Yesterday a squirrel sat in the road who, as I trundled towards him, was clearly daring me to do the ultimate thing and run him over. I didn’t. I stopped. We looked at each other and then he ran, victoriously onto the bank.
On two separate Thursdays, I passed schools where I saw 16 and 18 year olds in clearly carefully considered clothes, together or sometimes stoically alone, walking the pathways to the entrance lobbies to receive their examination results. From one school there emerged a boy, with the most incredible smile on his face. There’s no feeling like success, is there?
And so everyday, for three weeks, my drive to Canterbury has consisted of different and memorable experiences which have had the delightful effect of diverting me from the tedium of the journey. A journey which ended invariably in the same parking spot, and a short walk to my destination. Yes, you guessed it. Its the Oncology Department. ‘Cancers R Us’!
On my first visit there was a huge feeling of dread as I pushed open the doors to this new and forbidding world, but there was also a defiant, sort of gladiatorial feeling in me too, wanting me to shout, ‘those of us about to die, salute you!’.
It was all unnecessary. Where were the harridan receptionists who I was prepared to suggest lent me their broomsticks? Where was the endless waiting? Where were the situations to complain about? What were these people thought they were doing with their friendly welcomes? Their smiles? Their bowls of Quality Street chocolates. And the gentle apology that my appointment tomorrow might be just 5 minutes later than scheduled? Whatever next! This was all too disarming for words.
I took my seat. Got out my trusty ipad and prepared to achieve a thorough reading of my downloaded newspaper. No such luck. My name was called before I had got through the headlines. That’s not good enough! What do hospitals think they are doing taking away an old man’s right to read the whole of his newspaper before his daily treatment begins!
This department, like so many, is staffed by the United Nations. Mostly young; friendly and helpful; and desperate to pronounce my name correctly too, though sometimes failing badly. But I felt safe.
I put on the gown specially provided for my radiotherapy. Not exactly Armani, and more like 1950s clothing for breastfeeding women, but, hey, rainbow tops will surely come, one day!
I looked around and took it in. This was surely the sort of place where Frankenstein did his business. Where wires would be stuck to my body. Where there would be whirrings, and electrical shortings, and with thunder and lightning to go with them. Where, as a result, my body would be so full of nuclear fission that I would glow in the dark. Where my partner would be able to stick wires on me in order to boil a kettle.
Some pulling of me then took place until I was clearly in the correct position. Some inaudible numbers spoken and agreed upon. A brief look at my body and then the words, ‘Be back soon’. My God! Was I, semi naked, laying in a vulnerable, not to say S & M like posture, going to be there until they were back from lunch?
I lay there but soon it all started. The machine trundle into action. It did a 180 degree journey around me and part of it, while above me, moved in a circular fashion too. There were different noises, a green light and, it made me think, given a different situation and mindset, there were all the makings of a pretty demanding theme park ride too. But in fact, the situation was a doddle. The staff returned, made sure I was dressed properly for my public, and sent away with the words ‘See you tomorrow’.
Last Thursday, after 3 weeks, the receptionist took my attendance sheet. Smiled. Drew a tick on it; put a smiley face below it; wrote 10/10 for attendance on the sheet and I went on my merry way. Has it worked? Am I free? Who knows. But I know that they have tried, and will continue to try, and what I am required to do in response is to grasp each day and to live it. Focussing my life not on the ‘then’, or the ‘when’ but the ‘now’
Not a bad maxim for all of us, eh?.