Food of the dogs

Food Stamps

OK. I know it’s not big or clever to take pot-shots at an easy target – and this is frankly like shooting fish in a barrel – but we really DO need to talk about hospital food.

I mean come on really… I know bad hospital food is a tired old culinary cliche, granted – right up there with the British Rail sandwich and school dinners. But Does it really have to be this bad?

I don’t think I’m being precious or melodramatic here. I am English after all. We practically invented bad food. Tripe & Onions. Jellied Eals. Oxtail Soup. Mr.Kipling’s Cakes. All our own work. It’s one of the cornerstones of British culture. Like warm beer, and bad teeth.

But this is a whole new level of bad. It’s incomprehensibly, unfeasibly, almost comically bad. So bad it’s tempting to think that someone downstairs is having a bit of a laugh. “Go on Edna, send this lot up, let’s see if any of the poor buggers actually eats it… snigger, snigger” I keep expecting the overweight and sullen porters who deliver the “food” on large wheeled trolleys to fall about laughing when I put the fork into my mouth. But they don’t, they just drop the plastic tray on my bedside table and hurry out with a shamed look on their face, like they’ve just farted.

The meals arrive with depressing punctuality – breakfast at 8.30am, lunch at 12.30pm and dinner ar 5.30pm – and a strange and pervasive smell arrives along with it. It’s not a cooking smell, or a food smell of any kind really. Most of the time smell is a pretty useful indicator of whats going to be under the silver (or in this case plastic) plate cover – fish, a curry, some roast beef perhaps, they all have their own distinctive and comely scent. It’s one of the great pleasures of eating. But not in the strange parallel universe of hospital catering. The odor is always exactly the same. It took me a couple of days to pin it down, but I’ve got it now. It’s the smell of a wet, used towel that’s been forgotten about in your sports bag for about a week.

This is how it works. On arriving on my ward, the first couple of meals arrive magically and unbidden. A few hours into my stay a large and officious lady in a dog-tooth skirt slightly too small for her arrives and hands out printed A4 menu planners. (Everyone associated with hospital food is conspicuously overweight. I can only assume they must bring their own meals to work.) The dour dinner lady stands and taps one of her flat feet impatiently while I rummage around for a pen and make my selections for the next days meals. It doesn’t pay to rush the paperwork as I found out the next morning to my cost. Every delicacy on the sheet has it’s own tick box. Don’t tick the box, go without. The completed menu sheets are obviously parsed by sub-mechanical intelligence. For breakfast I ticked the box for cornflakes, but overlooked the box for milk. I suppose I thought it was implicit. Like bread and butter, which I also managed to muck up. The following day I woke up to a plastic tub of dry cornflakes, and two slices of barren white bread in a paper bag. I ate the paper bag and left the rest.

The comedians in the kitchens also amuse themselves by coming up with florid and gushing descriptions of their daily offerings, designed to whip the hungry diner into a frenzy of salivating anticipation, only to be rudely crushed when the blue plastic plate cover is whipped of with a waiter’s flourish. “Ta-Dahh!”

I’ll give you an example. Sunday’s offering was:

  • Vegetarian Fritatta
  • Chunky Kumara Mash
  • Steamed Oriental Vegetable Medley

Wow! That actually sound rather good don’t you think? Washed down with a nice crisp Pinot Gris, or maybe a cheeky little Sauvignon Blanc. Very agreeable. Well before you all jam the hospital switchboard trying to make dinner reservations, here’s what arrived…


Now bear in mind that I have quite a good camera, so the picture is, if anything, rather flattering. Actually, in terms of presentation, they had really rather excelled themselves on this occasion. Most of it was on the plate, and some of it wasn’t stuck to the plastic, so that it had to be chiseled off with a knife, which had been the case with the previous evenings alleged “Chicken in Gravy.” No, what was truly remarkable about this dish was the complete and utter absence of flavor of any kind. You wouldn’t have thought it would be humanly possible to create an entire plate of food which does not contain one single atom of gustation. According to my high-school biology teacher Mr. Brittain, there are six distinct flavors the human tongue can differentiate. Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Pungent, and Astringent. Ingeniously, the hospital kitchen has managed to eliminate all six entirely from the cooking process. As I consumed the food hungrily there was no sensation of eating anything at all, other than a uniform warm weight in my mouth, and a vague aroma of wet towels. In spite of me diligently ticking the boxes for salt & pepper, there was none on my tray. Eventually three of us shared one small paper sachet of salt that had slipped onto someones tray, presumably by accident.
There was some discussion as to whether we should recklessly squander the entire precious serving on one meal, or save some for the following day. I felt like I was in an episode of Colditz.

Alright. In the grand scheme of things it’s not that big a deal. I was only there for a few days, and it is a hospital not a hotel. In every other respect, the care I received was first class. But I’m really not that sick yet. Some of the people I met on Ward 64 were on their last legs. In fact for some of them, their last legs were already long gone. Hospital days are much longer than normal happy, healthy days. These peoples lives might be drawing to a close, but their days seem to telescope out into the far distance. Meals are a way of marking time and breaking the monotony. Would it really be so hard to give them something to look forward to?





Ward 64-9B Redding LP/ Med-Onc


It was a long and mostly sleepless night. Oncology Ward 64, Room 9 has four beds. I’m bed B. For reasons not explained to me yet, I share the room with three ladies, all of whom are considerably sicker than I am. Or at least their cancers are more advanced than mine, which amounts to the same thing. The nighttime hours were punctuated with random, involuntary body noises. Snores, belches, coughs, farts and unidentified gurgling sounds. Nurses with flashlights came and went, tending to IV pumps, and delivering pain relief meds. In the brief, quiet interludes I lay in the darkness listening to the traffic sounds coming from the street below, and watching splinters of light sweep across the suspended ceiling.

For a long time I listened to Mrs. Gang in bed A to my left. I don’t think she’s doing so well. Her breathing is quick and shallow. Between each short breath she whispers “Ay-Ya” to herself. “Ay-Ya… Ay-Ya… Ay-Ya… Ay-Ya…” Over and over for what seems like hours. I think it must be her way of dealing with her pain. Mrs. Gang is Mandarin Chinese and doesn’t speak any English. When I see her this morning I want to ask if there is anything I can do for her, but my Mandarin is worse than her English. The best I can do is smile in what I hope is a sympathetic and compassionate way. She’s lying in the same fetal position under her thin sheet as when I arrived on the ward yesterday. She’s staring in my direction, but I can’t tell if she’s looking at me or through me.

After a merge breakfast – I’ll save my polemic on hospital food for another day – and “Bloods,” that’s daily samples to go off to the hematology lab, we settle into the routine of the day. Today is Saturday. Basically, nothing much happens in hospital at the weekends unless you are considered an emergency. The consultants and surgeons will all be at their private practices, or on the golf course today. So, it’s a four hourly cycle of “Ob’s” – blood-pressure, blood oxygenation, and temperature, and not much else in-between to pass the time.

Bed C is Colleeen. It’s hard to put an age on her, maybe sixty, but she appears more like eighty. She looks incredibly fragile, and walks slowly with a stooped shuffle. She has a sallow, sunken face with sharp, bird-like features and darting, intelligent eyes. Her skin is a translucent pale yellow color and stretched drum tight over her bony cheeks. Like someone has stuffed a skull into a condom. She is mostly bald on top, with very fine straggly gray hair hanging limply at the sides and front. I can’t look at her without thinking of Riff-Raff from The Rocky Horror Show.

Colleen spends a good bit of her time standing up, pottering around her corner of the room talking quietly to herself. “Today’s Saturday. Yes, Saturday. Tomorrow’s Sunday.” She also diligently makes long lists on a notepad. At first I thought she was probably a bit, you know, doolaley. But after talking to her I can report that no, contrary to appearances Coleen is as sharp as a tack. Her cancer is breast or lung, not sure which, but it affects her breathing. When she’s not berating her husband on the phone, or talking to herself, she makes a constant, quivering “Mmmm… Mmmm… Mmmm… Mmmm…” sound, like she’s having some kind of inappropriate dirty fantasy. Yesterday I listened through the flimsy privacy curtain, while they drained a litre of fluid out of her chest.

Bed D is Chuck. That’s not her name, it’s what she calls me and everyone else who comes into the room. ” ‘Ello Chook.” Chuck is fifty something, and works in a warehouse in Manurewa. She has a rosy round face, one good breast and not a hair on her head. She’s on her third chemo cycle, and has picked up a cold from someone at work. that’s not good. After three months of chemotherapy, a cold can kill you. She spends most of the day hunched under a blanket shivering. She seems remarkably good humored about her situation, but is clearly not having a good time.

So that’s it. My universe for the next week. I feel a bit of a fraud really. These people are are all in pretty bad shape. I, on the other hand, with my invisible bleeding, healthy tan and full head of hair look like like an attention seeking impostor. The nurses come and check on me every few hours for “Ob’s”, but otherwise I’m left to my own devices.

