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Richard and Friend


Richard Cullen

Was it something I said at my HSE medical?

I was looking forward to the concept of getting old gracefully, but alas this was not to happen. The nurse barked the instruction 'left, deep, one', and I gripped the side of the examination bench knowing that intense pain would follow. Pain that makes your eyes water and your jaw muscles to clench your teeth together. That is what it is like to have a biopsy of your prostate.
Aquamarine Silver
Richard Cullen Here is a story of physical abuse, sex, drugs, rock and roll and diving. I hope you will chuckle a few times but the underlying message is serious and is around fitness to dive. My life has involved hard work and sport, years of top level judo, rugby and hours of training and long runs. I wouldn't think anything of running ten to twelve miles a day. I had picked up lots of serious and semi serious injuries over the years, dislocations, breaks, torn muscles and ligaments, but had never been ill, so to speak. Since March 2007 diving has become my new sport and one which I entered with the same enthusiasm I showed for those contact sports of my younger days.

What has this got to do with Dr Oli Firth?

I passed my initial HSE Dive Medical with flying colours in August 2007, Dr Oli Firth telling me I had a heart rate that many twenty-five year olds would be proud of at almost fifty-seven. Unfortunately this warm verbal communication about my level of fitness did not permeate to the rest of my ageing body which decided that same afternoon to react badly to Oli's felicitations.
Wraysbury Rescue Drill My urine for the HSE test was clear as a bell. But an hour after leaving Oli I repeatedly needed to go for a pee, until it became painful. Two visits to the GP, two urine tests and 'drop your trousers', insert finger and "You have an enlarged prostate". Blood tests and my Prostate Specific test (PSA) came back extremely high GP's view "nothing is certain, but probably cancer". "Copulate in hell", but in Anglo Saxon, I said. I didn't know what to say but anyone who has had that news knows what it is like. Staying positive is something I have always done, that is how I live my life but it is a challenge when death and impotency loom menacingly in front of you. I didn't tell many people in those first few weeks which was silly and lots of people soon grasped that something was wrong.
Nautilus Lifeline
I wasn't lucky enough just to have one biopsy, nope four, PSA still sky high. The pain starts before the biopsy, "just going to give you a pain killing injection", into the prostate. Clench your knuckles. On one occasion the consultant took forty samples. Holding onto the side of the bed I was crying with pain, "God here it comes again", "Deep left five" and then you feel the snip.

Oli Firth was there to provide advice, "don't dive if you are bleeding but if there is no blood you should be ok"; "what drugs are you on?"

My first set of results came in, "no cancerous cells in samples, but we believe you have cancer", more tests. I learned to live with the physical pain but the stress was ripping me to pieces.

It started to affect my diving, I would find myself under the water, mentally on another planet, not thinking about my diving but what life held for me. My dive buddy, Jim Doel, and I had, prior to my diagnosis, committed ourselves to diving Scapa Flow in an attempt to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust, I was terrified as the months ticked by that the consultant was going to operate on me and thus prevent us completing the challenge.

Second set of tests inconclusive. More biopsies; different consultant; more pain; more blood; more stress and more drugs.
Just before Jim and I were due to go to the Red Sea the consultant tells me that my latest samples are being sent for further examination, but another biopsy please. By now I had become quite used to a probe, something around the size of a fish tank heater invading my nether regions in this ritualised, legal medical form of sodomy. BUT the pain of the biopsies was still unbearable.

We came home from the Red Sea, more tests, more uncertainty, PSA still sky high.

April 2008 Get a letter to say my tests are 'all clear'. Wife and I have a great week's diving in Hurghada and visiting our new apartment in Sahl Haseesh. Walking down the hill from our favourite restaurant in Hurghada I get a phone call from the hospital to say the letter was a mistake. Deep joy I have to go in for more tests what a damp squib during a really nice week. More tests, apologies from hospital for raising my hopes.

May/June 2008 Scapa was looming and I was getting in as much practice as I could with my twin sets. I went to Stoney with two of my mates and had to pull out of the third dive, I thought I had groin strain, but more of this later on.

We successfully dived Scapa, great diving, I put the biopsies to one side and relaxed, well except for the worsening pain in my right groin.

