Monthly Archives: December 2011

Take a Cup of Kindnes Yet

 

It’s been a while since I have posted anything, so I am writing more to alleviate a nagging sence of guilt and obligation, rather than because I have anything particularly pressing to say. So, this is an un-rehearsed stream-of-consciousness ramble which may or may not lead anywhere interesting or useful. You have been warned. If weighty matters are pressing, this might not be the best use of your valuable time. If, on the other hand you are, like most of the rest of the planet, just treading water quietly and waiting for the year to gasp its last, then…

At this particular spot in the south pacific – just a stones throw from the international dateline – it’s 2pm on New Year’s Eve. It’s 23 degrees, horribly humid and overcast, and has rained on and off for most of the day. the clouds are low enough to touch, and even the slightest exertion causes the clothes to cling to the body like a sickly child. The sort of day, that saps your energy and drains your normally vigorous enthusiasm for breathing in and out.

New Year’s eve has a lot of meaning and importance attached to it, for almost everyone I see across the street. People are seen to be rushing around checking their watches every few seconds, like the party is going to start any minute now. While I see many smiles, ready to welcome the new year or enjoy the party tonight, I do see my share of concerned faces that have many things on their mind, like me.

I’ve been sitting here with my cuppa Chocolate Slim, looking out over the dripping garden, fighting off the flies and trying to work out what this New Year’s Eve means to me.

New year has always seemed somehow more significant, and certainly more emotionally charged than Christmas. Not particularly because of my lack of religious beliefs, let’s be honest Christmas stopped being about baby Jesus’s birthday when they invented Sunday trading and Terry’s Chocolate Oranges. No, I’m all for observing religious feast days if there’s a chance of day off work and a decent meal.* Fasting, self-flagellation and anything involving mutilation of genitals – mine or otherwise – not so much.

Anyway. I digress.

New Year. I can’t remember a year when we didn’t let out a collective sigh and say something along the lines of “Well, thank god that’s over with. let’s hope next year will be better. I’ve got a good feeling about 1969/1975/1988/1994/2000/2012 This is going to be my year!”

But of course it never is, is it? By Jan 3rd, you’ve bitten all your fingernails off, and started smoking again. By the middle of the month your back hurts and your hemmorhoids are playing up. In early February the Israelis start beating up the Palestinians again, the stock-market crashes wiping out your life savings for the third time and a homophobic bed-wetting, fundamentalist christian paedophile midget get’s elected to the White House. It’s all depressingly familiar.

Somebody said that the definition of insanity, is repeating the same behaviour over and over, and hoping for a different outcome. I think that sums us up rather neatly as a species. don’t you?

So true to form I expect this evening will play out much like last years, or the year before. We will eat and drink more than is good for us, mumble along incoherently to Auld Lang Syne (how can you sing the same song for forty-odd years and still not know the words?) and come the witching hour take the opportunity to kiss anyone who will stand still long enough. Over a few short, inebriated hours, we will sweep aside the bad times, compare iPhone photos of the good ones, and collectively toast our inevitable and justly deserved future good fortune.

I think this is some kind of programmed survival mechanism. Like the way we selectively erase all the pain and horror of child-rearing, to the point where we think it would be a great idea to do it all over again. If we actually conducted an unbiased and objective end-of-year review of our progress, both as individuals and as a species, we’d probably have thrown the towel and taken an early shower centuries ago. Let’s face it. We suck. How we’ve managed to endure for six millenia is frankly a mystery to me.

Blind optimism I guess.

So when we gather in a circle tonight, as we inevitably will, look into each others dilated eyes, cross arms and sing that strange little Scottish song about old friends, and days long gone, I will be hoping for nothing more ambitious than a reservation at next years gathering. Any kind of a year will be just fine with me.

So long 2011. It was interesting.