I amuse myself by wandering the corridors, observing the other inmates, their visitors, and the nursing staff going about their business. Like everything else about this cancer business, it’s amazing how quickly the novel and unexpected can become prosaic and routine. After only a few days, this scary and alien environment is starting to feel like a familiar second home. I know my way to the kitchen and the TV room. I know where the laundry cupboard is if I need a fresh towel or another blanket. I’ve figured out the idiosyncrasies of the shower, and how to adjust my bewilderingly complicated electric bed.

In just a few days I’ve become like the archetypal old prison lag in the movies. The ancient lifer with no teeth who sweeps up and hands out the library books. Benign, institutionalized and largely overlooked, he’s been inside so long nobody, including him can remember what he’s there for.

Probably just as well. I have a feeling this will not be my last visit to this place.

Return of the Black Mennace


It’s amazing what difference forty eight hours can make. It’s about that time on Wednesday I was sitting in the warm sunshine outside an Italian restaurant at Mission Bay with Jo and my old friends Steve and Emma, enjoying a lazy, late lunch, sipping a cool Peroni and thinking that this cancer business really could be a whole lot worse.

Well today it really is a whole lot worse.

As I write this I’m sitting in a comfortable brown leather lazy-boy with a tuna sandwich and a cardboard carton of juice. Not as good as an Italian granted, but not all bad either. The only snag is that the lazy-boy I’m sitting in, is itself sitting in the Acute Oncology Department of the hospital. Oh yes, and I’m attached to a bag of someone else’s blood.

I’m bleeding again. Somewhere deep inside. Probably the tumor in my Osophogus. I know this because the dreaded black poo is back. I was feeling light-headed and nauseous yesterday, I was tired and my arms and legs felt dull and heavy. A sure sign of anemia. My fears were confirmed this morning at the now obligatory bathroom inspection. I scooped up a sample of the sticky tar- like substance in a tissue and dropped it into a zip-lock sandwich bag. “A Hundred and One Uses” it boasted on the box. “A Hundred and two now!” I thought. Jo rings the hospital and they tell us to come straight in. We stuff a few things into an overnight bag and catch the next ferry to the city.

Acute Oncology isn’t as nasty as it sounds. It is as bright and cheerful as a a ward packed full of medical paraphernalia can be, and very clean. Everything sparkles with an antiseptic gleam.The wipe-clean paintwork has been carefully chosen to make the rooms seem sunny and cheerful, even on an overcast day. Today its sunny, so the room is almost overwhelmingly bright. A nurse called Becky takes my bloods. I resist the temptation to tell her that that’s my daughter’s name, in case she thinks I’m hitting on her. “I understand you have a gift for me,” she says. Jo reaches into the hold-all and hands here my sandwich bag.

It’s hard to believe that somewhere in this sprawling complex of buildings, extensions, extensions to extensions, Porta-Cabins and sheds, there is a little dark room, where it is someone’s job to sit and sift through other people’s jobbies. Not only that, this person must have read books, studied, taken exams. Trained. At some point they must have made a conscious and deliberate decision. “I don’t want to be a heart surgeon or a pediatrician, I think I’ll be a turd man. That sounds like a rewarding and fulfilling vocation.”

We wait an hour or so for my blood tests to come back from the lab. One of the oncology doctors Raj comes over to talk to us. Yes my blood count is down, so I am to have a transfusion. Also, he explains that they are reluctant to start me on chemo while I have bleeding. The chemo can cause the tumor to break up, which would normally be a good thing, but in my case could make the bleeding worse. The new plan is to use radiation to “bake”, and dry out the tumor to stop the bleeding before commencing the chemotherapy.

Raj also asks if I had heard the results of my biopsy. I said “no”, but had figured that no news was probably bad news. He looked pained and said that yes, the samples had proved positive, the cancer has spread to my lymph nodes. “unfortunately, this means your treatment will probably not be curative…” He paused to let that sink in. “You do understand don’t you?” He seemed concerned that the message wasn’t getting through.

It!s not a subtle point he was making. I fully understood. I just didn’t feel the need to register shock or despair or burst into tears. The penny has been dropping in slow-motion for some weeks now. My chances aren’t good. I get it alright?

The blood arrives, fresh and cold from the fridge. Type O. My favorite. The nurse fits a dinky little connector to my recently installed Porta-Cath , and dials in the quantity and duration for the transfusion on the portable electronic volume pump. One unit of blood. 300ml. 120 minutes. I’m to receive two units so it’s going to be a long afternoon. I sit and watch the blood drip, drip, drip, from the bag on the stand into a clear plastic reservoir then creep slowly along the two meters of fine tubing, through the pump, past several valves and connectors and finally into my chest. What does it feel like? Well, you can’t feel anything at all. Unlike an IV drip in the arm, where you can sense the refrigerated blood inching along your veins cooling your flesh, this is direct injection into a main artery. There is no sensation of any kind. It’s only the quiet rhythmic creaking of the pump like a new leather brogue on a polished wooden floor, and the slowly emptying bag that proves there is anything happening at all.

Raj is back to tell me that after conferring with the radiologists upstairs, I am to be admitted for the weekend for observation, with radiation treatment planed for early nest week. My chemo is to be postponed for a fortnight. I can’t really figure out if that’s good news, bad news, or something in-between. It doesn’t really matter. I’ve given up fretting about things that I cant control – and thats just about everything right now. Jo seems relieved. I’m in the best place she tells me, and heads off to the hospital shop to buy toothpaste, deodorant and magazines. Shortly a cheerful young orderly in board-shorts and Nikes comes to take me up to Ward 64 in the main building opposite. I politely refuse the wheelchair he’s pushing. “Brilliant!” He says. “Last one of the day, and he’s a walker!”. He grabs my hold-all, swings it over his broad shoulder and strides out of the sliding doors and into the bright sunshine.


The Last Resort

Dolls Heads

You know those little fake plastic and nylon yellow daffodils they sell every year that are supposed to give you immunity from cancer?

Well they don’t bloody work.

Something ought to be done. It’s just not right. It’s not as if I used to throw chump-change into the collecting bucket like most of the other long-pockets-short-arms commuters, who’s pitiful contributions would barely cover the manufacturing costs of the raw materials and the Chinese child labor. I’m pretty sure some tight-wads carefully store their Daffodils away in a draw somewhere, and dust them off every spring, rather than splash out another 50c. Not me. No, I was always willing to spend up large to buy my continued well being. Twenty bucks in the tub seemed a very reasonable price to pay for another year of worry free self-abuse. One year, when I had been binging particularly recklessly I stumped up a fifty, just to be on the safe side.

Now it seems all my philanthropic largess has come to nothing. What a rip!

I did today discover however, what they have been spending all our money on. Jo and I, along with a dozen other neophytes were invited along to the Auckland Cancer Society for a “Chemotherapy Orientation Morning” – a sort of My First Cancer workshop and group-hug. Well, I have to report the place is magnificent. If it looks like a luxury resort, that’s because that’s precisely what it is. A cancer hotel, run exclusively for the benefit cancer sufferers – and their long suffering families – needing somewhere to stay while undergoing treatment. It’s a spacious modern affair just around the corner from the main hospital building overlooking the park and cricket ground. Beneath a huge verdigris copper daffodil sculpture, the main entrance opens onto a spacious and lavishly appointed reception area and lounge. Whilst surveying the plump leather sofas, shag-pile rugs and marble floors I tried to imagine what twenty million dollars would look like in buckets of ten and twenty cent pieces.

At 10.30 we are ushered into a small, but well appointed conference room, with a small stage at one end. There is a dais at the front right, thirty or so neatly laid out chairs, and a folding table at the rear with tea, coffee and shortbread biscuits. The pictures on the wall are not the usual cheap framed prints, but a matching pair of nineteenth century landscape paintings in ornate and heavily guided frames. Inside the door is another table covered in stacks of brochures and leaflets with tittles like “Cancer for Fun and Profit”, “Growing Tumors Indoors”, “Bald is Beautiful: The Cancer Grooming Handbook” and for the youngsters “The Chemotherapy Sticker Activity Book”. (I made some, but not all of those up.)

We are being hosted by several of the specialist oncology nurses from the hospital’s Cancer & Blood Service.  They are mostly mature, motherly figures with kind faces and neat blue two-piece coveralls. One of them gives us a short PowerPoint presentation covering mundane but useful information such as how to navigate the labyrinthine hospital campus to the cancer unit, where to find a car-park and how to check-in for appointments and treatment. Next we have a brief introduction to what cancer is, how it spreads, and how the Chemotherapy works. We learn that chemo is a catch-all phrase, used to describe a whole range different drug therapies which are used in different combinations, and tailored to our individual needs. Individual chemo regimes are described by an acronym of the drugs involved, such as ABVD. My particular poison is going to be ECX, which stands for Epirubicin, Cisplatin and Xeloda.

Over the next hour we are taken on a whistle-stop tour of the pantheon of chemical goodies we will be treated to, how they are administered and their various kinks, quirks and side-effects. Each cycle of treatment lasts twenty-one days, with anther twenty-one day “holiday” before the next cycle begins. The effects of the drugs – both good and bad, are cumulative over the repeating treatments, which might number four or six “depending on how badly you get knocked around.”

