WARNING: Beware Other Patients!”
(An irreverent look at Cancer)
To be blunt, I was constipated, so visited my physician. He confirmed I had a healthy! dose of cancer. Noon found me in hospital taking a bath. An embarrassed student nurse stood watch.
Once dried, I was carted off for a barrage of checks, by hand! ultrasound, and X-ray machines, before being placed in my private room. Moments later the Senior Oncologist, whose manner would have shamed a professional Undertaker's, entered: (His wringing of hands convinced me he was of Jewish Tailor stock.)
“Well Mr. Anon,” - pause to interject a well-rehearsed cough – “You have a colonic tumour.” Another pause, more waterless hand-washing, “Normally, I would recommend we operate immediately. However-" pause for more hand-washing - “things have spread somewhat: To your lymph glands, and thence, your other organs." He straightened, looked straight at me - “Bottom line, Mr. Anon - Operating, will only delay the inevitable…”
“So what are you saying?” Curiosity gripped me.
“Well, Sir. You have to weigh the risks and discomfort of an operation, against the short respite it will give you.”
"What are we actually talking about here?” (Well, damn, I had a vested interest!)
“Without the operation, two weeks - give or take a day."
"Removing the main tumour, could extend this to maybe three months.”
"Hmm. So, I have a couple of weeks before I pop my clogs? If you carve me up - and I survive the ordeal - I get a few more weeks… “ I thought quickly. “Well if that’s it, thanks. I’ll have the op, but not a word to my wife." He nodded.
"I'll make arrangements, and send your wife in." He left, Wifey entered.
Without giving details, I informed her I needed a small operation for a tumour. I figured she'd be shocked enough if I popped my clogs under anaesthetic - no point in giving her a preliminary one. If the operation went okay, there'd be time to ease her into the inevitable. She accepted I was happy about it, and took my word without question.
By four pm, I’d received pre-meds and was in the operating theatre.
I semi-awoke to hear some guy calling my name and shaking me. When attempting to sit up, I realised I was surrounded by a legion of hospital staff. (Seems on return to the ward I’d arrested.) The onlookers were the 're-sus' crew, summoned to start my pump again.
That was quite a night. By then, it was two am. I was introduced to the pleasures of being on a mixed ward. (Put there so I could be watched in case of relapse.) I felt sore, but good, though somewhat like a Cyborg: One tube fed morphine into my spine. Another in one wrist led to a saline drip. That same wrist had a lead feeding information to a monitor. A tube from the other wrist led to a bag of blood serum. Another exited from my side, draining clag from my innards. An ileostomy bag was attached to the right of my belly. Yet another led from a catheter - stuck up my whatnot - to a bag in a frame on the floor.
Sleep would have been nice. Wifey was there, so we chatted. The sounds around precluded sleep anyway. An obviously mentally ill woman alternately screamed, laughed, or sang ribald songs with – it seemed – the aid of a two thousand watt amplifier. Above her cacophony, neighbouring patients rivalled to drown her screams with stentorian, unsynchronised snores.
Night staff, laughing and joking at the 'Nurse's Station' just outside the ward, exacerbated these sounds. A constant stream of trolleys conveying bedpans, and such, clanged along the outer corridor. Their cast-iron wheels beat an endless metallic tattoo, like goods trains passing over a multitude of track-points.
To re-enforce that sleep was not an option, buzzers regularly announced that one or other patient required a bedpan, or bag emptied. Other loud beeps announced that someone’s morphine had run out, or they had kicked the bucket. Betwixt times, nurses administered medication, took temperatures, sorted pillows and bedding. It seemed things could get little worse - Wrong!
By five am, the hospital actually awoke! It seemed all were rejuvenated. Tea trolleys clanked, nurses appeared like bees around a hive. Patients were subjected to an onslaught of temperature-checks, pill-administration, washing, bed-stripping, toileting, dressing-changing, Mrs. Mops, whisked around floors, bedside cabinets, windows, Screens whooshed closed, then swished open around beds. Staff seemingly ensured no patient remained undisturbed. Suddenly, it was eight am,, breakfast was being dished out. (None for me – I was ‘Nil By Mouth’.)
Thence followed an influx of different staff: Dieticians, physiotherapists, Clergy, newspaper, and sweet vendors, a couple hiring out TV's. Porters returned one patient from theatre, dragged another down there. A stately procession of matron, nurses, students, and consultants annoyed each patient in turn. Bag Ladies on New York Central have a quieter time! Temperature and humidity was akin to that of a barber's shop on the Persian Gulf. – And it did not smell dissimilar.
By ten am, Wifey was snoring in her chair, exhausted. Meanwhile, I had my wound dressed, bag emptied, a visit by a Rabbi. (Foolishly I had gotten rid of parson and priest by telling them I was a Jew.) An aroma-therapist appeared, and proceeded to anoint my toes, and massage my feet. I thought she was probably operating privately. This was confirmed when she offered to massage other parts in the bathroom - for a small charge. I declined.
At this point, the chap in the next bed stopped breathing. His machine sounded off like a fire alarm. The crash crew arrived, screens were pulled, and Wifey – awakened by the noise – listened with me to the feverish activity a metre away. Twenty minutes later, they departed.
