Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The final over

Less than three weeks ago I wrote of having a bit of a headache. Since then, a lot has happened. I went to hospital in Newcastle, where it was discovered that I have a brain tumour. I was going to write about all of that in a bit more detail but things didn't turn out quite as I hoped they would.

The surgeons operated on Thursday. Post operation was not a pleasant experience but I started to feel better. I had some vision impairment and felt unsteady on my feet, like I had had a couple of drinks too many. But I felt that the worst was over and I was on the road to recovery.

Then on Monday, yesterday, came the moment I just didn't expect. Two doctors arrived to give Olga and I the results of the tests on the tissue the surgeons had removed from my brain. There are two types of brain tumour, benign and incurable. They found that I have a fast growing incurable tumour growing from inside my brain. It cannot be stopped, only treated to slow its growth and maximize quality of life for as long as I have. The grave, male doctor gave me from a few weeks to a year. His female colleague said that sometimes people survive up to five years, but I think she was just trying to soften the blow. The only plus side was that I am physically fit and healthy, so there is a better than average chance treatment will work. Then we were left alone to digest the information and arrange a taxi back to Cockermouth.

There are no words to describe what it feels like to be given news like that. Tears didn't even come. Olga said she felt frozen inside. I think I must have felt it was just a bad dream and not real at all. I just sat there, looking at Olga and shaking my head in disbelief.

Why me? Why us?

The last nine years since I met and married Olga have been the happiest of my life. She became not just my wife but my best friend and my soulmate. She tolerated my geeky hobbies and never questioned why I needed a new radio. She has been a perfect wife.

Life has been great. We were starting to unwind towards semi retirement, planning to take more trips away and do more things together than we had the time or money to do in the past. Now the opportunity is lost. I feel so bitter and angry at being parted from her, leaving her a widow, with so many things we wanted to do yet undone.

In the taxi back from Newcastle Olga and I decided on two priorities. First, the treatment. We will do anything and everything the doctors say to give it the best chance to work. Second, we will live life from now on putting the two of us first. We will do what we want, if I can, to extract the most joy out of the time remaining, if possible, subject only to being available for the treatment. That, apparently, will consist of a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy and will begin in Carlisle in two weeks.

One of my first "practical" thoughts was that I should sell my radio gear, to help Olga get the best price. But she has said that I should keep it in case being able to use the radio gives me some pleasure during the time I have left. Of course, I don't feel much like using the radio right now. But I can't tell how I will feel once I have come to terms with this. Perhaps I'll beat the bugger, live until I'm 80 and be eternally embarrassed about this post!

What I do know is that my mind is slower. Typing is becoming more of a trial than a joy. I needed to tell some of you out there what has happened to us because I know some of you care. But I feel that now is the time to give the computer a rest.

Perhaps I'll want to write about the treatment, post updates on how I'm getting on. Who knows? But I think this is probably going to be the final over.

Thank you to all who sent their good wishes in response to my previous post. I'm sorry if I am unable to reply personally. From now on, written and spoken communication are easiest for me to deal with. Our address is on my website. Signs that some of you out there are thinking of us will help lift our spirits.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A bit of a headache

A couple of people have commented on the lack of new postings on this blog. I'm grateful that you noticed. Here are a few words of explanation.

Three weeks ago I was doing some work on the computer when I had what I thought was a bad migraine attack. My vision became blurred and I felt nauseous. I switched off the PC and lay down in a darkened room to recover.

Normally a migraine leaves you feeling a bit shaky and after a couple of days you are right as rain again. but the feeling of shakiness never really went away.

After the attack I noticed a few symptoms that were a bit scary because they were really odd. For example I had trouble telling the time. I could see the hands of the watch but couldn't seem to make sense of it. I also had trouble finding the pointer on the computer screen, even when I knew where it should be. These symptoms did start to wear off, but I still felt that something wasn't quite right.

For example, if I was trying to pick something (like a Wainwright summit name) from an alphabetically sorted list on a web page I couldn't find it. If my radio was on 145.450 and someone said they were QSYing to 145.525 I had trouble finding the channel.

