Funny what you learn when researching on the net. Yesterday I came across an article which suggested the oxygen level in the atmosphere was falling due to dying oceans and de-forestation, so I started to search for any data to support this, and in that happenstance way of the net, came across “hypoxia”, a term I had never met before.
When my late husband and I moved to North Yorkshire from London in 2011, it was for a number of reasons. The main one was the rent on our tiny flat had reached the level where it was wiping out one hundred percent of my, or my husbands, monthly income. The other was that my husband was already past retirement age and was still recovering from the cancer he had contracted in 2007. Putting these circumstances together, work was pointless, and our situation was precarious. If something happened to one of us, the other would have their entire income wiped out by accommodation costs. So we left London for the more affordable life in the North. One of Bill’s daughters lived in Harrogate, so Bill chose Harrogate.
Harrogate was heaven after London. We found a large one-bed studio, with a garden and garage, impeccably fitted out, for two-thirds of the accommodation costs of our London flat converted from a bed-sit by putting a wall down the middle. Instead of continuous traffic noise 24/7, we would wake in the night to blessed silence, or the sound of rain or wind in the trees. Instead of breathing foul polluted air, clean air, the cleaness of the air demonstrated by moss growing on stone walls, something I had not seen since childhood. When our neighbours got noisy – we hadn’t even noticed – the landlord turfed them out. With the landlords permission, Bill set to fixing up the garden.
Bill still had post cancer check-ups. In December he had an all-clear, then another appointment the following May. On that appointment his Consultant in London didn’t like the look of him and swiftly sent him for a number of tests, which confirmed the worst. His cancer had come back, but now it was aggressive and widespread. His first cancer had been in the throat. Now it had spread to his brain, a lung, a kidney and bones. The Consultant told him he could “go” any time, but the time-scale was likely 3 months to 6 months max. It was a bitter disappointment. We had both endured the hell-hole lifestyle of London, tied by Bill’s work, by looking forward to the day when we would leave and could have a normal life. Bill said to me – is it too much to ask, after 55 years work, for a few years of happy retirement in a lovely part of the countryside?
His first incidence of “hypoxia” although I didn’t know the word, occurred about a month later. We had had lunch as usual, and Bill seemed normal. I was in the bedroom reading while Bill was in the living room. After a couple of hours it occurred to me that it seemed very quiet. I went into the room, but he wasn’t there. I went out to the garden and he was sitting in the car with the doors opened. I touched him and he felt cold and looked pale. I asked him what he was doing out there, and he replied in a dreamy way, he had come out to get some air. Something didn’t seem right. I called the Doctor and she had him admitted to hospital. His red blood cell count had fallen so low, not enough oxygen had been getting to his brain. He was given three blood transfusions and was kept in hospital for a week until he was normal.
Bill was put on chemotherapy, and he breezed it, just as he had done when being treated at The Royal Marsden. He was lucky that the chemo hardly bothered him. He had the maximum number of courses they could give – six – and this took him up to December. With the chemo all his tumours had shrunk. But after the last course, they checked him again. The tumours were growing again.
And in December he contracted a lung infection. He was put on a course of a penicillin-type drug and his infection cleared. A week later he came down with another infection. He was given another course, cleared the infection, and then he contracted another infection. This kept happening. Every time he got over an infection, he would come down with another. When the Doctor visited at the start of February she listened to his lungs, then said no air was going into one lung. I thought nothing of it, not realising any significance to her remark. She didn’t suggest any type of treatment. But Bill said a look of alarm had crossed her face. Bill’s condition deteriorated dramatically after his first lung infection. He was exhausted, irritable, weak, depressed, anorexic, muscles aching, and increasingly distressed because he felt he couldn’t breathe. The following are some of the symptoms of hypoxia all of which Bill had at different times and in different combinations.
Muscle and mental fatigue
Visual impairment, hallucinations
and the main one –
hunger for air
Towards the end of February a speech therapist visited and after watching Bill eat and drink, told us any liquid he consumed was going straight into his lungs. The reason why he hadn’t been able to shake off the lung infections. He had six lung infections, one after the other.
