Suddenly one night I got very sick. I was alone in the apartment, and just managed to call a neighbor, who came over immediately. I put in an emergency call to my oncologist Dr Spittle, but there was no room at the hospital till the next day. So I had a hallucinogenic evening, just me and my morphine together, and I went to hospital the next morning.
The day was the same day as my best friend for over 65 years went to Antarctica, on an anniversary trip with her husband. The only good thing I could think of, reading her blog, was to realize I was happier in hospital than riding the big waves coming out of Drake’s Passage. I was really sick, being attacked by a bunch of nurses and doctors; they all seemed like penguins to me in my morphine haze. I’ve never known a time when I was angrier, more belligerent, sicker. I was sure I was going to die. Angry at everybody who walked and talked and came into my vicinity. Too angry to blog. My friend Martin Sexton put his head in his hands as I berated a nurse for being ten minutes late with pain control medication, the she-devil in me surprised him.
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross may have been right about the angry stage which takes over right before you die.
“Her extensive work with the dying led to the book On Death and Dying in 1969. In this work she proposed the now famous Five Stages of Grief as a pattern of adjustment. These five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In general, individuals experience most of these stages, though in no defined sequence, after being faced with the reality of their impending death.”
On the second day of my gaol sentence, I was deeply into the anger stage when a tall fit physio appeared, waiting to take me on a hike. Behind him came a speech therapist. I took one look at them; I wasn’t interested and sent them away. That took all my strength – I had to sleep for the rest of the day.
Beyond the usual cancer symptoms – nausea, diarrhoea, and horrible pain – I had also developed pneumonia. They gave me courses of antibiotics, though I was amazed that I had pneumonia, because I never coughed. And I was so tired, too tired to read, too tired to talk, too tired to watch television. This lasted about 5 days.
The nurse would come in to change my cannula (the tube which delivered the antibiotics intravenously) and I would keep mixing it up, and calling it a catheter. She would look at me strangely and wonder why I would want my catheter changed, when it was working very nicely, taking care of things the other end. Finally I would end up going through the words – catheter, canister, canola, cannoli – and never coming up with the right word, cannula. So I was the hospital idiot, and I would end up getting three or four pricks on my thin veins as I looked for the right word.
Finally my very black knight in white armor came charging in and noticed I had been crying, which is something I never do. But in this instance he was right, I had totally given up all hope. The only thing that made me smile was to think of my friend Susan paddling among the penguin dung, instead of the dung I was dealing with – and believe me after six days of nothing I produced some amazing dung. It looked like something from open sewers I remember from my travels.
Back in the pristine hospital bed, I was accosted with a bevy of pills. I gave up looking up each additional pill on the internet to find out side effects. What did it matter anyway? I was on my way out. I did sneak a look at one of the constipation pills and in my drug haze I think it said for terminal cancer. When the message is depressing go off line.
Morphine and oxycottin carry constipation as their outstanding side effect. I want to say a word about the pills they give you to counteract and how they don’t work. I guess if you spend your life in clubs not using the bathroom is a big advantage. Personally the ineffectiveness of these drugs scares me. I find prunes, cabbage, licorice help; but sometimes even I lose my faith completely. A quick trip to a developing country might do it, all I can say is the western world is not up to the task. Where is Delhi belly when you need it?
But by now I had reached the bargaining stage: I would take any pill whatever in order to feel better and get out of hospital. The food suddenly became awful, after I had put up with it for years – even liked it – I think it was just my perception.
After 10 days I could deny my impending death enough to get out of hospital. I even let the tall fit physio take me ‘round the hallways so I could get good marks. By the time my friend Jane Hamlyn appeared at the hospital, and organized carers for me at home, I was ready to accept any advice.
After going through anger, and compromise, I was able to contemplate acceptance, so home I went.