After the presentation, we are each issued with a brown A4 envelope with the now familiar white hospital sticker containing our name, address, patient number and a bar-code. Inside is a sheaf of papers with more detailed information about our individual treatment, schedules, emergency contact details and more leaflets about patient rights and the like. One colorful brochure called “Look Good. Feel Better” offers me:

  • Skincare and make-up application tips.
  • Professional advice of hair loss.
  • Practical demonstrations on using wigs and scarfs.

I’m half way through filling out the attached form – Eyes: Green. Skin-tone: European, Skin Type: Dry, Eyebrow Color: Grey, Eye-Shadow Preference: Baby Blue etc. before discovering that the scheme is for women only. I am however assured that financial assistance is available if I feel the need for a wig or hairpiece.

While examining the contents of our goodie-bags, we await our turn for a private audience with one of the nurses. I draw Louise, who is a delightful character with a stern look that doesn’t fool me one bit, bright eyes and a black sense of humor. She takes Jo and I through my EXC regime in minute detail, explaining how my treatment will unfold, and most importantly what my likely side-effects will be. The hair-loss thing is a given, apparently. It’s not optional, and will almost certainly happen three to four weeks into my treatment. I’m cool with this, I wear my hair pretty short, and it’s mostly grey these days anyway.

The other most common side-effect is sickness and vomiting, but Louise assures me that the anti-nausea medication I will be given should take care of the worst of this. Other favorites are bruising and bleeding, Anemia, Diarrhea, mouth-ulcers, taste-changes (I ask if there is any danger that I might develop a taste for Andrew-Lloyd Weber musicals), discolored urine (pink) and kidney damage.

Less common effects are (deep breath…) constipation, discolored fingernails, changes in heart function (don’t like the sound of that one much), numbness in the hands and feet, possible hearing loss, increased production of tears – presumably not from laughter, headaches, dizziness and various unspecified allergic reactions. Bloody Hell! On balance I think I’d definitely opt for the dark fingernails over the heart spaz thing any day.

Louise then goes on to explain that, once my treatment is under-way, my immune system will pretty much shut down. Great! I will become very vulnerable to illness and infections. Even minor things like a cut or gaze, of a mild cold can have serious consequences she warns. It’s important that you contact the hospital immediately if you start to feel unwell. Night or Day,” she says handing me a little red laminated card with phone numbers on it.

“Unwell?” I protest. “You mean apart from the puking, the shits, the hemorrhaging, the sores, the paralysis, the kidney failure and the ringing in the ears. How will I know?”

“Don’t be such a pussy” she says patting me on the knee.

Bald Pate

NOTE If it looks like I’m having a dig at The Cancer Society, I want to make it quite clear that I’m not. I’m just trying to keep this blog readable by balancing out some of the more “gritty” realities with some of the funnier aspects of living with cancer. It’s a light and shade thing, and not always easy to adhere. If sometimes I poke gentle fun at the doctors and nurses, the hospitals and the other folk I come into contact with to get a cheap laugh, then I apologise, and I hope they take it in the spirit in which I intend it. The level of care, kindness and compassion I have been accorded so far by these skilled and busy people has been both remarkable and moving. The New Zealand Cancer Society raises millions of dollars to fund cancer research, education and patient support services. They do an amazing job. I’ve added a link to the Society at the top of this page. If you’re feeling flush, (and feeling well) send them a few dollars. It won’t guarantee you won’t get cancer. But it will ensure that if you do, you will get the best possible care.



Why I am not an astronaut.

Linds 1963I thought it would be a good idea to take a bit of a break from all the blood and guts, apparently some of you are starting to get a bit squeamish.Today instead, I’m going to tell you why I’m not an astronaut.

You see, advertising Art Director & Animator was never my first calling. Not by a long chalk. Born in 1960, I belong to to a relatively exclusive generational sub-genre – Generation Jones. We used to be carelessly tossed in with the post-war Baby Boomers, until identified us Jones’s as a discrete group born in the decade between 1954 and 1965.

The name  has several connotations, including a “keeping up with the Joneses” materialistic competitiveness and the slang word “jonesing”, meaning a yearning or craving. It is said that Jonesers were given huge expectations as children in the 1960s, and then confronted with a very different reality as they came of age in the 1970s and 1980s, leaving them with a certain unrequited, jonesing quality.*

The huge expectation that I derived from growing up in the ’60s, was that it was my indisputable birthright to become a spaceman. This might seem unlikely now, fifty years later, but in the decade after my birth science was king. We were at the height of the Cold War, and technological hubris knew no bounds. This was the age of pocket-calculators, transistor radios, Valium, Thalidomide and that sartorial Everest, the drip-dry, stay-pressed nylon shirt. We were promised that – providing the damned Ruskies didn’t vaporize us first in a fit of pique because we had all the Levi’s and they had all the cabbage – that science would solve all our problems, and it was only a matter of a year or two before we all had our own flying cars and personal robot house-servents.

Always a solitary kid, unimpressed by either football or girls, I withdrew to my bedroom and immersed myself in my extensive library of science fiction paperbacks and “Astounding Tales” monthlies. Space travel was the new big thing. The Free West (well, OK, the Americans) were engaged in a thrilling battle for cosmic supremacy with the Ruskies. Lyndon Johnson had famously announced “I’ll be damned if I’ll sleep under a Red Moon,” the space-race was on, and money was no object.

Astounding Science FictionAt the very pinnacle of this hastily constructed pyramid of political bravura and technical arrogance, stood the astronaut. These days, where space-travel has become prosaic and mundane, it’s hard to appreciate the reverence in which this élite group of two dozen carefully picked men were held. They were pioneers and explorers. They were modern gladiators – cold-war warriors. Hell, they were practically gods. Women, and impressionable young boys like myself prostrated ourselves at their silver-booted feet.

Now here was a career I could aspire to.

There was just a couple of flaws in my scheme. Firstly, I didn’t live in Florida but a sleepy little Devonshire seaside resort called Paignton. While the American and Soviet space programs were just hitting their straps at this time, the British one was – like me – still in short trousers. Never mind building rockets, we were still congratulating ourselves on having inventing radar and the Routmaster Bus. It’s was clear that if I was going to fly the flag for the motherland, I was in for a very long wait. No problem, I reasoned. I’ll just go to America. I’m completely qualified – I know the names of all the planets (in order) – I can recite Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics from memory, and I own my own . I’m practically a shoe-in for a shot at the Moon, or possibly even Mars.

The second snag – tactfully pointed out by my dad – was that at that time, the astronaut corp was exclusively picked from the ranks of the Air-Force and Navy’s elite test pilots. And here’s where my brilliant plan came crashing to the ground. By 1968 both my brother and I had been diagnosed with a rare hereditary eye-condition that had left us with extremely poor vision, which was only going to get worse. We were told that among other things, we would never be able to drive a car.  And therefore, I quickly extrapolated, a T-38 high-performance NASA jet, an essential stepping stone towards me taking my rightful place behind the controls of an Apollo spacecraft.

I was completely crushed.

I entered a long period of mourning, during which I retreated to my bedroom. I took sanctuary in my books, and wads of press-releases, flight-plans and glossy 10×8 photos that I had been sent by a nice lady at the NASA Public Relations Office, along with my astronaut candidate rejection letter. In the cramped space under my bed, where most boys my age kept their stash of football magazines and pornography, I constructed a space capsule interior from supermarket cardboard, baking-foil and switches and dials liberated from an old radio.

That summer I spent weeks lying on my back in the stuffy semi-darkness, studying my flight-plan with a torch, and practicing flying my ship to the moon and back. I perfected launch procedures – during which I would be shaken vigorously by the rockets powerful engines – the delicate precision ballet of docking and unlocking maneuvers, and of course the all important and thrilling lunar landing. Communication with Mission Control in Houston was patchy, presumably due to the vast distances involved, and due to the limitations of my home-made equipment, I had to remember to add the all-important “beep”at the end of each sentence myself. Once safely on the surface I was then free to extricate myself from my cramped cabin, and bounce around on the swirling green and purple Axminster in the one-sixth gravity environment of my bedroom.

I dreamed of fling in space for many years after that summer. I still do for that matter. But growing up is all about learning to deal with crushing disappointment isn’t it? Like many of us Joneses the idealism and hope of the 60′s were to be rudely replaced by the gritty reality of the 1970′s. The moon program was canceled so that the congressional dollars could be diverted into the Vietnam war. Closer to home, Britain was wracked by industrial action and social unrest. My teenage years were punctuated by an endless cycle of strikes, water shortages and power-cuts. The evening news was dominated by trade disputes and senseless sectarian killings in Ulster. The pristine white and metallic silver of Stanly Kubrik and those glistening NASA years had been replaced by a brown and burnt-orange corduroy dirge.

The dream was over.


*Source Wikepeadia

I’ve got you, under my skin.

