Last August I was a bit ill, just a bad cold I thought. Then a few weeks later, a second one. Then I couldn’t walk.

All that sneezing had finally managed to break a bit of the body that in men is a tad weak and gave myself a hernia. A weird popping sensation when sneezing and coughing, that was just odd, not painful, and not worrying.

Then a couple of weeks after the wave of colds had passed, I couldn’t walk. Went out as normal one Saturday for a jaunt across this fine city, and got to the end of the street. Severe pains in the groin, and off to the doctor.

Hmm, might be a hernia. Go for a scan.

The scan was booked, a few weeks hence, and the doctor doing it almost yelled in delight as I had a case-study of what a hernia should look like. Not just any old hernia, this was the M&S of hernias. At least I’ve done something properly for once.

A review by a GP, who spent most of the consultation slumped in her chair staring at the computer, and surgery was booked for November. Except it turned out that was just an appointment to meet the surgeon, and surgery was booked for January.

Hernia’s are an odd thing, in that most people apparently, can have one for years without it being a serious problem, so surgery is not considered to be urgent unless you get it trapped, then as you’re screaming in agony, surgery tends to be immediate. For everyone else, take your time, it’s not that big an issue.

In my case, there was a progressive decline, that made walking slower and harder every day. On a walking stick by now, the world shrinks markedly.

No more wandering around to see what’s down a side street or perambulating in a meander around the place. All journeys are strictly from origin to destination with the shortest route possible.

From home to shops, or to work, and that’s all that the world comprises of. As someone who delights in discovering new things, this was particularly irksome. Being stuck at home should have meant being able to do lots of reading, but being depressed by physical constraints meant not being in the mood to read and write with gusto.

Fortunately, the weeks past, and surgery approached. Some misleading information from two nurses in the weeks before nearly caused a panic on the day of the operation, but they sorted out alternative arrangements.

The surgeon came in, got his pen out and marked a big cross where the cut was to go, then talked about a one percent chance of complications. What? Now you tell me about this? It’s not as if I had much choice, but one percent seems a bit higher than I would have expected these days.

Going under general anesthetic is a very odd sensation. You’re lying on the bed, outside the theatre, and basically being manhandled with people coldly attaching wires and cables to your body. A nasty pain as a needle is stuck in the back of the hand (why is it always the hand?) and then someone is saying it’s all over.

There’s no going to sleep, and no waking up, just a curious sensation that someone has been talking to you for a couple of minutes and you’ve been ignoring them until you realise they’re telling you the operation is over.

Apparently, a hernia operation is totally routine, something that people should be able to get up and walk about within a few hours, and while you’ll be off work for a couple of weeks, it’s just recuperation.

I couldn’t walk.

A nurse got a bit annoyed that I wasn’t getting up and about, but I could barely get to the end of the bed. Discharged the next day, and thank goodness I had a walking stick to help hobbling downstairs to a taxi.

Unfortunately, it seems something went wrong.

Barely able to walk, and having the most exceptionally nasty pains below the hernia. I am not sure what having your leg cut open with a knife feels like, but this is probably what it would feel like. Every few hours, agony, and what was scary was that unlike any other injury where you quickly learn not to do something that hurts, there seemed to be no trigger for this pain whatsoever.

Not knowing what caused the pain, or even if the pain would start and not stop, I took to carrying the mobile phone with me if going on a Tea & Toilet trip. (actually, it’s coffee, but coffee and ….., well).

I did ponder what happens though if I was frozen in pain in the kitchen and needed to call an ambulance. How do they get in? OK, it’s going to be a routine event for them to need to smash down a front door, but the situation did make me curious about how they deal with a patient unable to open doors.

A doctor came to the home, and confirmed that no infections, no problems with the stitches, and sadly, it seems I’ve been unlucky. I would just have to wait it out, but the pains would pass.

I was actually quite annoyed, as the only warning of surgery complications was about numbness if nerves were cut, and I had the absolute opposite. Nothing was said about that possibility. In hindsight, both pre and post surgery information was woefully lacking.

Lying in bed, I checked my emails. One from a firm who want to use my photos, and as usual they expect me to hand them over for free. After gently suggesting that maybe they should pay, the conversation dried up.

What hit me though was checking the weekly weekend travel disruptions email, which I was reading. Why am I working out where I cant go this weekend, when I can’t go anywhere?

Being housebound also meant lots of ready meals delivered to the home. With a £60 minimum order, that’s a lot of booze ordered as well to make up the order, as it’s rather difficult for a single guy to order £60 of fresh food and not have it go off before it’s eaten.

