Sunday, 27 February 2011

This Way In

When I arrived at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London last Sunday, after being shown to my room one of the first things that happened was for this indicator mark to be sketched onto my body. I assumed this was to remind the surgeon which lung he would be operating on.

It’s now a week later and I’ve just been for a longish walk, including a trek up and down four flights of stairs.  It’s been quite a week!  The operation by Mr. George Ladas went well and he has removed both tumours which were nestling inside my lung.

So what’s been happening since then? Three days in the four-bed High Dependency Unit where, I must admit, I didn’t get much sleep because of the other inmates talking, yelling, complaining or occasionally making weird jokes.  Val came along with my young friend on Wednesday evening and Rolf Harris popped in briefly the same day.  Good friends Brian and Jane also called in.  Now I’m back to my single room which is bedecked with flowers, cards and a print of one of my paintings (having no pictures at all on the walls I decided to enliven the place just a little).  Suzy came in, stayed for a while and with the aid of blu-tak I am now greeted by the “Swan Uppers in Marsh Lock” as soon as it gets light in the morning.  Felicity has also been a couple of times.

I seem to be progressing well apart from the real post-operative pain which I am assured will one day be a thing of the past – but at the moment, every time I cough it feels as if I’ve been shot at by John Wayne the pain is so intense.  It’s amazing how many  nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff of every nationality call in constantly for heart monitoring, feeding me with potassium, painkillers, antibiotics, drawing blood (have I got any left?) and wheeling me off daily to the chest X-Ray department.  I’m not getting much sleep in fact I’m waking every hour or so.  The nurse indicated this morning that there’s a possibility of me going home tomorrow, but, quite frankly, with all the attention I seem to need and get I can’t quite believe it.  But as they deflated both lungs I need to get the one that hasn’t reflated properly back into full working order as soon as possible – long daily walks by the river should come in handy.  As so many people ring every day to ask how I’m progressing I thought it best just to put it all on this blog and refer them to it.

I was told today that the great crested grebes in the mill pool have started their mating dances so I need to get home as soon as possible to make sure they or the coots don’t make a nest and lay eggs on my boat as they did last year.  What’s the betting that I am too late, as they are pretty fast workers once they get going!

I think I’ll close now as several unmentionable things are about to happen which I certainly won’t be relating here.  As you may have gathered, I’m dictating this from my hospital bed.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Scan Expert

I always think the first sign of spring is when the catkins come out and the willow trees show their first hint of green. This is the view from my studio window and I can see a haze of pale green on the willow on the island.

It’s now Wednesday evening and I’ve just returned from London after yet another scan. In the last two months I’ve had a pelvic scan (ugh, that jug of liquid), a PET scan, two Thalium scans, and today a CT chest scan. The Thalium scans last week were the most tedious with a two-hour wait between each. But the PET scan took the longest time – half an hour in a big machine with arms stretched above my head, and no movement allowed. But I did work out how to make time pass more quickly by imagining I was painting the background of a very detailed miniature, as when I’m painting the time seems to fly by at great speed. So by the end of the scan session I’d probably made about twenty thousand tiny virtual brush strokes.

Last Saturday we drove over to Cranleigh in Surrey to visit Paul and Jacqui Eaton. Paul makes the most exquisite small sculptures of animals - one of which won the top prize for sculpture in Florida last month. He is a very talented and creative jeweller. The main reason for our visit was to take my RMS gold bowl to be properly cleaned or re-plated as it was becoming a bit tarnished. It’s a lovely design and is the most prestigious award for miniature painting in the world.

Jane and Brian drove me to the hospital today. Afterwards we found a very interesting Polish restaurant where we had a late lunch, then a quick visit to the new book-shop at the V&A Museum where I left copies of my three miniature books in the hope that they might stock them there. After all I do have a miniature (of Sir David Money-Coutts) in their permanent collection.
We’d parked by a meter for two hours and the expiry time was 5.05. We got there 30 seconds later – just in time to stop a very aggressive parking attendant from giving us a ticket. He scowled menacingly and although he was reaching for his ticket machine he hadn’t actually started writing the ticket so we were able to drive off in double quick time.

