Chapter 5 – Waiting and Watching

Waiting and watching, and the roles gratitude, anxiety, and fear play in decision making.

Looking back on this period of a bit more than 12 months which spanned December 2018 to March 2019 approx. I immediately think of winter.

Maybe this was because, in a way, it was a bit of a long winter of the soul!

But was it really? It spanned all the seasons after all.

It also spanned the angst of waiting, through to the gift of time to plan and make changes. And the latter included the possibility of having to make significant decisions.

Time Line of This Chapter:

Time both speeds up and slows down. Relatively speaking of course!

  • I’m relating to seasons, especially winter, again!
  • The challenge of long road trips to hospital in Dunedin.
  • A look at various camping places.
  • The art of being grateful.
  • Recommended reading.
  • Technical stuff.
  • A sad and sobering story about an old friend.
  • Mountain biking after counseling sessions.
  • Compressed time, and feelings associated with “wait and watch”.
  • Anxiety, and decision making options.
  • More thoughts on fear.
  • Training for a pandemic.
  • A new job.

Emotions engendered my feeling of always being in winter mode. This I know and they did fit well. I do sometimes wonder though, if timing would have fitted no matter what.

Three monthly visits to Dunedin Hospital, and monthly bloods done in Wanaka, is how it played out. With the occasional CT scan at nearby Dunstan Hospital.

Old kokonga railway station, now resited to Okeake Conservation Park, Central Otago NZ. With Land Cruiser camper to the left

One challenge was how to drive for 4 hours to hospital and back again when compromised by illness!

The answer was to do it in easy stages.

Using my 4wd ” White Turtle” camper. And deviate, usually to altitude, for a view and a sleep.

◀Old Kokonga railway station, now re-sited to Okeake Conservation Park, Central Otago NZ.

And then I’d go for a walk!

Not too far – energy conservation became something to be mindful of.

◀Historic Buster Gold Diggings, Okeake Conservation Park, Central Otago NZ.

And sometimes I opted to deliberately experience the moment by traveling into darkness. On foot usually!

For practice in case some wild treatment was needed for my disease do you think?

Candle lit camper truck
Something to look forward to each evening
3 toilets in New Zealand high country tussock
And sometimes I’d get lucky and find the best of bathrooms!
Cow looking at the photographer, shooting the sunset
Camping at lower levels
introduced me to the odd local!

But this is what I remember most about the constant travel for a year and a bit!

Afflictions of worry would often ride with me on the long haul to Dunedin. My mind would play over every possibility around where my disease was at.

Would it be “wait and watch” forever? And I’d die with the disease, and not of it.

Or something else!

The rest of the time I’d practice being grateful:

  • For being so relatively fit and well.
  • For the support and love from so many family and friends.
  • For catching up with my son in Dunedin on every visit.
  • For our amazing public health system, and it’s commitment to timely intervention. Especially it’s people.
  • For science and technology
  • For a warm and cosy night in the amazing landscape, that’d change each night of my journey.
  • For being gifted the chance to prepare, for whatever might transpire.
  • And for the gift of time (see below, Pat’s story)

So I started reading a lot!

Apart from being very useful I found this to be a delightful read. And thoroughly recommend it…

“The hardest choices are also the most consequential. So why do we know so little about how to get them right?”

< Available at Apple’s iBook and perhaps for Kindle (no I’m not on a commission!)

Technical Stuff:

Being examined in minute detail at Dunedin Hospital soon became the normal. A great state of affairs! And receiving updated copies outlining potential treatments (on paper) was similar. There would usually be two quite separate ones. And also one about a clinical trial. Yes, they’d change month to month. This reassured me a lot – that technology was advancing at an amazing speed.

I fell into knowing I could ask questions whenever. And having the cell phone number of a very experienced nurse dedicated to me, was a gift from heaven. At times over the next year or so I’d txt her a lot. I always got reassuring answers. (e.g. I was keen to explore fasting as a possible means to rebooting my immune system, was a typical question). And I could pass on any developments as they arose. Information they were keen on receiving.