But other odd things had been happening since December. Up till then Bill and I had been impressed by the standard of care, which was top class. Bill’s condition was complex, causing sudden drastic variations, such as the occasion when his blood count dropped too low. Or another occasion when his magnesium level dropped too low causing anorexia, so he had to stay in hospital for a week while they restored his magnesium level and fed him through a tube. The district nurses, the Doctor, the hospital were first class in their response. But about the time of Bill’s first lung infection, that seemed to change. Another Doctor visited in February and her attitude was dismissive. Along the lines of – what do you expect in your condition. The District nurses started arriving in pairs and diving through the door, which was generally unlocked, unannounced. I had worked for Social Services in the past and knew this was an indication that elder-abuse was suspected. I was starting to worry about the inert response from everybody when we expressed concerns about Bill’s condition. Neither Bill nor myself had any medical background and there seemed little point in second-guessing the trained professionals with previous experience.
One morning Bill had a fit. It looked like a stroke, but less severe. The District nurses came out and a Doctor, and I phoned Bill’s daughter to tell her what had happened. They all sat round the bed and discussed with Bill, who was only coherent about half the time, whether he should go into hospital or not. Bill kept trying to lift his right arm, and get them to acknowledge that he couldn’t lift it. He was telling them he could see shapes in the corner of the room, but they just seemed to ignore him. After this surreal group discussion there was very little conclusion other than a nurse brought a nebuliser and the Doctor prescribed steroids to deal with possible inflammation of the brain. This seemed to me an inadequate medical response and I was becoming suspicious. Also Bills feet had swollen up and become icy cold. I brought that to the medics attention but that was also ignored.
When they left I accessed the medical diagnostic on my computer, and queried Bill’s symptoms. The answers were unambiguous. A lung can become water-logged due to heart failure in one side of the heart. The medical response is diuretics and drugs which strengthen heart function. The situation worsens if not treated. Heart failure on the other side of the heart causes swollen feet and ankles, which will also be cold, due to impaired circulation. The combination is called congestive heart failure. If this is not treated the situation deteriorates and can trigger heart attack or stroke. The fit Bill had was a mini-stroke. The diagnostic did not mention hypoxia, but impaired heart and/or lung function reduce oxygen supply.
On the Sunday Bill became excited and irrational. His behaviour was completely out of character and resembled someone who was very drunk. This made me think of Bill’s fey behaviour the previous year when his blood count had dropped too low. I called the Doctor who came out and took some blood. The next day our own Doctor called in and told us the blood tests showed normal except for his infection. I mentioned Bill’s cold feet again to null response. I asked if Bill could have diueretics as he was clearly water-logged. He looked like he was putting on weight although he was hardly eating. The Doctor seemed to brighten up at that and prescribed diuretics.
By this stage Bill’s distress at feeling he couldn’t breathe, was his main concern. He was worn out and really depressed. I was still puzzling over the medical responses which did not seem right. The Doctors and nurses, unlike the previous year who had been quick to note any change for the worse in his condition and take immediate corrective action, had become strangely inert. Ignoring symptoms, slow to recommend treatment, and seeming to need to be specifically asked to supply appropriate treatment. I have no medical background nor experience. I could not replace the Doctors expertise, but somehow I was being expected to. Bill died in early March, 2013.
And I discovered the word “hypoxia” yesterday, which described his suffering in the last three months of his life.
My experience with my late husband proved that you cannot trust doctors – however I learnt it too late. In retrospect I can see we were subjected to the tactic of an amazingly proficient medical service, so that when they went into reverse it took some time to work out what was happening. My husband’s condition was such that his death would have occurred about the time it did, anyway (one of the tumours had grown across his throat so he couldn’t eat). But his last months need not have been slow torture. Too late I learned what I should have done – done my own medical research – keep questioning the medics and insisting on answers – and demanding the right treatment for him. I should have also sought leverage on the situation by making it clear I was a blabby person and was telling everyone every detail of what was happening. And this would be my advice to any Targeted Individual with a relative requiring any medical treatment.