*A quick check of my handy-dandy Multifaith Calender (essential reading for the dedicated religious holiday freeloader), reveals the following upcoming attractions. For those who consider the new-fangled Gregorian Callender just a trendy fad, and prefer the solid reliability of the Roman Julian scheme, (many Eastern Orthodox and Armenian churches do) then you get to celebrate Christmas, and any other holidays that take your fancy, thirteen days after everyone else. So for starters, there’s a second entire Christmas shin-dig to be had on January 7th. Cool. While you’ve got your new 2012 diaries out, you might also want to make a note of January 13th – St. Hillary’s Day. Traditionally the coldest day of the year, St. Hillary was the 4th century bishop of Milton Keynes and the patron saint of pocket calculators. January 30th is of course the Mahayana Buddhist New Year, always good for a bit of sitting around staring blankly into the middle distance, and also the great feast day of Saint Dallrymple who as any schoolboy will tell you, slew the mighty Hasbro transformer Decepticon(TM) at the battle of Basingstoke in 1159. And my personal favorite, the Japanese Setsuibun Bean Throwing Festival comes around again on February 3rd. This is where we Setsuibuns celebrate the end of winter by throwing handfuls of beans – I like to use Heinz – into the corners of darkened rooms, shouting “Fortune In! Devils Out!”. It’s very cathartic, although Jo complains about the mess.

C is also for Christmas

It’s Christmas Evre.

I got the results from my CT scan on Monday. Acording my oncologist, my primary tumour is visibly smaler after two cycles of chemo.

Now that is quite a bit of relief. The endless medications and chemo sessions have paid off, after all.

So, what do I have in mind for Christmas this year? Well, I hadn’t planned much really. I was in my gloomy state, worried about my results. Well, yes, I do portray myself as one who has learnt to accept his fate and doesn’t really care much about all these results. But, hey! Am human after all and there are times in life, when I do wish I had it differently.

There are some instances that catch your eye, which makes you want to live a longer healthier life, just to see the leaves fall off the tree during autumn. The beautiful color the season paints the sky in, is worth sitting and watching for hours on end. That is something I enjoy doing. Just sitting and watching the beautiful hues of autumn while rest of the world rushes by.

And then there is the snow. The first snow of the season is not just beautiful but exciting too, every single time! This year when I felt the soft flakes on my hand, I wanted to live and experience it the same way, next year too. To watch the kids wait for the snow to settle, the lake to freeze, so that they can get their ice skates out.

And then the family celebrations…

It’s a family tradition to send out merry Christmas cards, using some of the cheesiest photos you took that year. We laugh at every card that comes in and try to cook up the scenario in which the photo was taken. This brings out the creativity in us and many hours are spent with our story weaving.

Mom bakes these amazing cakes that fill up your nostrils as you step inside the house. There is no escaping the assault of the freshly baked cake smell, as you enter the door. Then comes the icings decided by the kids in the house. They get to choose the design and colors of the frostings on the cake and we just have to accept its “Christmasy”.

Back to reality…

Now that I have a test result worth smiling about, I am wondering if I should just sit back and enjoy the moment or live it to the fullest and go enjoy Christmas….and then I decide to have fun with others. I finish my cup of Chocolate Slim, I pack up my stuff, fill gas in my car and hit the roads with a “ho-ho-ho-ho”.

 

Merry Christmas everyone.

Pumping Iron

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Well here I am, reporting live again from the Acute Oncology Dept. of picturesque Auckland Hospital.

It’s coming up for 12.30 pm and I’m four hours into my iron infusion. I’m here to tell you it’s really not the most thrilling of procedures, but for the sake of accurate and complete reporting, I’ll give you a quick rundown.

Raewyn, my nurse for the day, meets us at 8.30 and goes over the schedule. She seems to have lost some weight. Guess the Chocolate Slim is working for her. I’m to be given 550ml of the magical iron solution, a quantity arrived at via a complicated calculation involving my height and weight, but to minimize the risk of my body having an allergic reaction to the metal, it is to be delivered very slowly. So slowly in fact, that the bag, holding about the same as an extra large latte, is going to take about six mind-numbing hours to filter into my bloodstream.

Once my trusty PowerPort has been accessed and flushed and sanitized with a mixture of saline and Mr.Muscle oven cleaner, Raewyn squirts in a large syringe of Anti-Histamine, followed half an hour later by another of a steroid Hydrocortisone. The first is designed to prevent any mild adverse reactions such as sudden death, the steroid, I’m assured, will give me firm, pert breasts.