Over time lumps formed. Under my chin on the left, a broad one started to concern me. And one on the right side of my neck, became my favourite. It became my “indicator”! And there were others tracking my lymphatic system. I learnt that they were dynamic though. One day they’d be up, the next down sort-of-thing. Touching my favourite became a next to useless occupation.

And I could not escape: on-going aches in arm pit and groin etc. My lymphatic system was out-of-sorts. I never did look for correlations – right now “tidal’ popped in to my head!

🔎 Bloods, monthly bloods! Done at home in Wanaka. I’d get the results a couple of days later on my computer. If the range was in green that was good. Red… well a bit alarming. But they were rare. I realised the only take home from the results were any trends. I would get apprehensive with each email notification – with a link to the results. This worry was best dealt with by hastening to read them. Over time I gained confidence. Lumps grew, but bloods stayed in the green month after month. Except for two occasions. And as there was no follow-up I realised “trends” were the important thing.

Looking back I’ve realised I’m developing the habit of leaving the worrying to others! A good or a bad thing do you think? To me it became all about energy conservation. And nothing to do with being selfish.

Selflessness is another topic coming up!

As the journey got underway I decided walking was my friend. Cold feet or not!

And there was one such walk, that turned out to be pretty defining (name changed for obvious reasons):

Pat was an old and dear friend that I’d not seen for awhile. He’d been right there for me as my son learnt his way through crawling, walking and toileting etc. Pat would often front up with useful gifts – often fun toy hand-me-downs utility stuff his children had out grown. Then we got out of touch a bit.

Then one day there we were. Walking together into our local medical center.

He had not looked well for ages (I’d seen him about town). I soon found out why!

“I’m not long for this world”, he said, “advanced melanoma!”.

I was speechless for a moment, while I pondered on this. And assessing what, if anything, to reveal about why I was there (to have bloods done).

I did venture to give him a very short explanation. i named my disease.

His reply startled me:

“It’s alright for you, you’re very fit”. Said with no sarcasm, or anything. It was a blunt and plain fact.

Dumb struck. If he had seen my thought, non-verbal speech bubble, it would’ve read, “well, why aren’t you?”

Later after much reflection I realised some diseases are often aggressive. Developing so fast, there is no time to change anything. In all things lifestyle related.

Pat died a few weeks later! RIP AC.

And that’s when I started to appreciate the gift of time.

From that time on, I made a far more concentrated effort to use my time well. Both, for myself, and for all those whose lives touch me. This is a responsibility I’ve taken on. With enthusiasm. And in his memory.

And the trips to Dunedin continued.

Plus every 3-4 weeks I’d attend oncology counseling sessions at Dunstan Hospital

◀After which I’d ride my mountain bike down the Otago Central Rail Trail, cross the Clutha River at Alexandra, and return. Biking up the sheltered and shady River Trail back to Clyde, (and a coffee). This really helped me assimilate and balance out the sessions.

In spite of all the above, at the time everything felt compressed. For example the three monthly visits felt more like one monthly.

So what were the factors compressing my perception of time? Was it my ever linear downwards trend into illness? There were occasional periods of leveling – some much longer than I expected.

Should we ever let fear become our friend?

fear itself disrupts spatial abilities

From Here to There: The Art and Science of Finding and Losing Our Way
By Michael Bond

For myself Time is Spatial!

Whatever the reason a sense of anxiety prevailed during my “wait and watch” challenge. Off and on. Interspersed with a growing sense of gratitude.

I figured though that I’d have to make complex decisions, but was just not sure when and what! Here are some examples:

Should I move to Dunedin. I had a couple of offers, e.g. use of a nice sleep out. And with it came the offer of being driven in and out of town.

Ditto stay with a cousin in Oamaru and he’d drive me to and from Dunedin as needed (a bit over an hour).

And similar offers from a good friends in Wellington, and in Invercargill. The latter having the same District Health Board so I could get the treatment there, with little need for much organising.

Or if I were to stay in Wanaka, who would be able to drive me to and fro once a month.

If I needed nursing then how would that work. Even if only a minimal amount yet I’d not be able to go shopping etc.

Lastly which treatment option should I opt for if I needed same. To date I’d had about 3 of, presented off and on, as mentioned elsewhere here. They kept changing in small ways in step with new developments.

