Christ on the cross, am I glad to be writing this post. It might not have escaped your notice that I haven’t been posting rubbish online lately – no daft jokes, no ill advised rants, nothing about upcoming comics. That’s because I’m in the midst of the most insane experience of my life, an experience that very nearly ended my life on April 26th.
Anyone who follows me on Twitter might have seen that I spent the first couple of months this year absolutely rattling out script work – over 200 pages in Jan/Feb, good stuff I was happy with and was keen to let everyone know about. This is gonna be my year!
Then in early March I started to feel signs of a crash. It made sense. I’d been pushing it a fair bit. I saw my GP who agreed I was stressed and signed me off work for a bit. Then I started to feel something else. Bit of a chest thing, bit of pain in my left lung. Of course I left it for a bit. It got worse. Eventually, I was back at the GP who prescribed some anti-biotics. Then when it wouldn’t shift, some more. I toddled along. As a precaution, I was sent for a chest x ray and that’s where the fun and games began. Something showed up. I was booked for a CT scan to see if there was anything to worry about. And shit. There was. There was.
The feeling of sitting next to my wife as a consultant explains I probably have cancer will haunt me forever, at once the most surreal and piercingly present moment. There’s nothing worse than seeing sorrow on the face of the person you love most in the world. The fleeting calculation of the sum, the flicker of acceptance of disaster and then the almost imperceptible switch back to courage, hope, strength – for you. A moment that devastates and sustains simultaneously. It’s core marrow love, the tender terrifying essence of everything.
Further tests would be required, a lung biopsy. Itself a dangerous procedure because of where my issues were. But this was more or less it. There was no point continuing treatment for infection. I spend the next two weeks waiting for tests utterly zombified, gradually getting sicker. I couldn’t get up or do anything. I stopped eating, I struggled to sleep. I made it out to Dunfermline comic con and by the following week, could only manage an hour’s visit to the Edinburgh Convention. Eventually I began convulsing in the night, vomiting blood. I became convinced I was dying. By the time my biopsy was due, I could barely make it into the hospital. But I did, and this is where things twisted again in the most bizarre way.
After an initial scan to confirm findings, I was pulled out of the CT machine and thundered back into a triage area where I got some stunning news. Whatever it was affecting my lung, it had moved. And spread to both lungs. They had no idea what was happening, but it probably ISN’T cancer. Great news, eh? Except I felt terrible. I knew something was still dreadfully wrong. However, I was sent home and told I’d be called in for more tests and that my consultant would phone. Overnight, I got worse and worse. I could barely walk or breathe. My wife frantically tried to get some advice from the hospital and she was eventually told to bring me in for assessment.
I barely managed down the stairs. In fact I had to sit for 10 mins between getting down the stairs and getting into the car. My field of experience was narrowing to a pinprick.
I remember being wheeled into a very busy clinical assessment area. Loads of people there. The next thing I know I’m up on a table in treatment area, loads of staff buzzing around me. My wife and daughter there. Then I’m on a nebuliser. Then a doctor is talking to me and I’m not able to respond. I drift in and out of consciousness as I hear a doctor explain to my wife that my lungs have haemorrhaged and my kidneys have failed. Within minutes, an ICU doctor has to confirm whether or not I’m fit to travel to the Southern General, where I need immediate kidney dialysis and plasma treatment to save my life. Thankfully, she signs off and I’m bundled into an ambulance. I arrive in Glasgow with multiple organ failure and have a feverish night of drifting in and out of consciousness and a plethora of amazing people battle through the night to save me. It’s a genuinely incredible thing to know that you have strangers to thank for your very existence. That the only reason you opened your eyes on Saturday is because of everything these amazing NHS people did on the Friday. I can recall bits of the experience as if observing, it felt similar to an out of body experience. Not quite, but there are wee daft moments when I was being operated on or dialysed where it didn’t really seem to be happening but I was there. I was pretty out of it.
It turns out I have a relatively rare auto immune disease called Vasculitis which can manifest in a lot of different ways, mild symptoms to very severe. Of course, I have what amounts to the 2nd worse version as far as I can see, known as Wegener’s Syndrome or Granulomatosis. Basically it affects my blood vessels and can cause problems pretty much anywhere there is small blood supply. Brain, throat, lungs, kidneys etc. For some reason during my chest issues, my body decided to stop fighting the infection and essentially started fighting me, generating a harmful antibody that attacked and shut down my organs. This is what had been wrong with me all along. It’s rare, 100% random and has nothing to do with habits or hereditary factors. It’s virtually impossible to spot and is almost always uncovered as a secondary condition during investigations into something else. Your GP will likely never have encountered a case in their career. And that’s what makes it so dangerous. it manifests like cold and flu and by the time it’s discovered, damage to your organs can be catastrophic.
Right now, I’m at a stage where I may fully recover or I might end up needing ongoing kidney dialysis. My kidney function is coming back, but how much and how fully is in the lap of the Gods. A very scary time, because kidney dialysis fucking sucks. The idea of being a long term dialysis patient is terrifying, even though it’s something thousands of people bravely deal with every day. Miraculously (actually thanks to the Plasma treatments and drugs) my lungs have cleared. I’ve been able to breathe on my on again for a few days now.
In the meantime, I’m discovering how loved and cared for I am as my pals and family rally around me in a way I scarcely deserve. Emotionally, I’m in tears one minute because I feel so sorry for myself and in tears again the next because I feel so grateful to be alive, loved and cared for. As you might imagine, my head is fully mashed.
So that’s where I’ve been – embarking on a very long road. I have very little idea what the future holds, but I can say that the last few days have seen me start to feel something I was very scared I’d never get back, myself. I really don’t care how fucking corny that sounds.
I genuinely can’t wait to get back to making some comics. Ive been thinking about it all the time. There were times over the last few week when I wondered if I’d ever make anything again, or get anything I have ongoing actually finished. Might be a while yet. But I’m so grateful to be able to say “watch this space” and mean it.
I just want to sign off by thanking everyone who has expressed concern about me, helped visited messaged etc. I’ll see you all soon. Be bloody well, all of you.