For newcomers I’d better explain that the first eighteen ‘Adventures’ were an account of my experiences after being diagnosed with bladder cancer. They appear on my website (johnhendry-online.co.uk) and in my m-b-s autobiography, ‘Life and Soul’ (Authorsonline.co.uk or Amazon).
On Monday 27th January, around a year after my month-long stay in hospital, I returned to Jimmy’s for a more routine op – ‘ileostomy reversal’ – the removal of the stoma and the restoration of bowel function. No more poo bag … the pee bag stays. The op took 90 minutes, there were no complications, and I was discharged on Friday 30th January once they were confident the new plumbing was working OK.
I was in a ward of six beds. I was in the middle of one of the threes. Opposite me was a narcissist … carefully long grey hair, careful grey beard, seventy-odd. ‘I’m an academic’, he revealed unrevealingly. I could tell he was a narcissist because, when he spoke to me, he wasn’t addressing me, he was addressing himself in a mirror between us. And he showed no reaction whatsoever to anything I said, even when I gave him some of my best material: ‘Their views are so out-of-date they shouldn’t be called ‘UKIP’ they should be called ‘THEY-KIP.’ Not a flicker. (Mind you …he isn’t entirely alone in this respect.)
One morning I spotted an unusually pretty nurse I recognised from my first visit. I whispered ‘Have you met Mr Right yet?’ She looked at me blankly. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘When I met you a year ago, you mentioned that you’d just been through a divorce.’ ‘No … not me.’ ‘I’m sorry’, I said, ‘my memory isn’t what it used to be. My memory isn’t what it used to be. My memory …’
And she laughed a wonderful, heartfelt laugh. It was the sort of laugh that made me want to tell her an awful lot of funny stories. ‘You see they’ve given me two identity bracelets’, I went on: ‘The one on the left is so you know who I am. The one on the right is so I know who I am’. And again came the pure tinkling of her laugh. ‘It reminds me,’ I pursued, ‘of the time Bruce Forsyth played an old people’s home … a few gags, bit of song and dance. Afterwards he mingled with the audience as they moved towards the next room for tea and biscuits. He noticed one old lass sitting in the bay window staring out and paying him no attention. So he went over: ‘Excuse me, lady, but do you know who I am?’ ‘No, dear, but matron’ll be along soon – she’ll tell you.’
A questionnaire came round asking us to circle the appropriate response … 0 = not at all, 5 = very much. One topic was ‘How afraid are you of dying?’ I put a circle round the zero. Dying’s the safest thing we do. (Mind you … I’d prefer it not to be gruesome.)
There was the 50-ish chap opposite me to the right. One morning he was gasping loudly with pain. The nurse had administered painkillers but he was now left on his own. I was reminded of my severe pain on my previous visit when I instinctively clutched nurse Angie’s shoulder. ‘That’s right’, she said, ‘hold on’. I realised that severe pain needs earthing by someone. The nurses were busy doing things off the ward. I went across to him hoping to hold his hand but I couldn’t reach as there was his bed and a loaded trolley in the way. He wasn’t only gasping in amazement at the pain, he’d also got the shakes – hands, arms, shoulders. I started with reflection:
‘It sounds as if you’re in great pain.’
‘Where’s the pain?’
‘My penis. I’ve got a catheter up it and I got it caught on the door handle.’
‘How bad is it 1 to 10?’
’10. She said the painkillers would kick in in ten minutes but they haven’t.’
I can’t remember the details of our lengthy chat but after a while I noticed the shakes had stopped and he soon started talking normally. He was telling me about a dog he’d had.
Next morning I heard him making the gasping sounds again but this time they weren’t quite as authentic as the day before. I looked up from my book. He was staring at me expectantly.
My former surgeon, Mr Jain, came to call with four young students: ‘Is it OK if they practise on your abdomen?’ ‘Welcome.’ One of the two female students assisted me from my chair to the bed which was in the upright position. Under Mr Jain’s guidance she carried out an examination starting round my neck. Then Mr Jain reminded them that for the abdominal examination I would need to be lying flat … the bed was adjustable. A male student reached for the control and said ‘I’m going to put you down’.
‘For God’s sake, man’ I said, ‘it was only a routine reversal! How has it come to this?’
I asked Mr Jain whether the fact that I’d had cancer makes it more likely than the average that I’ll get it again. His answer was a firm ‘No’. A level playing-field.
A warm ‘Thank you’ to Yolanda, Tom, Laura, Gemma, Amanda, Sarah, Michelle, Sarah, Amelia, Monica, Vicky, Kath, Mitchell, Loretta, Greg, Christina, Rose, and Glenn.