Decision Making on the Fly or Otherwise:

~

In any stressful situation Fast and Easy is all too often the default of the moment. Unless we have trained for the situation. In any case avoid the lazy option…

~

Farsighted is Slow and Hard, and if appropriate will serve us better.

Thanks Dr Jim Vause – GP emeritus, for the recent very interesting discussion and inspiration on this.

How Fast and Easy nearly got myself and a friend killed.

We were trying a new route on a moderate sized mountain, in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. It was spring time circa 1975.

Out of sight to the left in the photo, we’d been ascending a ridge. It had been getting more exposed and difficult. So we opted to cross this gully to easier ground.

Just after I got to the photographer (Roger Thompson thank you for photographing me), a wet snow avalanche swept the gully. It went down past us with a roar like an express train.

We’d had a close brush with death! Fast and Easy decision making took no account of the effect of an ever warming morning sun. Making snow slopes above prone to honouring gravity. The only good thing we did was not roping up and belaying! Ridges are always a better choice than gullies. A confined gully engenders a false sense of security. Ridges tend to be airy and exposed. Sticking to our first ridge would have been very wise!

Lesson: becoming anxious on steep but safe rock, equates to a narrow minded view of the world. Then we grab at fast and lazy solutions. Hard thinking gets put aside.

Fast forward a few years to when I’d become a mountain guide.

◀This is a few of us walking out from Pioneer Hut, in Westland National Park. After several hut days of storm and blizzard. A severely rimed/iced up Mt Tasman to the right.

The rime by the way would fall off in the next few hours. Making it not a good idea to be below such phenomena.

Before the storm the two people I was guiding, and myself, set off very early to climb a peak to the left. Walking conditions on the glacier were very hard. Our crampons left only slight marks.

Thirty minutes before arriving at the point we’d leave the relative flat of the glacier, and start up moderately steep but very icy slopes, the habitual observations I make in such places started to concern me.

Little did I know it at the time. I was about to make a Slow and Hard decision. To turn back. There were strange clouds fraternising with Mt Tasman. They were rolling even.

The decision over-rode commercial pressure. And my clients were very grumpy. And they were difficult, bless them – a recently divorced middle aged executive, and his 18 yr old son. The risk inherent in a mixed up divorcee and a testosterone afflicted teenager was not lost on me. And taken into account.

We got back to the hut in the company of the sun. By the time I’d primed and lit the Primus for a cuppa, it was snowing hard. And it went on for several days without so much as a break. I’m pretty sure I would never have found our way back to the hut in such conditions (no GPS back then, and a map in the wind, well…!) Not easily anyway. It would have taken hours if not days. Or we’d have hunkered down in a crevasse for the duration. We may well have perished from exposure, and/or got frost bitten extremities. I doubt we even had spare warm socks!

Slow and Hard decision making saved the day.

My point being that when in the grip of a potentially terminal illness, of course anxiety is going to visit us!

It really helps I think to understand it’s relationship to decision making. This not only applies to the patient but also to support people.

Pioneer Hut 1979. Long since replaced with another nearby. Buildings in this sort of environment do not endure! And it turned out the foundations were unstable.

Alternatively, having too much information about an upcoming decision can lull us into a false sense of control.

There are countless examples in history of this not working. e.g. battle of Chancellorsville 1863 (decisive win by Confederate General Robert E. Lee. His opponent General Joseph Hooker put a great store in intelligence. And it failed. Nimble thinking was Lee’s forte – he knew which bits of information mattered. He knew that ridding himself of an overload would enable agility of thinking. Hooker then perceived Lee to be unpredictable. It rattled him. Yet he had twice the troop numbers.

Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005) by Malcolm Gladwell tells the story well

On the other hand a reductionist attitude (discounting relevant information) can also lead to tears before bedtime.

I think it’s not knowledge we need to gather, and hold onto. Instead understanding, so we become wise in knowing what data to collect!

Which leads into a future discussion perhaps. When to decide from the heart or the intellect. Or a mix – if so which weight/ratio to assign to which resource is the question! This is the challenge of our time!

