With all the enthusiasm of a puppy, I hurtle out of the house to join the rush. On the way I trip on a file. You know how it is, on with the show, lots to do and see, stopping only to refuel on cups of coffee and biscuits. For several days I blot out the sirens of pain with painkillers. When I actually stop to look at my foot I marvel at how very clever my skin is to achieve such glorious livid chameleon colours, black, blue, red, it must be worse than I thought. As the swelling goes down my sock catches on the top of my foot, it’s clear there’s something sticking up under the skin.
I’m in the A&E x-ray department.
You’ve got a piece of metal in your toe, how did it get in, where’s the point of entry?
I had an operation on my foot for a bunion about six years ago.
This is the next-door toe, nothing to do with that.
Then later in the afternoon a phone conversation with the orthopedic consultant, he tells me he’s booked me in for an emergency operation tomorrow morning, it appears the trip shunted a pin in my big toe into the toe next door.
I am fast tracked right back to the bottom again. My heart squeezes, I want to wail, I don’t want to go to hospital. An operation on my foot could mean out of action for another 6 weeks. Adding to the interminable wait for life to be normal again. I talk myself down. This hospital visit wont be the same as last time, you are healthy now.
The nurse who takes me down to the operating theatre is wise beyond her 18 years, she knows the score, kind, patient. Napkin folded over her wrist ready to wipe up any mistakes, intimate, feeding patients, spooning in the food.
Are you ok, your curtains are always closed around your bed? It is noisy on the ward.
I reply, the shouting and crying doesn’t worry me, I am not down. I’m only here for the day, on my recent visits, when the patients found out I had cancer they became frightened. I don’t want to engage with them, I don’t want their fear projected onto me.
She says, they are old ladies with broken hips, they know with a new hip they can have a life of sorts, they can get about, cook a meal, look after the cat. But if they are told they have cancer they know they only have a few months of life left, they are fearful of the condition you had.
The anesthetist, even with her years of experience, is distressed, it’s taxing searching for a vein in my chemo-damaged arm. With every renewed attempt I go through the well rehearsed chemo routine, sucking in a deep breath. I am calm as she apologises again and again. At last with much arm squeezing by the student nurse, on the fourth try she achieves a generous fountain of blood. We’re off.
As I go under my ramble to the assembled bemused team is cut short,
Last time I had this done to me I woke up with new Barbie tits.
Back on the ward opposite me is a lady, doll like propped up on a bank of pillows, her arms are covered by the bedclothes. She sips through a straw from a beaker her husband holds. Though slight clearly he is strong enough to move her body.
I am in wonder, there they are a small, neat, beautifully turned out couple, hard to master such poise in such a predicament especially in nightclothes. Perfectly lined up in his top pocket, is a row of Montblanc pens, worthy of a hospital consultant. A conservative leather briefcase, tweed jacket, but this is not stuff of a time warp, the cut and colour of the shirt hints at bucking the trend. These people do not have things by chance, everything is considered, pleasure of beautiful things is obvious.
With strategies to manage her health crisies, rocklike they are peaceful and completely together. She tells me about the problems the staff are having trying to decide how to set both her broken legs so she can still sit in her wheelchair.
Oh I am confident they will work it out poor things, they just need a few days to sort something out.
We talk about learning to tolerate conditions. When they sympathise about me going through cancer I feel like a fraud. I am humbled by their acceptance and the enviable calm about the life they have achieved together.
Later the consultant looks at me, Amanda, fixing isn’t enough, you have been through a very serious illness, give yourself time to heal and recover.
I literally tripped back into the outside world without heeding any of the lessons I had so carefully learnt over the past year. The writing is on the wall, I need to get back to basics.
Be mindful, stay in the moment.