It’s been easy to float along with the treatment, knowing the potential for it to affect me in nasty ways, and to feel relieved that actually it’s not that bad. The effects accrue, though as ever it’s hard to know what is affecting what. Brain? Radiotherapy? Chemotherapy? Steroids? Anti-emetics (currently these are drowse-inducing). I live in a space where I don’t seem to have access to my thoughts, including the ones I’ve just had. So I forget the thread, lose the point. This happens when I’m talking, thinking, or doing. The best description I can give is that it’s like being in the flow state, what used to be called right-brain. It’s a place where time doesn’t really exist, and where any linear thought is subsumed beneath sets of connections that spark and form into a creative whole; essentially the antithesis of a primary class preparing for a SATs test in writing. But here’s the rub. I can’t achieve my usual flow state when I write. Usually my meanderings begin, spawn creatures and watercourses that gather into pools filled with life, thought fish and larvae and plants. I do suspect sabotage, and of course it has to be Cheshire Cat Hunt; Tory Secretaries of State like to work together to impose their clueless dogma on any of us in danger of forming and expressing an original thought, or comunincating in anything other than doublespeak. So I’ve been trapped In a medieval chastity belt that’s stopped me from blogging. I’m afraid I might have left at least 80% of the blogging market untapped. So competitive tenders please, from Serco, G4S, NSL and Virgin Care. I’m sure they’ll be far more efficient than I.
My sleep is now more unconsciousness, though I do wake in the night sometimes. I haven’t felt good, but I have been able at least at the weekends to do something, to make a short-term plan and have some hope of it happening. I have periods where I feel deeply tired, drugged, blunted and out of phase with my internal and external reality (whatever that is) in the way I might if I yammed 60mg of codeine and drank a pint of cider. I can’t necessarily sleep when this happens though; I just sort of stop, and hang, like a dope head at a party.
I made the Sharrah Stagger three weeks ago; a total of five miles’ walking up the Dart and back, culminating in a swim in the beautiful pool. The event was organised by a visiting friend who finds it very difficult to walk any distance, and it was one of her long-term goals to swim there; two other friends also have mobility and other health problems, so we decided to stagger together. It was a Sunday and I’d had two days with no radiotherapy, though I’d taken the Temozolomide as usual. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have made it on any other day.
We were accompanied by a few other friends on the opposite end of the fitness scale, who were delighted to join us. I had no real concern about safety because all of us are outdoors people and wild swimmers who take the perceived risk as a part of the point of doing it; we like a thrill, and we like to live on the edge. Nonetheless I found myself feeling grateful that if anything were to go wrong we had someone able to scamper up the steep sides of the Dart Gorge to get help.
Of course, things didn’t quite go to plan. We made it to Sharrah slowly but uneventfully, with a picnic lunch of carrot hummus, guacamole, pitta bread and gin lemon drizzle cake at Black Rock on the way. I found myself creeping in from our little beach – where, scandalously – someone had left two grilles from so-called ‘disposable’ barbecues. I found myself eventually sitting on a rock with water up to my shoulders. The water was still pretty cold, maybe 10 or 11 degrees, and I was afraid of being unable to breathe properly. It’s that core confidence that’s missing, that certainty that my body can respond, that I can swim like a fish and get myself out of trouble as I have so many times before. I have little faith in my body doing anything beyond failing. The fit and athletic, strong me hasn’t been there for at least 18 months, and since last autumn I’ve lost it completely. I remember meeting Kernow S at Polzeath just before I was diagnosed. I went out about 300 meters in a wavy but not strong sea, and had a real surge of fear as I started to swim back in that I couldn’t make it on the ebb. I did, by taking it slowly and steadily. This time, I felt similarly. But shielded by J I made it up to the cascade and sat on a rock just as I felt I needed to.
There was a teenage couple there and the boy took some time to get in wearing his boxers, loudly encouraged by the girl, who was happily swimming in a bikini. We joined in the encouragement and he finally took the plunge. I felt a surge of energy, watching two young people really going for it and having so much fun. So I decided to come down the cascade. Of course I hit a couple of dark rocks (which have a special significance in our swimming group) and naughtily grazed one knee and one calf. I almost did the half dive to go under, but for once chose the sensible option and kept my head above water. In bubbles you sink because they make the water less dense. At the same time, the current pulls you along and so the feeling is like being blown by a gale through a puffy cloud. At Sharrah there’s a sheer rock face and the current pushes you into it, so I bent and kicked as I neared it, managing to partly cross the current and head downstream. I felt warm, buffeted and exhilarated as I got out.
Could I have the germolene? said a voice to my right. I looked over and realised that J had fallen over, and that C was holding a tissue over J’s right shin. Now being a paramedic I’m more inclined to the germolene approach than the dial 999 one, however, as C lifted the tissues from J’s shin I found myself coming as close to physically leaping into action as I have in months. J had fallen into a rock, and lacerated her shin over the bone (known in the trade as a pre-tibial laceration). Beneath the laceration was clearly a varicose vein. Dark blood welled and poured. I grabbed a wade of tissues, got the others to raise J’s leg and to press hard on the wound with the tissues. People worry about arterial bleeds, but if you burst a varicose vein you can bleed out. I wasn’t in a position to take J’s blood pressure (if it’s high, the bleed can be spectacular). On one occasion I was called to a woman who’d burst a varicose vein and who had dangerously high BP; we were forced to pin a note to the kitchen door for the patient’s son who was expected imminently, but whose phone was switched off: Please don’t worry, we’re an ambulance crew and we have taken your Mum to hospital. She’s burst a varicose vein, we’ve stopped the bleeding, and she is ok we promise. I doubt he believed us as he opened the door to a kitchen that looked like the set for a slasher film with blood up the walls, and several football-sized clots wobbling on a blood-smeared floor.
Now as I was travelling light, I’d made a decision not to carry my first aid kit, and so I had no dressings with me. So I got the others to help J to dry off and get dressed, because of course by then she was both emotionally shocked and cold from her swim while I fished in my rucksack for the tissues I’d packed. I had a look at the wound and allowed it to bleed a little to clean it as best I could, then used my wodge of tissues taped down with micropore to maintain the pressure. Fortuitously, J was wearing knee-length pressure socks which meant we had a simple and effective way of maintaining the pressure evenly over the wound. After a rest and some more picnic, J was sure that she’d make the walk back. I sent her off to Tavistock Minor Injuries Unit to get the wound properly assessed, cleaned and dressed. Rather more exciting than we’d planned, but a lovely boost in several ways. Bun was also delighted to spend the afternoon in the woods and river, back to her old life.