4am. That’s an hour of the night that really doesn’t impinge upon my consciousness. I like to be wrapped cosily inside a totally unmemorable dream at 4am. I appreciate that there are folks who have to function at that time of the night or for whom 4am means breakfast but me? Well, I generally only see that hour when there’s a low spring tide to catch in a Shetland mid-summer and, of course, being Shetland, the sun has barely dimmed. But 4am in an Edinburgh November is a cold, dark moment and the only place to be is bed. So you’ll understand that it was something of a shock to find myself setting the alarm for such a secret time last Friday, and sneaking along to the kitchen for toast and tablets. Yes, this is when the chemo started. Ten steroid tablets (that’s right – 10) to be swallowed with food at 4am. Admittedly they were only very small tablets – perhaps they wouldn’t work if they were scrunched up into one big one, surface area:volume ratios and all that – but somehow it didn’t seem quite legal. It’s just a good job I’ve decided to give next year’s Olympics a miss.
“You’ll never get back to sleep” was the advice from many quarters but it was too cold to read so I snuck off back to bed. And suddenly – 7.30am. I’d overslept. Panic. I had to be out of the house at 8, at the Western General for 9, the whole of Edinburgh in rush hour to cross, lunches to make, afternoon lifts to organise… My normal commute involves having a shower once the school bus has gone and then ambling along the corridor to the computer or the microscope. Possibly detouring via the shop next door for a paper. It doesn’t involve roadworks and traffic jams, adrenalin and the buzz engendered by high doses of steroids. And I don’t normally make packed lunches for the boys, as anyone who has compared the weight of a modern day school bag to a cashless catering smart card will appreciate. However, Friday is half day, there are no school meals and badminton and band practice meant sandwiches. I could, of course, have got them to make their own but I needed lunch as well and the thought of three of us competing for the same space with stress levels soaring – well, it’s just easier to do it yourself, isn’t it.
9am. Somehow we’d made it. There was even parking in the car park. And then everything went calm. Someone else took charge and all I had to do for the rest of the day was read my book and fill in the crossword. Life’s tough, isn’t it? The next 4 or 5 hours were spent ensconced in an armchair as a series of chemicals dripped into my arm. People came and went around the room, all on different treatments, generally in couples. There was a peaceful hum of talk, beeping as monitors went off and the nurses hardly stopped all day.
I can’t really remember the last time one of us had antibiotics or prescribed medicine of any sort. Not since the kids were babies, perhaps. And here I am now, rattling with drugs, so I tried to figure out how many different concoctions have gone into me since 4am Friday. Two chemotherapy drugs, one for 3 hours, one for half an hour. Two pre-meds via the drip and two lots of tablets. Saline solution between drugs. Two more lots of anti-sickness tablets to take over the next few days (they did their job this time round) – some overlap here, but let’s not get picky. An injected turbo charger for white blood cells, to give them a head start before the chemo gets them. Mouthwash in case of ulcers. Laxatives in case of – well, you know what laxatives are for. Antibiotic cream for that stitch that hasn’t healed. Evening Primrose oil in case life gets hot. Is that it? It sounds like quite enough. Stirred but not shaken, I think.
So, acquisitions of the last few months include a very fetching titanium plate on my ankle, trimmed with stainless steel screws. My cells are coated in platinum and bathed in a fine jus de yew. I’m swishing with drugs and wake up each morning expecting to find that I’ve grown an extra limb, or my toes are suddenly webbed or perhaps there’s a blue horn sprouting from the centre of my forehead. So far, so good – although I can see a use for webbed feet. Time, perhaps, to reorder a weekly organic veg box. No pesticides, no chemicals, a quick clang as the stable door shuts. Now, where’s the number of EcoBox? I’ll go and do that now.