Affairs of the Heart

Once upon a time I took a keen interest in politics. But it’s amazing how a vision of building a better world for all can shrink so dramatically, it barely figures in your life anymore. I mean it’s still there to a point, like a tolerable stone in your shoe. One that occasionally causes you to break your stride and wiggle your toes, but never actually makes stop and shake out your footwear. These days our bigger picture is so crammed full of detail, the irrelevant stuff has been pushed out to the edges where it sets solid to form a frame of sorts.

Mags is halfway through her chemo, and has been tolerating the toxicity of the treatment reasonably well. But just over a week ago she collapsed twice. A GP arranged an appointment at the surgery for an ECG. I know the qualities of her heart better than anyone, but the medics are only concerned with pulses and physical functionality. To each his own.

We were all set for a quick check up, then home for a cuppa, but it was not to be. “There’s something a bit funny going on here,” said the doctor, holding a print of beats and rhythms out in front of him. “We have to get you straight to A&E. I’ve called an ambulance.”

So, a bumpy ride to hospital, with blue lights and sirens, and a six hour stay in the resuscitation room until things had settled down, courtesy of doctors, consultants and two magic pills.

The latest cycle of chemo was held off due to a low platelet count, so everything is up in the air at the moment, as it is with so much that’s going on in the wider world. Local and global uncertainty. At least Mags now has firm appointments with people who specialise in fixing things. An A&E doctor told us that cardiologists, rather like oncologists, are renowned for having a singular focus.

It’s a comfort to know that Mags is in good hands, even though the nation’s heart is palpitating and various ideological malignancies continue to spread with alarming aggression.

Wasps and Dragonflies

The title of this post may well have become the working title of a longer and more detailed account of our lives since Mags’ diagnosis. Wasps, because of their frantic efforts at our window this summer, trying to get to the other side of something they could feel but couldn’t see. Dragonflies because often when Mags has been sleeping I’ve watched them in numbers, sprinting and glinting with apparent purpose, before drifting and floating on seemingly random trajectories. Looks like I’ve discovered my inner insect, an undeniable fragility  that manifests in the shadow of that which has the potential to squash me.

It’s doubtful that the account will ever get written, not least because I would always be conscious of the story titling towards me, how I’ve been affected. And that’s not the way it is, by a long way. It’s about us, two ordinary people like countless others who have had their entire existence turned upside down by cancer. It’s about vulnerability. That which is shared and that which is experienced individually. There’s a wonderful piece I read just recently by David Whyte. Well worth a look.

I want to avoid telling tales of what the oncologist describes as “bumps in the road”. They are already well documented in countless personal stories. The various online forums are littered with them, unsurprisingly. People posting in the hope of reassurance and, in turn, readers reassured by accounts that make them feel healthy by comparison. I’ve left all forums now because I found them, overall, to be depressing. Always the threat of something weighty that might flatten me in an instant, activating my inner insect once more.

So, before I buzz off, here are some positives. Mags doesn’t need to see the dietician any longer, her surgeon is happy with his handiwork and doesn’t want to see her until June 2020, and we don’t need to monitor blood sugar levels anymore. Mags has a lovely counsellor via a local cancer support charity, and we had a very long meeting with our wonderfully bubbly GP this week, that ended with something rarely prescribed: a big hug!

Please Note

When I was much younger, there was fire in my belly and words in my head, and I had half an idea I could write for a living. The recurring advice from established authors and journalists was, “keep a diary”. In a letter I still have, from Jilly Cooper, the emphasis is very much placed on making notes. Sadly, I’m not a natural diarist or note-maker. Throughout eight years of various academic studies, I barely wrote a single word more than was necessary to get me a pass mark. As for remembering events from the past, I rely solely on my memory, although despite best efforts, my powers of recall can sometimes result in the original monochrome being remade in glorious Technicolor. On the flip side, traumatic episodes may be softened, even obscured.

I’ve had to sharpen up my record keeping act of late, though. Some things must be logged with pinpoint accuracy. You really can’t keep a cancer diary for someone in a half-hearted manner. Every symptom and side effect must be recorded ahead of the nurse-led review that comes two days before each new cycle of chemo. I have to practice words like Metoclopramide and Dexamethasone so that I can quote them with confidence. Missing an entry or omitting a detail is not an option. There’s too much at stake. This is heavy duty treatment, and the rapidly filling ‘sharps’ bucket in our utility room proves it. Amongst its contents are symbols of modern medical science and brutal reminders of less enlightened times – spent Baxter’s bottles, tubes, syringes and other prescribed paraphernalia.

In this neck of the woods we get by on a daily dose of pure, distilled, wishful thinking, and as strange as life is right now, thankfully, the view we have of the outside world is largely seen through the lens of our own bubble. Distortion is the new clarity.

There are moments of magic though. A neighbour phoned to let us know when the window cleaner is coming next. She went on to tell of a mother and two baby hedgehogs she’s been feeding each evening. Apparently, as darkness falls, the patch of grass where the spiky visitors take their food, is subtly lit by a solar powered light … in the form of a cow. Something worth noting down, I thought, because it made us smile.