Total Obstruction Part 5: Giant leaps

I arrived home after eight uneasy days in hospital to a freezing cold welcome.  This was because, firstly, I was used to the ‘care home level’ warmth of hospital wards and, secondly, my brother Jon had followed my request to turn the heating off as, after all, we’re in the midst of a fuel crises and I’m still quite Scrooge-like when it comes to thermostats.  But nonetheless, it was wonderful to be home.

But the domestic bliss didn’t last long as due to catheter related physical ‘trauma’ I was advised to return to A&E.  After about three hours of waiting in various queues, I was grateful to be told it would probably go away and that I didn’t need to wait another half a day to see a specialist.  So this visit ended up being more inconvenient than serious.  Particularly as I’d arranged to meet Jane, who’d been planing on visiting me to make lunch.  Instead, she ended up meeting me at hospital and we went to Wagamama, with Jane having to leave half way through as I took all of two hours to work my way through a small bowl of noodles.  Eating was still hard work, but the ambience was so much better than in hospital.

The next day (Friday, I think) I was a bit knocked out but tried out the treadmill with a short walk that was enough effort to provoke an afternoon nap.  Then Ed came round in the evening armed with ice cream and we achieved two games of UNO before I’d had enough of the strenuous activity of sitting up.  Saturday drifted by without incident and I started to notice reduced pain, increased mobility and a bit more energy.  When Kate from work made an impromptu visit on Sunday afternoon, I surprised us both by suggesting we go for a walk and, though this consumed pretty much all of my energy, I didn’t fall over or anything.

From that point on and over the past week, the recovery curve became exponential. The pain has mostly disappeared, my digestive system has let me eat more food at a time and I’ve had enough energy to jog up to 4km.  I’ve worked my way up to a quality of life that, in the darkest moments, I didn’t think I’d ever enjoy again. Right now, I feel almost like a normal person and this is perhaps the healthiest I’ve felt in around a year.

But – thank you NHS – that didn’t stop another impromptu visit to A&E on Monday evening!  All I had to do was get my staples taken out following surgery.  Initially I phoned the number I was given by the hospital to be told that they couldn’t do it and was passed on to my GP.  The nurse there asked me for a staple remover.  I hadn’t thought to bring one – I’d imagined they might just have their own.  But apparently I should have been discharged with one.  I was then advised to call 111.  After an hour’s wait on the phone, I was met with a quizzical response as to what on earth this had to do with them, but was eventually advised that the only place guaranteed to have a staple remover was A&E.  The people working in all parts of the NHS have been so so kind to me recently, but this was enough for me to be completely fed with the situation in which I found myself.  So I went to Nando’s to eat and sulk, because I figured the non-urgency of this visit would mean an all night wait.

Upon arrival, I waited in a queue for about half an hour before Caroline (who seems to have become my kind of unofficial cancer mentor) suggested that I literally play the cancer card and, although chemo had been paused due to surgery, head to the front of a substantial queue and present it.  Although I didn’t feel like my case was at all serious, this little red card produced immediate results and probably saved me an hour at least as I was triaged very quickly and out – staple free – within two hours.  As long as you’re happy to pretend to be me, I’m open to offers if anyone would like to borrow my cancer card if having to make an appearance at A&E.  I reckon it’s worth at least three figures! [for anyone who doesn’t know me well, I am joking]

But back to the exponential recovery curve. Well … Tuesday came along and Maud offered me a change of scenery as we drove to Ongar to walk along the Essex Way to get shoes splattered with mud, look at a very old wooden church and eat an encouragingly large lunch without it taking me too many hours.  This was far and away the best day out I’d had all year, only to be matched by the next.  After the second A&E annoyance, I was only sent to hospital for one more routine appointment on Wednesday, where I was complemented on the healthy condition of my stoma by a specialist nurse. This got me out of the house in the morning to have a go at a bit of living.  I went to lunch and had a huge pizza, then met Clive for coffee en route to a work meeting that gave me a chance to practise some conducting skills and stay in touch with all that I’ve been missing.

Then I ventured on to Cecil Sharp House in Camden to attend my first gig of the year.  This, even for me, was a bit niche but nonetheless a fantastic experience.  It had been in my diary for a while. I’d mentioned to Peter, who works there, that I’ve been enjoying folk violinist Sam Sweeney’s new album – I’ve often had it in the background whilst writing and e.g. it’s on as I type these words.  Peter informed me that Sam was playing a solo show and that he’d buy me a ticket.  I didn’t even have to worry about cancelling as it was certain to sell out.  Upon arrival, I found out why as this was literally an unamplified solo violin concert in a small room that just about fit 100 audience members.  In the second row, we were close enough to the performer for it not to be considered social distancing.  We were treated to two hours of Morris tunes, reels, jigs, bourees and 3/2 hornpipes and I can call this the most intimate gig I’ve ever been to.

Thursday saw my return to conducting the brass band and I didn’t even need to sit down this time.  I revelled in being useful to the point I did about as well as I would have at any given rehearsal.  On Friday I went out to dinner with a group of friends and, for the first time in months, didn’t feel the need to make contingency plans in case I’d have to cancel or leave early.  Never has ‘casually normal’ felt so good.  Yesterday, Saturday, I went to the Saturday school work and it felt like I’d never been away.  I even stayed to help out at a couple more rehearsals because I had energy and it was fun to be there. I then met up with long lost friend Jess, who took me to Havering Country Park to look at some hilly countryside scenery, giant sequoias and lots of horses with jackets on.

And that brings us up to the present day.  I’ve likely got 1 to two weeks before chemo restarts and it feels like a holiday from feeling rubbish.  It looks like no one’s expecting me to do anything much in this time, so I’m going to take this window opportunity to rest and relax without guilt or obligation.  I’m booked in to see loads of friends and family and get to a fair few rehearsals and gigs.  D’ya know what’s better than feeling like a normal person again? Being able to look forward to something that I can reasonably expect to do.  Not for the first time, I’ve started crying as I write, but these are tears of joy.

It might not be for long, but hey – I’m back.