Chapter 16


Major Health Problem

I started to lose my appetite in1997 and I began to loose a lot of weight, this was all attributed to the stress of the past few months and I went to see my G.P. who diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome and put me on a course of Fybogel. Which was expected to settle me down? In my own heart I suspected that there was something more deep rooted and sinister after all what about the meeting with the specialist in 1994.

Our Katie was born on 28th Aug 1997 and I immediately started what as to be my last horse for the Christmas 1997 and finished it just before Violet and I went on Holiday to Gran Canaria in October 1997.



















Although we enjoyed the holiday it was very obvious to me that my illness was worsening. I needed to go to the toilet every couple of hours and became restricted to where I could go because of this. An appointment was made for me to see another specialist at Dryburn Hospital. A piece of tissue was removed from my back body for biopsy and I was informed 2 weeks later that I had to see Mr P. Cullen who was to advise me about the findings. Violet and I went to the Hospital to meet Mr Cullen on the 17th Dec. he gave us the expected bad news, I had bowel cancer and an urgent operation was necessary to explore and cut away the tumour. The earliest date available was the 8th Jan.98. Mr Cullen told me to make arrangements with my doctor at home in case an emergency arose with a bowel blockage. My strength was ebbing away and each day seemed endless. It was turning into a very nasty winter with freezing weather and heavy snowfalls. On Christmas Eve, electric supplies were cut which meant we couldnít cook any meals and the heating was off. Surely things couldnít get any worse. We had Christmas dinner at our Paulís. Power supplies werenít re-connected until late December.

I was taken to Dryburn Hospital by Violet and our Paul and admitted to Ward 7 on the7th Jan. 98.I was visited by the Surgeon and the Anaesthetist and briefed about the operation, to be carried out the next day. I looked around the ward and all of the men in there had serious ailments and I thought to myself your not the only one whoís in trouble. On the morning of the operation I climbed on to a trolley and as I was being pushed past the other beds in the ward, the other patients were saying good luck, a real sense of camaraderie existed. As I was being pushed along the corridors towards the operating theatre I was looking up at the ceilings and thought to myself these ceilings are a filthy disgrace, no wonder they were building a new hospital. I was greeted by the theatre staff who were wonderfully supportive and had me relaxed immediately. The Anaesthetist put me under anaesthetic for the first time in my life. When I awoke I was just outside the operation area and was told that the operation had gone very well. I was taken back down to ward 7. and at this early stage felt very comfortable. For the first couple of days everything was looking good,

Violet now describes in her words what happened next and I give an account of my experience in what I remember as Dreaming


I went to visit John on Saturday he seemed to be doing fine having got over the first few days and the nurses were pleased with his progress.


On Sunday afternoon however I went with, Winston, Pam, Ian and Joy, this time John seemed very agitated they had just incidentally switched the morphine machine off. The nurse said they were waiting for a doctor to arrive to attend to him. 2 hours later a doctor still hadnít arrived and visiting time was now over.

On the Sunday night I came to visit again, this time with Johnís friend Bob Reay .I went along to see the ward nurse because I was very concerned about his condition, he was very agitated and I noticed the morphine drug machine had been switched on again.

The ward seemed to be very active that night,

An elderly gentleman whoíd just had an operation was lying on the other side of the ward opposite John and was trying to climb out of bed over the side frames which was upsetting John who kept trying to get up to help the man back into bed. Bob kept going to the office to ask the nurse to help the man get back into bed. We decided to draw the curtains round Johnís bed so that he couldnít see what was going on in the ward. This seemed to settle him down. I left him after visiting time but was a little concerned about his condition.


On Monday Morning at 8 oíclock I received a phone call from Dry burn Hospital asking me to go to the hospital as soon as possible. I rang Joy to come and take me in. When I arrived the nurses said he was very poorly and they were transferring him to the intensive treatment unit. they were very concerned. Joy had to go back home with our Katie who was just a Baby in arms and she also had to pick Bethany up from nursery and would need to phone Ian at work.

