Sunday, 30 May 2010

Still Alone

11th May.

End of 13 years of Labour rule, should be good but on TV all I see is pious, lisping Simon Hughes and pompous, platitudinous Paddy Pantsdown. Nick Clegg, who looks like a cross between a school boy and a Foxton’s estate-agent, makes even David Cameron look rough.

12th May.

Six days after being eviscerated and losing all my female organs of increase, I feel much better. Start to cut down on the painkillers and my appetite returns.
This is helped by a fairly sunny day and the arrival of my friend June from Guildford who brings delicious sandwiches from M & S, and presents for my birthday. These include a strange looking woollen lamb, who makes me feel absurdly optimistic for some reason, and a tiny jig-saw puzzle from her recent holiday in Amalfi, when it rained every day and they closed down the outdoor infinity pool. She had also been hit by the Icelandic dust cloud and had to make her way back to the UK by numerous trains and taxis.

She left at 3pm and I went to bed. I woke up at 5pm feeling freezing and rather sick. I noticed blood and yellowy stuff on the front of my nightdress and it seemed that the wound had opened. I felt scared and all the good spirits of the day vanished as I called my GP. I got through without too much trouble, but then the receptionist went off to talk to someone and left me hanging on the line for ten minutes. I could hear them jabbering away, I called “Helloooo!” feeling hotter and hotter. but got no answer, just the sound of the distant foreign tongues.

When she came back she said the doctor would see me right away, but I had to get there myself. There was no mention of home visits which have gone the way of leeches. Fortunately for me, I can walk to the doctor in ten minutes, so I wrapped up warm, wiped away my tears and set off.
The waiting room seemed to be crammed with Pathan tribesmen. I was offered a chair in another room as there was no where to sit and the doctor was occupied. When I saw my GP she looked rather flustered, as if I had disrupted her schedule. She obviously had masses of people to see.
“Have you got a temperature?” she asked. I wasn’t sure. I was going hot and cold but don’t keep a thermometer handy.
“They didn’t do a very good scar did they,” she said gazing down at me.
“It’s only a superficial opening. You have probably got a reservoir of fluid under the wound that has to come out. Surgeons don’t bother putting proper drains into wounds anymore.”

She wrote a prescription, then I realised that I didn’t have any cash left. I had to walk home to get my credit card, then shamble off to the chemist further up the road in the other direction. Waiting in a queue,my head swimming, I thought I saw my natural mother, someone I haven't seen for about fifteen years. I was given up for adoption at six weeks old and met her several times, but I probably wouldn’t recognise her now. she might even be this almost toothless old crone. Feel myself getting hotter and more anxious. After a long stand I got a seat in a children’s play area. I had to pay £20 for some more anti-sickness pills and some antibiotics.

More pills to add to my huge collection. As I put them down I got a call from British Gas offering to give me a discount on a new boiler, which I don’t need, and another call from the “UK’s biggest sub-prime lender,” offering me a cut-price mortgage.

Sometimes I feel disgust with modern Britain, and no matter what Dr Johnson said, I am tired of London, at least the bit of it that I inhabit. It was brutal out there on the pavements, and despite the huge and increasing press of people there was no one who had any time to help me. How was I going to keep paying for all the drugs I was going to need, and what must it be like for the old and seriously disabled?

I began to feel depressed for the first time – this operation to be followed by a future with cancer. It seemed like a Byzantine punishment, one of those prison sentences in the Middle East where they condemn people to ten years in prison followed by death.

An elderly man phoned to ask if would like to help him do some weeding at the war memorial. I had to decline.


Oozing and seeping everywhere, fumblingly apply my own dressings. Where is Florence when you need her, where are the convalescent homes we used to have – a German friend of mine who had her nose broken by a Turkish youth in a swimming pool got sent to a rest home in the Black Forest for two months. And where are the district nurses?

Continue trying to get an appointment time at Queen Charlotte’s but no luck. My details have not been found.

My mother arrives, aged eighty eight, but flying in like Yarga Barba on her broom stick or a woman warrior in a chariot, and I feel so much better seeing her. She will stay until I get my results on the 17th.

It is a comfort to have someone close by whom I don’t have to entertain. She can watch TV in the late afternoon and as soon as I hear the theme music to Count Down or Egg Heads I can head off to bed with my radio, and for once I don’t have to make any excuses to her for doing this.

I decided to get in touch with my cancer “keyworker,” for the first time. I don’t like to think that I am now in “the cancer community,” and need one of these, but she might help with the wound situation.