Home shopping is definitely a service aimed at large families. We single folk need to carry our own shopping.

After several months of barely being able to walk, the surgery was supposed to open up new vistas of opportunity to get out and about once more, only to be stopped dead in its tracks by the side effects of the surgery. It’s remarkably depressing to spend so long looking forward to something only to see the light at the end of the tunnel recede so precipitously once more.

It’s been months since I did anything interesting and the pressure is building up.

Over the next 3 weeks the pain attacks decreased in intensity and frequency, to the point that they were sharp stabs rather than machete attacks. Sitting up is still, now, seven weeks after the surgery a bit of a problem.

Had a follow up with the surgeon six weeks after the operation, and he almost barked at me as I walked in to the office as to why I was limping. It was the first few days without the walking stick, but still hobbling a bit. As far as he was aware, the operation had been a total success, and in fact the hernia type should have been one of the quickest to heal. So he was alarmed at what had happened.

Another appointment in April will decide if more scans are needed to find out what went wrong, if anything, and if anything can be done to fix it.

It’s been a difficult few months, and in a very different way to when I was serious ill just over a decade ago.

When it’s an infection, and the body is worn down, you are so sleepy and tired. This time I wasn’t tired, wasn’t sleepy, but in pain. In a way, it’s worse, as you’re mentally awake, but unable to do anything. I’ve never been so bored in my life!

You also learn the little things make a big difference. Have you ever tried cutting your toe-nails when you cant bend down? If I ever read another tabloid rant about councils wasting money on toe-nail clipping services, I will explode. Being unable to do that for three weeks was surprisingly uncomfortable towards the end. Couldn’t put socks on either.

Fortunately, things are slowly on the mend, I am walking again, the bad days are now bad hours, the pains more just annoyances. And what luck to have all this happen in winter, so I should be healthy for a long summer of enjoyable walking around the city.

Society

Needing a walking stick to get around has also given me an insight into how other people handle disability.

A decade ago, I used a walking stick for several months and can count on one hand the number of times a seat was offered on the tube. This time, I can count on one hand the number of times a seat wasn’t offered. There’s been a massive change in the public attitude to disability over the past decade, and that’s a really good thing.

Ironically, in the past couple of weeks, sitting was more painful than standing, so I preferred to stand on the tube at times, and declined generous offers by people offering their seats. One woman seemed to be quite annoyed at me for not forcing someone to give up their seat when I got on the tube a couple of weeks ago. I just didn’t want to sit down.

As there’s a bus that goes from home to doctor, I used the bus while off work. I learnt to avoid mid-afternoon. It seems that courtesy hasn’t reached bus users yet. Odd.

Another aspect which was less fun was something I have often had a slight inward smile about, but rather less these days.

Canary Wharf estate is very disabled friendly. Wherever there’s stairs, there’s a lift. Wherever there’s doors, one set will be power-assisted.

What used to make me smile is how many people will gravitate to the disabled door to use the power button rather than pushing the manual doors open themselves. I’ve seen people queuing up to use the one power assisted door than the other five normal doors at some locations.

But when you have a walking stick, and struggling to walk, that isn’t as much fun any more. Worse was when I would walk up to a closed door and press the button to open it, only for someone to then dart in front of me to get through. Rude at the best of times, but doubly so when someone is visibly disabled.

I also learnt that people really don’t look where they are going. I knew that already, and tend to weave around the oblivious people staring at their phones. But when you’re hobbling, you need more time and space to move out of the way. People looking up startled that they have to move for once and apologizing when they see the walking stick.

An interesting transition is getting off trains. People always stand in front of doors and try to barge on. But as soon as they saw the walking stick, they step back and apologize. I’m not using the walking stick anymore, so the apologies have vanished. People still have to move back, but do so in sullen silence.

But in general, compared to a decade ago, I think things in how society deal with visible disabilities are better.

The Huffer, the Mutter, the Tutter

Three people though stand out in my memories.

One wet day hobbling along a path someone came towards me with a massive umbrella. Now that was never going to be something two people could pass on a pavement at any time, and I am not inclined to step into the road just because someone wants to use the entire pavement for themselves. And she loudly huffed at the guy hobbling along with a walking stick at how she had to tilt her gigantic brolly to get past him.

Heading home, and two of us got onto a Met line train, she sat next to the window on a forward facing seat, and I sat next to her. Yes, there were other empty seats, but I had learned that sitting facing forwards was less painful.