They took John into intensive care and were doing tests. Ian arrived and was put into the picture; we didnít know what to think as we had never experienced anything like this before.

Later one of the nurses took me and Ian into a side room and gave us the very bad news that the operation was leaking internally and that Septicaemia was probably the main cause for the deterioration. They had to prepare him for another operation the next day. Ian asked what he should do about his brother Paul as he was away on a course and the nurse said it would be better to phone him and any other family that needed to know. Any of them could visit at any time. We stayed until about 9 oíclock that night. The next day Ian &Joy, Andrea and I were in the hospital at 8 oíclock to see John before he went down to theatre.


One of the nurses called Joanne sat with the family and explained what they were going to do. Later in the day John came back into the I.T.U. ward he was fitted with a colostomy bag and was asleep for the rest of the day. He was all wired up and had a Ventilator mask on. We stayed till late that night in a small room they provided for families. It had tea making facilities and we were told we could stay over night. Ian suggested I would be better off going home as the hospital would inform us of any change. We were only 15 minutes away so he took me home and said I was to phone him if I got a message. The next morning Ian and I were at the hospital by eight oíclock John was very seriously ill. Ian had phoned Paul who decided to stop for the remaining 2 days of the course but we were to keep him informed of any changes. By this time all the family had been informed. Andrea came in for a few hours while the girls were at school and we took turns to go and sit with him. He was in a deep sleep.


On the Thursday Andrea and I went in to visit he was still very poorly but when we started to speak to him he turned his head slightly and smiled before drifting back off to sleep again. Andrea and I went back to the room in tears as we thought there was a glimmer of hope. He had been taken off the Ventilator but was still very weak. On Friday tea time Paul came back from the course and stayed with his dad till late at night

On Saturday John had been moved into another bed and was having difficulty in breathing. The nurses were really good they were trying to help him he was still very poorly. They were concerned that Pneumonia might be setting in. I came back home that night feeling very despondent. Sunday saw no change in the situation.

On the Monday Andrea and myself were sitting with John when a Doctor arrived to say he would like to do a trachea and needed me to sign the consent form as he was worried that the tubes in his mouth that were being chewed and he wasnít coping very well. I was terrified at the thought of them having to cut into his throat to insert the tubes, what if something went wrong Iíd never forgive myself. I did sign as he couldnít go on this way.

On the Tuesday he was put in isolation in a side ward and the nurses were in attendance all the time.

As the days progressed he was struggling and still very ill.He was being fed by intervenes drips and he wasnít allowed water he was given ice cold sponges to wipe his mouth and lips with.


My dream time as recall it began from the moment I lost consciousness and was taken down to the theatre to have an emergency operation to save my life.

I can remember being in a large dance hall area and it was in Middlesbrough the rhythmic beating of the drums and all of the people around me dancing backwards and forwards. They were all very friendly and they were all coloured people.

I am on a ship going to an island and I have to leave the ship and get into a small boat which takes me up a creek where I get out of the boat and go up onto the beach I have to keep going into the water as the tide comes in to close a gate. This is to stop sharks from getting up into a lagoon where other people are bathing. This dream keeps repeating itself and each time Iím swimming to close the gate the race is on against the tide and the incoming sharks, I just seem to make it in time.

I am in a furnace room where people are burning twigs from fruit trees and making a sort of edible charcoal stick and they are producing these in large quantities I keep trying to get one of these to eat and each time I try to pick one up I never succeed, they are to hot.

I am going to work each morning and travel across a field and enter a rear yard by stepping over a style and crossing the yard and going up a flight of wooden stairs to the first floor of a warehouse. My job is to load potatoes onto wooden carts drawn by horses my shovel is made of wood and each night I stand it up against the wall and make my way down the stairs across the yard over the style and back across the field. This dream is repeated many times. I believe the premises are at the bottom of Framwell gate bank.

I keep moving around in my dream and then wake up in some strange places and each time I look out of the door we are on a very steep bank and Iím having difficulty in knowing where I am and trying to stop myself tumbling down.