To my surprise she told me that I am entitled to the services of a district nurse, or at least a “district support nurse,” and I can get all drugs relating to cancer for free. I wonder, unhappily, why my own doctor didn’t tell me this?

Emerald, the district nurse bustles in, carrying an enormous bag. She doesn’t wear a uniform and shows a lot of bosom, but she has the bearing of someone who knows what she’s doing. Her size and energy sweeps my mother off into the kitchen. In my bedroom she asks me to lie down and has a look at the wound.

“They’ve only allotted me forty five minutes with you,” she says. I wonder why it will take that much time to put a dressing on a wound opening the size of a fifty pence piece.

I quickly realise why as she brings out a pile of forms to fill in before we start. It’s very chilly and tedious lying there like a baby on a changing mat, but I feel for her ploughing through all those questions.

She has had no prior information about my condition so she has brought a vast number of dressings with her, some as big as my back. There is a constant rummaging in her bag. Eventually she gets down to mapping the wound with some squared Perspex, put on a large water-proof dressing.

The whole thing takes an hour. As she left Emerald called goodbye to my mother, thinking she was still in the kitchen. She had in fact moved back into the front room where she was sitting among her newspaper cross-words and Sudoku puzzles.

“I am so sorry for assuming that you were in the kitchen,” says Emerald, imbued with a code of political correctness beyond my wildest dreams. But I feel extremely grateful to her, it’s wonderful to feel looked after at last.

“You should have had that dressing four days ago,” my mother said crossly. “And why didn’t they put a drain in?”

Apparently they gave that up because of the current risk of infection. If you want a drain you get them at private hospitals, and the vets.

Get a visit from a former colleague on the Mail, whose mother recently died of cancer in Cornwall. He says that down there the nurses are excellent, tender and loving, just like they used to be in the olden days, but the doctors and consultants are not so hot, not publishing or cutting edge research types.

He brings with him an apple crumble from a deli in Kensington, and seeing him puts me back into optimistic mood. My begins her incessant cleaning, even behind the lavatory cistern and each time she shows me the dirt on the cleaning cloths I am supposed to feel guilty and inadequate.

She goes off shopping in Hammersmith, Ealing and Acton, fully energised and people who see her can’t believe her age.

Get a letter asking me to take part in a “Physical theatre production on the Isle of Dogs. Have to decline.

My mother steam-rollers over me, or rather steam-cleans and vacuums over me, and I let her but she can’t manage it with Maisie. She sits on Maisie’s end of the sofa, even on her rug, while Maisie sits on the floor, bolt up right, eye-balling her. It has no effect but she doesn’t give up.

My mother was born under Leo and Maisie knows a bigger, tougher cat when she sees one. On one occasion she got her rug back and my mother shifted to another sofa, but I could see her eyeing my mother uneasily.
“You’ve ruined that cat,” my mother says, almost every hour. She hates me putting down new food for her, when she hasn’t finished up everything in her dish. This argument between us is interminable. On Sunday morning, the 16th , she goes off to get the papers, but she says I can’t have the Sunday Times because I haven’t finished reading Saturday’s Telegraph yet.

I get three visitors during the day. One of them is breaking up with his wife. He tells me that he wants to kill her. He wants out, while she is desperately unhappy and hates London. We talk about relationships; stage one is the limerence, where you seem to identify totally with the other person, stage two is when you reassert your individuality, and if you get through that, you reach stage three and settled down to live more or less happily ever after.

“We are definitely stuck at stage two,” he says, and I think about my cancer, which is probably also a stage two, as it has gone into my lymph glands. We are both at stage two, but I am longing to live while he wants something to die.

Life seems sociable, almost normal again, but tomorrow I get the results from the operation. It looms up like a school day. The hours pass as if I am walking, every step taking me closer to Monday morning.

Life has caught up with me at fifty four; I have so far avoided the kind of pain that was familiar to previous generations, no death of main parent, no lost loved ones. I never married largely to avoid the pain of getting a divorce. I have avoided pain, but now its got me, and so indirectly also my old mother.

Dream I am pushing a big wheel uphill, it’s a kind of gun emplacement, I’m drenched in menopausal night sweat but I’ve got to get it to the top of the hill. I have no idea who it will be firing at. Maybe it’s a penis that never came and filled me with sperm and babies, or perhaps it is my own ovary that fired at me, strimming poisoned bullets through my lymphatic system.

Dust burst into the air, oil gushes into the sea off the coast of Louisiana, nature is impervious to us, and I have a strong sense of helplessness.

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