It’s not curtains for me yet, much as I admire the views they bear of Chiltern scenes, as I saw again on my latest visit to Stoke Mandeville, which lasted two nights. I’ll pull back the screen to show what happened.Let my goat be called Chemo. I was fed intravenously from her high-dangling udders, while at intervals she would bleat a piteous warning, desiring attention from a nurse when the tubes got kinked, or more observations were to be made of my heartbeat, blood pressure and so forth, before the drip speed was cranked up. Once I accidentally tugged the plug from out the wall. Much bleating. I could have taken my goat to the bathroom as my neighbour did with his IV pump, while different elixirs dripped to three sites on his body, more or less round the clock. In principle I could have wandered with mine down the lift, back through Reception and in by the rear entrance half a mile away. These things can run four hours on battery power, but I let myself stay reined in close to my bed, usually prone within it. At night I could wander free, the cannula (those valves strapped to my hand) still in situ but uncoupled.
Good conversation was to be had with the other patients and a very knowledgeable Health Care Assistant, who often had time between menial tasks to talk intelligently of anything under the sun: politics, religion, mental health, the NHS’s inextricable dependence on immigrant skills.
I have no idea how many countries they came from. Of those who came to our ward, I know of at least Lithuania, Japan and Zimbabwe. But I wasn’t going to ask. There were nurses of all ranks who came on many specialized tasks of graded complexity. Programming the IV pumps was the trickiest, especially when giving you what I called the “hard stuff”, the actual chemo drugs as opposed to the salines and flushes they prep you with.
There were bearers of tea, coffee, biscuits, water, meals to our menu choice. There were cleaners to sweep, polish, disinfect surfaces, tidy beds, strip and remake a bed for a new patient, who always arrived minutes after the last one left. This was the most efficient thing I observed. For they never know how long a patient may need, but beds are the most critical and visible factor in the hospital’s productivity throughput, especially in the Acute Medicine Ward where I sojourned. At one point Dr A— came to see me with a posse of five students, who squeezed in behind the closed curtains to hear his short talk on this selected exhibit.
The photo above shows how precariously my double-socketed cannula was perched. The first attempt to plumb it on my wrist had gone wrong, so a fail-safe site was found, using a high-bulging vein on the back of my right hand. There it remained till unshackling time on the third day, just before my release. “Not your release, your discharge,” hissed K. “You’re not in jail.” Whichever, the discharge was such a heady joy that I experienced an unnatural high*, felt myself 100% well; no, that the years had fallen off & all the world was my oyster, as it had never been in real life. As though suckling from the goat Chemo endows one with the elixir of eternal youth.
Pride cometh before a fall. After warnings of unpleasant side-effects, I never detected a single one, felt myself invulnerable. What slipped though unawares like lemonade through a straw was any realization that it was spiked. I was under the grip of a manic high and didn’t know. When we got home I was hell-bent on “celebrating”, without knowing how; which scared K as if I had risen on waxen wings too close to the sun, like Icarus. “Don’t clip my wings!” I insisted. “You are seeing the new me. This you must accept.” I blushingly admit in hindsight to have been loud and vehement. She was not deceived, merely upset. We had to untangle ourselves from that wreckage. I fell safely from the sky, to see from the ground that things are more or less the same as before admission to hospital. All remains good, work is in progress, they’ve given me a six-month programme, nothing to fear, everything to gain.
* A friend has an explanation for my “unnatural high” that strikes me as the most likely. She writes:
At first I wondered if that round of chemo did something to your hormones, but you have yourself under control now, so sounds like it isn’t anything lasting or serious. You had to be at the top of your game for 2 days, like a soldier on constant alert. I’ve also heard of fire-fighters and police officers experiencing something similar after being in intense situations.
Yes, I’d made it into a challenge, from pride, to try and prove something.