One Life Changing Moment

I've been carrying a secret for the past nine months.

I've learnt that this life can throw you curve balls at any opportunity. Great things can happen in the flicker of an eye but unexpected, unwelcome events can also occur in an instant. I've learnt that it's how you respond to these life changing moments that defines the kind of person you are, not the moment itself.

I had one such life changing moment late last year.

Stormy days ahead.

Shortly before Elliot was born in November (Read: Our Miracle Boy), I woke up in the middle of the night, my ears screeching and my head feeling as if it were stuffed full of cotton wool. By morning, it seemed as if I had a cold or flu of some sort so I knocked back a few painkillers and carried on with my day.

At that time, our minds were on other things, namely Elliot's impending arrival and providing my wife with unconditional support. She had also caught a cold so we went to the doctor to make sure that, at full term in her pregnancy, she would be okay and I would have a quick check-up to make sure my own niggling malady wouldn't cause her or the baby any harm.

Sarah was told to rest up and get some sleep; however, the doctor was concerned with my condition. I had temporarily lost the hearing in one ear and I showed symptoms of a viral infection rather than a pesky common cold.

Those days were hectic for us. We were nervous at the arrival of our first child and the number one priority was Sarah's health. We had less than four weeks to her due date and my health issues were the least of our worries. I was angry they were getting in the way with such appallingly bad timing.

Over the next few weeks, I attended ear specialists, had hearing tests, ultrasounds, a series of steroid injections through my ear drum under local anaesthetic, and ultimately an MRI.

It was poor timing all round.

In the end, a freak virus had stripped my right ear of a large part of its hearing at certain ranges - basically high-pitched sounds but thankfully not the range that human speech takes place at. After the appointments, scans, tests, pills and injections, I was told the hearing loss would not return. I was partially deaf and it was permanent.

But the life changing moment was yet to come.

Shortly after Elliot was born, the results of the MRI came through. I'd had the scan to confirm that cancer and, more specifically, a tumour in the ear wasn't the cause of my sudden hearing loss. The results confirmed it wasn't cancer and I breathed a long sigh of relief.

Then the ear specialist informed me something else had shown up. My moment had arrived.

Walking me through the scans on her light box, she pointed out a number of abnormal dark patches scattered across the right side of my brain. These patches shouldn't have been there and indicated a serious problem - again, cancerous tumours, or a lack of blood flow resulting from blockages in my arteries. I felt numb inside. How could an innocent virus lead to hearing loss which in turn led to the discovery of this potentially catastrophic diagnosis? I couldn't actually compute the situation.

They say these things are character building and, if so, I built an entire house.

We had now welcomed Elliot into the world and we were knee-deep in nappies and baby clothing. I buried my secret deep down where it couldn't hurt us. I was devastated and Sarah was in a state of disbelief. We turned our attention to the tiny, perfectly-formed boy in front of us and we tried to forget about the potential storm on the horizon.

I was referred to a neurologist who would carry out further tests but he was unable to see me for another three months. I had to wait and I had to be patient.

Yet I felt like a ticking time bomb.

If I had a growing blockage in my carotid artery, something terrible could happen at any point. I could be walking down the street and drop down dead, then and there. If I had tumours on the brain, who knew how rapidly they could take hold. I would sit at home holding Elliot and the secret buried deep within would start to rise. What would any of this mean for Elliot? Why had this happened to us now, just when Elliot had been born and such positivity had entered our lives? What did the following weeks and months hold for us as a family?

Work to understand what was going on in my brain started to move forward.

An ultrasound on my carotid artery revealed no blockage of any sort. One issue down, more still to address. My appointment with the neurologist came and went. He theoretically ruled out tumours given the shape and size but not with any confidence. He also added multiple sclerosis to the mix - in other words, damaged nerve cells in the brain and many, many problems in my future.

He ordered blood tests and a further MRI to confirm whether changes had occurred since the initial scan. The MRI was then delayed and a few more months passed. Suddenly we were into August.

And, on Tuesday, I had the scan.

Waiting for the results of the MRI, we watched a popular television show, Offspring, last night. In the episode, the lead character's boyfriend - and father to her unborn child - was hit by a car as he crossed the street. Unbeknownst to him, the impact did significant damage to his brain. He seemed to be okay, but his speech started to slur as his condition became critical. He had swelling and bleeding of the brain and he died shortly afterwards.

It was too close for comfort and the show upset us more than it should have. No doubt, my own situation played a large part in our emotions. Then, this morning, the neurologist emailed me with the results of the scan. There had been no change to the patches on my brain and he felt confident nothing untoward was occurring. After his initial tests and now the MRI results, he felt I was going to be okay.

I was going to be okay.