We are up at sparrow’s today, to be on the early ferry to the city. I have an 8.30 appointment at the hospital to have my main-line fitted in preparation for starting chemotherapy at the beginning of October. It feels strange being back on the busy commuter service, having been keeping gentleman’s hours for the past few weeks. Everybody seems clenched, and hunched as they scowl over their laptops and iPads and mobile phones. Nobody looks like they are having a very good time. I feel like telling them all to lighten up, and that things could be a lot worse, but I know they wouldn’t believe me.

We check in at the hospital reception, and after a short wait, a jolly Samoan orderly escorts us down to the Cardio Unit, where I am apparently to have an ECG before my surgery. While I’m waiting, I examine a display of PaceMakers from the 1970′s through to the present day. The Earliest model is about the size of a cigarette packet, with bulky cylindrical batteries, exposed wires and brass screws and fittings. It looks more like a small explosive device than a modern medical miracle, which of course it was at the time. The design from the eighties looks more like the stainless-steel Zippo lighter I would have been carrying around in my jeans pocket at that time, and by the nineties it had shrunk again to a slim Dunhill. The modern day unit was about the size and shape of a small USB thumb-drive. Amazing what they can do these days, as my mum never tires of reminding me.

In a small room, I’m installed on a narrow bed, and the specialist attaches seven or eight sticky pads to the front and left side of my chest. Each pad has a small tab, to which she clips a wire. The bundle of wires are in turn connected to the ECG machine, which is about the size and shape of a small photocopier on a low table beside me. Cardio-girl presses a few buttons, and the machine silently extrudes a yard of pink graph-paper with my heartbeats neatly and uniformly recorded across its length. I pull on my t-shirt and study the graph. “How is it?” I ask nervously. “All normal,” She says with a smile and hands me the roll of paper.

Buoyed by the news that at least part of me is still working as advertised, we are escorted upstairs to the theater suite where I’m checked over again by a nurse, blood-pressure, oxygenation, temperature, pulse etc, then shown to a changing room where I strip down and slip into something less comfortable. Next we meet the anesthetist, who is clearly a little harassed and in no mood to shoot the breeze. I figure It’s not in my best interests to make his day any worse that it clearly already is, and answer his questions and sign his forms without issue or comment. My surgeon, who comes in next, is a cheerful, fresh-faced Asian who introduces himself as Wai. I’m dying to ask him how old he is, but manage to resist the impulse. Wai is friendly and animated as he explains the procedure and answers our questions. He presents me with a package about the size and shape of a pizza-box with a red logo that says BARD Power-PortTM Implantable Port.(“Feel the new standard of care.”)

The device will be installed under the skin if my right upper chest. Wai pull up my t-shirt and draws a wonky circle in blue marker on my skin to mark the spot. He then draws a line up towards my neck where a tube will run from the unit up and into my right jugular vein, then dawn into my right aorta. It all sounds a bit scary but he assures us that it’s a perfectly safe and routine procedure, and that after a few days, I will hardly notice I am now part man and part machine. “How many of these have you done?” Jo blurts out with all the tact and delicacy of an advancing Panza division. “Nobody’s ever asked me that before,” Wai says with, I detect, a slightly injured tone. He does a quick mental calculation. “About fifty,” he offers, “maybe more?” With Jo satisfied as to his credentials, and an international incident narrowly averted, Wai departs and we return to the waiting area until my number comes up.

A few minutes later, i’m being pushed down another shiny green corridor in a wheelchair, with my pizza-box balanced on my lap. We crash through a pair of double doors and I’m in the Operating Theater. It’s an impressively large space, with a small group of blue and green figures gathered under large circular overhead lamps. I’m helped up onto the hard, cold operating table, and someone pulls off my socks and rolls on elasticated surgical stockings. My gown is untied and pulled down around my shoulders, and the anesthetist goes to work on my left arm. There is music playing, and there is an atmosphere of relaxed conviviality. I’m clearly the only stranger in the room. These guys seem to know what they’re doing, so I leave them to get on with it.

I close my eyes.

Very nearly an armfull!

Last stop on my week-long whistle-stop tour of Auckland’s medical establishments was a return visit to the city Oncology Unit (Cancer & Blood Services), for something ominously called a Pre-Op. To my relief, this turned out to be nothing more sinister than a form filling exercise with a dapper young Indian registrar called Raj.

Q. Have you ever suffered from Kidney Failure? A. No.
Q. Have you ever has a Heart Attack? A. No
Q. Have you ever had an organ transplant? A. No
Q. Do you have any prosthetic limbs? A. No.

And so on.

I’m generally easily confused by forms, but I was able to answer the questions with confidence and poise. Heart attacks and amputations are the sort of things that would stick in my memory. With the paperwork squared away, we moved on to a cursory physical examination. “Just to check if you are fit for surgery,” Raj explains. Apart from the small matter of the cancer, I’m gratified to learn that I am fighting fit.

The surgery is necessary, I’m told, to fit a small device into my chest that allows the chemotherapy drugs to be injected directly into a main artery, rather than via a vein in the arm. The chemicals are apparently quite corrosive and can cause vein damage over time. The device consists of a small valve under my skin, connected to a tube which is in turn plumbed into an artery in my neck or near my heart. I ask Raj if this can also be used for administering beer or narcotics. He looks confused for a moment, then earnestly lectures me about the risks of inappropriate use and warns me that the device must only be used by trained nurses at the clinic. Thanks for the tip Raj.

Finally, Raj pulls out the now familiar blood-test requisition form and starts ticking boxes like he’s ordering a take-away. I protest that I had all these done just a week ago but he’s not to be swayed. he draws a map on his notepad to help us navigate the labyrinth that is Auckland Hospital to the blood lab and sends us on our way.

* * *

BloodThe Phlebotomist* is an impossibly small, stern looking Chinese lady with disproportionately large feet. She could easily be hobbit. I can’t see if she has hairy toes under her over-sized Reeboks. She shooes me into a cramped ante-room and up onto a raised chair with wide tear-drop shaped armrests upholstered in sticky, green vinyl leatherette.

I used to be a bit squeamish about blood, needles and the like, particularly when the blood in question is my own, but I’m getting to be something of an old hand at this now. I fearlessly bare both my fore-arms, pump my fists to raise some veins and present them to the hobbit for inspection. She casts a critical eye over my bulging blood-vessels and prods a couple experimentally with a stunted finger. Satisfied with her selection, she applies an elastic strap to my right, upper arm. Checking the form I had given her, she reaches into a draw and pulls out seven clear plastic vials, each with a different colored cap. SEVEN! I immediately think of Tony Hancock’s Blood-Donner sketch. “Are you mad? That’s very nearly an arm-full…”

“This will be velly click,” the Chinese hobbit says, “look out of window if you like”. I resolve to call her bluff, and force myself to watch with what I hoped looked like bored disinterest, as she carefully inserts the needle into the crook of my arm and attaches a plastic syringe with a short length of fine silicone tubing. One by one she inserts the empty vials, and I watched them fill with my dark, red-brown blood. When she is done, she drops the tubes into a silver kidney-dish and busies herself filling out little adhesive labels. I pick up one of the vials for a closer look. The blood is thick and viscous and sticks to the sides of the tube like ketchup. It’s pleasantly warm to the touch, and had a satisfying weight to it.

I’m quickly ushered out into the waiting room ro gather my things. No cup of tea and digestive biscuit. No-lie down. No merit badge.

I feel a little cheated.

*According to the helpful leaflet I read while waiting for my turn at the lab, “A Phlebotomist is the name given to a person trained to take and handle blood-samples. It is derived from the Greek word phlebos, meaning vein.” Also, here’s a good bit of phlebian trivia. I bet you didn’t know that your blood circulates your complete body once every twenty seconds. So now you know.

Attention all knitters!

Raiting Room

According to a leaflet I picked up the other day entitled “Know your hospital rights,” I’m no longer a patient, but a Healthcare Consumer.

I think ‘patient’ is more honest. Medicine is after all, mostly about waiting. This week has been an endless succession of busy receptions and crowded waiting rooms. Hours of boredom and inactivity, punctuated with occasional busts of usually unpleasant activity. Today we are back at Auckland’s North Shore Hospital Gastro-Intestinal Unit for yet another attempt at an Ultrasound Gastroscopy. This will be number three, not that I’m counting or anything.

North Shore hospital has acquired an unenviable reputation for accidentally snuffing out it’s patients in recent years. There have been numerous high profile cases brought by the understandably irate families of unfortunates who accidentally had the wrong bit removed, or were turned into a gibbering idiots by having been given someone else’s drugs by mistake, or just abandoned in a corridor and forgotten about for months at a time. More recently there have been a series of outbreaks of so-called “SuperBugs.” Apparently, these giant mutant bugs roam the hallways and wards swallowing entire patients in a single gulp, leaving nothing but a trail of green mucus and a smell of boiled cabbage.

It’s fair to say I’m a little on edge.

Actually as waiting rooms go, this one is really not not at all bad. Carpet, fresh paintwork ( teal and oatmeal) and mostly matching upholstered chairs, some of which don’t even wobble. A couple of coffee tables of the flat-pack variety support the usual range of well thumbed and out of date magazines. Today’s highlights include June 1998′s National Geographic, last February’s “New Idea” containing some truly alarming reevaluations about Posh and Beck’s marriage, and inexplicably, a copy of that perennial page-turner NZ Navy Today (Being the Best in Everything We Do!).

