Give That Man a Bell’s!

20 September 2010: 4 years on …

Where were you on New Year’s Eve of 31 December 1999?

It is one of those “things” that most people remember, together with “where we you when: Lady Diana was killed, the Twin Towers fell, the Oceanos sank off East London …?”

We celebrated the birth of the year 2000 together with Lesley and (now the late) Brian Cooper and their family and friends at a house party in Walmer, Port Elizabeth.

Yes, it’s difficult to believe that it’s now more than a decade ago that the world celebrated the birth of the New Millenium.

It was also ten years ago, in October 2000, that I accompanied a group of some 100 Pick ‘n Pay employees to Disneyworld in Florida, USA. It was my third visit to the fantasy world of a Disney kingdom.

In 1975 (as an exchange student), I visited the original Disneyland in Anaheim, Los Angeles, California. In January 1988, Grant Lloyd and I spent three days visiting Disneyworld and the Epcot Centre in Orlando, Florida. We had flown to Orlando from New Orleans, and then, after our visit there, flew on to Fort Lauderdale and then rented a car and drove down through the Florida Keys as far down south as Key West.

This visit to Disneyworld was different though.

This time we were students. We attended a course in Customer Care at the University of Disneyworld (!) We “worked” by day and partied by night!

Classes started at six in the morning, followed by breakfast, and then, private entry into the park itself, to experience the Disney way of caring for customers. We saw and experienced all the nooks and crannies of Disneyworld and the other theme parks as most people never do.

In the evenings, we partied at Pleasureland – that island part of the family orientated Disneyworld that is reserved for adults only. Often, we would barely get home in time to start off the next day’s classes!

It was ten days of heaven – all expenses paid!

On our way home to South Africa from Orlando via Atlanta, I stayed on in Atlanta. There, I visited my American “family”. “Mom” Nadine and “Dad” Whitley – my exchange student parents – had come from Missouri to visit my “brother” Kevin and his wife Carol and their family who lived in Atlanta. I spent a few days there with them, and that led to our whole family going back to the USA a year later in October 2001, just ten days after 9/11! (Read my previous blog 9/11.)

During my stay in Disneyworld, I had started experiencing strange pins and needles feeling in my left arm.  Upon my return to SA, a MRI scan revealed a herniated disc in my neck, and that resulted in surgery whereby the disc was removed and bone grafted from my right hip and inserted in between and fused with two vertebrae in my neck. The neurosurgeon, Dr Botha, had warned at the time that this degeneration of discs may happen again.

And so it was that, four years ago, in September 2006 that I once again experienced that tingling feeling in my arm. (Hence, the timer that runs above my blogs that now indicates four years on!)

It was also my birthday weekend, and I was about to celebrate my 50th! Sean and I had accompanied Andrew Kettlewell  (from Andrew’s Plumbers)and Gary Webb on a hunting weekend to Kirkwood. Andrew and his family had decided to emigrate to Australia and this was his last weekend in Africa. He had decided to spend it under the African skies and invited us to join him.

At work, I started experiencing problems with using my left hand to type on the computer. I thought it was a dreaded disc causing problems again, and we tried all kinds of things to make my computer and screen more comfortable.

Eventually, in October I saw Maree Moolman, the chiropractor. That didn’t help, so on to the physiotherapist, Denzil Witthuhn. That didn’t help! Then the neurosurgeon, Dr  Botha, again, and more x-rays and a MRI scan.

Unfortunately, this time, the scan did not reveal a herniated disc. It appeared to be something more sinister . . .

In December, I was referred to the neurologist, Dr Britz. After numerous tests, he advised me that he was of the opinion that I had what he referred to as an extra-pyramidal Parkinson’s disorder. He arranged for me to see Prof Carr, head of the Neurology Department at the Stellenbosch University Medical Faculty at Tygerberg  Hospital in Cape Town.

My first flight to Cape Town proved to be a wild goose chase. Upon arrival at Tygerberg, I was informed that Prof Carr was overseas, and they quickly arranged for Dr Franclo Henning to do a quick assessment.

I returned to PE empty-handed! It was only when I returned at the beginning of February 2007 to see Prof Carr that I was diagnosed with CBD on 8 February 2007.

And so, it took six months from the time the symptoms first appeared until the diagnosis was made. Prof Carr had informed me that it was a possibility that I had some three years left before I would become severely incapacitated, and possibly a further five years before I would die from pneumonia.

He also appended a caveat – that possibly I would be able to come back to him in five years and sue him for an incorrect diagnosis! The difficulty with neurological illnesses is that it is impossible to make definite assessments without opening the brain and scratching around! It’s like taking your car to the garage and asking them to tell you what’s wrong with the engine, but not allowing them to open the bonnet and actually look at the engine!

Whilst you are alive, they simply look at the symptoms and categorize the illness. It is only on the completion of a post death brain autopsy that a definite assessment can be made. Various studies have revealed that in more than 50% of diagnosed cases, an incorrect diagnosis was originally made, and that the person had another neurological illness such as ALS, PSP, MS, Alzheimer’s, etc. There are so many of these illnesses that most healthy people have never heard about!

And so, this past weekend, I celebrated my “normal” birthday as well as my fourth with CBD. Friday night, thanks to Gary Hemmings, we saw Gino Fabbri’s show NUTS, Saturday evening we celebrated Anthony Bowes’s 50th (we share a birthday) and Sunday, we braaied with some erstwhile school colleagues.

Last year, this time, I set new goals. A new one was to celebrate Sean’s leaving school and all that goes with that. These things happen during the course of the next few weeks, and I am fortunate to still be able to participate in all those activities.

In the meantime, I am grateful for another year, for all the good wishes and encouragement that I received this weekend and for the family and friends that celebrated with us.

It was on Friday afternoon that Ed and Eddie (Terblanche) went for a pre-birthday celebratory drink at Dagwoods. The barman was told: “Give that man a Bell’s!”