“Did you really have to sit there” I heard her mutter.

My gloriously loud riposte uttered in a voice loud enough to embarrass the hell out of her, about how apologetic I was for being disabled and needing to sit facing forwards on trains… was something I only thought of much later.

Damn!

Passing though a set of the aforementioned doors at Canary Wharf, I was frankly not minded to get out of the way of the woman hurrying towards me to use the same door. One of us clearly could move quickly and easily, and it wasn’t me.

So she tutted at my apparent discourtesy. It took a moment to register, but, what, did she actually just tut at a visibly disabled person not moving as fast as she could? Yes. I was a bit too stunned to respond, and she’d hurried off by then any way.

So Madame Tutter, you win the IanVisits Award for Rudeness.

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41 comments on “Illness and Surgery
  1. Angela Morgan says:

    Sorry to hear of your illness and the frustrations of the slow pace to recovery. When we were younger we thought we were invincible. Yes, society’s attitude towards those who are less able is becoming more intolerant, despite attempts by companies to be more disabled friendly. We have a wonderful city we can be proud of with its historic buildings and the events that make the history we long to hear about, but there are occasions that make us question how great is it really?

  2. so sorry you’ve been through all this. I love your weekly posts on what’s going on in and around london, as do many others too. I always take a note of things listed when I visit from glasgow, so hoping we may meet up at some point when I’m next down. that would be lovely.

    take care in the meantime & hope your recovery to full health will be sooner rather than later.

  3. Alison says:

    So sorry about your terrible experience and ongoing recuperation. Several years ago I herniated a disk in my back and had trouble walking for several months. I learned that it is difficult when one’s disability (fortunately temporary for me)is invisible. People are indeed very impatient. Best wishes for a quicker and complete recovery. I so enjoy your blog.

  4. SteveP says:

    So sorry to hear of your illness and best wishes for a speedier recovery. I have found that to make best use of the NHS you must be extremely proactive – and keep your own records of everything possible.

    I note that you found it was often women who were less polite. I have also found this to be so. Oh sure, young yobs I don’t expect to be courteous, but in general, your average man is much more likely to both be aware of others around and make accommodation for them.

    One day, walking just a few blocks to my Tube station, three different women ran into me – all doing something on their phones. My technique is if eye contact is impossible to simply stop, so they sort of bounce off. Most often they are apologetic (I mean, they ran into me) but about 25% swear. How unladylike. How self-centred.

  5. John Pocock says:

    A bit late now but should you be unfortunate enough to need the other side “doing” consider having a shouldice repair. It worked very well for me without any post surgery discomfort and I was able to return to pulling levers in a heritage railway signal box within months.

    John

  6. Margaret says:

    You must be a bit of a hero for keeping the delights of Ian Visits going in its relentless fashion whilst undergoing this personal trauma. As for the power of the walking stick, my husband has some mobility problems and uses one, especially in busy situations. People are much more considerate and generous than we ever imagined. Thank you for keeping the ship afloat for all you readers. May you soon be pain free and out and about exploring again.

  7. Martin Popplewell says:

    A very interesting and informative blog – especially about changing attitudes towards disability. Sorry to hear your recovery is taking longer than expected but hopefully you’ll be up your usual geeky transport activities by the Spring.

  8. Angela says:

    Glad you are recovering. Love reading your posts however I don’t live in the UK but reading them is the next best thing.

  9. Diana Birchall says:

    So sorry that you have been going through all this! Your writing is a delight and I hope that this miserable healing process takes hold very soon.

  10. Peter H says:

    I can empathise with your travails. It came as a surprise to me though, just how many people can be so considerate. That makes the ill mannered ones stand out more though.
    A thing that truly amazed me, as a Northener, was visiting London for a couple of days and getting about in my wheelchair, ably driven by my wonderful wife. .
    Staying in Greenwich and travelling in to the city on a Clipper boat to the Tower, the number of people who went out of their way to be helpful was both amazing and a blessing.
    I have no preconceived notions about the demeanor of city dwellers, other than these places are big, busy and not always comfortable to navigate and offer little of people’s better natures .
    The kindness and patience of so many people in London as we bumbled around, frequently having to stop to fix a damaged front wheel, was both unexpected and invaluable to making our trip a success.
    Alongside the wondrous sights, the highlight of my trip was so many good hearted citizens.
    What a life affirming experience.

  11. So glad to hear you’re finally on the mend. If there’s anything we, your readers, can do to help, please let us know.

