Thursday, 30 September 2010

I get the needle, and then home...

You left me in the hospital café trying to digest a leaflet explaining my newly diagnosed condition.

After making of the information what I could, I made a half-hearted attempt at normality by playing the easiest of games on my phone, all the time my eyes bursting with strain and shock and feeling hot and red with the tears I just managed to keep from flowing.

Soon I let my legs carry me outside to the sight of grass, trees and sky and it was in the open air that all my defences fell apart. Deep from the centre of my being came a cry of…what? To call it despair would be to endow it with a certain poetic quality, a sense of nobility, a dying melancholic sigh. What I actually felt was a crushing sense that my life, my plans, my desires to better myself, to contribute, all amounted to precisely, absolutely nothing. I do not know if the people clustered in various groups around the hospital entrance noticed my distress but I was beyond caring. Still however the tears did not flow.

The moment was, in the mercy of these things, brief. I knew that I was in the middle of a diagnostic process and that there was more work to do on understanding my new situation and dealing with it. I made my way back inside and took the lift once more to the specialist clinic, where, after a short interval, Dr H appeared and ushered me back into the consulting room.

The determined among you can find footage of bone marrow biopsy on youtube and there is a useful description here. All I could do in the moment was submit to the process, which was carried out under local anaesthetic while I lay on my side, legs drawn up in an aptly foetal position (“Mummy!”), facing the wall. Dr H had the courtesy as well as the good practice to ask me  before beginning whether I was apprehensive about my diagnosis or the procedure. My answer, in a small voice, was “both”. I had dared to take a brief look at the needle that would be used to draw samples from the core of my posterior iliac crest—a large flat bone in my pelvis—and had swiftly turned away, having confirmed to myself that it was of a size to startle a seasoned carthorse.

Once the anaesthetic had set in and she had established that I would be best helped by carrying on as normal as possible a conversation throughout, Dr H set about her important work. Amid talk of children and spouses and, briefly, of faith (she Muslim, I Christian), what I felt for the most part was a fair amount of pushing and manoeuvring, with an occasional stab of something much nervier, these unwelcome moments always being preceded by the gentlest of notices from the excellent doctor. Soon enough though it was over and, after stemming the bleeding and applying a dressing (“no water on this for 24 hours”), Dr H told me I was free to go. I might find paracetamol effective to manage the aching that would ensue once the anaesthetic wore off.

On the journey home I let the sat nav do most of the bullying and my route took me along some soothingly green and leafy roads.

My wife was at home, she herself having had a blood test. I closed the kitchen door behind me and collapsed into a chair. This time the tears flowed as I gave her the news, all the time apologising for being the bearer of it and once again being the bringer of sadness and complication to my family. My daughter came in and we told her the basics of my condition: no mention of cancer at this stage, just keeping it positive.

As normal as possible an evening then followed, the only detail of which I can now remember is trying to salvage crumbs of normality from the heap of this particular day by watching “the Great British Bakeoff” with my daughter. Warm thoughts of baking smells gave some consolation.

And so to bed, but not to sleep, much…

“Halfway through the lifetime of our years
I came to, in a dark and sombre wood…”

Dante, La Divina Commedia, from Canto I (tr. Graham Fawcett)

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