C9: No Heavy Lifting

Sorry about the delay.

I’ve been busy.

The last Monday of January (30th) I checked in and was prepped for the Chemoport surgery. Just to remind you, a Chemport is a line which sits in a fleshy ‘envelope’ above my right breast, goes under the skin to a single stitch-wide incision on the right of my neck and then dives down again into my inner workings to find its way straight into my heart. Neat, huh?

The beauty of this semi-permanent line is that the chemotherapy transfusions can be made without the bother of finding a vein in my hand – always a problem with me – and then putting in place a needle-thingy – the I-V line.

Off we went to theatre. The usual vital signs were visible while we wheeled through the corridors and my heart rate dropped to 54. Not the 49 I was so proud of when I went for the really, really serious neck surgery, but 54 isn’t bad. When I had the endoscopy, colonoscopy, and bronchioscopy it was in the 80s so, true to form, the more risk involved the calmer I seem to be. My neck surgery guy described the risk fact as, “a ten,” whereas he derisorily described the Chemport as “a one!”

All went well so the chemo transfusions started: strawberry-red stuff and then yellow stuff which looked like a mixture of apple juice and urine. No side effects. None. Well, if you ignore the instant pins and needles tingling in my fingers when I take something from the fridge. I treat it as an amusing distraction but I do avoid the freezer.

That day and the day after I felt better than I’d done for days and days. I had a bucketful of tablets and potions to take with me so off I trot and prepare for a full day’s work on the Wednesday. It’s work-visa extension time and the Indian bureaucracy is at the extreme end of extreme so we have to stick to the rules and timelines.

My discharge instructions included:

  • Wear a mask if you’re out in public.
  • Don’t eat outside food; you don’t know how it’s been prepared.
  • Make sure you use your mouthwash and mouth paint correctly.
  • Stick to your meal timings and the advised menus.
  • Drink at least 3 liters of water each day.
  • Don’t do any heavy lifting.
  • Don’t do extreme sports.
  • Phone your Oncologist if you have any problems.

Well, I ask you! My interpretation is that beer is predominantly made from water, as are vodka, gin and whisky, so the fluid aspect is covered; heavy lifting has never been my forte; extreme sports prohibited me from rugby, skiing, rock-climbing and the more violent forms of Monopoly; and, in any case, all problems were covered by simply phoning the Jedi-master who would pass down the words of wisdom from his Oncolological high.

The mask bit is interesting. Once you start to pay attention, it is amazing how many people cough, splutter and sneeze on a frequent, regular and near-vicinity basis. Nasty germs are everywhere, Humans are amazing creatures. I’ve always rolled my eyes and shaken my head when encountering the Japanese tourists with the face masks, and they’re always Japanese, aren’t they? Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells immediately puts pen to paper and shoots off a missive to letters column of The Times: “Just who do these people think they are? Are they infected? If so, they should stay at home. Do they think I’m infected? If so, they should stay at home.” That sort of thing. Turns out they all have cancer.

The hospital’s parting shot was an actual shot: GCSF – granulocyte-colony stimulating factor – which helps stimulate the bone marrow into producing white cells and counters the chemo’s tendency to suppress the immune system (hence the mask and the ‘don’t eat out’ commands).

I troddle off home.

I felt the same on Wednesday. I felt energized. The PR attached to chemotherapy undoubtedly uses false advertising. Alternative facts. Hmmm …. No doubt the real truth will bite me on the bum sometime soon.

It’s been really nice hearing from ‘old’ friends who’ve been through the same or similar circumstances. Hearing the tricks of the trade about chemo and how to manage it is reassuring and supportive. Deep-felt, sincere thanks to everyone.

GAF, my employer, have been incredibly supportive and considerate. As you will know, it’s not often I am struck speechless, but I was over the past couple of weeks when we were discussing how to approach the chemo cycles and the rest of the treatment. All other things being equal (are they ever?) I will have the treatments in India – incredible hospital and top-class specialists – spend a couple of days in meetings or whatever, and then spend the rest of the three-week cycle in Bali. It looks something like one review week India, two weeks Bali. Providing I can manage the travel OK, it’s better that I’m in Bali with Martini than in India by myself. For one thing, Bintang beer is nicer than Kingfisher! Martini is quite prepared to be in India for long periods but being here is nice. Poor Martini: her brain is addled at the moment. Really and truly addled. I’m sure when she sees that I can get up and about and that I haven’t shriveled to a ghostly, hazy shadow of my former self she’ll be ok, but currently addled she undoubtedly is.

Speaking of travel:

As I said, last Wednesday was terrific. I felt energetic and clear-headed (!) The visa bureaucrats played their part well and stamped my extension by 2.30 p.m. It was time to fly away. We booked a Garuda Airlines flight Mumbai-Jakarta-Bali for that evening. The price was a steal so, hey, why not? We were soon to find out.

Garuda is the Indonesian flagship carrier and is usually very, very good. I mean, really good. Most of my usual connecting flights – Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore – leave near midnight; this was 11.05. Mumbai is usually the slowest immigration and customs airport in the whole world but they were on their best behavior, no problems. The first eye-brow raising clue was the departure gate where the TV screen thing said GA 861 Bangkok & Jakarta. Bugger! Bouncing in Bangkok. The bounce was two hours. And bounce it indeed did. If my flights from Vancouver to London to Mumbai, while nursing a fractured neck, had landed with the same dubious ‘finesse’ I would not be writing this today.

Add to that the seat pitch was tailor-made for midgets and both the woman sitting in front of me and the guy sitting behind me were neighbors from Hell, one rocketing her seat back to full extension at warp-speed, and crushing my knees – she was not happy when I immediately returned her to fully upright at the same speed! – and the other continually bouncing my seat-back up and down, backwards and forwards, and inside and outside.

Then we go Bangkok to Jakarta – same landing technique – to be met with “Your flight to Bali has been canceled. We’ve re-booked you on the next one.” The next one was an additional 90 minutes. Then it eventually sat on the runway for another 90 minutes contemplating its navel. Eventually, eventually, we off’d and eventually, eventually, eventually we arrived in Bali. 17 hours in total. Singapore Airlines does it in nine. That’s why it was cheap.

17 hours of sitting fairly upright, fighting with noisy neighbors, was not what my neck needed. Pretty painful and it got worse as I relaxed into the island lifestyle. The outcome was I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday bed-bound while filling myself up with copious amounts of painkillers. I like painkillers. However, by Sunday night I was feeling better and today (Monday) I feel great again. I’ve even got my appetite back.

Make Clive Great Again. Fingers crossed, eh?

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