Well, I promised to report in after the Gastroscopy re-match yesterday, unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. In an attempt to avoid a repeat performance of the last ugly debacle, I urged the surgeon Micheal not to be shy with the sedation this time. He reassured me of his particular prowess in the sleepy-byes department and told me not to worry about a thing, he could render an elephant catatonic with his special little concoction. “The trick”, he confided with a poker face, “is to make sure you keep breathing.” I agreed that this was a very good idea.
He was certainly true to his word. The very next thing I remember was coming around briefly in the recovery room for a post-fixture debrief, where I was disappointed to learn that yet again they had failed to get the tissue samples they required due to my operating room antics. My speech was so slurred I couldn’t get the words out to express my frustration at the news, which only made me even more frustrated. No samples, no treatment. No treatment, no Linds.
It was agreed to try the procedure again tomorrow, this time under a general anesthetic. Genius! Quite why they didn’t think of this before I have no idea but at this point I was in no condition to pursue the matter. Instead, Jo and I took the short taxi ride to a nearby hotel – the medics had advised us not to go back to the island “just in case”- and I flopped onto the bed and promptly fell into a bottomless fifteen hour slumber. Man that must have been good shit.
I was still feeling spaced-out and hung-over this morning when we shared the hotel breakfast room, and later an elevator with members of the French rugby team, here for the world cup. And yes, I can confirm that they are every bit as big as they look on TV.
A couple of hours later we were back at Auckland City Hospital for an appointment at the Oncology Unit. This was my first visit to the cancer wing, and my first chance to brush shoulders with some fellow recipients of this dubious gift. The hospital I concede, has done a decent job of trying to make this corner of the otherwise dour 70’s building as cheerful and welcoming as possible. The otherwise monotonous pale green linoleum floors and scuffed cream and blue paintwork gives way here to a faux polished ash wood floor, crisp bright walls and large windows overlooking a small but sunny planted quadrangle.
After the usual check-in and review of personal details, We’re whisked off for weighing and measuring (81.3 Kg and 179cm respectively), before taking our place in the crowded waiting room.
I can report, and this may come as something of a shock – it certainly surprised me – that people with cancer LOOK JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. As I scanned the room, the faces looking back at me were generally plump, pink and healthy looking. On closer analysis, there was possibly rather more headscarves and pulled-down wooly hats than statistically probable for a bright spring Auckland day, but otherwise nothing to suggest that I have entered the domain of the living dead. No walking skeletons. No decaying flesh. No eye-balls rolling around on the wood-print lino. Nothing. Just a quiet sense of comfortable familiarity and companionship in adversity. I try a couple of experimental nods and smiles and find them quickly returned. Oh yes. I’m in the club now.
As I watched the undead flicking through dog-eared copies of “Woman’s Weekly” and “Look!” magazine, I note that they were almost always huddled in pairs. I don’t know if this is just a cancer thing, but I’ve noticed that they always like you to have someone with you on these occasions. “You know. Just in case…”
A thirty-something son with his mother sat next to us sipping cooler water from plastic cups.. To my right was an overweight Maori woman next to a moody teenage boy in a white Puma hoodie and Che Guvara baseball cap, absorbed in his mobile phone. Around the room other mismatched couples clung to each other quietly, waiting for one of the relentlessly cheerful nurses to call a name from their clipboards. Some of the regulars were greeted cheerily by their first names. I passed the time by trying to guess which half of each duo had the cancer, and which was the helper, there “You know, just in case…”
Other than the occasional headscarf giveaway, it was surprisingly difficult. My gastro man “The Prof”, had, I think in an attempt to make me feel slightly less persecuted, told me I was just one of three men under 50 diagnosed that very same week. The youngest he’d said, with genuine sadness, was only thirty. I was just eying the man to my left – who in turn was eying JayLo’s celulite in “Woman’s Weekly” – and wondering If this was the same unfortunate fellow, when a name was called and his mother got slowly to her feet. Wrong again.
My name came up next, so I can’t tell you if Puma boy has cancer or not. I hope not. A Che Guevara hat on a head that young and empty is regrettable, but surely not punishable by this.