Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ferdinand the Fish

They reckon the first four days are the worst. After chemo, I mean. If that's true, I'm doing okay. I've hit day four, and so far I'm doing fine.

(She said, chewing on another dry rice cracker.)

Mind you, another message I keep getting is that everyone's different. You can't predict how any one body will respond to being poisoned. So maybe I will regret those words by this afternoon.

Or tonight.

Or next week, when my blood count drops to 'buggered', or next cycle when I have to go through it all again.

But so far, so good.


My habit of personifying my tormentors continues. The dead weight that appeared at the bottom of my stomach on the second morning had been aptly christened by 3.30am on the fourth, when it woke me complaining yet again of Unfair Neglect.

Ferdinand the Fermenting Fish sinks sickeningly to the bottom if I let my stomach empty completely. As you do, during the night. There he lies, nauseating, slimy and heavy, and starts to let off bubbles of rancid fumes which rise lethargically into my windpipe.


I have to keep refloating him, coating him. Coaxing him to behave with little morsels. Too much water at once, and he turns over and threatens to burst upwards; too little, and he's hard to dislodge from the drain.

He's not part of me. He doesn't seem to like ginger, which has always rescued me from dodgy tummies before. He likes blueberries, which have never really appealed till now. He's a stranger, another invader in my being.

I am not a weak-bellied person. But Ferdinand is trying his damnedest to make me so.

Watermelon, cubed and stored in the freezer, helps for a while. Seaweed rice crackers he consumes avidly. Yoghurt gives him a nice slippery slidey surface, as do those little pots of Chinese fruit jelly you can pop in children's lunchboxes- guava, lychee, kiwi fruit, mango. Honeydew, even.

Not too much at a time. Just enough to float him again. It's a balancing act, constantly. Even at 3.30 am.

Damn you, fishy. Let me sleep. I'm running low on red cells here.


The very lethargy of Ferdinand should have warned me what to expect from the rest of my digestive tract. Rather than the largesse shooting through in any and all directions as though from your average Bondi tram after Mardi Gras, everything's grinding to a halt. Let's just say I selected the Sultana Bran at breakfast, after discovering how cold you can get sitting in the bathroom for half an hour at 4am.

I warmed myself up afterwards by treating myself to an early bicarb soda mouthwash. Yum, yum. On day two I'd made the mistake of flossing before my salty-tasting treat, and the agony was unbelievable. My teeth and gums ached for an hour. Come to that, they're still tender; when I look into my crystal ball I see a future of mince and soup.

Yum, yum.

So many little schedules to dove-tail, eating up the day in tiny bites and screwing you over if you get it wrong. Dental hygiene, to prevent decay and infection: check. Bicarb-wash care of delicate, dying-cell chemo mouth: check.

Done at the same trip to the sink, to save time: shriek.


By the time I got back to bed, of course, I'd woken the Bear. We'd not been lying there long, holding hands and listening to the dawn symphony, when the first movement of Carol of the Bungy Birds also descended to piercing shrieks. He shot out of bed to find a dingo pup investigating the turkeys, and the remains of yet another hen out the front. Just as cancer has no respect for daily life, daily life has no respect for cancer. Together, they're wearing down my man as much as Ferdinand is leaning on me.

I started getting concerned about the Bear again yesterday morning, when the eyes went dark. He had all the signs of needing to download, yet the breast care nurse- the lovely Monica, who somehow managed to elicit his trust and most of his story in a single visit last time round- had been and gone without him offering up a single crumb of what was troubling him. I couldn't even draw him to the table with us.

By nightfall, when he'd been to one end of our 45 km road for fuel and the other end for turkey scraps (with a little bull-rustling and fence-fixing stirred in the middle), he'd started to crack. He's simply trying to do everything alone, and it's not humanly possible. At home, the fallen tree that nearly killed him is still lying across the gate and blocking access to the back. The Parramatta grass is taking over the lawn now the heat's here, choking us both with its flamboyant allergens. Chicks keep hatching and needing new, dry beds. The lawn needs a mow. The dishes pile up, or they would have done if he hadn't spent the whole time Monica was here washing them, his back turned to our tentatively hopeful conversation.

I am doing well, she thinks. Looking good. Coping well. I think so too. As long as you only think in the context of fighting the Freeloader.

As for real life, I do what I can. We've cooked together each night, the Bear keeping a sharp eye on me lest the smells floor me before I have a chance to eat. Last night I girded my loins, or rather my nose, and did it alone before he got back from the far end of the road. I can pretty much cook in my sleep, which is just as well. Fed the dogs, too. Put the turkeys away.

But it was a struggle to move my limbs at all by that time of night.

One day at a time.


'Doing what I can,' today, did not include attending my son's PhD graduation. I'd chided him for not even telling me about his Bachelor's or Honours ceremonies during the last many years of study, but his eyes were fixed further ahead from the start.

"Meh, wait for the big one, Mum. That's the only one that matters," he'd responded, with his usual casual irreverence for occasion.

Well, the big one came and went this morning, while I sat at the table trying to work out whether I had enough spoons left after my bike ride, exercises, shower and lymph massage to wash up before I went back to bed for a nap.

I didn't. To even think of travelling to Sydney for today would have been insane.

Thanks for that, Freeloader. I owe you one. You just try to keep me in bed when it's time for my ride tomorrow. And the next day, and the next, and the next.


And so now I'm sitting up in bed at half past two in the afternoon, wishing I could be out on the ride-on fixing the lawn but simply lacking in the spoons to do it. The Bear's out in the burning sun with no shirt on (you can't tell him), chasing the shade with the poison spray, killing every clump of noxious weed he can find. Velcro-dog's lying on the bed with me, pushing every other living creature away with his nose or his substantial arse if they get to close to His Mummy. Snapping at March flies if they dare try to bite me.

The satay noodles Ferdinand asked for at lunch are swirling dangerously, like seaweed in the depths. No spicy food, said the book. Satay noodles, said Ferdinand.

Listen to your body.


I feel useless.

Day four. I'm doing well. I'm doing well.

1 comment:

  1. Great to hear day 4 has been and gone so well.....and you must be so proud of your son!!! Hugs from us all ...was going to ring this arvo but figured you may ah hum, er, been busy with side effects but happily not!!!