Many of you have complimented me on my ability to keep my sense of humour throughout this rather awful illness. Well, last night (Sunday 25th), during one of my marathon pain sessions, I tried to find something humorous about what I was going through. I have to admit, I might have failed the challenge.
I woke up at 1.25 having had almost an hour and a half sleep, and as I wasn’t in acute pain yet, I thought this would be a quick change-over: have a quick pee, pop one mild painkiller and be asleep in no time. Except this time, the pain decided to move. It wasn’t where it should’ve been, i.e. down the left side of my body extending into my leg, oh no, it decided to centralise around my abdomen. If any of you has had a stomach ulcer, you will know about the type of pain I am describing. I warmed up my usual cup of milk, took 2 Tramacet, 1 Lansoprazole, a glug of Gaviscone and a couple of Rennies and lay there waiting for the pain to go. But this pain had decided to stay, and stay it did, right through to about 10 this morning. I had noticed, at dinner the night before, that I could barely manage a few mouthfuls of lasagne but put that down to my lack of appetite in the evenings. In retrospect, that was a warning sign of the night that was to come.
Why does pain seem so much more intense at night? Is it because you are so desperate to sleep and stress yourself out by thinking about this, or is it just that pain feeds on darkness. I found, for example, that every time I turned the light on and tried to read, it seemed better. The minute I turned the light off, I would end up groaning again and hunting for the light switch in the dark. A bit like when you’re a kid and there are monsters under your bed. Why do we torture ourselves by counting the minutes and the hours, by focussing on the pain, its intensity, its duration etc., rather than simply accepting that at some stage, it will pass? I have this fear of A & E, of being admitted to hospital via an ambulance and having doctors and nurses I don’t know prodding about, asking questions, and keeping me overnight in some dodgy hospital. On so many of my pain-filled nights, I have wondered why I don’t just call for an ambulance, then I think “yeah but what will you tell them and what will they do? Won’t they just give you the same painkillers your oncologist has given you and then keep you in for observation?” I guess that unless I try it some time, I’m never going to know.
Back to the sense of humour...well, if any of you has taken Tramadol or any codeine-based medication, you should know that constipation is one of the side effects. Sitting on the loo at around 3am willing something to come out...anything really, I wouldn’t have minded at all, I remembered some midwife telling a young mother who was giving birth to push down as if she were trying to make a pooh...I wondered, the lady was trying to give birth, the medical expert told her to try to have a pooh instead, so should I push down as if I were trying to give birth rather than have a pooh? Would the opposite work in my case? My giggle at that thought soon changed to a painful groan as I did indeed deliver triplets in one go! So much for the agiolax that a friend kindly shipped over for me from South Africa, granules that look like bisto gravy powder and which you MUST swallow with a whole glass of water (and then spend the rest of the day picking the remaining granules out of your teeth), designed to “soften your stool”...it used to work, except it always – without fail – chose to soften one’s stool in the early hours of the morning. This time, it got its timing right, but failed to deliver on the promise of a softened stool. I hate false advertising and can go quite insane with rage every time I see a “vanish” ad with its “stain-seeking intelligence” so when I’ve gone to the trouble of carefully swallowing a tablespoon of rabbit pellets, I expect a softened stool as a result or a toilet bowl full of rabbit droppings, not something only a mother elephant could love! And all this with no epidural or episiotomy? Still, that killed about an hour or so of my sleepless night and took my mind off my abdominal pain. Apologies to a friend’s mom who would definitely regard this as “toilet humour”.
Back in my loft I considered doing some self-portraits, nude, of course, to kill some time. I positioned the mirror carefully, adjusted the lighting to soften the edges when in fact, the soft and saggy bits like my belly probably required harsh lighting to firm them up a bit, and then abandoned this idea because I thought, imagine if you die tonight and you are discovered in full rigour mortis, 6B pencil clutched in your paw, gazing into a mirror with some dodgy self-portraits lying about? I thought that perhaps I could leave a note assuring police officers that no foul play had taken part and that in fact, it was just a bit of self-play, then that brought along more possible accusations and embarrassment for the family and couchsurfers who would have had to deny all knowledge of the fact that I had suddenly developed a penchant for drawing myself nude...I am not so good at faces but I thought that the art critiques would see the distorted faces in my drawings as a reflection of the pain I was suffering. And what would I call this series of drawings which would be discovered next to my body (which hopefully, will not have kept behind any agiolax in its system)? Fortunately, I did not get beyond position one and there are no nude sketches to be sold as the next best thing to Picasso.
Speaking of nudes, I once covered a friend in blue paint, pressed him onto three very large sheets of paper and sold the painting at an Art Exhibition for around R25 (he bought the painting himself!). My mother and sister-in-law are taking painting classes and this reminded me of my years of trying to become an artist, as in one who paints and draws, not tinkles on the piano and ‘cello. For years I have sketched and painted and not exhibited much of my finished works mainly because they were quite rubbish, but the other day, going through some boxes, I found an old sketch book with some rather good drawings from one of the life drawing classes I attended in London. Chatting to my sister-in-law the other day (my youngest brother’s wife), I encouraged her to take up Life Drawing but warned her of all the old women and men you get to draw...none of our models were under 90 which for beginners helped a bit as you just did a lot of shading-in because of shadows caused by overhanging flesh and folds and wrinkles. I took my hat off to these models who were prepared to take off their clothes and not just their hats, but while my Life Drawing skills improved, I decided against signing up for the following term’s classes mainly because the art teacher was too vague about technique and kept saying: “draw what you see”. That always got my goat because as a music teacher, if you told your students to “play what you hear”, you wouldn’t get very far...those pupils who heard multiple voices in their heads would be at an unfair advantage as they’d be playing quartets and complicated fugues whereas those who heard a single voice or sound, would only be able to play boring solo melodies. However, I never did adopt this approach with any of my pupils so I cannot claim to be an expert on that.
It’s when I cannot sleep that I miss my cousin William who sadly passed away four years ago. He was an insomniac and was always willing and keen to discuss family members (mainly their breasts) at 3 in the morning. I wondered which of my couchsurfers I would wake up if I really didn’t want to be alone and I must say that as they all work, none of them came up trumps. I guess I need another Antoine who liked dancing until 7 in the morning or Remi who loved telling stories until the cows came home. Bart has a loud warning system on his phone which screams “message, message!” if you text him and I didn’t want to wake him up during his night shift at work (yes, he sleeps through most of his night shift) and all my other friends who say “you should just call” had me wondering, should I? I was tempted to put it to the test and ring them up and say “hi, I know you’ve got to wake up in a few hours to go to work but I thought I’d ring you up and tell you how much pain I am in and how I am going crazy waiting for it to stop.” It’s a bit like that stupid question someone asks you: “are you sleeping?”
This blog was written around the 1st of August but you’ll need to read the next one because it is the sequel to this blog.
As always, thanks for reading