In spite of the nurse who weighs me in and does my obs, telling me they are rushed off their little rubber feet today, Jo and I are alone in the waiting room, which is a novelty. Having exhausted the cheep thrills of the woman’s mags and military journals, I amuse myself by studying the various posters and leaflets the decorate the walls. Disturbingly, they are mostly on the topic of domestic violence, anger management and something called Elder Abuse. (I guess that’s one less thing I need to worry about.)
There is also a small hand made sign on pink card titled ATTENTION ALL KNITTERS, which invites me to pass my waiting-room time more constructively by knitting a blanket square for for an underprivileged baby to go home wrapped in. “Wool & knitting needles available from Reception. Please Ask.”

Next to the obligatory wall clock a sign says “PLEASE BE REMINDED OF POSSIBLE PROLONGED WAITING TIMES WE APPRECIATE YOUR PATIENCE.” On the other walls are a couple of framed prints of bucolic river scenes, that are truly ghastly even by the dismal standards of hospital art.

I ask nurse a question that has been troubling me. “For a general anesthetic, I’ll have one of those breathing masks over my face won’t I?” “Yes” she says, like it was a rather stupid question. “So, I was just wondering how they’re going to put all those tubes and wot-not down my throat with the mask on?” I wondered out loud. She thought about this for quite a long time. “Do you know, I have no idea.”

I really hope they’ve thought this one through…

Photo 18-09-11 12 42 08 PM

I’m shown to bed No.10 in the pre-op and recovery room. I know the drill now. Kitt off. Ridiculous, back-to-front unisex gown thing on. Clothes and belongings in large brown paper bag labeled Patient Property in basket under the bed. Across the corridor I can see the surgeon and various other bods in caps, masks and green scrubs milling around in the Procedure Room.

One of them wanders over pulls his face-mask down and introduces himself as Darcey. “I’ll be your Anesthetist today.” Darcey is tall and lean, with an easy, lop-sided grin and well worn looking leather stockman’s boots but no socks. We go through the usual questionnaires and paperwork and I sign the consent form. I ask him about the anesthetic. He tells me that he’s going to be using Prophonol today, which is the stuff that finally saw off Whacko Jacko. “Not really suitable for recreational home use” he chuckles.

Darcy expertly fixes an I.V. line into the back of my hand while making small talk about the rugby, pats me on the shoulder and says “Catch you on the other side,” before sauntering back towards the O.R. I like Darcey. I like to think I’m a fairly good judge of character and I’m pretty sure he’s never killed anyone, accidentally or otherwise.

I feel calm and relaxed.

A few minutes later I’m wheeled through by two male nurses, say a cheery “hi” to Micheal the surgeon and my new best friend Darcey, and… well that’s about all I can remember.

Photo 18-09-11 12 45 55 PM

I woke up a couple of hours later with a rather sore throat and pupils the size of saucers, but otherwise feeling remarkably chipper. The elusive cell samples were apparently winging their way to the Pathology lab, and after a once over by the nurse I’m free to go.

We catch a cab back to the hotel and I celebrate by watching Jo drink a Gin & Tonic.


Club Med

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.


This won’t hurt a bit. Honest.


Well, the holiday is almost over. They’ve left me in relative peace for the past couple of weeks, but I have been summoned back to the meat-works tomorrow for my next “procedure.” A normally innocuous word that takes on a chilling new gravitas when used in the same sentence as “hospital.”

This particular procedure involves two large Polynesian nurses sitting on my chest, while an alleged medical professional – who doesn’t look old enough to be shaving yet – tries to thrust a video camera on a flexible rubber hose, an ultrasound probe wrapped in a condom, and assorted needles, knives and other instruments of torture down my gullet, in order to retrieve a small tissue sample for the hospital trophy cabinet. All this is to happen while I am only mildly drowsy after being injected with a concoction with all the sedative qualities of a small glass of your Aunt Flo’s cooking sherry.

Now the reason I know all this, is not because of my encyclopaedic knowledge of medicine, but because they tried to pull exactly the same stunt – sorry, procedure – on me a fortnight ago.

It all started promisingly enough. I signed the inevitable victim consent form, which basically relives them of all culpability in the apparently not unlikely event that they accidentally amputate a perfectly serviceable limb due to a paperwork mix-up, or sew me back up with a pair of folding step-ladders and a Black & Decker cordless drill left inside me.

Then after introductions, lame doctor jokes – “Really? This is my first time too! Ha Ha!”, and handshakes all round, I take the short, and now familiar horizontal glide into the O.R. I’m immediately gratified and reassured by an impressive array of complicated and expensive looking equipment, lights, video monitors and of course The Machine That Goes “PING!”

“Wow!” I thought. “These guys really look like they know what they’re doing.”

Which just goes to show how wrong you can be. Maybe they really weren’t joking about it being their first time after all, I don’t know. They started threading tubes and pipes down my windpipe with all the enthusiasm and determination of a crew of drain-layers being paid by the yard. “This might be a little uncomfortable”, an unseen voice said with no apparent sense of irony. I ask you, what happens when you stick just one of your own grubby little fingers down the back of your throat? You gag. You choke. You puke. Right? It’s hardly an obscure, or little known medical phenomenon is it?*

But these guys seemed genuinely surprised, when I started retching and spluttering, and generally thrashing around like a freshly landed trout, on the river bank. Like it was the first time it had ever happened. What exactly occurred next is now mercifully lost in the mists of anesthesia, but I ‘m pretty sure I remember trying to gouge the doctors eyes out with my bare fingers, and tossing  200Kg Fijian orderlies across the room like rag-dolls before being subdued by the hospital militia. I’d been warned cancer was going to be a battle, but I wasn’t expecting hand-to-hand combat.

When I came to in the recovery room a few minutes later, the doctors came and explained that they had to cut the procedure short in case I did myself, and presumably them and their expensive equipment, any lasting damage. They looked rather crest-fallen. I couldn’t help but feel I’d let the side down badly and apologized for my selfish and undignified display of self-preservation instincts and will to live. “Don’t worry” someone offered, “some people have a stronger gag reaction than others”. No shit! I’ll remember to put it on my resume.

So anyway. I’m back to the fun-factory for another game of spit or swallow tomorrow afternoon. I imagine that this time, for the safety of all concerned, I will be wheeled into O.R. straight-jacketed, strapped to a warehouse trolly and wearing a hockey mask like Hannibal Lecter.

I will be reporting live from North Shore hospital tomorrow.

*The professional drinkers amongst you are no doubt familiar with the Tactical Chunder, the time-honored practice of prolonging an evenings festivities by means of a digitally initiated system-reset, to make room for just one more round of Creme-De-Menthe Frappes. No? You just haven’t lived.

Now wash your hands

An exploding stool

I know that matters lavatorial have become something of a recurring theme in this narrative, and for that I apologise, but pay attention dear readers. The following information might just save your life one day.

I have a theory that people can be more-or-less evenly divided into two camps. Those who take an interest in the contents of the toiled-bowl after a visit to the smallest room in the house, and those reckless hedonists who just flush and be dammed. Incidentally, this first group – in which I include myself – are those same folk who are inexplicably compelled to study the inside of their handkerchief after blowing their nose. I really don’t know what we are hoping to discover. In fifty years of dedicated nose-picking and hanky-gazing I don’t ever recall being surprised or shocked. The occasional nose-bleed not withstanding, snot is by-and-large consistently unremarkable to the point of tedium, not to say pointless.

The same however cant be claimed for the other stuff. Oh no. Every morning is an adventure! An endless cavalcade of fecal fun and games. A constantly evolving palate of subtly changing hues and textures presented for our daily consideration and appreciation. There are the floaters, the sinkers, the squirters and the stinkers. The occasional, unaccountable, mystery piece of sweetcorn that you just know you haven’t eaten. Yes, you can certainly learn an awful lot about your inner machinations by a quick post-poop-peep.

In a school biology textbook in 1974, I saw a picture of a tapeworm. It had a long, pale, segmented ribbon of a body, and a sinister spherical head like a miniature diving helmet. The picture was accompanied by a gruesome account of a poor woman in Africa who, after being hospitalized after months of mysterious sickness, weight-loss and fatigue, had a six-foot tapeworm removed from her intestines.
For some reason this made a very big impression on me. The notion of another living thing, hiding, feeding and growing inside a person, was both terrifying and fascinating and became something of an obsession. Many years later, working as an Art Director in London, a photographer friend of mine having returned from a trip to the Himalayas, confided in me that he had indeed found a tapeworm in the toilet and was being treated for that dreaded internal parasites.

After that, I paid even closer attention than usual to my morning’s business. And sure enough, one day some years later, my worst nightmare finally came to pass, so to speak. There in the porcelain, amongst my otherwise unremarkable droppings was a flat-worm about five inches long. Translucent and ivory colored, it coiled lazily in the shallow water and peered back at me with it’s one eye. My legs turned weak as I hung onto the flush-handle. “HOLY CRAP!”