  12. Hi Ian – I am glad to hear things are improving … but sorry that they didn’t come together sooner and heal as they were meant to – I hope further surgery isn’t necessary. All the best to you and thank you for keeping IanVisits going … I do enjoy being here.

    Disability and our reaction to it out and about is interesting … I had a hip operation – which thankfully went off perfectly (lucky me) … and being single and finding out how people react with a stick or crutch … or just being old apparently! When offered a seat – I always apologised to the ‘offerer’ and said I’d rather stand … having sat for most of the day travelling already.

    But all the very best – and enjoy the coming of Spring with a healthier body … and once again – thank you. Hilary

  13. Richard Mitchell says:

    I am very sorry (and surprised) to read of your ill health….remarkably, your up-beat and always interesting posts have given no hint of anything so seriously wrong. I have been reading your tips for quite some time, and have forgotten how many visits of my own they have inspired.
    I sincerely wish for you a speedy and full recovery in the very near future.

    Very best regards, Richard.

    • Terry Hill says:

      Yes indeed. Perhaps I am insensitive, but I didn’t pick up a single clue that you had been unwell. I hope you recover fully soon

  14. Mike says:

    Please don’t die. I enjoy reading your blog.

  15. Jo W says:

    Oh dear,so very sorry to read that you’ve had such a rotten time of it. I hope that you’ll soon be feeling much fitter and able to tell us all about your meanderings.
    I think you gave us a small hint when you wrote about the Museum of Anaesthesia a few months back? Your story reminded me of when ‘im indoors had to have a hernia op,that would be about twenty five years ago and before ‘keyhole’ surgery. He had weeks of convalescence but for the first few weeks,he couldn’t stand upright and resembled a half open penknife. No, he didn’t think it was funny………
    Now both of us have recourse to walking sticks on occasion and I recognise a lot of those situations you were recounting, but more good than bad,thankfully. Get well soon.

  16. Lord hee haw says:

    Sorry to hear of your travails. I’m a long time reader but first time commenter.

    I can answer the question about what happens when the ambulance staff can’t get in. Your door gets opened, usually by the police if your condition isn’t life threatening. I don’t know who repairs it because I’ve always been gone when that happens, but whoever knocks it in secures it.

  17. mauricewreed says:

    Sorry to hear of you hernia, sounds damn painful.
    All the best for a recovery.

  18. John Poole says:

    Hi Ian, I am very pleased that you are on the road to recovery. I am sorry that I didn’t pick up how poorly you were. I am, as always, impressed by the quality of work that you do for our benefit. My very best wishes for the future.

  19. The Freerangers.( 6 OAPs) says:

    Glad your recovering , hope you will be fully recovered and out and about very soon. We love your blogs.

  20. Strafa says:

    We really appreciate your blog, hope your health is improving by the day.

  21. coffin dodger says:

    My father went in for a groin hernia, came out minus one testicle.That will be the one percent complications. To be fair he was in his 80’s.

  22. Helena Poldervaart says:

    I love your website and so appreciate the time you take to share your knowledge and wonderful experiences with us. What a torrid time you’re having and, as so often is the case, you’re experiencing a mix of excellent and empathetic care and attention (both from health professionals and the general public) and the downright thoughtless and rude. Completely agree that tube passengers generally quick to offer a seat but bus passengers are in a different, hellish universe of their own.

    Yes, pain and not being able to do things are so wearing and depressing – you describe it very well.

    Really hope you’re fully better soon and that the docs can sort you out speedily.

  23. Neal R says:

    As a mobility disabled person i can feel for you wholeheartedly. I hope you are now fully recovered and do not get a repeat.
    You explained the difficulties we face every day very well. Add to that the number of places without level access or no indication of a ramp being available, scarcity of accessible loos, heavy fire doors that are not automatic, bus drivers who ignore us at bus stops, the list is endless but it is improving.
    A real help would be an indication of accessibility at events. If I am visiting friends we have to check the venue is accessible with loos and catering, plus good accessible travel facilities.
    Believe it or not, some train companies will not take a mobility scooter although it is a travel scooter the same size as a quadraplegic’s and can be dismantled into four parts if necessary but still refuse. We have a way to go.
    However most people are very generous. I have had people help me off buses and lift the scooter off when the ramp has failed, people helping with my tray in eateries, opening doors etc. However. And this is a really big HOWEVER. Baby buggy users. Very very few will remove the (often toddler sized) child from the buggy to fold it so I can get the bus. Many will stare into space or just ignore the driver. Luckily in London the wait for the next isn’t normally long.
    Good luck on your recovery and hope it is speedy. And thanks to all the helpful people who have assisted me to get to the places You have mentioned.