I am visiting relatives who are very small people and who live in the river banks Iím always battling against currents but always manage to see them, they live in very poor squalid damp conditions but they are always cheerful and pleased to see me.

I meet my Grandmother who is standing on the corner of a Street and she has a little girl with her by the hand. Iím so pleased to see her and I ask her If I can go with her ,but she says no you have to go back home because theyíre waiting for you. I cry to go but she insists and turns me back.

I am trying to go home but Iím confused because Iím not sure where I live, I am thinking that I live in Wheatley Terr. but something is telling me itís Sandwick Terr

I am standing in a large open area but on the corner of a street dressed in a uniform with a sword hanging from my waist my hat is a strange shape, like a beret, Iím Addressing a crowd of people who are all cheering.††


I now began to gain consciousness and wondered where I am, I am trying to focus on a clock on the wall of the ward but Iím having great difficulty keeping awake


It was 3 weeks from me being admitted into the I.T.U. that the trachea was taken out to see if I could breathe on my own. Joanne one of my nurses was very surprised to hear me speak a few words and immediately set about providing me with high concentrate food drinks

The next day they got me out of bed and sat me up in a chair with great difficulty I was so weak I could only sit in the chair for about 30 minutes and was glad to get back into bed. Violet tells me I looked dreadful. Iíd lost so much weight and was so weak. Mr Cullens face dropped when he saw me as Iíd had gone from 17to about 11stone,he told me that I would put my weight back on once I got back on solid food.


They took me back to ward 7 and put me in a side ward. All the family and friends could not believe I could survive and they feared the worst as I did. The next day when Violet visited I was lying on the bed with only a dressing gown wrapped around me. A nurse had given me a shower but didnít realise I wasnít yet quite strong enough to look for my change in pyjamas and still needed help to put them on.

Within 2 days of being put into the side room I became aware of a new problem, .I was now eating small amounts of solid food and the Colostomy bag was beginning to function it needed to be changed on a daily basis and while the nurses did this for me in the early stages I knew I would have to start changing it myself. Specialist stoma nurses visited me and explained what I would have to do once I left Hospital. I had a large open wound which needed to be dressed on a daily basis and I was told it would take weeks for it to heal.


Lying in the side ward with the door open brought me a couple of experiences that I would like to mention. There was an elderly man who was suffering from debenture††††††††††††††††††††††††††

And he had just been brought onto the ward and placed against the first bed opposite my room, I was still very weak and was just dosing over to sleep when I realised someone was standing over me, it was the elderly man and he was groaning and mumbling about something which was quite frightening. I summoned up my strongest voice and said youíre in the wrong room you have to turn around and walk back to the bed over there get into your pyjamas and get into bed now. I was amazed he did just that. Shortly after a nurse came down to see to him and said thatís wonderful Mr----- youíve done very well to get yourself into bed.

On another occasion I heard this very powerful voice saying do as your told boy or else, followed by, steady men wait for the signal. That voice was instantly recognisable as Ned Wardís the Schoolteacher and for the next two nights I was listening to him barking out orders and realised he was having delusions due to a medical condition. Iím pleased to say he made a full recovery.


It was while in this ward that I was found to be carrying M.R.S.A and I was treated for this and it cleared up. Just as well as I had an open wound and a colostomy bag.

I was in this ward for a further 4 weeks and I was able to walk unaided but very slowly with very little strength. I was allowed home for a weekend to see if I could cope. I had no strength and had great difficulty getting up to bed.I could not stand the weight of the Quilt on top of me I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror for the first time since I became ill and realised how much weight I had lost and how lucky I was to be alive and the fear of the illness retuning to finish me off. I was resigned to having a colostomy bag on me for the rest of my life. I could not look too far into the future.

