Chapter 17 – licensed hackney cab – part 2.

Now the drugs don’t work They just make you worse But I know I’ll see your face again
‘Cause baby, ooh, if Heaven calls, I’m comin’ soon Just like you said, you leave my life, I’m better off dead
All this talk of gettin’ oldIt’s gettin’ me down my love
Like a cat in a bag, waitin’ to drown
This time I’m comin’ down
Now the drugs don’t work
They just make you worse
But I know I’ll see your face again
‘Cause baby, ooh, if Heaven calls, I’m comin’ soon
Just like you said, you leave my life, I’m better off dead
But if you wanna show, just let me know
And I’ll sing in your ear again
Now the drugs don’t workThey just make you worse
But I know I’ll see your face again
Yeah, I know I’ll see your face again
Yeah, I know I’ll see your face again
Yeah, I know I’ll see your face again
Yeah, I know I’ll see your face again
Never comin’ down, I’m never comin’ down
No more, no more, no more, no more, no more
Never comin’ down, I’m never comin’ down
No more, no more, no more, no more, no more
Never comin’ down, I’m never comin’ down
No more, no more, no more, no more, no more

Your morning rituals, your new rituals are predicated on sickness, on measuring exactly how sick you will be today and when.
A good morning starts with vomiting, instant sickness pushes nausea, your constant companion, into background noise, a steady trhumm.
It reminds you of your first weeks in London, when sound threatened to over-whelm you until you learnt to live with it, to push it to the back of consciouness and to finally not even hear it. At first the constant desire to be sick seeemed impossible, you could not imagine living like this, but now, some months in it is simply there, your own internal traffic noise.

A bad morning delivers the worst kind of sickness, a dry retching with none of the cathartic release.

The worst kind of morning means that you swallow the cocktail of coloured pills and are then horribly, noisily sick.These mornings frighten you, you know you should tell the hospital that the drugs dont work any more, but you shrink from that, shrink from any talk of re-admission, shrink from admittting that something,something more, is going wrong.

So, ritual 1- look at the pillow, measure how much more hair is there.At first there was a terrible fascination, you would stroke your head and feel the hair move in your hand, come away from your head. You thought about simply shaving it all off, speeding up the inevitaibale final outcome,but found you couldn’t.
You have always loved your hair, sleek,shiny, cared for.
You have,over the years, spent hours in hairdressers, consulting colour charts,discussing celebrity hair-dos, feeling the stylists’ hand on your head, manipulating your hair.
Having your hair cut, coloured, styled has been part of another pre-illness ritual, the management of your body hair.
Eyebrows plucked,legs shaved, bikini line waxed, you wonder how much time you are saving now and manage a smile, the concept of time saving is bitter sweet and that thought is enough to trigger another wave of nausea,this one so bad that you need to sit down, consider going back to bed, hiding for a little longer, but you need to move on,there is ritual 2 to complete and if today starts to feel better, a good day,you may even reach ritual 3.
But before that,you need to tidy the pillow, get rid of todays’ evidence. This is more complicated than it sounds as you have become unwilling to touch your own hair and have had to develop strategies to manage this. So, cover pillow in a large tissue, close eyes and quickly scoop up the tissue, bundling todays’ loss into an untidy package and then carrying it at arms length,you take it to the outside bin, always the outside bin,even on days when you can hardly walk, you always make this one journey, lift up lid, look away and drop.
You always wash your hands when you have done this.

Ritual 2- The Mirror
The mirror is in the bathroom, full length, with a frame of naked light bulbs, an ironic nod to Hollywood.
Before, before all of this, you would spend hours here, examining each new line as it appeared, plucking the odd unwanted hair,choosing outfits,practising facial expressions before you presented them to your students, your husband.
At your sickest, just post-surgery, you installed or more accurately, had installed [the idea of you moving furniture then was laughable] a chair in front of the mirror and each day you would sit, slump, and stare at your reflection, but now, you feel better, stronger, the chair has gone and ritual 2 is completed standing up.
The first movement is quick, a fleeting glance, a quick assesment,just to check, just to make sure.
Look two is all about the hair , the pillow has already alerted you,given you an inkling of how bad today will be,but this look is a full assesment, a proper measurement. Your hand moves instinctively towards your head, but halts, you are repulsed, sickened[ and god knows you don’t need any more reason to feel sick] by the feel of bare skin under thinning hair and you have mostly trained yourself to look but not touch because you know that one touch will lead to obsesive stroking and the inevetiable tears and you are learning to ration your tears, save them for the really bad stuff.

