Monday, March 25, 2013


"You have a tumour."

I was sitting inside a room at Khoo Teck Puat's A&E on a Friday evening, when the surgeon dropped this particular bombshell. As he, and the attending doctor, started listing out symptoms - abnormal bowel movements, poop appearing 'narrower' than usual, blood in the stool and loss of appetite, among others - I realised that many of these had been happening for close to half a year. But the single fact running through my mind was: I have a tumour.

I guess what made it harder to detect was that I had also had piles, thanks mostly to my penchant for reading or playing my PSP while sitting on the toilet seat, and some of the symptoms could have been explained away by it. In fact, when I had visited my GP earlier on, he had given me medication for piles, and some of the issues had gone away. This, together with the fact that I am just into my 28th year, probably led the GP to suspect it was something more akin to an infection in my gut.

And it most likely would have remained that way, had the tumour not started affecting my appetite, reducing it so much that I had not been eating properly for the past few days. And so on Friday, after going to work and going through a couple of articles, I felt really out of sorts, and spoke to Andrew, my superior, and said I wasn't feeling well.

He was concerned, of course, and suggested I go to see the company doctor, despite the fact that I had just been to my GP the day before and had received medication. Still, the fact that I was obviously zoning out at 4 in the afternoon (not that uncommon an occurrence, really) and that I was losing my balance while walking, must have appeared disconcerting enough for him to get me to go see the doc, at the very least, to get an MC for the day.

I made my way upstairs and I told him some of the symptoms I had been experiencing. Up to this point, I was still worried that I would be seen as a slacker trying to get an extra day off (probably something to do with the fact that in BMT, my platoon sergeant, who could have passed off as a drill instructor for the USMC, was of the mind that unless you had a 40-degree fever, you were well enough to fight for the country). But upon hearing what I told him, the doctor quickly got me to lie down and started prodding my stomach.

While generally ok, it hurt quite a bit more when he poked me in the gut below my stomach line. He then said it felt like there was an obstruction of sorts in my intestines, and recommended I get to a hospital as soon as possible for a scan to see if there was any infections that were causing blockages.

I got down to the subs desk and told Andrew that I had to go to the hospital for a scan for a suspected infection. This, combined with the fact that I appeared to be unable to keep my balance, led some of the desk to think that I had a ear infection, which would lead to some confusion later on. At any rate, he told me to quickly be on my way, and joked that I should  take a taxi instead of trying to bike my way to the hospital to save money. I laughed and told him I wasn't that stingy.

Fortunately for me, mum was finishing up work around that time, so she swung by my office to bring me to Khoo Teck Puat hospital. It wasn't the nearest to SPH, but it was the nearest to home, and my brother works there as a corpcomms officer, which made the place seem more attractive.

As I was fairly coherent, and did not seem to be in a lot of pain (I had a fever I did not feel though), I ended up waiting for more than an hour before I got to see a doctor, but he was efficient in his work, quickly taking blood samples and giving me a checkup, then getting me prepared to go for a CT scan. While waiting, mum said I felt really warm, and got me a glass of water to drink while she asked a nurse if there was any Panadol to be had. The nurse soon came back, and took away my water, saying I was not supposed to be taking in anything by mouth, and he attached a saline drip to me instead.

The interesting thing about the drip is that it feels cool when it enters your bloodstream, and much later on, I realised that you do not actually feel that hungry when you're on the drip. You do feel some hunger pangs after a while, but as it stood, I ended up without any physical food for the next 8 days without getting any gastric issues, which I tend to be highly susceptible to.

A while later, they called my name and brought me into the CT scan room (they had plonked me in a wheelchair by then), which looked very much like a miniaturised version of the warp gates in Cowboy Bebop (which is a really good anime). After the scan, I was brought out to wait, until the surgeon called me in and dropped the news on my head.

I guess it did not quite register for a while, but then it felt like I was sinking through the bed, as if the news immediately made me feel like an invalid. Later, however, when I sat up, I still felt really normal, albeit weak from the relative lack of food.

It was quite a shock to my parents too; although my mum's side has a whole bunch of issues ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes, cancer was not in either of my family lines. My father quickly made a call to Elder Julian, a church friend who works in the geriatrics department of SGH, and he recommended I get admitted into SGH instead, since the National Cancer Centre is based there and he personally knew a surgeon (whom he also said we should request for) who was an expert in that particular field of medicine.

I felt a bit upset about the news, since by then I was really out of sorts, not having had food or drink for the past few hours. We had also been making a lot of requests of the staff about the nature of the hospitalisation, and felt a bit sorry for the doctors who had been keeping an eye on me til then. But most of all, I was upset that I would have to get a new IV plug.

We got to SGH at about 11 that night and had to go through the whole A&E process again, this time, waiting a couple more hours before they finally admitted me into ward 78, where the doctors on call (two really attractive young women) came by and asked me questions and prodded and poked and examined me some more before allowing me to drift off into a sort of sleep.