I returned back to the hospital on the Sunday night and remained there for a further week before being discharged as an out patient and was visited by a nurse on a daily basis to change my dressings. I had by now learnt to change my colostomy bag. I began getting supplies of medical aids. I learnt how to prepare them my self and found that the best way to change the bag was to be totally striped naked standing in the bath with a childís potty held under the stoma. Cleanliness was most important to ensure that the adhesion around the stoma was maintained.


I hardly dare venture out of the house for the first few weeks but was very grateful to see all of my friends and family who visited me. One of the strangest feelings I had was to get back into my car and drive. I decided that I wanted to go to see one of my sisters Nancy and her Husband George Coulson who lived in Wingate and to find out if they were okay. They hadnít been to visit me, after all Iíd been out of Hospital for a few weeks and they were both apparently fit and well. Violet and I went to visit them and shared a few laughs, Nancy said she had been frightened to come and see me because she had heard that I was in a bad way and didnít want to see me in that state. George showed me his brand new Nissan Micra car and we said cheerio see you later.

The next morning at about 9a.m, I received a phone call from my brother Winston he told me that George Coulson had died during the night. I told Winston that Iíd just been to see him that same day and he looked fine. I just couldnít believe it.

It must have been Godís will that I saw him before he died.


I tried to live my life as near normal as possible considering the stoma handicap but I was given a rude awakening to life when I found myself laying turf to an extra piece of garden that we bought from Wilson the farmer and strained my back again. It took me about 2 weeks to get rid of the pain.

Violet took driving lessons and it was a great day when she passed her driving test because she was no longer relying on others for transport if anything happened to me.


In May 1999 about 15 months after coming out of Hospital I went back in as an out-patient to see Mr Cullen who gave me the good news that I could go back into Hospital in June to have the stoma reversed. I had no hesitation in agreeing.

The time soon came around and Violet drove me up to the Hospital on the day before the operation and I insisted in seeing her drive away from the Hospital gates knowing that she was alright.

I was prepared for the operation on the Wednesday and was quite buoyant and chuffed to be getting a chance to be put back to normal again, it didnít matter about the dirty ceilings in the corridor, I was clear of M.R.S.A. and my thoughts were lets get on with it.

The operation went very well and apart from the usual post Ė op problems a steady recovery was being made and for the first time in ages I was able to feel whole again. I came home to recuperate but began to feel very uncomfortable, I had developed an infection in my bladder and had to call out a Locum doctor who gave me some anti- biotic which cleared it up, but I began to feel very weak and my bowel movements werenít right I became a little worried. I nearly fainted and was rushed back into Hospital for a series of tests. I was found to be bleeding from two small ulcers in the stomach and Iíd lost a lot of blood. A blood transfusion and a course of anti-ulcer tablets sorted the problems out and I returned home to recuperate.

Over the next few months I had to return to the Hospital on a regular basis to have minor operations to stretch the bowel where it had been rejoined because of the stricture of the opening trying to close itself up whilst healing.

In early 2000 I decided to work from home on a part time basis just making sufficient money to keep ourselves going and putting some pride and purpose back into my life, no one knows how much I hated to claim benefit.

My brother Winston passed away in October 2000 after a short but traumatic illness which lasted only a few weeks, he was only 64 years old and had worked in the mines since he was 15. He had a wonderful sense of humour and typical of him when he was lying in the ward, it was pointed out that there were a lot of men in hospital from Wheatley Hill all at the same time, including me he suggested that they should run a domino handicap.


I was given the all clear by Mr Cullen in September 05 and can count myself as being very lucky to be alive.

I retired in November 2005 aged 65 and my first thought was about my father who had died aged 62. I was now three years older than heíd been.

Iíve been enjoying my retirement and look forward to going to the races at Sedgefield with my brother Frank.


Violet has managed to find an interest in her life making cards and attending craft classes with her friends and we are also in demand baby sitting the two grand children Bethany and Katie, what more could we want? I often argue with the television and want to put the world to rightand this amuses Violet. For the past 10 years I thank God for being sparedand my friends all say it was not my time to go John. It is said reading deaths in the Northern Echo wontí always be your privilege, one day some one will be reading about you.