I’m Christopher Sands. I had hiccups once but now I’m better and making music.
The hiccup story…
First things first. I want to thank everyone wholeheartedly for all your support throughout my ordeal, without you the last four years of my life would have been much more difficult.
It was coming up to my twenty third birthday when they first struck, I remember they lasted two weeks. Four days into the two week bout, I was searching the internet for cures and reasons as to why they have lasted such a long time, when I came across an article, it said if you have had the hiccups more than forty eight hours it could be a brain tumour. So I made an appointment with the doctor, who told me not to worry it’d probably just linked to my heartburn, he gave me a course of Gaviscon (heartburn tablets) they didn’t help and after two weeks the hiccups stopped for seemingly no reason.
February 2007 and beyond.
The hiccups came back. My memories are very vague and blurred but I remember thinking it’ll be okay, I had had them before and they’ll probably stop after a couple of weeks (how wrong I was!). During this time I had started playing the piano and had made quite a lot of progress within three months of playing, unfortunately the progress stopped, the hiccups took over my life and at this point my life got put on hold. I couldn’t eat or sleep leading to illness and a general inability to do anything.
After four months of hiccuping and relentless searching for a cure, I had been to the doctors multiple times and tried literally hundreds of different cures, one of which landed me in hospital suffering from anaphylactic shock after trying a drug called Haliparadol. My tongue sprung to life and decided to try to jam itself down my throat, this surprised me and my sister who awoke to find me at the sink pouring cold water on my tongue trying to physically pull it out of my throat, she asked me what I was doing, at which point I turned around and said “Phmy phtongue phis phchokingphmeeeephhh” she laughed a little and questioned “Do you need to go to the hospital” I replied eloquently “ Iy phink fsooo”. We arrived at the hospital A&E to see a queue time of three hours on the waiting room clock, we approached the counter where the staff asked what was wrong I told them “Iye can’ph bweathe” they rushed me straight in, jammed some oxygen in my face and pumped me full of antihistamine. I woke up at six in the morning still hiccuping in a hospital bed, confused but able to breathe again, unfortunately (especially for everyone else in the ward) I was in therehiccuping until they let me out at midday.
9th July 2007
After tireless searches I decided to write an email to the Lincolnshire Echo about my condition in hope they may print my letter in the news, maybe someone will know something that could help me. The next day I get a phone call from them, an interview and a photo taken, following this I’m front page news, the phone is ringing off of the hook and the media frenzy begins.
The media frenzy continues throughout the whole ordeal launching me to fame on television, radio and news outlets all over the world, film crews from Brazil to Australia would turn up at my house to interview me and send suggestions back from their respective countries. These encounters would give me a glimmer of hope in even the worst of times but adversely highlight the fact that my condition wasn’t going to be cured by old wives tales. As time rolled on my hopes got diluted in a sea of disappointment as cure after cure failed to fix me, even the doctors were stumped after trying all sorts of scans and tests finally sending me for psychological testing before telling me there is nothing more they can do.
This was it for me, I had exhausted everything conventional doctors could think of and from now on would have to rely on the media to bring word of my condition to anyone that could help me. I was scared as my hope of ever finding a cure dwindled, media would come and go, cure after cure after cure after cure, no sleep, couldn’t eat, it got worse and worse, the hiccups were pushing me down leaving a curled up shell of my former self, always tired and quite literally curled up on the floor trying to hold back the hiccups and in pain from the heartburn. To say I wasn’t well was an understatement, the hiccups got so bad they were causing me to pass out due to lack of oxygen, suffocation is not nice, I would wake up with tears in my eyes my whole body shaking from the shock of it, confused and usually still hiccuping, this combined with the worst acid reflux made life very unpleasant. By this time sleeping wasn’t actually sleeping, it was passing out, before I would wait until the hiccups had a break and try to sleep but by this point that wasn’t possible.
I went back to my GP to beg for something…… anything… it had been a year of trying home remedies and I couldn’t take the hiccups any more!. So he wrote to a few doctors around the UK for me and a doctor Beckingham from Nottingham responded. This was a massive relief to me, the kindness that the public showed me was more than anyone could have imagined, but the fact of the matter was that I needed a doctor. After some uncomfortable tube-up-the-nose-for-twenty-four-hours-while-hiccuping-and-vomiting-tests the doctor decided that I needed surgery to keep my food down and to stop the immense pain acid reflux combined with hiccuping caused. There was no telling if it would cure the hiccups, but for me just stopping the heartburn would make a huge difference, still I couldn’t help hoping it would cure me completely. This was when Mentorn Media started filming me for a documentary which would later be shown on the BBC.
Stomach surgery 25th March 2009
I was pooing myself, I had never had surgery before, not only that, but I also had the television people filming me and the surgery. Anyway it all went wonderfully with the surgeon even commenting on how nice I was to slice and dice (and fix)it’s normally very obese people that have that kind of surgery so mine was a breeze. I remember being in hospital after the operation trying to hold back the hiccups and in the worst pain I’ve ever felt, I was on so many painkillers I forgot about the button on the hospital bed that calls a nurse, I crawled out of the bed and along the floor until I found a nurse to ask for more painkillers, the thing about my surgery was that I still had the hiccups, so there was a fear my recovery would take a lot longer than normal, not only that but it was going to be really really really really painful for a couple of weeks.