July 2008 More tests and more pain, more deep biopsies. The groin strain is really irritating me, still just take some pain killers off the shelf. It will be ok. I have now got used to living with the uncertainty and the invasion of my anal passage.

August 2008 Jim and I dive HMS Whirlwind in the Irish Sea, brilliant 40 metres, next to no visibility, raging currents, this is what UK diving is about. PSA has dropped away, tests clear, consultant "We are certain you had cancer in the early stages, but nothing there now, come back in a year for more blood tests." Hurrah, after so long the veil is lifted and I can get back to living a normal life. Wife and I fly to the Dutch Antilles, Bonaire and Curacao... business class. Groin is painful and left knee starts to play me up.

September 2008 HSE medical renewal 'Hello Oli', "Great clear of cancer, still as fit as previously, no problems". That afternoon I went to my osteopath "I think you have osteoarthritis in your right hip, best you see your GP and get an x-ray, pain in the groin is often an indication of arthritis." X-ray booked for October after I am due to return from a trip to the Red Sea with my mates from Aquatic Element.

October 2008 Walking to the boarding gate is painful but the diving is worth it. After a week's diving I get back to port and can hardly walk on land. Spend morning before departure in a medical centre having injections to relieve the pain in my hip. On the Monday my leg buckles under me as I walk to the train station and taken to casualty. X-ray "You have osteoarthritis" and a nine month wait for an operation on the NHS.
The Underwater Channel
November 2008 Can't get to work, so go private. See the consultant on the Wednesday and operated on the following Friday. Great consultant I am having the Birmingham Hip Re-surfacing. He was surprised by the amount of muscle I had at my age and says I will get muscle pain for several months after the operation.

Wake up with a huge wedge between my legs to stop me rolling over, both legs are being pumped by a pressure device and I have on the most glorious pair of Nora Batty tights to reduce the risk of DVT.

Nurses monitoring my vital signs and encourage me to urinate. By morning I had passed far more than required and everyone was happy. Then the torturers arrive, the physiotherapists. "Out of bed, get on your crutches and walk." If it weren't for the pain I would do so, "Up you get, walk" and so, I walked. "You must use a raised toilet seat. Here is your grab device for picking things up. No bending. Here are your exercises."

Six weeks of: rehabilitation; exercises; walking; constant pain and recovering from major surgery. Two crutches, one crutch, walking stick, walking unaided and no pain yippee! But what is this pain starting in the left hip? You guessed, "You need your other hip re-surfacing."

My next operation would be at the end of June at the latest, by October I should be out and about again and able to do some gentle diving. Hopefully I will be able to return to UK diving in the late autumn (depending on what those nice docs at LDC say). But hobbling about and the Tramadol is having little effect, but look good with a walking stick distinguished.

It will be so good to be without pain after so long. It is a year since I started feeling what I thought was groin strain in my right leg. On top of my prostate problems it's been over two years of worry and pain.

I have to say that the right hip is so good now, I realise how long I had been suffering from hip problems.

I got a few dives in between recovering from one operation and going in for the next: Egypt; Wraysbury and the Cayman Islands.

June Round two and getting over the operation on my left hip took longer and I suffered pretty bad muscle wastage to my left quads due to a soft tissue bleed caused by my drain being taken out too early. Have been told there is some calcification on the site of the operation.

September Get back in the water after nine weeks, helping on an Advanced Course. One of the students is a physiotherapist who cannot believe that I am back diving so quickly, in fact, she gives me a bollocking.
Am I the first double hip resurfaced, qualifying DM?

Crumbs, PADI knows no bounds, a specialism maybe? I already have enough dives to be a Course Director (250), so watch out. There should be allowances for we people with disabilities, such as an accelerated route to PADI greatness. This could be a new cause for me to pursue, but what the hell I can get better parking with my Blue Badge, do they accept them at Vobster?

I completed my DM in October, thanks to a lot of hard work by Aquatic Element, three months after my second operation and a month after receiving my latest clear PSA test. By the end of the month I completed my IDC and the IE beckons.

So guys and gals look after your health, don't let age weary you, nor the years condemn. Stay fit and as Churchill said, "never, never, never give in".

The London and Midlands Diving Chamber Teams' 24 Hour Advice Line: 07940 353 816.
Denney Diving

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