A hastily improvised and entirely unhygienic bathroom sink autopsy of Platyhelminthes Cestoda a few moments later revealed – to my enormous and lasting relief – that the unwelcome intruder was in fact nothing more sinister than a length of partially digested tagliatelle. A false alarm thank the Bottom Gods. BUT, one false positive doesn’t undermine my argument. It pays to keep a keen eye on what’s going on down there.

So here, dear readers, without further ado or digression, is my hot tip for a long and happy life…

If your shit ever turns black, get yourself along to the doctors. Pronto.

This, in retrospect, was my big blunder. Or at least one of them. It’s not as if this phenomenon had slipped passed my routine morning inspection unnoticed. It had happened several times over a few weeks, and I’d certainly been intrigued, if not overly concerned. “Something to keep an eye on” I’d say to myself. But then it would clear up after a few days and I’d forget all about it. We’ve always eaten pretty healthily in the Redding household, but at one point I remember mentioning to Jo that perhaps I should try and eat a few more vegetables, thinking it was just to much red meat and not enough… you know… green stuff.

It’s easy to be smart after the event of course, but the penny didn’t finally drop until I was lying on a gurney in the triage department of the city hospital shortly after the now infamous Brittomart Incident.

One of the several doctors who drifted in and out over that evening inquired after my motions.

“How are your Stools?”
“My what?”
“Your number twos”
“Er, dark?

“You mean black?”
“I guess”
“Really black, and foul smelling?”
“Of course foul smelling. It’s shit isn’t it?”
“Actually no. It’s blood. Congealed blood.”
“Come again?”

HOLY CRAP! For weeks I’ve been quietly manufacturing my own personal brand of black pudding! Now, I doubt there is much of a demand for rectally extruded small-goods, and I imagine the food health and hygiene department would take a dim view, but this was high grade stuff, no artificial ingredients or bulk filler here. Suddenly, it all made sense. If I’ve been flushing away half a pint of blood every time I go to the reading room, no wonder I’ve been feeling tired and washed out and struggling to get out of bed in the mornings. What a monumentally dumb shit I’ve been.

So there you have it people. That’s my public health message for the day.

Don’t be in a rush to flush.

Faith can move mountains

Lake Wakatipu

Jo, Becca & I just spent a few days down in Queenstown, hence the hiatus between posts. We refused to pay the completely outrageous $50 per Gig that the pencil-skirted bandit behind the desk at the hotel demanded for a wi-fi connection. When will these people understand that connectivity is no longer a frivolous diversion for the idle rich but a basic staple of everyday existence like bread or Central Otago Pinot Noir?

If I’m honest, even with a working uplink, there would have been precious little time for blogging, preoccupied as we were with cramming as much as humanly possible into three short days. I skillfully managed to avoid most of the blood-curdling “adventures” for which Queenstown is famous for – throwing myself off mountains, bridges, out of airplanes etc. My recent brush with mortality may have changed my perspective on many things, but deep down, I’m still the same yellow, whimpering, sniveling coward I have always been, and appealing as the idea might be to call cancer’s bluff and scare myself and it to death by plummeting toward the frozen ground head first from a great altitude, my lizard brain and my bowels would never allow such wanton recklessness.

So we confined ourselves to less taxing, and altogether more enjoyable diversions, such as riding the Skyline gondolas up Ben Lomond to the lofty observation decks (taking care to stay well back from the butt-clenchingly precipitous edge of course), racing luges down the winding hillside tracks whooping and laughing in the cold mountain air, and later taking a sedate evening cruise on the gorgeous nineteenth century steamer TSS Earnslaw down lake Wakatipu to the sheep station at the foot of Walters Peak. Much more my kind of thrill seeking.

On Wednesday we hired a car and Jo drove us over the snowy Crown Ranges to Wanaka where we spent a memorable day Jet-Boating down the Cluther, across a blustery and choppy Lake Wanaka and along the winding ribbon of the into the heart of the Mt. Aspiring National Park. Ok so granted, burning 90 litres of gas and 700 bucks in four hours of high-octane madness is not exactly a sustainable or Eco-friendly means of conveyance, but it was a hell of a lot of fun, and after all, I am on a schedule here. Time is of the essence.

Jet Boating at WanakaAnd here’s another thing. Getting out into the macro scale of the South Island wilderness, is a highly effective way of putting our puny little human trials and tribulations into sobering context. Out here, things are operating on geological time. Our guide explains that the seemingly immutable mountains towering over us are moving and growing by a few centimeters each year, only to be eroded away again by the relentless action of ice and wind and rain. The glaciers advance and recede at a rate of a few tens of unimportant human lifetimes per kilometer. The entire landscape is breathing in slow-motion.

I imagine a film where glacial time is accelerated to a more human friendly tempo. In my movie, the mountains are rolling across the landscape like waves on the ocean, rising, falling, and colliding. Going about their blind geological business, unaware of the frantic microscopic activity boiling beneath their feet. Human lives by the billion in time-lapse, flickering momentarily into existence for a split fraction of a second, living, loving, multiplying, dying. Generation after generation, rising an falling, like a frothing yeast culture. At this frame-rate, what’s a few years of a single lifetime here or there? It doesn’t even register on the scale. Nothing is fixed. Nothing lasts. Not the mountains. Not me. It’s all just an ongoing process. An endless movement of assets and re-distribution of raw materials. I like that. It makes perfect sense.

That reminds me. Years ago when I was a student in London, I saw some graffiti at the Angel Islington tube station. It said FAITH CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS. Underneath someone had written “Faith must be a very big girl!”

Funny the things that go on under a woolly hat, in the back of a speeding boat, on a cold afternoon in Otago.

The Matukituki River from the air

Flying North out of Queenstown, looking down on the Matukituki River valley


Of Butterflies and Tigers


I saw my first Monarch butterfly of the season while out walking this morning. A definite sign that spring has finally arrived on the island. If I had to get cancer, I’m happy it happened at this time of the year. It’s so much easier to be positive and constructive with a clear blue sky and the warm sun on your face. My mood has always been inextricably linked to the seasons, and I don’t think I would have coped as well as I have if the news had broken in the dark depths of a Waiheke winter.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, I find myself thinking a good deal about time. How to mark its passing, how not to disrespect or squander it, and of course the most pressing and taxing question of all, how much of this precious commodity have I got left? As I have said in these pages before, I’m finding the best way to keep sane is not to look too far into the future. As a long time worry-wort and navel gazer, I’ve actually found it surprisingly easy to train myself to live in the present moment. Perhaps it’s a built in survival mechanism. Under normal circumstances, an ability to divine future events – however unreliably – should, you would have thought, have considerable survival value. Whether it’s a sabre-toothed tiger waiting for you around the next corner, or some doped-up adolescent in an out of control Holden, a certain amount of foresight could help you to avoid all manner of unpleasantness. But in my present predicament there seems little to be gained from knowing what’s going to happen next, and quite a lot to loose.

I’m not being defeatist here, just trying to be realistic and objective. I know the next few weeks and months are going to be no picnic. It’s probably going to get grizzly. It’s going to really hurt. There’s a good chance it’s not going to end well. As far as I can see, knowing my own expiry date in advance has little practical application beyond making sure I’m wearing clean underwear, and remembering to cancel the milk. Being blissfully unaware of the precise details of my upcoming ordeal is an indulgence I will continue to afford myself for the time being.

Just because I’m now dwelling on it however, doesn’t mean I’m unaware of the future. I know it’s out there, coiled like a watch spring and waiting to unwind with mechanical precision, with or without me. It’s just that for me “tomorrow” – that most abstract of human concepts – has become even more elusive and tentative. Breaking the future up into small, bite-sized chunks seems to work best. My basic unit of currency is the day. Specifically, THIS day. Each morning starts with a quick systems check and emotional audit. Do I feel well? Do I have any pain? Am I feeling positive and energetic? Am I likely to snuff-it in the next eighteen hours or so? If the answer to all of these questions confirms my continued well-being for another revolution of the planet, I say a silent but sincere thank-you to the universe, push cancer and it’s attendant fears and anxieties away into the darkest back corner of my crowded skull, and get on with the business of having the best day I possibly can.

Beyond TODAY, I set tentative short-term goals. After my initial diagnosis, my first thought (after “Fuck Me!”), was “Bugger, I’m going to miss the Rugby World Cup…” So that became the first way-point on my road forward. The final will be played here in Auckland on October 23rd. I really want to see that game, and I’m confident I will. After that, my next goal is to stay well for Christmas, and possibly a trip back to Blighty to see the family. I think I should manage that too. Past that, we’re really back into the abstract again. But I take some comfort in this thought.

Nobody else on the planet has any more clue as to what their future holds than I do. So it goes.

You too could have a body like mine!

10 steps to a better bodyIt’s strange, this cancer business.

I look and feel absolutely fine. In fact the next person who says I’ve never looked better is going to get a thick ear. But there’s no denying it. I do look pretty good. Even if I say so myself.

