Chapter 21: The S.O.S. Club

"And I am not frightened of dying. Any time will do, I don't mind. Why should I be frightened of dying? There's no reason for it. You've got to go sometime."
Gerry O’Driscoll (Abbey Road Studios Doorman)

The pain has thankfully subsided slightly and now securely installed in my new hospital bed with my ecclesiastical visitor departed Tori decides it’s safe to leave me on my own for a bit without me attempting to chair an impromptu debate on the value of religion in modern society. She leaves me to my own devices while she nips off to take care of a few things at home. While she’s gone I decide to fill out the multiple choice questionnaire paper, the results of which determine what I get for dinner. Before my order arrives though I’m informed that they need to move me to a new ward. I’m wheeled into a spacious and very plush new ward with a large round bay window complete with a selection of comfy chairs to lookout over the alley below and observe the large industrial dumpsters as they gradually fill up with kitchen waste. It seems that I have this lavish new ward all to myself. After chatting to the nurse I discover that this isn’t actually a ward after all but the Chemotherapy Day Centre for outpatients only, and at the end of the day it is now empty. I’m here because there are no free beds in any of the proper wards. It’s the hottest day of the year so far and despite the quietness of A&E first thing this morning the hospital is now proving to be a very popular day out for a lot of elderly people. Shortly after settling into my new surroundings I’m joined by the next patient who also cannot be accommodated elsewhere. He’s a very friendly older gentleman who introduces himself as Ken. Thirty minutes or so later and our final guest for the evening, Mark, joins the chemotherapy day centre after party.

We get chatting. Mark is a builder and has a lot of jobs on at the moment, so he is not finding his suspected stroke particularly agreeable as he needs to finish his current job by the end of the week. Long retired Ken however has a more pressing issue with his leg that is apparently a complete and utter mystery to modern science. His account of his epic journey to our make-shift ward in the Chemotherapy Day Care centre this evening is a protracted and multifarious affair jam-packed with apparent blunders and cock-ups. He does however take great delight in holding court as he unfolds the full sorry tale to his captive audience. Perhaps Ken will write his own blog, in which case the chapter on his stay in the Chemotherapy Day Centre with Mark and Crispian may provide a more meticulous account of the full yarn. Failing that you’ll have to make do with my vastly abridged summary. It seems Ken had a bit of a fall in his assisted living home and despite pulling the emergency cord was not attended to for some time. He was eventually taken to hospital and has been testing out various wards for size around the hospital whilst innumerable doctors poke and prod him in a vain attempt to determine what the hell is wrong with him. Ken’s version is even more colourful and rather damning in places of the staff who I thought seemed to be doing their utmost, but nonetheless he’s clearly not had a particularly good week. He still seems to be in a lot of pain from time to time, but in between the spasms he is very good humoured and a most agreeable companion for my stay.

My carefully considered dinner order from my previous ward appears to be non-transferable and foolishly none of us booked ahead and made a dinner reservation for this ward. Our new nurse is therefore unable to secure us a table for three. She does however offer to see if there’s anything leftover and returns with two small cartons of strawberry jelly and chocolate mouse. Ken promptly bagsies the jelly, Mark prefers to go outside for a fag, so I get the chocolate mousse.  Supper is rounded off with a selection pain-killers from the trolley.

When he has our full attention again, Ken takes Mark and I into his confidence and proudly announces to us that he is the President of the esteemed S.O.S. club. We both nod in quiet agreement as to what a fine accolade this clearly is. After a brief pause I realise I need to ask Ken what the S.O.S. club stands for as he is clearly itching to deliver his punchline. “Sad Old Sods” Ken announces triumphantly, “I am the President of the Sad Old Sods club – Wiltshire branch”. As luck would have it, our patient status made us fully eligible for honourable membership, so Mark and I are unceremoniously inducted into the S.O.S club. Ken never asks us for our home addresses so I’m not sure how he’s going to send our membership cards, but I’ll worry about that later.

We each get one more visit from the doctor as she makes her final round of the evening. Mark is feeling much better and just wants to go home, but he’s told to stay in overnight so they can keep any eye on him and then send him for more tests tomorrow. The doctor dares to suggest to Ken that his issue may be spinal rather than his leg but he’s having none of it. He complains that he is unable to walk to the toilet unaided so he is offered the spare wheelchair that seems to be another of the marvellous optional extras available only to guests of the chemotherapy day centre. Ken is delighted with his new wheelchair and takes himself off to the toilet for a prolonged sitting, which he later proudly informs us was once again fruitless. Indeed, the morphine and other pain killers are making both our bowels extremely obstinate at the moment. The doctor has little to offer me at my short consultation with her. After eliminating the possibility of sepsis, which was their major concern, they are now unsure whether my pain is an extreme reaction to the chemotherapy or a direct result of the cancer itself. She suggests taking a break from the chemotherapy tablets tonight until they can talk to my specialist oncologist in Southampton tomorrow.

Ken is keen to take advantage of his newly available mobility and wheels himself over to the large bay window to study the the dumpsters for an hour or so before bed. Meanwhile I lie back and wait for the drugs to kick in.

After a broken sleep I awake to see that Mark is already out of bed and getting ready to go out and get the morning papers and have a quick fag. Ken has been reinstalled in his beloved wheelchair (assuming he did get out of it last night) and has been parked up in-between his bed and mine. Mark takes orders for newspapers from his fellow S.O.S. club affiliates. Ken orders The Sun. I’m a little too embarrassed to ask him to get me a copy of the Guardian so I opt for nothing. “Are you sure?” checks Mark. I was sure.