When they told you about chemo and radio-therapy and steroids and all the other drugs and the side effects, you stopped listening prperly and heard only fragments, so you know that reallly you have only yourself to blame. Someone did tell you, probably in careful, not overly technical language exactly what would happen, you just werent paying attention, you had a vision, when you thought about being ill at all of a delicate languishing, palely loitering,le dame aux cammile.
You saw yourself, transluscent with suffering, cheek boned, elegantly thin, surrounded by grieving friends.
That is npot the reality, this is the reality.
The face that stares back at you in the mirror is as far from that as possible.
You have no eye brows,
No eyelashes.
Your hair has fallen out uneavenly, leaving strange tufts of different length.
The steriods have caused your face to swell, features lost in a layer of puffiness. It even has a name, this swelling – steriod moon face.

The woman in the mirror looks old, odd and very very plain.
She looks like the kind of woman who still lives with her mother.
She looks like the kind of woman who has never been loved.
She looks like the kind of woman who children laugh at in the street.

Your mirror ritual is the only time you allow yourself this careful self regarding.
You try to avoid your reflection at all other times,particulallry when you have not prepared, steeled yourself, to meet this new you

Sometimes you catch this image and dont recognise yourself,the first time it happened, you saw this older,heavy, ill looking woman coming towards you and you smiled and she smiled back and then when recognition came,you walked slowly back to the car and sat, cryimg until the nausea forced you home.

Today is going well, you have been only moderatly sick, your face looks no worse than yesterday.
Today, you are going to try ritual 3.
You take a deep breath and look again into the mirror while you let the shabby towelling robe fall away from your shoulders.

Ritual 3 – The breast- the absence.

There are a variety of types of mastectomy in use, and the type that a patient decides to undergo (or whether he or she will decide instead to have a lumpectomy) depends on factors such as size, location, and behavior of the tumor (if there is one), whether or not the surgery is prophylactic, and whether or not the patient intends to undergo reconstructive surgery.
Simple mastectomy (or “total mastectomy”): In this procedure, the entire breast tissue is removed, but axillary contents are undisturbed. Sometimes the “sentinel lymph node”–that is, the first axillary lymph node that the metastasizing cancer cells would be expected to drain into—is removed. This surgery is sometimes done bilaterally (on both breasts) on patients who wish to undergo mastectomy as a cancer-preventative measure. Patients who undergo simple mastectomy can usually leave the hospital after a brief stay. Frequently, a drainage tube is inserted during surgery in their chest and attached to a small suction device to remove subcutaneous fluid. These are usually removed several days after surgery as drainage decrease to less than 20-30 ml per day.
Modified radical mastectomy: The entire breast tissue is removed along with the axillary contents (fatty tissue and lymph nodes). In contrast to a radical mastectomy, the pectoral muscles are spared

This has to be done carefully, in stages.
You start with the left breast, the only breast, the remanining breast.
Since the surgery, you have become gentle, tender to it. Sometimes you wonder if it feels lonely, unbalanced.
You find yourself stroking it, caressing, but this is not desire, you treat it more as if it were a pet, a snoozing fat tabby.

REassured, comforted, you turn your head and look downward.
The scar is still red, puckered, swollen, you have been told that it will all calm down, settle, but right now, its a vivid slash across the white skin.
The scar marks out exactly where the surgeon incised to remove your breast.
A spoon dipping into panacotta and removing a mouthful would leave exactly this mark, this absence.

Ritual 3 has an additional element, touching the lack, this doesnt happen often, it makes you so sad that it can only happen on days where nothng else bad will happen and as today is a hospital day, you stop, this is enough for today.

Before you put your dressing gown back on, start to dress, prepare yourself to face the day, you take another look in the mirror and from no-where a blast of rage shoots through you, it catches you unawares, you didnt think you had this energy inside you.

But now you are so angry, you look again at your body and rage against this illness, these treatments.
You rage against the unfairness of it all.
You rage against the exhaustion and boredom of being ill and just for today, you rage against your lost eye brows.

And then you go and get dressed and prepare for another day, you dont feel better, you dont feel anything.

The Taxi has pulled up outside the gate, looking out, you wonder if the driver is a resting actor, he is talking to himself, hand gestures, the lot,it looks like he is rehearsing a speech, practising a story before he tries it out on an audience.

About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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