When I came out of hospital after The Britomart Incident, three weeks ago I looked and felt like death warmed up. My island friends did there best to hide it, but I could tell they were a little shocked by my appearance when they came to visit.
I’d lost a fair bit of blood, and I was pale and shaky, my skin looked waxy and translucent, and my arms were marbled with blue and ivory bruises from I.V. drips and endless blood tests. (The ladies who come around to take your “bloods” every morning approach the task of finding a suitable vein as a kind of sport. Like Eric Bristow playing Killer, if they don’t manage to hit the bulls-eye first time, they just keep stabbing you randomly untill till they score. “Oooh, sorry dear. Is that a bit sore?”)

It took a week or ten days to get my strength back after getting home. Taking it slowly at first, I slept a good deal, ate tentatively – fearful of over taxing my battered digestive system and starting the bleeding again – and tried to walk a little further each day. For the first week, I’d get a hundred yards up the road, fell exhausted and scuttle back to the house for a lie down. Now, two weeks later I’m getting up and walking seven or eight kilometers every morning without breaking a sweat.

Jo’s got me on a terrifyingly healthy diet regime of fresh fruit, vegetables, chicken and fish, augmented by every kind of nut, grain, seed and pulse known to man. A little often is the mantra. My insides have been flushed, scrubbed and scoured by more roughage and dietary fiber than even the most die-hard organic, hand knitted Waiheke tree-huger. Every day starts with a musli and natural yoghurt enema, and a handful of assorted vitamin supplements, colorful capsules and mysterious items of dried vegetation. Goaji berries anyone?

Oh, and obviously I’m off the booze. Well mostly. I’m not allowed by beloved Pinot Noir any more, and the 50/50 Gin & Tonics are but a distant memory. Even carbonated drinks are a libatious no-no. I am however permitted the odd pint of island brewer Alan’s excellent hand pumped real-ale, which makes life just about tolerable. (I don’t think it’s entirely out of the question, that Hanwell’s Green Bullet bitter might turn out to be a cure for cancer. This is an area in which I intend to do further personal research.)

Hey Skinny!And another thing. After a few long, dark-nights-of-the-soul after my diagnosis, I’m now sleeping like a baby. Eight or ten hours of dreamless slumber every night – a novel and welcome experience, having been an intermittent insomniac for years. Consequently the dark bags under my eyes have almost disappeared, my nervous eczema has cleared up, and it could be my imagination but I even fancy a few wrinkles might have gone.

Any way. The upshot of all this clean living is that apart from the small matter of the you-know-what, I’m in ridiculously good shape. I’ve shed ten kilos, lost my double chin, got a sun-tan, and my jobbies are bobbing around in the toilet bowl like happy little corks. Sorry. Too much information?

As I said. Funny business cancer.




The Brittomart Incident


This is how the knitting began to unravel.

I was on my way home from the studio, on a Thursday evening about three weeks ago. I wasn’t feeling great, but that wasn’t remarkable. We’d been pushing ourselves pretty hard for a few weeks on a big animation project for an Australian client. We’d been doing a lot of late evenings at the office and working most weekends. I for one was running on empty. Tired, stressed out, not eating enough, and drinking too much. Early evening has always been a productive time for me, the office is quiet and the phones stop ringing. I has got into the habit of having a couple of large glasses of Pinot Noir, and settling down to some pressing task that required a bit of quiet and concentration. On this occasion it was tending to the computers in our render farm, setting up animation files for overnight rendering.

Id been feeling groggy and light headed for a few days, but had put it down to fatigue and stress, but this evening was worse than usual. Every time I stood up I felt dizzy and I was struggling to keep focused on the computer screens. Eventually I gave up and decided to head off home. I took the five minute walk to the railway station, and arrived just as the train pulled in. As i sat down, my heart was racing and i was sweating and feeling nasius. I tried to quell the feeling of rising panic in my chest. I’m no stranger to panic attacks, something of an expert actually, but this did feel a little different. I was pretty sure I was going to throw up, and there are no bathrooms or toilets on the Auckland trains. I toyed with the idea of jumping off the train at the next stop for a discreet tactical chunder off the end of the platform, but decided to tough it out to the city terminal only twenty more minutes away.

After what seemed an eternity, the Diesel Multiple Unit ratted into Auckland’s flash new subterranean “Transport Hub”, and I lurched through the electric doors onto the platform, white-faced and belching. I was aware that my breath smelt foul as I wove through the throng of pretty young Asian girls who seem to populate the station concourse in mystifyingly disproportionate numbers. I headed for the escalators, my plan was to get to the toilets which I know where at the top, where I could be sick in the privacy of a Formica lined cubicle, regroup and consider my next move.

From the top of the escalator to the dunny was probably twenty meters across the polished concrete. I think I had made about half that distance, when I felt the blood rush from my head with gurgle like bathwater down a plug-hole. My legs turned to jelly, and I buckled under my own weight. As I knelt in an untidy heap, a couple on scurrying commuters neatly side-stepped me, and I desperately looked around for someone to help me. “Bugger” I thought. “I bet they think I’m pissed.” Let’s face it, how many times have I given the body-swerve to some luckless inebriate weaving his way home from an extended liquid lunch?

Across the concourse I spotted a large Polynesian dude dressed entirely in black – a security guard I guessed. I waved and beckoned him over. He hitched his voluminous pants and adopted a disinterested “Oh! for fuck’s sake” expression and sauntered toward me i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y. Really. In a race he would have been soundly beaten into second place by a glacier. When after several days, he did arrive, I said pleadingly “I think I need a doctor mate, can you help me?”.

He stared down at me for a moment or two, then silently, and obviously with considerable effort, raised a baggy arm and pointed. I turned my head in the direction he was indicating, hoping to see a MASH unit, or perhaps the Wetpac helicopter, but no, there was just a couple of polished wooden benches. I headed for the one not occupied by a brace of texting Asian jail-bait on my hand and knees, trailing my shoulder bag, and under the critical eye of the goon, who made no move to help me. Probably just as well. I could crawl faster than he could walk.

I hauled myself onto the bench and immediately felt dizzy again. And sick. “Here it comes” I thought. I was really past caring, but even then I had the presence of mind to swivel squeakily on the glossy varnish to face away from the passing bodies and puke in relative privacy.

I needn’t have bothered. This wasn’t just any common-or-garden variety pavement-pizza that you might step over on a boozy Saturday night out. This was the up-chuck of a lifetime. It was so effortless it almost took me by surprise. A fountain of bright red blood almost Pythonesque in its force and intensity, hit the white marble tiles at my feet and splashed outwards in an ragged but impressive muli-pointed star. It was graphically rather pleasing – like a detail from a Roy Lichtenstein painting. Too late, I moved my new Converse boots out of the way of the spreading puddle or gore, and studied what looked like little chunks of floating meat with detached interest, wondering if they were lunch leftovers or bits of some vital internal organ. Do you know what the first coherent thought to come into my head was?

It was “Brilliant! Guess this means I won’t have to go to work tomorrow.”

The goon sauntered up, presumably to berate me for puking on his marble. I nodded towards my Technicolor yawn and said quietly but with the conviction of the vindicated, “Forget the doctor. Call an ambulance.”

He reached for his radio.

To be continued…

The sleeper cell

Every morning we go out for a long walk, my cancer and I.

Like most new relationships it gets a little awkward sometimes. It’s still early days, and were just getting to know each other. There are still long, uncomfortable silences.

It’s so hard to know how to feel about my new companion.

And I can feel it. Or at least I think I can. It doesn’t hurt. Not yet anyway. But I am aware of something inside, just a vague presence for now. A sense of something there that shouldn’t be, a dull and loosely defined weight just bellow my breastbone.

I joked to someone the other day (rather lamely) that I feel like Ripley from the Alien movies, walking around with this malevolent little monster inside me, growing by the day and waiting to claw it’s way out of my chest, destroying me in the process. But that’s not really the truth of it. This is a more complicated relationship than that of a simple predator, or even a parasite. A parasite doesn’t kill it’s host – at least not intentionally – that would be self defeating, and nature is generally much smarter than that.

This is my own body turning on itself. It’s the ultimate betrayal. State-sponsored terrorism.

Who knows for how many years these sleeper cells of dissatisfaction and dissent have secreted themselves away inside me. Going through the charade of performing normal every-day cell duty. Hiding in plain sight. Blending in. Biding their time. Then one day, they get their orders from revolutionary command to mobilize. They awake to their true work, moving slowly at first, spreading out, quietly snuffing out innocent bystander cells or worse, turning then to their dark cause.

So my body is to become a battleground. For that matter it already is. If I’m not feeling it yet, it’s only because the insurgency is still confined to a few isolated pockets. The fighting is still limited, and the revolution hasn’t had the time or numbers to get a foothold.

But here’s the thing.

If I win the fight, the cancer dies, and it’s business as usual. If the cancer wins, I die, and so does the cancer. It can’t outlive me, it is me. From my point of view it’s a zero sum game, I win all or I lose all. It seems to me the cancer looses either way. It’s strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction only works as long as it never presses the big red button and goes to war. The Soviets and Americans worked all this out twenty-five years ago.

