As you know the last couple of weeks have been not nice. Now, feeling better and looking back on the blur of those weeks, I’m feeling quite amused. I know I’ve got a weird sense of humour, but as I write this I really feeling like chuckling. It’s this cartoon of me coming over all John-Milton-on-his-deathbedish that is stuck in my mind. All pale and wan. Which I was and I’ve lost a fair bit of weight again. Pat reminded me that this happened at the beginning of both previous rounds of chemo.
Make no mistake the inflamed liver pain is no fun at all. While the liver itself doesn’t have nerves, the outside of it does and this bit rubs against the ribs producing a dull ache like an overstrained muscle. Coughing, sneezing or breathing too deeply produces a pain like what I imagine stabbing to feel like. Coughing is also a side-effect of the inflamed liver. (See the connection to Milton’s ‘consumption’ yet?) Then any food that my liver didn’t like created coughing fits that led to throwing up. Add the cramps that come with constipation or severe diarrhoea and you have a very miserable Liz. This wasn’t aided by running out of Eltroxin and having the old thyroid hormones flatten – depression and headaches.
Doc James prescribed a morphine patch (also used to treat equine maladies) as the ‘start of a pain management programme’ . My colleagues in the medical sciences say it’s good to read the drug inserts to see what the indications/contraindications etc are. I’ve decided to put that in the same category as looking up symptoms on the internet. Terrifying. I was really tempted to slap one on immediately, but once you start you have to stay on it, with ever increasing doses as one’s tolerance increases.
Pat and I had a long chat about whether I felt ready to be out of it most of the day. I’m not sure that this will be a side-effect of morphine, but my mum reports being, and dad was definitely, highly sensitive to it. ‘Seeing fairies’ she calls it. We decided that we’d give milder meds a go first. The antibiotic that Dr James prescribed seems to be reducing the phlegm in my chest, which has reduced the coughing and Benylin with Codine is delicious, putting me fast to sleep in seconds. I could easily get addicted to the escape it offers.
Strangely enough neither Pat nor I thought about “The Stash”, which would probably have helped with the nausea, pain and appetite-loss. We really need to get that tutorial! We had a Transact patch left over from Pat’s balloon foot treatment – we slapped that on my midriff instead. It worked dulling the sharp pains and bringing down the tight drum feeling under my ribs. The morphine patches have gone back in the medicine cupboard along with the Tramocet and Stilpane that zonked me out so that I was sleeping 18 hours a day. Maybe later.
On Tuesday last week, I started surfacing from the fog, enough to realise that there was no way I was going to be able to participate in the Stellenbosch Postgrad Supervision Conference next week. I felt hugely less stressed once I took that decision. Worrying about the TES project has also been a feature of my angst while lying around all pale and interesting. Delysia, Sibu and Kathleen all jumped in with support from Thenji and Teresa, making it possible for me to not dwell going around in circles.
Even though I felt much better on Wednesday, on Thursday morning I was convinced I was about to expire. Coughing, retching, diarrhoea, cramps and dizziness from low blood pressure, I was very wobbly on my pins. I think this was made worse by not having eaten enough in the previous days. Elaine S. very kindly made and brought round some chicken soup, with egg noodles which along with Ensure kept me going. This is amazing because not only is she a vegetarian, but she’s also having her own torrid time with radiation therapy. Thank you Elaine.
So there I was left hand on brow, right hand thrown out dramatically feeling cruddy and expirational.
Pat fed me some gruel (FutureLife porridge) and I had a good nap and was much better. The bath was brilliant and then Paulette, Sioux and Patsy came to visit bringing the energy, intelligence and humour that kickstarted my ass out of self-pity. Thank you guys.
So why am I finding this all so amusing (after the fact)? I’m examining the experience of having social ‘permission’ to be close to death. While I was feeling so horrible it was easy to imagine being relieved of that nastiness and being out of it. I certainly wasn’t really appreciating the beauty around me and I wasn’t able to focus on anything that would usually interest me – like work or good TV or internet videos. I didn’t want to turn on a computer. What did speak to me was the breeze through my bedroom window, green smells the heat of the Berg wind days and awareness that things were happening and people were doing things. My audible books were great – just lying there listening to good reading helped a lot. Also the positive thinking posts on FaceBook which I read on my phone. Bite-sized chunks connecting me to special people’s thinking.
I’ve always had a highly active sense of guilt and know myself to be a procrastinator when faced with things that are not easy – like writing and reading carefully. Someone once told me that guilt is the self-punishment we give ourselves for knowing we’ll do the same thing again in the future. It’s not a motivation towards changing things. Looking at the last three weeks and wondering where my focus and commitment disappeared to, I’ve wondered if I haven’t been using the excuse of feeling ‘poorly’ to opt out. I still don’t know. As I feel better, I can’t remember how or why it felt so bad.
So I have to laugh.
P.S. I have no idea why I associate deathbed scenes with John Milton!