the pine forest).

HEARING CRISIS – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

Last year was especially unfortunate for me. Now check out these dates: Thursday 23rd June was a public holiday in Portugal – Corpus Christi (a movable feast dependent on an unusually late Easter); moreover it was the night of S. João and so warrants municipal noise about 30 meters from my window as the deaf crow flies until the early hours. The next day (Friday) was the feast of S. João (there are two St. Johns on the A-list – the Apostle/ Evangelist and, the saint in question, the Baptist). This time the party comes right here to the Home.

The bad news is that per cubic litre of space these old dears were being are subjected to more decibels than at the Glastonbury Festival but the good news is that most of them, to a greater or lesser extent, have faulty hearing; meanwhile I cowered blenching here in my room on the second floor feeling the building vibrate.

The next day (Saturday) was the feast of S. Pedro, the village patron saint, so it’s time to party the night away again. The next morning (Sunday) a couple of warning guns go off at 8.30 am to remind people to wake up for the procession. Le tous Maceda has turned out to line the streets; even the wheel-chairs are shoved into a line beside the road to watch the proceedings; all that is except for one misanthropic Englishman and a couple of inmates whose minds are completely lost in the maze of forgetfulness; and finally to round off the festivities (and ram the message home) more boom-bada-bada-boom from the square at night.
Such thoughts are unseemly in someone whose life is nearing its sell-by date.

I should be more tolerant.

I should take the broader view.

I should finish up my pastimes of reading, writing and painting, close my laptop, log off my mind and join the others in concentrating on doing some serious full-time waiting.

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