Thursday, September 03, 2009

Writing it down

Health, death, mental health.... probably everyone is sick of me writing about these now, but here I go again anyway.

I was thinking of my father a lot when I was lying around in hospital and resisting the urge to count the ceiling tiles, or the number of reflectors in the light fitting, or any number of other things to pass the time. In particular, I wondered how he managed to keep his cool, for he had a temper, when told he had to stay in hospital for a couple of weeks at a time. I was not a good patient by Day Three and the notion of staying any longer just wasn't winning any favours from me at all. Lucky then they managed to get the results and reports they wanted in time to send me packing that very day. They didn't have to: I was already packed!

To make up for getting out of hospital, I dreamed about it every night for the first week home. I would dream I was lying on my hospital bed and that I was staring at those hospital roof tiles and I would half awaken and see my own old ceiling and my own curtains and wonder what the hell had gone wrong and why were my familiar things in the Unit and why was Herself beside me? And finally I'd wake a little more and shake it off and try to sleep a deeper sleep.

When I did, I'd drift off into dreams of snow, or great hills of newly ploughed earth. There were buses to catch that drove along the Tymon North Road near my father's house. Generally they took me places I didn't wish to go and I'd spend the rest of my dream returning on foot, not lost, but out of place, inconvenienced rather than panicked.

In one dream, my father and I were walking together somewhere on the Northside in a baked summer housing estate, on our way home through unfamiliar territory. We stopped to join a house party after a funeral and soon were separated inside a house that became a pub, whose garden became a car park in the strange way of dreams.

In another, I crossed Tymon Park alone in winter, a wet winter with exaggerated hills and hummocks. Machines were working in the rain to construct banks by the lakes and people were coming and going in little knots on unknown errands.

I remember back in the real world, away from dreams, how my father had been told he had a tumour in his bowel and how he'd undergone surgery to remove that tumour, how he'd asked that I be informed of the outcome so I could explain it to him slowly and in terms he could understand. I told him all that has been told to me: how the surgeons had opened him up, taken out the tumour, been satisfied that they had caught it in time before it spread to his lymph nodes, and how they had taken some nodes away to test to ensure he hadn't any other problems.

He listened carefully and asked me to repeat everything to him so he could let the realisation sink in that he was going to survive. He was discharged from hospital, attended to by the district nurse for a number of weeks, then reported dutifully to the oncology unit of St James Hospital each appointment for chemotherapy.

One day he said to me: "Did I have cancer?"

I was taken aback. It transpired that no-one, myself included, had mentioned the word at all until he had seen the Professor and the Professor mentioned it in passing. Cancer, to my father's generation, meant a one-way ticket and he was aghast that the word had come up.

I was shaving the other morning and recalled him asking: "Did I have cancer?" I remembered my own doctor, a couple of weeks ago, looking at me and saying: "You were a very sick man."

I can sit and write the details of my infected salivary gland and how it swelled up and ultimately started pressing my tongue into my airway. I can relate how in another hour or two I reckoned I would have choked to death without medical attention. But somehow I'm still like my father, hooked up to his chemotherapy drips week after week (or fortnight after fortnight, I now no longer recall accurately the intervals involved in his case) wondering, after all that he'd gone through, if he had had cancer. It must be some kind of mechanism we humans have to get through a tough time, to see the creature leaping towards our jugular and still find a way to duck, roll, run away and at the end think: "Was that what I think it was?"

How strange.

Early this morning I dreamed my father was in a similar ward to the one I'd been in and as I was passing I called into him. I realised his only trouble was that his diabetes medication was acting up and that a little sugar would help him avoid a crisis. I wandered corridors looking for a sugar bowl and when I found it I was again on the Tymon North Road on my way to him. He was waiting near the bus stop, 100 yards away. As I walked towards him I awoke, an old feeling of worry about him heavy on me. I decided to get up and start my day rather than return to the dream.

Tonight I'm trying to stay up longer to maybe tire myself into a deeper sleep. But I think by morning I'll be visiting with him again, worrying for him.

It's strange -- I never dream of him dead, lying on the cold floor of his kitchen. You'd think I would but I don't.

Ah, sure...


Nelly said...

Very thoughtful piece that. You write really well.

I hope your recovery is a speedy one.

Willie_W said...

Thank you, Nelly. I often visit your blog and enjoy the thoughts you share there.

Tea and Margaritas in My Garden said...

Interesting dream bits put down really well :)
Hope you`re all better soon. Sounds scary having that happen!