A few weeks pass, the pain subsides and joy of all joys (except one) my heartburn and vomiting is fixed. The media come and go and my condition, although less painful, worsens, until a Japanese television company (NTV) hear of my plight and decide to pop around for an interview. They show my story which gathers some interest from the Japanese public. Soon after the Japanese show was aired a man by the name of Seuyu Kageama contacted me, so confident he could cure me he offered to travel to the UK and use his methods (normally only reserved for the rich) for free, unfortunately these methods were very painful. They included acupuncture in just about every part of my body(even my face) not just normal acupuncture, this was deep acupuncture, for example six inch needles pushed so far into one side of my hand that I could feel it on the other, treading on me full weight with him standing one footed on my muscles, burning me with a smelly burning stick and a method called cupping (not that kind of cupping!) where he would place glass suction cups down either side of my spine leaving a rather fetching red leopard spot pattern on my back, he stayed at my house for six days torturing/helping me, even attempting to place a giant acupuncture needle down behind my chest cavity, past my vital arteries and into my diaphragm, a needle that must have measured ten inches, but even though it sounds crazy and his methods hadn’t worked he was the first person, after my initial internet diagnosis, to mention that I may have a tumour, I told him I have had scans so it can’t be true, unbeknown to me, he was correct.
My story had really hit a note in Japan, so my sister and I were invited to fly to Tokyo to try a load of the cures that had been sent in by the public and to see a hiccup specialist who had been studying the hiccups for fifteen years. On arriving in Japan we were greeted by NTV and taken to our beautiful hotel with a wonderful view of Tokyo from our twenty sixth floor room, it was really exciting to be in Tokyo and the NTV crew really knew how to look after us, they took us to stunning yeolde style restaurants, paid for everything and most of all were genuinely nice people.
The second day we were taken for a two hour drive in to the countryside, to see a doctor at his hospital who had been studying the hiccups for fifteen years. He asked some questions (speaking very good English) and started doing some tests, I had an ultrasound, blood tests and an MRI scan, the test results seem to come back okay, we had another little chat where he informed me that I was the worse case he had ever seen and left thinking it was once again a dead end. The next day we went over to the television studio to try some of the wacky cures the Japanese public had sent in, some of these were awful, especially the pickled plums, I don’t advise trying pickled plums as they make your face move in ways that only cartoon characters can simulate, other cures were mostly just drinking water in different ways, needless to say none of them worked, but it was a laugh.
Later on the NTV crew received a phone call from the doctor, who wanted to do a second MRI scan, this scan would take a lot longer than the first because he wanted to get a more detailed view of my brain, I wasn’t happy with having another scan, I’m claustrophobic and the first scan was hard enough, after all these years of people failing to cure me I assumed he was clutching at straws, so we went back to the hospital and I told him I didn’t want to do another scan. We talked a little more as he tried to convince me before asking that he talk with me and my sister alone, without the television crews, he placed the original MRI scans on the light board, hesitated a moment, pointed at a section of my brain and told us he had found something, my heart stopped a second as he pointed to a lump on part of my brain stem, he said “This looks like a tumour” I collapsed onto a nearby chair, head in my hands, as the doctor explained more about the tumour, I could feel tears running down my face, my body wouldn’t stop trembling, my sister who was trying to hold back the tears and stay strong put her arm around me, the doctor told us that the tumour was in a bad place and he needs to do another scan to confirm what he is seeing, I told him my claustrophobia was quite bad and I would struggle to stay still for such a length of time without sedation. I remember lying on the hospital bed as they prepared to put me out for the scan, tears still rolling down my face, I didn’t want to die. The drugs they use to knock you out normally do it quite quickly, but for me, with the hiccups, they had to use almost three times the amount they would normally have to use and even then I was still hiccuping in my unconscious state, according to my sister the doctor stood by me wiping the foam from my mouth as my hiccups continued to terrorise my body even in my most delicate of states.
With the scan finished they attempted to wake me, it seems the drugs had had an effect on me, I don’t remember any of this but my sister and the crew recall that I started trying to talk Japanese, I told the doctor to “f…. off” to which my sister said “ Oi Christopher don’t say that” and I said “But he told me to f….off” (he hadn’t) at this point I sat up at the end of the bed, arm stretched forward and exclaimed “onward!”. By the time I had properly come around, the doctor had already taken a look at the scans, he called us in, asking if I wanted the media to remain outside, but I wanted them there, they were the people that had brought my search to an end and without them I would be dead by now, he sat us all down and confirmed his, mine and everyones fears, I did have a tumour, it was in a bad place and he’s not sure anyone will be able to operate on it. The tears came flooding back, the news kept running back and forth in my mind like waves of fear and emotion, it had affected everyone and I just wanted to go home. The first reasonable flight was the next day, so we went back to the hotel, my sister got straight on the phone calling our GP to get the ball rolling as soon as we get back. We thought about mum but didn’t want her to feel helpless at home whilst we were still in Tokyo, in fact we didn’t want to call home to tell anyone until we were back in England, but we needed to talk to someone, so my sister called her fiancé and I called one of my best friends (who was having quite a nice evening watching a film until I called (sorry dude!)).
