I have come to dread the arrival of letters from the hospital. Last week I had a couple of awful ones. One was the appointment with the oncologist, which is at nine in the morning next week. It feels like getting up early in order to destroy an entire day. I would say I cannot imagine anything worse than a meeting with someone to discuss what terrible things they would like to do to you, when very recently the awful things people have done to me have made me so ill.
Except that the week after I have another endoscopy appointment. They want to put the camera down my neck again because apparently they didn’t get a very good view last time.
What if they find cancer at both ends of me?
In such circumstances you tend to become very superstitious.
Superstition is not just a human trait. Cats get it too. From the beginning of living here, when Cleo realised a mouse was not the lovely present she thought it might be, she started bringing me flowers. This is easy in the spring. The camellia outside the kitchen window flowers so early that the slightest frost will send the flowers tumbling earthward so she can pick them up in her mouth and bring them in through the cat door. Fresh ones are best, as any that have lain for more than a week tend to collect slugs. When camellia season is over I get leaves. I have always been careful to express delight and thanks, which isn’t difficult; unlike a mouse a camellia flower has never run under the furniture to hide or had to be rescued from the further reaches of anywhere. The superstition came in when we were away all day looking after my mother. Often we returned to a hall full of flowers and leaves, in what was obviously cat sympathetic magic. Mummy loves the flowers and says so, if we bring enough flowers she will appear and say so. Magic her back here with flowers! Plenty of human religions have been founded on similar principles ‘The god likes this, so we will do it and he will be here.’ Whilst humans then develop the interesting defence of their habits with a ton of traditions such as: only the trained priest can see the god and interpret his wishes, cats have no such bargaining chips, they just keep bringing the flowers until the Mummy appears. And it worked. Every time. Not just a cat religion. True.
In my present awful position which I remember so well from the last time I had cancer, as the overriding characteristic of the disease from the patient’s point of view: Hurry up and wait, I develop superstitious bargaining chips like acne on a fifteen year old. Every time I look more have popped up overnight.
If the endoscopy letter gets opened first I have got it here but I haven’t got it there. If the appointment is early in the day it means I’m OK because the one where I wasn’t was last thing in the afternoon. Maybe doctors save the difficult cases for after lunch. If I’m still losing weight it’s because I’m still not recovered. not because I still have something.
I haven’t quite got to chicken entrails or the way ducks are flying, or the shape made by petrol in a puddle yet. but I might as I get more desperate as the week wears on. It feels like a long trip in the tumbrel trying to choose which guillotine you’d prefer.
What I am placing faith in is my fingernails.
After the broken arm I wrote about my fingernails and how they were growing on the broken arm like crazy, having received ‘grow and mend’ instructions together with the bones in that arm. I even showed you the fingernails on the other hand and told you what rubbish they were and how I ascribed this to old age. They were rubbish. They split, they flaked, they tore off along the dotted line all the time, they often tore back into the quick and hurt.
Now I have fingernails on both hands. They are long they are strong, they are smooth, they are pale pink, they are shiny. They haven’t been like this for years. I think my fingernails think I’m OK. I believe my fingernails started being rubbish early in the last five years of looking after my mother. I had the first hysteroscopy for something not quite right in 2013. Five years ago.
I should know about fingernails as an indicator of health. Well I do. I have been practising palmistry ever since I inherited my paternal grandmother’s palmistry book as a teenager. Fingernails are some of the easiest indicators to spot. Very domed red nails indicate breathing problems, flat pale nails can be immune system problems, pale almost white nails are iron deficiency (which mine are at present, which you might expect after I vomited so much blood.) I know all of this and have proved it through hundreds of hands, why did I think my own nails were due to age?
It is difficult to see yourself. Rabbie Burns remarked: Wad some po’or the gifie gie us, tae see oorseles as others see us. He was so right. I am currently reading a book by the Dalai Lama, which tells you how to invoke the giftie by introspection. I find it as thrilling to read as the instructions are complex to follow. You probably know me better than I know myself. I am swayed by my desires and fears as much as anyone is. Living in the moment is undoubtedly the answer to my current mental anguish. I am struggling to do book writing things. Instead I am doing stupid card making, which is stupid because I do it standing up and can only do half an hour before I collapse in a heap. I did gardening yesterday because there were so many jobs that needed completing before the end of February. I managed three quarters of an hour and then had to spend the rest of the day sitting down.
Such rubbish. Am I to be up and at life as my fingernails suggest, or confined to some irradiated, endoscoped half life? This time they want to take samples at endoscopy, who is to say this will not start me bleeding into my stomach again with more hospital stays and vomiting blood and sinuses and threats of surgery and goodness knows what? If they start me bleeding how will they stop it?
I just want doctors to leave me alone. I don’t want to be blasted with procedures and drugs and antibiotics and bits chopped off and pulled off and shoved on microscope slides. Leave me alone, I’ve had enough.
Will this happen or the reverse?
Only time will tell.
Dear me, this is awful.