I also had - indeed if you could watch me typing this you would find I still have - a lot of trouble using the keyboard. It became so frustrating that I lost most of the desire to post to the blog.

I was in denial that anything was wrong. Plus, to be honest, I didn't have much faith that the system here would do much to help me. I hoped that if I just carried on trying to do normal things one day I would find that everything was back to normal again.

Last weekend I went for a walk to the top of Binsey, one of the local Wainwright summits. I made it to the top OK but after I finished making contacts and went to leave I felt strangely disorientated and had to search for the way down. On the drive home I almost went off the edge of the road because I had trouble judging the distance on the left hand side.

Walking around town several times I knocked into lamp posts and other obstructions on the left hand side, as if I didn't notice them.

Eventually, yesterday, I decided finally that I should see my GP. He listened carefully as I described all the symptoms I have mentioned and did a few tests on my reflexes and co-ordination. Unfortunately it seems my pessimism about the system was not misplaced. The doctor told me that the specialist he would like to refer me to, a neurologist, is not available here.

He said - these are more or less his exact words - that the NHS is very good in an emergency, such as if you have a heart attack, but in the case of ongoing problems it doesn't work very well. His role is just to help me get the best out of it. So he has arranged for me to have an appointment at the hospital in Whitehaven for a CT scan. which given the speed things normally move here could be several days. In the meantime I have been advised not to drive, which is obviously understandable but a major hassle in an place where public transport is very limited and it is a couple of hours by bus just to reach the hospital.

So I don't know exactly what is the matter with me. I just  have to wait for the results of the scan and hope for the best. In the meantime I can still talk to people on the radio but it is unlikely that I shall be posting to the blog or answering emails very much.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

6m digital DX

Conditions were again great on 6 metres yesterday afternoon and evening, with the Sporadic E favouring Scandinavia and the Baltic countries. After making a few contacts on SSB - it's always gratifying when using an attic dipole to have stations come right back to your call and give you a 59 report - I was tuning up the band and heard the unmistakable sound of PSK31 activity.

I worked LA8OKA and OH2NAF using PSK31 and SM7OYP using PSK63. I thought these may have been my first PSK contacts on 6m but my log tells me I worked Spain using the digimode during June last year.

Signals were strong and steady and most people were using their regular macros and brag files and exchanging greetings rather than sending quick report and locator overs as you might expect for sporadic propagation.

Some bloggers have been advocating using the weak signal digital modes like WSPR or JT65A on 6m but when propagation is this strong I'd rather use a digital mode that allows me to have a proper QSO and exchange names and other details with the stations I'm working.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Lost treasure

Earlier in the year I was hunting through some folders on my hard drive and discovered an unreleased version of my Morse training program MorseGen. I had no memory at all of having updated it so I had no idea whether I had finished or tested the update. The main changes from the last released version 1.4 appeared to be that there was now a batch mode for creating recordings to play on an MP3 player and a "Common words" mode. This jogged my memory as to the reason for updating the program. A couple of years ago in QST there was an article which suggested that in order to be able to copy Morse at high speed you should learn to recognize the sounds of complete words not just individual letters. So I had added the ability to play random selections from a list of some of the most common words and CW abbreviations.

Today I placed this new version of MorseGen on the G4ILO's Shack website. The previous version is still available to be downloaded in case the new one has problems. My interest in programming has now fallen to absolute zero and I no longer even have the development tools used to compile MorseGen so this is definitely, without argument the last ever version.

This is actually a bit of a nuisance as the new version seems to have a small bug. Occasionally, in Random QSO mode the program will halt with an error message "List index out of bounds." You have to close the error message and continue. I'm guessing that I added some QSO templates and the random number generator sometimes generates a number that is more than the number of templates. If so, this would be easy to fix if I still had the development tools. But I don't, so I can't, so tough luck! But no-one has any grounds for complaint because MorseGen is free!

Despite the bug, I still think MorseGen is a useful program. I often use  it whenever I get the urge to try to improve my Morse reading skills. Admittedly it hasn't done me any good, but I think that is more due to something peculiar to my brain that is just incapable of mastering the code. Over the years since I wrote the first version of MorseGen I've had many emails thanking me for it so it appears that it does work for people less Morse-resistant than me!