Thursday, 10 May 2012
(Too Much) Time To Think
With the fact that I had a huge surgery hurtling toward me in mind, everything started to go quite quickly. I was desperate to do things I wouldn’t be able to do for a while. I went to see a very good, old and dear friend (I hate saying ‘dear friend’ – makes me feel like an ageing West End luvvie, but it does say what I need it to) do a stand-up show that he’d been doing to much acclaim for some time, and that I’d never been able to go and see. He was doing it for the last time at the Tricycle Theatre, and everything about it was wonderful – from the convenient parking to the joy of watching his passion and politics combine with comedy into a brilliant harmonised whole. I loved the show, but just as much, I think, I was delighted by the look on his face when he came out into the lobby after the gig and saw that I really was there. On the way home, though, I thought about how ridiculous it was that my friends had all come to expect me not to show up to things; how had I let my life turn into that? Why had it taken me so long to decide to have my ileostomy? And jeez, I couldn’t wait to have the proctectomy, the final piece of the puzzle, and complete everything, once and for all.
A much-loved (dear) friend was coming over from Australia. She’s an actress and was doing some shows in Dublin and was popping over to London for a week’s visit before going back to Melbourne. It had been planned for some time, and at first I’d thought I might be in hospital when she came, but happily that wasn’t to be the case. The last time she’d seen me had been during our visit to Australia when I’d lain shivering on her couch, feeling dreadful and had to leave ten minutes after we’d arrived for what was supposed to be an evening of dinner. We’d met many years before when I’d been pregnant with the teen and she was going out with a close (dear) friend of mine, and had become friends then. These days she’s a mother of three gorgeous little boys herself, and she and her family had been to visit us a few times over the past few years. Every time, I’d been in bed, and husband and teen had picked them up from the station. Her eldest boy, when he was just three, used to hang out on the bed with me, asking questions and trying to be grown-up about my refusal to let him take my pills. This time was going to be different. I was going to pick her up at the station. Dressed and healthy, with my bag cleverly concealed beneath my stylish swing dress.
On the day she was due to arrive, it was grey and rainy, but it was late September and that’s often the way in lovely London town. And I didn’t care, because I was going to pick my friend up from the station. Just Finsbury Park, you understand, but one has to start small. Teen adores this friend, so he came with me and we sat in the car, with the rain beating down on us, watching the entrance to the station to see our friend as soon as she appeared. We were there a while; it’s a long ride from Heathrow to north London and there’s no point in expecting calculations to be exact. But she arrived eventually, her small frame and giant suitcase heading towards us as teen and I leapt from the car, teen snatching her case and putting it in the boot as we hugged and squealed as girls do, even when they’re supposed to be women.
Despite the rain, we wanted to take advantage of my being upright and not in pyjamas, so we stopped off in Crouch End for a coffee and a bite to eat, normal things I still got a disproportionate amount of joy out of doing. I still felt like I had a secret from everybody else in there. We were in a café I go to regularly; the manager and I know each other’s names and she occasionally slips me a free coffee or cake, in recognition of my regular patronage (I imagine – don’t see what else it could be), but she and her staff have no idea of the bag of poo that hides beneath the picture of me they see. Teen had just started at Central St. Martin’s, so he was telling the friend about that, and we were asking him questions and hearing about her boys, and a tv show she’d just filmed, and how the play had gone in Dublin and behaving for all the world like three people just meeting for coffee. One day I shall take these things in my stride, but I kind of hope it’s not for a while yet. I like marvelling at the everyday, the mundane, the magic of basic existence. Though not so much in the rain, if I’m honest.
Some time while our friend was here, I had my pre-op assessment; where you go in to the hospital and a nurse takes your blood, and talks to you about the operation and what will happen (yes, even if you’ve already had 9 of them) and you go and get an ECG to make sure your heart won’t give out under anaesthetic and basically half a day gets used up seemingly managing to do little other than make you just that teeny bit more anxious than you were before. But it didn’t matter in the end, because ultimately it meant my operation was that much closer. Just over a week away, in fact.