It's funny how one moment can spin your life upside down and turn it on its head, then another moment puts it back in place the way life was before. Kind of.

This moment changed me. It scared the living daylights out of me... and my wife. Over the past nine months, I've felt a terror and blind panic threaten to rise up out of the recesses of my memory at every opportunity and overtake me with a vengeance. But it didn't and I contained it and now everything is going to be okay.

It's all going to be okay.

And I'm going to enjoy this life with a renewed passion and vigour because this feels like a second chance. After the stresses of newborn baby raising (Read: Lost in Babyland), farewelling our beloved dog (Read: My Milo), and constantly pushing for a different way of working (Read: I Crave Change), I feel able to face most things that come my way. Most things.

So what did appear on the scan of my brain?

The neurologist believes I may have had a stroke and it probably happened when I was a baby, which is more common than you'd think. The part of the brain in question directly affects a person's ability to walk and he asked if I'd struggled in this area of development as a child.

In fact, I didn't start walking until later than most toddlers and, when I did, I had difficulties. In those days, the doctors put it down to late development but today's MRI scan reveals a different story. Fortunately, the developing infant brain is like a sponge and often able to bounce back after a stroke with no serious long-term effects.

So now I can concentrate on my wife and my son, my life and my future, and fear not that things are going on in my brain that simply don't belong.


Erin @Quintessentially English said... Add Reply

OMG! I was so shocked by this blog post! I'm glad you're going to be okay and that you and your family can continue living a great life! You guys should do something fun together this weekend to celebrate!

Erin | Quintessentially English

Amy @ the tide that left said... Add Reply

Thank you for sharing your fears and worries with us. This must have been such a tough time for you and your family, and I am so pleased it has all come good. Gorgeous photo of you and Elliot, by the way.

MsXpat said... Add Reply

OMG!! What a situation. It is truly amazing what the body can go through and recover and how strong babies can be. We sometimes feel that we will break them but look, just goes to so how resilient they are and you were. Enjoy these moments and years with you family.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Hey Erin, all's well that ends well (I hope)! I think we will celebrate this weekend and do something special. It certainly makes you appreciate those around you so much more.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

No worries, Amy. It was a tough time but having Elliot around us kind of made it easier to deal with - we had to concentrate on him all the time which didn't leave much room for anything else! It's a great photo, isn't it. Thanks!

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

I know. The human body, especially at that age, is remarkable. I would hold Elliot in those early months as if he were porcelain but the midwife would remind me that babies are much tougher than they look. I must be the proof in the pudding!

Adventures said... Add Reply

Oh Russell, my heart was in my throat as I read this post. The sense of relief I felt obviously pales in comparison, what a long, drawn-out ordeal for you and Sarah to have to weather. Yet you've taken good lessons from it: make each moment matter, savor it all and never be without your family. Impeccable storytelling.

Africanaussie said... Add Reply

gosh I am so glad that the news turned out OK in the end. Such a lot of stress to be going through especially when you have a new baby! It just shows how important it is to live each day to the fullest potential and i think you do just that!

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

It was definitely a bit of an ordeal but we were distracted by other things. It's funny that every headache, every dizzy sensation, led me to question what was happening inside. Only now can I relax and try to forget. Great to see you over here again - thanks for stopping by, Linda :)

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Living each day to the fullest potential is to true. Living each day as if it's your last is a tad morbid but also rings true. Thanks for your kind words!

Toni White said... Add Reply

I can't imagine what you went through as a family Russell at an already ridiculously stressful time of life.
I'm not a patient person at the best of times so I can only imagine your anxieties during it all and having to wait for appointment after appointment.
I'm so glad you've come 'through the other side' :)

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Hey Toni, it was pretty surreal to say the least. Running around between appointments with a wife about to give birth at any time. Strange days for sure.

I think some of the appointments were plain bad timing. Plus I was managing my time between my day job and my boss at that time wasn't exactly pleased with my absences, whatever the reason. Glad to be through it :)

Carrie said... Add Reply

Oh my, Russell! I am relieved and glad you've got through it and you are okay. It's great you've seen the gift of what you've been through and now focusing on what is important. I feel you've demonstrated a strong life force that's in you, and you mustered up all your inner resources to deal with everything that was going on. Do you feel you're stronger for it? Thank you for sharing your experience too, that shows courage. Onwards and upwards :-)

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks Carrie. All's well that ends well and I went for a follow-up appointment just yesterday and was told that it looks like things are great, unchanged, and to move on. Phew!

Yes, I do feel stronger. More so because I was able to focus on the other important things and proved I could place it to on side while I focused elsewhere. I find it easy to be brave when I put other people first and concentrate on them but the appointment yesterday could have been very different so I'm grateful for that! Definitely onwards and upwards... :)

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