The arrival of the dinner trolley coincided with the arrival of a mortuary technician. One side of us, an old dear chomped on her food with false teeth clashing and grinding, coughing and spluttering, other side was the sound of the cadaver being shaved, washed, dressed, and prettied for his family to visit before he was incinerated. The technician departed. A nurse led grieving relatives in, and left them behind the curtain.
It was not pretty listening to the comments and _expressions of grief. I sent Wifey off to get her self a meal. (Thoughtless - given the circumstances! However, it got her out of the way.) Meanwhile I suffered further examination, urine bottle emptied, ileostomy sorted, was given a teaspoonful of water to wet my lips. Blood samples were taken, morphine replenished, temperature taken, and the Salvation Army arrived, distributing the ‘Citadel’.
A couple of porters, carted the body out on a covered trolley. A nurse re-made the bed, then ushered in another elderly gent and his daughter. Screens were pulled again, then re-opened to reveal my new neighbour in yellow pyjamas with red/green roses blossoming all over them! There had been little let-up in sound or activity: It was soon added to -
In the next but one bed, a Pakistan gentleman was being ensconced. In short time, a menagerie of Pakistanis took over the area surrounding his bed-space – and most everyone else’s. Chairs were acquired from every bed space. Adjoining wards were raided for extras. The older members sat, school kids, and toddler-offspring played soccer with a plastic cup until it disintegrated. Thence began a game of chase around and under beds. As this continued, the seated assembly rose in turn to pay their respects, and present gifts of food to the guy. In almost a trice, the bed - and anywhere else food could be balanced - was filled with assorted questionably smelling goodies.
Methinks he was the equivalent of a Mafia Godfather. I watched in interest: He gave a signal, uttered a prayer, the feast began. The children continued to play. Nurses moved around, trolleys came and went, nobody seemed aware it was not visiting hours, or that only two visitors a time were allowed! – Or that the patient was a ‘Nil By Mouth!’
That community flourished throughout the day: some departing, others arriving with gifts. At 8pm. the visitors ‘time up’ bell rang in vain. The Pakistanis left well after 11 pm. The noise continued.
During normal visiting hours, other visitors were condemned to stand uncomfortably chatting to their loved ones. More daring ones perched on bed-edges. Wifey departed. I was left to my own devices - and routine interruptions. Amid the pandemonium, the Godfather departed for theatre around two am. He returned at nine am. He was moved next to me, as our bed slots contained extra surveillance gizmos. Within minutes, he was wrestling to pull out his catheter - screaming with pain.
His sounds mingling with those of the screaming woman, went un-noticed amid the general hullabaloo, I pressed my buzzer. My red light flashed at the nurse’s station, with three others. Buzzers beeped, lights flashed vainly. The catheter had been pulled clear, and tossed away. I hit my red panic button – that brought the re-sus crew again.
With problem sorted, things returned to normal chaos, Wifey returned: It was ten am. She mentioned the Pakistani seemed mightily still. I hit the red button.
Methinks the crew thought I was ‘crying wolf’, or were otherwise occupied. A nurse eventually appeared – to be mobbed by several of the chap’s relatives who had preceded her - and found the body.
Things had seemed noisy before; they took a turn for the worse! Screaming and wailing in Asian dialects overwhelmed all residual sounds. The ward resembled a battlefield. Staff reinforcements arrived to clear away existing family members, who were being joined by new family arrivals. The scene resembled an Italian/UK football match.
Relative peace eventually descended. The re-sus crew casually half-closed the curtains, treating Wifey and me to a ringside view of an attempt to shock the living daylights into a rapidly cooling corpse. Having given up the cause, that particular body was whisked away immediately – presumably to some spot of safety - away from the wailing throng now occupying an anteroom guarded by two ‘gendarmes’.
Wifey was all for me being moved back to my private ward. I was reluctant -subconsciously wanting to make the most of what receding hours I had left. I had a feeling if I went to sleep I'd wake up dead…!
So I remained another night – another silent companion to my left…he’d been shipped in at noon, operated on around two, and returned as the supper trolley left. We never spoke. He’d just been settled, and the nurses departed when his siren erupted.
As the crew arrived again, I felt on familiar enough terms to pass a couple of pleasantries to two, and give a familiar nod of recognition to others.
Give the lads their due; they tried hard to kick-start the old boy’s life again. They left his remains in peace. As midnight approached, so did the mortician: With main lighting off, he worked by the aid of a spotlight. Job completed, he departed, and a nurse led in relatives for a final view…
Wifey woke me; It was two pm. I was back in my private ward. Nature had caught up with me towards the end of that night, and sleep took over. I'd been returned there whilst still sleeping.
You can learn much from such an experience: The sound of noisy neighbours, or screaming kids in supermarkets - or right outside your window - sounds like music to the ears after that. You also learn to make the most of life, appreciating each new sunrise.
If you get cancer, don't despair. At worst, you get warning of imminent death - a privilege denied most of us. Anyway, look at me! That was twelve years ago. I've had four more ops since then, and I'm still smiling, and there is life in this old dog yet - even if the bones creak at times…
For information: I'm an 84 year old guy that took up writing a couple of years ago because I got cancer and could do little else. I left school at thirteen (71 years ago), so am not exactly educated, lol.
I write stories for my grand and great-grand children, and general and adult stories. Fact and fiction. I attach a couple of samples (chosen because they were early short ones, and most others exceed the 2000 limit.) My name is Frankie Anon and I write as 'FANON'. My email address is " Contact FANON.