As the evening rolled on we met up with Seuyu Kageyama (the torture artist) who was unsurprisingly unsurprised at the news, he suggested we go out for some sushi, it was nice and even though we were still shaken up we had fun trying all the different types of sushi and watching as each of us struggled to use the chopsticks, whilst Seuyu was showing off as he used a pair of chopsticks in each hand to deliver two massive portions of raw fish into his mouth.
We couldn’t sleep, tossing and turning as the thought of having an inoperable tumour cut my life short kept running through my head. Breakfast was a sombre one, I kept staring out of the window at the cityscape trying to wake up from what seemed like a bad dream, Seuyu and the crew greeted us with an emotional farewell before we stepped onto the airport bus. It was a long journey back home made slightly more pleasant by the Virgin air hostesses who after hearing of our situation gave us four free seats in a row so I could lay down, the hiccups were bad so this and the free booze really helped.
It’s hard to put into words how it felt to tell my parents, suffice to say it was emotional. My mother couldn’t accept it to start with, slowly rocking back and forth saying “This can’t be happening”. The rest of my family were shocked at the news and all came to see me to show their support. Telling my friends was difficult, they weren’t sure how to react, but I kept a brave face and so did they, they know I’m not the emotional type, so would keep in high spirits which was what I needed to cope with it.
The next few days were filled with fear and sorrow. We met up with the brain surgeon who, upon reviewing the scans and information we had brought back from Tokyo, told me he was confident he could do the operation. He reeled off a list of possible and probable affects the surgery would have on me, including loss of my left arm and leg, impaired eye sight, trouble with speech and death. It wasn’t going to be an easy operation and I pondered over not having it due to the fact that I loved playing music so much, to live the last year of my life, able to some extent, doing the things I loved.
A few weeks later me and my brother were invited back to Tokyo to see a brain surgeon known as “The hand of god” he had his own private hospital which we stayed at for five days whilst they did more tests and a high resolution MRI scan to determine what type of tumour I had. They told me the tumour was malignant, fortunately this was a miss translation (a pretty bad one!!) they meant my tumour wasn’t just growing on my brain stem, it was growing into it as well. We arrived back in England armed with snazzy new snaps of my tumour and went back to see the surgeon who told us that if the tumour was malignant I would have been dead a few years ago, as it was, my tumour would kill me given another year or so. So we booked in a date for the surgery and I tried to keep a smile on my face until the fateful day arrived.
September 7th 2009
It was daunting to be arriving at the hospital, this could be my last day on earth. I had three different film crews filming me and my operation, they had become good friends over the time they had been filming me, so it was kind of nice for them to be there. I was to stay in the hospital over night and have the operation on the following day. It was a strange night, I stared out of my window for a long time almost daydreaming, butterflies in my belly and a kind of falling feeling turning my muscles to jelly. I woke up the next day scared, this was it, the point of no return. My family arrived comforting me and finally kissing me goodbye before I got wheeled out to the operation, I had the film crews following my bed asking how I felt and, honestly, I felt nothing, like I had accepted the fate that fell before me, whatever happens, happens.
I awoke two days later, I remember having the worst dry mouth ever and a massive head ache, a nurse was in front of me with a wet sponge on a stick wetting my lips for me, she handed me the wet sponge so I could do it and I jabbed it in my eye, completely missing my mouth, it was then I realised I didn’t have the hiccups, I was free!. My arms were bad and my whole body was fuzzy, like you’ve slept on your arm , but all over, I could just about use my right arm but my left was a mess, I told a nurse and she suggested I do the old drunk test of touching your finger to your nose, my right hand hit it no problems but my left decided to give me a full force slap in the face, we both burst out laughing. My family arrived and the happiness we all shared that I was alive was incredible, it felt good to be alive. That night my portable music player started playing one of my piano songs, I burst into tears as I realised I may never be able to play again, I loved music, me and my band had started recording before all of this had started, at this moment it felt as if I had lost everything. I spent a week in hospital being visited everyday by my friends and family recovering enough to walk again before they let me out.
Home life was hard for a while, I needed help doing everything, but I was never worried I had the best people around me a person could wish for. A couple of weeks pass and my mobility was much better, but my hiccups had come back. We attended my sisters wedding which was perfect except for my hiccups, the reason they came back was due to the swelling on my brain stem from the surgery, but it was hard not to think that this whole thing may have been for nothing. The hiccups slowed and after a few days disappeared completely, I was cured. My tumour was a bit of a medical enigma, it took the doctors two weeks to figure out what it was and just so you know it was an Pilocysticastrocytoma….. obviously.
I have been recovering from the surgery ever since, my body is still fuzzy and I don’t think I’ll ever get full use of my left arm back, but I can play guitar and piano again, I think it’ll take a while before I’m fully back to normal but through the kindness and support I received throughout my ordeal at least I have a chance.