  24. Robert says:

    Is the fact that your three “problem” people women just one of those things, or did you find that there was some consistent difference between men and women?

  25. Colin B says:

    Sorry to hear this, I had a hernia op, well had to suffered a lot over the year since it ‘was found’. still 6 weeks touring Oz with a hernia didn’t help I suppose. anyways – now 15 months post op, still gives me jip at times I least expect it. like getting on bus (trains/tube okay as almost level).

    Wishing you all the best on this.

  26. AndrewWS says:

    When I was on crutches with a fractured foot a few years ago, quite a lot of people offered me their seat on the Tube. They were all either female, ethnic-minority (Black and Asian) or both.

  27. Andrew says:

    I too had the same surgery, abdominal. My hernia was minor and non symptomatic. Just a little bulge in my stomach. Back to work in four weeks was suggested. More like ten. Some five years on, the scar is still both numb and tender at the same time but it is at the stage where I don’t flinch if anyone touches the area. Seems like you had a much harder time of it.

  28. Annabel says:

    So very sorry to learn that you’ve been through the mill just lately – and very glad that things are improving. Why is it always the consultants/surgeons who are nice, and who take you seriously, and the GPs that don’t? Although if my GP hadn’t taken me seriously a few months ago I might not be here now….

  29. Helen says:

    Hi Ia, I’m sorry to hear of the pain and boredom you’ve been going through with this. I hope the recovery continues to go well (and speeds up). It is good to know that at least some people showed you kindness amidst all the rude, ignorant and distracted ones

  30. Nicola says:

    Sorry to read you have not been well and that you have been one of the unlucky ones to have ongoing problems. Your insight into on-line shopping and peoples’ attitudes to visible disabilities is thought-provoking.

    And thank you for keeping up with IanVisits. The WW2 related events are giving my widowed father a new lease of life and distracting him from worrying about what his neighbours may (or may not) be up to!

  31. Jacqui says:

    I hope your pain disappears soon and that you heal fully. Love your writing and so impressed that you have continued without the quality of content impaired.
    London does care. Worse day of my life was when someone on the tube offered me their seat which was for the elderly! A lot of times from our EU friends but have seen real acts of kindness from the assumed stereo type lout!

  32. Gill says:

    Wishing you a speedier recovery. A practical tip: Iceland deliver for free on orders over just £35! I have belatedly discovered its delights (frozen fare is great for not wasting food, as a fellow singleton; it’s leading the way on getting rid of plastic http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-42692642, it looks after its staff http://about.iceland.co.uk/great-place-to-work/, and offers surprisingly impressive quality, in the main!).

  33. Alun says:

    Dear Ian, I’m new to your emails and extremely interesting articles but was very sorry to read of your difficulties. I’m single, too, and currently recovering from a simple viral infection; this has been bad enough, so I hate to think what you’re going through. On a practical point, like Gill I’ve also had good experiences with Iceland. Do take care.

  34. Martin says:

    Just to echo what others have said – so sorry to hear you’ve been in so much pain and discomfort and I hope you get better soon.
    I use a walking stick, I have some weak back muscles and just need it to support me standing on one leg for a few moments now and again. I am amazed (and often made to feel guilty) by the number of people in London who are kind and supportive, seats are routinely offered on tubes – usually by the sorts of young people you might not expect to help. And drivers routinely stop to wave me across streets.

  35. Lynda says:

    So sorry to hear you had so much bad luck both pre and post surgery. A heroic achievement keeping everything going with absolutely no loss of quality. Maintaining a consistently high standard is harder than it looks, to do so under very trying circumstances is admirable. Eat chocolate , drink champagne , take a bow. Bask in a nice warm glow. You really really are appreciated..

  36. Dave says:

    Belated commiserations for your painful experience. Great respect for the way that you have soldiered on despite, and still maintaining the quality of your blog in the circumstances. Best wishes for a continued recovery.

  37. Gordon says:

    I sympathize with your plight. My own experience was fortunately better. I had had an umbilical hernia for some time when it became painful and I sought treatment. I have medical insurance provided by my employer and initial consultation, scan and surgery all happened within a span of 10 days. I was walking the day after surgery, which happened in the evening, and after 2 weeks off work and a further two working from home was right as rain.

  38. africlegacy says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you so much

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