I lay back on the hospital bed and tried to meditate. I was determined to let every cubic centimetre of this liquid of life really infuse into every cell of my being. Tried to breathe slowly and deeply, tried to block out the incessant pinging of an ignored “obs” machine two beds up.
I think somewhere in my frazzled and tangled knot of a mind I knew I this was my last chance to keep my gut, even if I had not properly admitted it to myself. Looking back I realize I was in denial. I believed in Infliximab (Remicade). I would have eaten ground glass if I thought it would have helped to fix my gut.
Just close my eyes and breathe deeply, visualize the cells in my gut being bathed in this beautiful clear healing liquid.
“Have you ever been bit by a gorilla?” My eyes popped open in surprise.
My neighbour Ned was sitting on the edge of his bed looking at me and waiting for an answer. I’m not sure what condition he suffered from but the whites of his eyes had gone a yellow, and his face looked like a sock that had been washed a million tmes.
“A gorilla ever bit you?”
“I got bit by a gorilla in Gibralter”
Ned, I’d learned, would just start speaking from wherever his mind had randomly reached.
“Don’t you mean a monkey? There are monkeys in Gibraltar, not gorillas”
A look of doubtful surprise spread of his face like a stain; then he threw up.
“Second time today” he said staring down at the messy floor.
A nurse came to deal with Ned, and the floor. I gave up on the meditation and listened for several hours to The Chronicles Of Ned.
I got out of hospital a week or so later, and once every 6 weeks Clare would drive me to the hospital for my fix of Infliximab. At that time I hobbled like hobo on swollen ankles and knackered knees. The infusion would magically, but temporarily transform me into a sure footed old goat, but the nimble poise would slowly fade over the next few weeks.
During the infusions I would lie looking at the ceiling, which being made of brushed metal, meant that I could see a spectral version of myself staring back down at me. A radio by my head, a book by my side. You would think it was an excellent time to meditate or read. It wasn’t though. I lay there with a roundabout whirling in my head, and the realisation that I wasn’t improving dripping into my consciousness as intravenously as the drug.
I held out against surgery for many reasons. There was vanity, there was anger, there was grief – all suffused with fear. Not a good cocktail to sip on.
Most of us hide our baggage deep in our hearts, closely guarded by carefully selected words, and social triviality. Vainly, I hated the thought of the life changing disfigurement of carrying my baggage so publicly.
Whenever a doctor mentioned the word “colectomy” I would always correct them with the word disembowelment. They would stare at me for a moment suddenly frozen. Then they would question me on the word. I would assert that I was using the word quite correctly – literally correctly. In my mind I imagined myself on some medieval scaffold disembowelled before a cheering crowd.
Time wore on, and I was hospitalised again, this time drifting in and out of consciousness in a spectacle of flashing blue lights and twin horns. I was sure I was going to wake up without my colon. But the stubborn old thing was still with me like a knackered bicycle inner tube.
The colonoscopy I underwent at the time revealed a picture of a tattered and useless piece of meat, and I started to accept that I was going to have loose it or die. That’s what it had come down to. Like a cat with only seven lives left, I got out of hospital again.
The next time I lay staring up at my dim reflection on the ceiling with infliximab running through my veins, I waited till my consultant stood at my bedside.
“And how are you doing?” she said wit her eyes closed, she always closed her eyes to speak in her slow soft Irish accent.
I felt this wave of heat run through me like a blush, and I found myself saying
She looked down at me in silence for a moment or two like a detective that had just elicited a confession. Then she burst into an uncharacteristic dance of jubilant activity. Moved straight to the nearest phone and spoke urgently into it.
In a few days time it was arranged. I was on the way to surgery.
I went into hospital on the 22nd of December 2009, and I got out – one colon lighter on the Christmas day. One week later I walked nearly three miles into town, and a month later I was starting to take regular exercise again.
OK there is a lot of psychological adjustment to do, and sometimes I felt pretty tired; but slowly, step by step I rediscovered myself.
You know – it’s not so bad. You can survive much more than you think you can. In fact an experience like this might even give you a new angle on life. You might be surprised at what you can do.
I have found that since the surgery I have about double the energy I had before. I was amazed at how much the dread gut was taking to maintain. I go swimming a lot, wearing one of those triathlon suits so as not to startle the others in the pool. I swim about a mile every other day. I also decided to train as a Hypnotherapist, and I will qualify at the end of March.
So if you are scared and filled with dread, and facing the knife; don’t be. Life is a ride.