Since my last blog I’ve been painting for about 8 or 9 hours a day in an attempt to get all my commissions finished before I go for the operation on Sunday. One of them was a little out of the ordinary. I was contacted by a very charming lady who showed me a beautiful tapestry she’d made for her daughter’s wedding - about 12 by 15 inches and framed under glass with a space left in the middle to attach a photograph of the bridal couple. But disaster struck! Every single photograph taken by the professional wedding photographer had somehow disappeared within his computer – and this was after he’d deleted them all from his digital camera! And no one else had any decent pictures of the bride and groom. My task was to paint a miniature on vellum to fit into the space. I was given a good photograph of the bride wearing her wedding dress on the morning of the marriage, but there was nothing of the groom. So with a combination of snapshots taken while he was skiing last month (being too shy to pose specially) and Google images I managed to collect photographs of morning clothes, cravats and button-holes, then a dash of inspiration to complete the double portrait. Quite the most difficult miniature I’ve had to paint. I hope the bride is happy when she sees the final result – her mother was.

Thank you to all my friends who left messages of encouragement on my last blog. After last Wednesday’s marathon and very tiring day in London with mile long walks between Harley Street (for special heart tests) and the Royal Brompton Hospital for the Thalium series of scans), interspersed with an hour long visit to the Science Museum in Knightsbridge (here’s Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’) ...

… and a wave at  Sir Winston Churchill in Old Bond Street …

…plus buses, trains, underground trains and taxis, I’m almost ready to laze around in bed after my operation next Monday.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

A Thoracotomy and Laser Metastasectomy

I’m a bit behind in writing this blog, mainly because I was waiting to the see the specialist surgeon in London, but more about that later.

Last week, after a quick meal at the Orangery in Phyllis Court, we went to the Regal to see the film ‘The King’s Speech’. What a wonderful experience that was. Colin Firth was magnificent as King George V1, and the rest of the cast just great – Helen Bonham Carter very regal as Queen Elizabeth, and Timothy Spall (an unlikely choice as Winston Churchill) was remarkable. Some of my earliest memories as a small boy were hearing the speeches of the King during World War Two on our crackly wireless set, and as I endured a few years of stuttering myself as a youth I could well empathise with his agony.
I’m getting on well with my painting commemorating the fire at Windsor Castle. Still a long way to go, this shows my progress to date. The portrait of the Duke of Edinburgh is still at the initial stage.

I’ve been steadily working on a very interesting historical miniature portrait for a collector in the USA. In fact I finished it just today. All the paraphernalia of Royalty and the military fascinates me, and gives me the chance to paint in great detail all the various textures in these sort of portraits.. From gold, pearls and jewellery to metal, leather and armour, plus a score of other surfaces, I love painting them all.

Felicity and Fenwick invited us to dinner last Tuesday. They live in a house at Shiplake directly overlooking the river. Felicity, a Cabin Service Director with British Airways, always amazes me how she so calmly organises her extremely busy life.
Swyncombe is a small, picturesque village nestling in the heart of Oxfordshire and at this time of the year is famous for its snowdrop weekends. The churchyard and its rustic surroundings become a mecca for snowdrop lovers, so we drove over there on Sunday. But, like last year, we got the timing a bit out, and although the snowdrops were abundant, they were only just peeping out. It was a lovely bright day and the little church looked peaceful and tranquil.

High under the eaves my companion noticed this rather sad looking carving of St. Botolph.

 Now on to medical matters - (hope you don’t get too bored). Last Monday the oncologist in Reading decided that the PET scan I’d been through just before Christmas revealed two ‘warm’ areas in my lung. This indicated that a tiny cancer cell from my operation a year and a half ago had escaped and had travelled to my lung, so he recommended that I see the UK’s leading thoracic surgeon – Mr George Ladas – in London. So yesterday I travelled to the Royal Brompton Hospital for the consultation. To prĂ©cis a long and very detailed 90-minute consultation it seems I am to have an operation later this month at the Royal Brompton. The procedure is called a Thoracotomy and Laser Metastasectomy. This surgeon has pioneered this procedure which involves intrusive surgery but uses a powerful laser beam to remove the two tumours which are residing in my lung. Operating time can be reduced by half due to the lung laser’s accuracy and power concentration, which is 70,000 watts of energy per sq cm, generating heat of 700 degrees Centigrade. (So if that doesn’t kill the little devils nothing will!). I should be in hospital for about a week, the length of time dependant on how I react to the pain. And when I return home I’ll need to walk briskly for at least two miles a day and use an exercise bicycle to regain the strength in my lungs.
As I feel positively well it’s a bit annoying that this little problem has occurred – especially as I’m so enjoying the several commissions I’m working on right now, but it’s best that the diagnosis has been made so early. I’ll write at least one more blog before the operation then may be out of action for a little while.