Monday, 12 July 2010

Tricky Conversations. Chemo Two.

It’s almost a relief to be back to Garry for my second Chemo – the next one will be number three and that will be half way through. Some say it all gets worse as you go along but I am not listening to anything negative. I have also started plotting my all clear holiday for October.
Get seated into the line of patients’ chairs, accompanied by my friend Kayoko. She manages to get one of the few spare visitor’s chairs which are hard. Happily she is up and about, chatting to people, holding up her hand “healing” people, and snapping away with her camera.
Although there is a line of windows behind us they are all shut.I have decided not to go on with the cool cap, as I am already bald as Max Wall, so I don’t have that cooling aid. It soon gets very hot so I ask a nurse if she can open a window. She says she will but of course, true to nursing non multi-tasking, she doesn’t.
I always seem to be the one piping up while most other people are quiet and passive. I don’t want to make trouble or attract hostile attention. I dread getting on the wrong side of anyone, or being seen as a trouble maker, which is often fairly easy to do.
After an hour waiting for the pharmacy to delivers my drugs a nurse begins to put them into the back of my hand; saline, the two cancer drugs, then Piriton to prevent allergies, which makes me suddenly drowsy.
Some people have been looped up to their drips for several hours already and more seem to be crowding in, drawn from all over the planet; Rumania, Kenya, Sri Lanka, India, the Caribbean.
I chat to a large Cockney woman across from the vast, stygian fish tank. I admire her cropped but highlighted hair and she says it is all down to a good hairdresser. We chat about our symptoms. She says she has had cancer three times and looks a bit pessimistic. I tell her mine was called a “stage 4” at first, but now might be “technically a stage 3.”
“Well that’s terminal that is,” she says, and I see the anger in her large square face with its Desperate Dan chin. Try to quickly shake her words out of my head and retreat to rummaging through my bag of picnic food.
Her sister, also big and burly, turns up and snatches Kayoko’s chair, without a word. When Kayoko returns the sister mutters at her unpleasantly. Somehow we have upset them.
On my other side sat Ann, a small, slender woman in milk-bottle glasses who turned out to be a university lecturer who has written a masters degree paper on “William Cobbett and rural radicalism.”
He was the man who called London, "The great wen," or tumour. You certainly meet a wide range of people under the NHS.

In his great book, “Rural Rides,” Cobbett mentions her great, great, great, great Grandfather, referring to him as, “that old rascal John.”
When Cobbett was in Newgate Gaol for two years for “treasonous libel,” after he protested against some sailors being flogged, Mears tried to extend his farm lease but Cobbett said he would, “rather give my eyes than let that old rascal stay a minute longer,” and he was out by Michaelmass.

Further down the line sat Vera, a beautiful young woman from the Caribbean. She had a full head of dreadlocks and wore an expensive looking diaphanous red gown sweeping the floor. I heard her say to a nurse that she and her husband were going on a cruise, “when all this is over, but we can’t book anything yet.”

I told her I was planning a holiday perhaps in mid October as I would have a scan at the beginning of that month and assumed that all would be well by then. I am having adjuvant chemo, to follow up after cancer has been removed, but as I said this I realised that as she has a tumour on her spine and they are using the drugs to try to shrink it her situation is quite different.

I felt I had said the wrong thing. I was slightly better off than her and it wasn’t right to allude to it, although it was accidental. We agreed that waiting for any scan results is hell.

When her intravenous bags were empty I saw her putting on her lipstick. “Meeting my husband,” she said, probably the only woman in there still feeling the pressure to be attractive for a man. I wondered what that must feel like. Endless varieties of courage are needed in this situation.
Beyond us curled up on their beds were the Indian ladies, groaning, surrounded by their scared looking men. Another way of dealing with this situation I suppose.

Kayoko returned and started talking about her flat, how she had been burgled several times losing almost all her possessions. The police think it is the same person each time, but don’t have the man-power to do anything about it. I said she should put a metal plate in the door.
“I won’t do that,” she said. “If they want to come in and steal they can do it. I accept my fate,” and she made a gesture of twirling her wrist up to Heaven.
This severely irritated me.
“Why did you have a hysterectomy then a few years ago?” I snapped, “And if you get cancer I take it you won’t try to save yourself?”
She looked upset and we gave up talking. Only four more hours of silent dripping to go. Ann went home, replaced by a smiling Asian woman from Wembley who didn’t speak a word of English.

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