Actually, there is a third possible scenario, outlined by my doctor the other day, which hadn’t occurred to my usually black or white mind. A series of limited tactical skirmishes using chemical and nuclear weapons, designed to disrupt and disorientate the enemy. They don’t get wiped out, and the collateral damage is considerable, but they don’t get the numbers to gain complete control either. You just learn to carry on life in a state of constant civil war, like the population of Belfast in the seventies, or The Gaza Strip now.

It’s called Living With Cancer.

Since we are already shacked-up together, I guess it could work. It seems that options are limited. For both of us.




The English Patient


I’ve heard tell of people who have recently had a near-death experience, or find themselves living on borrowed time, reporting a sort of dialed-up or enhanced perception of reality. It’s variously described as like living life in Technicolor, or a sort of super high definition, hi-fidelity, surround-sound version of your old plain vanilla reality, where everything is just a bit brighter, louder, tastier and altogether more enjoyable.

I can’t say I’ve really noticed anything like that happening to me yet. Everything looks much like it always did. Waiheke Island has always been beautiful, and with the onset of spring it is certainly no less lovely than usual. I do find myself drawn to spending as much time a I can out of doors either walking the lanes and beaches or just sitting out on the front deck. I am aware of a desire not to waste or squander the days, or at least to fully notice and appreciate everything that’s going on.

What I am observing though, is a king of amping up of the emotional volume.

Now, it’s been a pretty torrid couple of weeks. Ambulances. hospitals, blood, shit and guts, and now the dreaded C word. All three of us are fairly traumatized, and between carefully contrived displays of stiff-upper-lip and good old British reserve, there has been a fair bit of wailing and gnashing of teeth, and a lot of hugs and tears. All very understandable and forgivable under the circumstances.

But beyond a simple knee-jerk reaction by an admittedly frightened middle aged man and his equally scared family, I think the new bond of closeness and love I am feeling between us is very real and here to stay. It’s always been there, it’s just that we’ve always been a little reluctant to show and share it for some reason. Pride, propriety, Englishness. I don’t know… The same goes for my friends. My real friends I mean. (You know who you are). I have had some truly extraordinary conversations , in person and over the phone in the last week. When the walls are taken down and the truth is spoken out loud, it’s both intense and beautiful.

One thing I do know is that a serious illness and a stay in hospital is a sure antidote for pride and propriety. Pubic hospitals, and the medical profession in general seem to devote a significant part of their time and R&D budget coming up with cutting edge and innovative ways of invading your personal privacy, defiling your flesh – preferably in front of an audience of complete strangers – and generally dismantling your dignity. Those bizarre back-to-front gowns that the insist on making you wear are a good case in point. What evil genius came up with that design? You would have thought that concealing your knackers and pimply arse would be a minimum requirement for a successful item of hospital bed-wear.

Then, there is the daily ritual, where a posse of doctors and housemen scuttle into the ward, pull the 12 micron thick curtain around your bed with a flourish, then proceed to hold a full volume debate about the precise color and texture of your stools and the recent performance of your bowels for the general edification of the other occupants of the ward, and their assembled guests and visitors.

And I know it’s only going to get worse.

They’re only just getting warmed up. Just hitting their straps. There’s no telling what horrors and abominations against decency they are cooking up for me. I’m going in for another “procedure” on Friday. I can almost hear the deranged and maniacal laughter from here.

No Fuck it! Propriety and English Reserve be dammed. I’ll be holding hands in public, and taking all the hugs and kisses I can find from here on in.

The deafening silence

I was reflecting this morning, on my daily constitutional along Oneroa Beach, about how simple my life has suddenly become since it is no longer completely monopolised by the demands of work.

Since graduating in 1981, I have been – I think – in constant employment for thirty years. With the exception of a brief two or three month hiatus after being fired from an ad agency in Edinburgh – quite deservedly It must be said, for being an appalling creative Prima donna and general all-round wanker – I don’t recall ever having a break or holiday for more than two or three weeks at a stretch. It sounds like I’m either bragging or complaining. I’m not. I don’t know where my deeply ingrained work ethic came from, probably my lower middle-class Midlands family roots, but I’ve always thrown myself into my work with an almost maniacal gusto. With the benefit of hindsight. too often to the determent of my friends and family.

I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t a list of things waiting to be done, a phone full of messages waiting to be answered, an inbox full of demands and expectations. A looming deadline and an irate producer demanding satisfaction. I think mostly, if I’m honest I was driven on by fear. Fear of failure. Fear of not delivering, of not providing, of not meeting expectations. of humiliation. Maybe just fear of stopping and having time to think about how insane and dysfunctional my life had become.

But no more. It’s all stopped.

I wasn’t prepared for the deafening silence. The giddying sense of space. It’s almost vertigo inducing. I’m reminded of something my dad used to say after completing some onerous or unpleasant task. “It’s like banging your head against a wall… It’s really lovely when you stop.” He was dead right. it is.

The days now just unfold at their own sweet speed. My stomach no longer coils and tightens every time the phone rings.  I don’t go to bed compiling a mental checklist of tasks that must be completed the following day just in order to prevent the sky from falling.


Que Sera Sera

There is a blissful few seconds when I wake up in the morning. I feel fine, warm. Everything is right with the world. The sun is coming inn through the blinds and the birds are chattering and squabbling on the deck outside.Then it all comes tumbling in on me like an avalanche.Everything’s not all right. Not at all.

Then the endless internal chattering starts.

A constant parade of imagined conversations. Possible scenarios. Potential outcomes. Endless replays of our meetings with the medics, sifting and combing over the details and nuance of the dialog looking for missed clues or hidden meanings.

Trying to divine my future. Or not as the case may be.

I’m discovering that even a naturally talented and experienced worrier like myself can’t keep up this inner maelstrom indefinitely. After a week of the constant what-if’s and if-onlys, I’m exhausted. It has to stop. The only way to get by is not to look forward. At all. Andy, my Buddhist friend who is teaching me meditation is fond of pointing out that there is no future. at least not that is accessible to us in any useful way. There is only now. This moment. and now this moment. And so on.

Ir course it’s all easier said than done. Reading the future has always been a specialty of mine. I’m an expert at it. World class. I’ve spent most of my adult life taking a few meager threads of doubt in the present moment, and weaving epic and elaborate tapestries of failure, humiliation and despair somewhere in the future.

In spite of all the years of intensive practice, I was rubbish at the fortune telling business. I can see that now. We all are. Almost without exception those long dark nights spent constructing and rehearsing worse-case-scenarios and dismal outcomes turned out to be a waste of sweat, Prozac and finger-nails. Whether it was a trip to the dentist, or a difficult client meeting, the nightmare never came to pass.

Then one day, when you wake up to the real nightmare, you realize that you never even saw it coming.

Living in the moment is the only way forward for me right now.

Que sera sera…

You can’t unring a bell

So they sent me o have a CT scan to see if my cancer is localised in the esophagus or if it has started to spread. That was Tuesday.

Then we were summoned back to see the good professor for the results of the scan. Jo, Becca and I made the trip over to the city to see him yesterday afternoon. It was a beautiful, sunny spring afternoon.

To quote the Professor, the results were “not great.” I’ve been carrying copies of the scans around in by bag since Tuesday, but couldn’t bring myself to look at them. I figured I wouldn’t know what I was looking at, or for anyhow.

So here’s the thing. I apparently have en enlarged lymph node in my chest. It’s not definitive, but apparently a strong indicator that the cancer is traveling. There is a “slim” outside chance that the enlarged gland could be unconnected, and the only way to know for sure is a procedure to remove a tissue sample for testing. We’re told that will happen in a week or so. Th doctor calmly and quietly explains that if the cancer has spread, then surgery is no longer an option. “So what are the options?” I ask.

“Chemo” were told.

“And can that cure me?” I ask. I think I already know the answer to this one. “No. It’s more designed to enhance length and quality of life” he says looking at his hands.

It takes a few seconds to process this information. He’s telling me I’m doomed. I’ve been telling myself that for several days now, but it’s not the same as hearing it from an Associate Professor of Gastroenterology is it? Naturally, we’d all been holding out for some good news, a chink of light. A little hope. Jo began to sob quietly.

I figure this is my chance to drop in my big line. “So how long have I got then?”

The prof leans back in his chair and spreads his hands. “How long is a piece of string?”he sighs.  I size up the piece of metaphorical strong. It doesn’t look very long. “Worse Case Scenario, a few months. Best case, one or two years.”

To late I realize you have to be careful what questions you ask.

You can’t unring a bell.

The meeting drags on for a few more minutes. Becca sits pale, beautiful and composed across the desk from the doctor. She calmly asks some questions. I can’t remember what. I’m so proud of her. She was magnificent.

“Your really not giving us much to work with here” I said pleadingly. “I’m sorry the news isn’t better” he replied. And that was it. We stood and I shook hands with the Prof. I told him he was a rotten doctor.

He agreed.

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