Thoughts on Fear…

Fear can often be quite irrational.

e.g. when on steep ground, fear is not our friend. Calm abiding and fluidity of movement is lost. We quickly become a danger to ourselves.

On the terrain in the photo to the left we need to be relaxed and not moving stiffly! If we are in “quite a state” in the hold of fear, the only antidote often, is to go back to breathing rhythmically.

The other side of this irrationality can kick in when we ski out onto a safe looking slope.

It maybe just on the point of collapsing and avalanching, but our good friend fear is back on the ridge enjoying the view and taking photographs.

Inspiration for this came from the late Bruce Jenkinson. He was writing a book called Mountain Recreation just before he was killed by a single rock(fall). Quite near where I nearly met my end as above. The book was finished thanks to the efforts of my old friend Geoff Wayatt.


You may have by now guessed, that sooner or later I’d need medical intervention. This meant an induction session. All about what to expect and how to stay safe, with a compromised immune system.

I never saw the Covid 19 pandemic coming. But when it did, with lock-downs etc., I felt ahead of the game. I had already come to terms with a new flavour of mortality and staying safe. Social distancing parameters and decision making, took on a new persona!

Now many months into the pandemic it strikes me we can apply the new norms., not only to Cv 19, but to any serious illness of the day.

It is after all a lot about decision making. Under duress or otherwise.

What we can learn from Covid 19…

Dr Tom Stafford, a psychology lecturer at the University of Sheffield has some wise advise for our current times. You can read the full article in The Guardian (link below).

“ “There is a huge asymmetry with risk,” says Dr Tom Stafford, a psychology lecturer at the University of Sheffield. “If you can get away with things that are low probability, you don’t know how dangerous they are until it’s too late.” Stafford uses the example of driving without a seatbelt: most of the time, you will be absolutely fine. But the one time you are in an accident, things might get very bad very quickly.

“It’s the same with the vaccine,” says Stafford. “It’s a low-probability event that you will get the virus and need hospitalisation. But if you do, then the vaccine shows its benefit.”

Stafford says that decisions about vaccination, particularly for Covid, are some of the hardest that people have to make. “Risk calculus can be particularly hard in certain circumstances,” he says. “Risks where we don’t always see the outcome, so we have to trust people. And new risks. Coronavirus is both of those things.”

In the age of social media, we don’t even need to have met the people we trust as much as established experts. “That’s why social media is so dangerous,” says Stafford. “Because people share that emotional connection with influencers they might never have met. But it’s an asymmetrical intimacy. I may think I know that vlogger and they are talking to me. But really they’re talking to millions of people – and the advertisers generating them their revenue.”

If you can get away with things that are low probability, you don’t know how dangerous they are until it’s too late ”

Sound familiar – fast and easy decision making v. hard and slow!

Get the full context here at The Guardian >>

“The falsehoods that John repeated to his family and friends in the months leading up to his death are common tropes in online anti-vaccine spaces and easy to find: the vaccine has dangerous levels of formaldehyde in it; the vaccine is experimental; people are only getting the vaccine for the free McDonald’s”


A New Job: I was starting to realise that exercise of the upper body would serve me well.

So I worked for a surveyor friend for the duration of “Wait and Watch”. My rationale was simple. Hammering in pegs and stakes would enhance the circulation of my lymphatic system. With walking lots an added bonus.

Sheep on a rural road in New Zealand
We’d drive to Southland for the day.
To mark and stake out a rural road.
For an upgrade.
Hanleys subdivision in a snowstorm, near Queenstown New Zealand.
Not in snowstorms or rain, as the instruments would not work. This was shot while we were having lunch as a snow squall went through. On a rather miserable winter’s day.
Hanleys subdivision near Queenstown New Zealand. Remarkables in the background.
On other days we would work on the huge
Hanleys subdivision. Situated south of
Queenstown.
Remarkables in the background.

If you landed on a single post instead of the Home Page which is arranged like the chapters in a book, then click here please to go to the start >>

BTW current state of health, as of Jan 2022, is pretty good!

The next post/chapter will be titled something like, “Hope”

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The content presented on the site is in no way intended as medical advice. Or as a substitute for medical treatment. Guidance from your doctor or other health care professional should always be sought. Be involved with them on all levels.

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