I had texted Tori the night before to confirm my new location and she arrived just after Mark had returned with the papers. Tori takes the seat by my bed on the opposite side to Ken. She looks over my bed to Ken who lowers his paper enough to smile at her. They exchange greetings and before I had the chance to warn her, she asks him what he is in for. Ken carefully folds his paper and places it down on his bed, there’s no way he’s going to pass up an invitation like that. Ken settles himself in his wheelchair and cheerfully embarks on a verbatim retelling of the full account of his last week. I lie back in my bed so he can talk over me more easily. I lie quietly successfully anticipating each facet of the saga. However, just as I think he has reached his conclusion a new epilogue is tacked onto the end of the narrative to cheerfully expound upon how he has now acquired a wheelchair and is able to freely transport himself between the three key locations of his current world, the side of his bed, the bay window and the toilet.

Ken’s cherished mobility has enabled him to locate a pound coin which he places on the bedside table and shouts over to Mark that he has the money for his paper.  Mark doesn’t want the pound; he was happy to buy the papers. Ken is not however happy to not pay for his paper so a long debate develops over how Ken can repay Mark. Perhaps Ken can buy tomorrow’s papers? I feel fully justified in my decision to forgo today’s printed news. The payment debate is never fully settled and the pound coin remains steadfastly on Ken’s bedside table with neither party prepared to claim it.

As we’re in the Chemotherapy Day Centre rather than a proper ward, there are no official visiting times and the nurses are perfectly happy for Tori to stay in the ward with me all day, so I’m able fully appraise her of the current plotlines in the Chemotherapy Day Centre Soap opera in which I have been unwittingly cast. Tori’s eager to stay too and see how things pan out, both with me and my fellow club colleagues. She’s doesn’t seem at all affronted that she is not offered S.O.S. club membership herself.

Having just had a CT scan a few weeks ago there seems little point in doing another one. Some sort of test or scan is however clearly required to try and get a better idea of what is going on with me. This morning’s doctor opts for a chest X Ray and an ultrasound scan. I’m taken off for a chest X-Ray later in the morning which doesn’t seem to shed much more light on things. In the afternoon I’m taken down for an ultrasound scan on my abdomen to see if they can catch sight of any of the tumours misbehaving. My previous experiences of Tori’s ultrasound scans before the children were born had always been rather joyous occasions, indeed they even gave us a rather blurred photo as a momentum of our visit. The mood of today’s ultrasound scan is far less jovial. I’m smeared with some sort of clear lubricant and the doctor forcefully trawls the hand-held scanner back and forth across my tummy. Every man who’s ever undergone this procedure before me will have amused the doctor with an hilarious maternity themed quip, and my doctor will doubtless of have heard them all. As I’m sure she’ll be unamused by any predictable baby gags I remain quiet on the subject. Straining myself I remain mute until almost the end of the scan when I’m finally compelled to ask, “Is it a boy or a girl?”. The doctor was suitable unamused. Not only did the scan fail to reveal the gender of my tumour it seemed to be pretty inconclusive in every aspect. She thought she saw a bit of tumour, but it was apparently hard to tell through all the fat.

Back at the Day Centre several chemotherapy outpatients have been and gone. There’s currently one in the chair next to Mark’s empty bed hooked up to her poisonous drip. I ask Ken and Tori what has happened to Mark and learned that he had been discharged. His suspected stroke probably wasn’t a stroke after all, and even if it was it doesn’t seem to have done any damage so much to his delight he’d been sent home.

Later in the afternoon I’m visited by an oncologist who has viewed today’s inconclusive scans and also had a chat with my consultant oncologist at Southampton General. Their best guess is that I’m simply suffering with the side effects of the chemotherapy and the best course of action is to start taking the chemotherapy again and dampen down the side effects with as many counter meds and painkillers as possible. Not an especially satisfying conclusion but I take some solace in the fact that if the chemotherapy is causing me this much grief, it must surely be antagonising the cancer somewhat too.

Before Tori leaves for the day she asks Ken if he needs anything. He asks is she could bring him a copy The Salisbury Herald and The Sun tomorrow. Tori agrees so Ken picks up the pound coin from his bedside table and offers it to her. Without objection Tori takes the coin and heads off home for dinner. She plans to return again later this evening. As the afternoon rolls on the last chemotherapy outpatient leaves and Ken and I are alone again. We make playful plans about how we can turn the Day Centre into some sort of night club with a fully stocked bar, disco lights and a mirror ball when everyone has gone home. Our fantasy is however immediately thwarted by the porter who arrives to take me off to a proper ward where a space has now been found. He’s a chatty fellow this porter. He starts talking about the band he plays in and I turn around and recognise him as the porter I had last year when my cancer was originally diagnosed. We get onto the subject of early 70’s progressive rock and he mentions that he’s just acquired a copy of the first Genesis album. “From Genesis to Revelation?” I inquired. “Yes”, he says, sounding impressed, “Most people think that Trespass was the first album as Genesis to Revelation wasn’t originally very successful.” I was hoping to steer him onto The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway as I much prefer that album, and then perhaps we could get onto some Jethro Tull, but we’ve arrived at my new ward already.

1 comment:

  1. You could have given him a short sharp shock...