The Lockdown Diaries 14: The Rock & The Hard Place
When you go to hospital you fantasise that it will look like this. A cross between ‘2001’ and ‘Gattacca’.
This was the view in my hospital at 9:00am today. A cross between an Alan Bennett play and Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’.
It has no external windows (because of radiation). The suites have the unlikely names of Cedar and Sycamore. To differentiate them, both have pictures of a cherry tree. The lighting is low and buzzes just enough to make your eye tic. The name Cedar unfortunately conjures the name of the Cedar-Sinai Jewish hospital in Los Angeles, voted eighth best in the world. Try the lox, apparently it’s fabulous.
My waiting room (thoughtfully kitted with comfy wipe-clean chairs) has a small TV permanently playing ‘Good Morning Britain’. I had no idea presenter Lorraine Kelly was still alive. Her concerned, kindly, caring voice makes me want to take a cricket bat to the set.
Occasionally an elderly person with dry Simpsons-yellow skin shuffles in and waits placidly until called. Sometimes someone confronts the unfazed receptionist in a state of panic that prevents logical conversation. I wonder if I look like any of these patients now but just can’t see it, although I definitely smell of chemicals. I’m considering wearing Tom Ford to the treatments.
Right now the staff (many of whom living within walking distance in provided accomodation) get to see a small room by day and a small room by night, until this is all over. They have patience but are also brisk and efficient. System improvements are made constantly; small groups of usually about 5 or 6 people gather and discuss them while on the move, implementing changes right then and there. This must be how military hospitals work.
In this exhausted and noticeably run-down NHS hospital I feel paradoxically safe. All the patients must attend alone until COVID ends. Nobody speaks, which is a blessing as I’m reading. I’m getting to the worst part of the treatment, in which the errant body defies control. Never one with much of an appetite, I suddenly can’t stop eating. My body has changed; despite having had no alcohol for three months I have gone from rangy to stocky. Because of the need to be awake all through the night I find myself sitting on the terrace at 3:30am eating an M&S trifle. I hate sweet things – what the hell?
Some days symptoms seem to change every 3-4 hours. Despite chemo my hair seems to have got thicker. I remember thinking that my last extended bout of radiotherapy 25 years ago involved something like a primitive alien death ray. I guess it has refined but still seems like a video game blaster that scorches and scars its way through the body like a high tech blowlamp.
Today I’ll have my penultimate treatment, getting ready to leave the rock and enter the hard place I’ve been warned so much about. But pain is not the enemy. The enemy is banality. Being sick is as boring as watching a new dog owner fussing over a puppy, or waiting for someone to Google something on their phone. A passive and dull secondary activity, it shows you what a life without energy must be like. And as my mould-mouthed old Auntie Nellie used to say, ‘Fuck that for a game of soldiers.’