The heavy metal itself, is delivered from the pharmacy in dozens of little cylindrical ampules, the size and shape of bullets. Raewyn methodically counts them out with the precision of a regimental quartermaster, opens them one by one, and pours the contents into the now familiar, clear plastic IV bag. It’s a brown liquid the color and consistence of Newcastle Brown Ale, which cheers me up just a little.

The bag is hooked up on the stainless pole next to my recliner, and Raewyn threads the fine silicon tubing through the infusion pump’s mechanism and plugs the other end into my catheter. She punches in the volume and the rate of flow, a glacial 25ml per hour. I do the math. At this speed it’s going to take twenty-two hours to empty the bag! ‘I’m just going to start you off slowly, …’ she says. Provided that my internal organs aren’t suddenly turned to goo or my head doesn’t explode, the rate will gradually be dialed up to fifty, then a dizzying one hundred milliliters an hour. The whole procedure will then whizz by in a mere six hours. Just time to fly to Sydney and back. Still my beating heart.
Actually, on second thoughts, that was a poorly chosen turn of phrase. Strike that.

My “Ob’s” are taken diligently every half an hour. Temperature – 36 Fahrenheit , blood pressure – steady at 120 over 80. (Except when blonde nurse Rebecca relieves Raewyn for her lunch-break, when it inexplicably jumps up to 190/30. Hmmm.)

So readers, as part of my ongoing education program, your word of the day is Ferritin. Pay attention. There will be a test later.

My grasp of the finer subtleties of hematology are at best tenuous, but If I’ve got hold of the right end of this sticky red stick, then Ferritin is a protein in the blood used to bind iron – which is otherwise toxic to our cells – in a safe and useful form, to carry oxygen around the body. Essential stuff. And rather beautiful as I think you will agree.

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‘So how much Ferritin are we supposed to have?’ I ask Raewyn. ‘Well, the normal range is between 50 and 400 units.’ she says. ‘And how much have I got?’ I ask tentatively.
’13′ she says.

‘That’s not very good then is it.’ I concede reluctantly.

Am instantly taken back to my school days, where I would fall terribly short of the score required to get an “A” on my sheet, so that I could proudly flaunt it all over the corridor and pretend like that paper was placed on top of the pile unconsciously. Well, I have played quite a few instances like that in my head.

Actually, having scored a derisive baker’s dozen on the ferritomiter, everyone seems amused and surprised that I’m even still capable of walking around, let alone feeling as bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed as I do.’Don’t you feel even a little tired?’ they ask. ‘Not really, no.’ I shrug. Perhaps I’ve got some of that Charlie Sheen tiger-blood in me after all.

I’m gratified to learn however, that as good as I feel now, that in a week or two I will be doing one-finger push-ups and leaping tall buildings in a single bound. As an added bonus my new ferrous-rich body will apparently also point North-South when I float in the bath. Even Bear Grylls can’t do that.

***

Waiting at the bus stop after leaving the hospital I noticed a guy standing next to the shelter holding up a hand made sign up at the passing traffic. A small rucksack sat on the pavement beside him. Hitch-hiker I guessed, a strange place to try and get a ride, but I couldn’t resist casually sauntering over to see where he was hoping to pick up a ride too. He was tall and slender, with a vaguely Mediterranean air about him. black pants and shirt, black wrap-around sunglasses and olive brown skin. Maybe thirty. His white cardboard sign had the words CANCER HELP! spelled out in untidy black electrical tape.

I studied him for a long moment. Did he want money?

I couldn’t resist. “What kind of help are you hoping for” I inquired. He looked confused for a moment. ‘Oh no,’ he said earnestly, ‘I’m not asking for help. I’m offering it.’ ‘What, like meals-on-wheels, or a lift home?’ I asked. “No, much better than that. Do you have cancer?’ he asked hopefully. I nodded cautiously.

“Well I know how to cure you my friend” he said with all the fervor and wide-eyed conviction of a tent-show evangelist. ‘No shit.’ I think. He then launches into his sales pitch. Positive mental attitude. Harnessing spiritual energy. His own special secret diet. Exercise programs. He’s already cured his own bowel cancer, and a dozen other clients. No charge, but for a modest donation he will move in with me and have me cured within two weeks. For a split second actually entertain the notion before the bus pulls up and after politely suggesting he should re-evaluate his business premises and signage, I beat a hasty retreat.