Our friend was out when the post arrived a couple of days later, including a letter from the hospital, which I assumed would be a few more details about what time I was to arrive, etc. Only it wasn’t. It was a postponement. My proctectomy was no longer to be on the 12th October, but two weeks’ later on the 26th instead. No big deal, you might think, and you’d probably be right, but when you’re waiting for something that big, that major, that meaningful … when you’ve been packing everything you can into your life so that you can take a few months out of it to recover and all the dates are planned to the minute, it’s more than a mild inconvenience. More than a big deal. It’s like somebody’s messing with your destiny. I know now that sounds – and is – stupid, but back then it was terrible. My previous operation – when I’d had the actual ileostomy – had been postponed by a couple of days due to a ward closure because of MRSA and that had been bad enough, but two weeks – fourteen days – they had to be joking, right?
I rang them in a fury. I got on to some poor secretary and insisted that there must be some mistake; that my operation was going to be on the 12th, but that this letter had arrived, obviously erroneously, saying that … I tried to hold on to my anger, to be reasonable; I knew it wasn’t this woman’s fault, but really I wanted to scream at her, to demand she get my surgeon on the line, convinced that if he only knew what had happened he would remedy it. If he just knew it was me, because he of all people knew how much I wanted this done, needed it done, wanted to be skipping through life with my surgeries all behind me and my bag hanging in front of me. And all the time I’m thinking those things, and trying to be polite to the secretary at the same time, there’s another stream of thought; another creature on my shoulder, reminding me of my surgeon’s words, ‘Of course, if a cancer or something else life-threatening comes along, we’ll have to change your date’, and realising on some level that my surgery being postponed could well mean that another person’s life would be saved and that it was only two weeks after all, and why didn’t I just shut up and let this woman get on with her job, and eventually that was the voice that won out and I apologised for making a fuss, explained that I was just nervous and anxious and thanked her for her patience. See, underneath it all, I’m not really a bad person. I just wanted the scary stuff over with.
I look at my diary for last year, and on the 12th I see the words ‘Hospital. Surgery. 7am’ crossed out and DO TAX written underneath. It seems stupid doing tax when all you’ve earned that year are a few royalty payments on a couple of tv shows you wrote in the last century and a few pence for a kids’ book published in 2008, but I’m not Vodafone or Richard Branson and I’m not a friend of David Cameron’s so the law says that I have to. I suppose I would’ve done it sooner if the op hadn’t been postponed, but I do like to leave the boring stuff to the last moment. Apart from that, I filled practically every minute of those two weeks – had dinners and lunches with everyone I could think of; went to the Tate with the teen, the movies with my littlest sister, lunch with my other one, and a couple of meals out with my husband and friends and no kids. I met beloved friends in Covent Garden and wandered around shops and the market, then sat in the sunshine drinking lemon juice. I had a wonderful night watching old Buffy episodes with the teen and our close (dear) friend who introduced us to the Slayer in the first place, complete with copious amounts of chocolate and salted sunflower seeds to munch on.
It was all great, and it did feel like a free fortnight, like a gift I hadn’t been expecting but still there was too much time to think. To wonder if maybe the postponement wasn’t some kind of message from the universe – did I really want to have the surgery done? Was I sure that I wanted to remove any possibility of changing my mind? To declare myself a baglady completely and permanently; to never again have the option of pooing from anywhere but the stoma that protrudes from my belly? All stupid thoughts, of course; why on earth would I want to go back to rushing to the toilet upwards of 20 times a day? To constant, doubling-over pain? To an insanely restricted diet? Nothing had changed in my intestinal make-up (except there was more of it missing); my disease was still there, I wasn’t cured. To reverse my ileostomy would be to go back to the life I had no longer been able to bear. Of course I wanted the proctectomy. But I’d finished my to-do list – I’d been to the cinema, the theatre, comedy clubs; I’d seen people I’d not seen for years outside of my bedroom; I’d shopped and sat in cafes and even walked in the park on good days. I hadn’t swum yet, but I hadn’t planned to do that before the surgery; that was on my ‘after’ list. My ‘before’ list was completed and I wanted to be heading for the next one. I did want the proctectomy, of course I did. I just wanted it now.