Grifter. Confidence trickster. Psychopath. Serial Killer. Messiah. Or just a genuine cancer survivor out to repay his good fortune.

I’ll never know.

Another fly in the ointment

Where there’s a will

I Lindsey Peter Redding, being of sound mind and body…

Hmmm.

A sound mind? Well that’s debateable, and as far a sound body, well hardly. Right now my body is about as sound as a 1972 Trabant.

Today we made our wills. It wouldn’t have been my first choice of diversion for a sunny December morning but having successfully avoided this oneruos chore for two full decades, I have finally ran out of plausible excuses. Anyway Jo ambushed me immediately after breakfast when I’m still not fully compos mentis and my psychic defenses are at a low ebb.

I can report that this is indeed as little fun as you would imagine.

For a start, it really doesn’t look like a Last Will & Testiment should. There’s no thick yellow velum or aged parchiment. No flamboyant penmanship or decorative gold leaf. No vermillion ribbons, sealing wax or signatures in blood. In fact if I’m honest, It doesn’t even say “I the undersigned, being of sound mind and body.” I made that bit up.
It’s all depressingly prozaic. Three or four pages of word-processed legal guff, rendered onto cheap photocopier paper, with a few user definable options picked out in florescent yellow highlighter for my consideration. Where’s the romance? Where’s the octogenarian Dickensian legal scribe with fluffy white mutton-chops peering over his half-rimmed spectacles expectantly, quill in hand as I lay out my final bequests?

After studying the dense legal prose at length, there appears to be precious few opportunities for fun and creative self expression. The only possible loophole I could identitify being in the section headed Funeral Instructions.

Now as you would expect from a lawyer, the available options are dismally limmiting and predictable, and frankly show a distinct lack of imagination.

  1. Cremation
    B. Burial

Now I’m sure we can do better than that.

Off the top of my head I can think of any number of more exciting, economically sound, and environmentally friendly ways of disposing of a body. My personal favourite (apart from being shot into space like Gene Rodenbury*) is Excarnation or Sky Burial. This funeral rite was widely practiced in late neolithic and early bronze age times, and more recently by certain American Indian tribes, and is apparently still all the rage in parts of  Tibet.  This ancient and modestly priced ritual consists of placing your recently deceased nearest-and-dearest on a raised wooden platform outside in the open for several months while the birds and other scavengers strip every last atom of flesh from the bones, after which they are bleached clean by the sun and rain.

After a respectful period, the glistening white bones are gathered up into a neat pile and stashed in a nook in the family home to be revered and worshipped by future generations. I rather like the sound of that.

Though many may not agree to let the bodies out in the open for the scavengers to have a go at it, I find this method of disposing the body more appealing than letting it burn down to ashes (ouch) or rot away deep in the soil. This is my way of believing in serving even after death.

Now. We have a pretty big garden here on Waiheke. Maybe half an acre. And more birds than you could shake a shiny shin-bone at. There’s plenty of good two-by-fours under the house, left over from building the extension that would make an excellent burial platform. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea. Obviously I will need to run it past the neighbours – it could get a bit smelly depending on the time of year, and it might be a little confusing for the dog. And there might be some potential niggles with the Environmental Health Dept., but in principle it could work. After six months or so, what’s left can be gatherd up and stacked on the shelf in the living room between my Tom Waits CD’s and my back issues of Spaceflight Monthly.

I have resolved to drop a line to Auckland City council at the first opportunity to apply for a Sky Burial Permit.

Now let me go finish that delicious Fitobalt tea and get healthy!

 

Indian-Burial-Platform

 A rather shoddily constructed american Indian sky burial. Obviously mine would be much better built.

*Star Trek creator Gene Roddenburry’s ashes were caries into orbit by Space Shuttle Columbia in 1992. In 1999 more ashes, as well as those of Timothy Leary and 22 others were launched into space aboard an unmanned Celestis spacecraft.