I did wonder whether I would make it through the night. In the 1990s I was editor for a publisher called Gateway Books, and we did a book called Today is a Good Day to Die. In the middle of the night, struggling for breath, it felt a bit like that. If I really had to go, this would be a good night to do it. But then, in the deep dark of night, sometimes it feels like that.
I had caught one of the throaty infections that are going around at present. With my immune system suppressed, as a necessary part of my cancer treatment, such an infection could kill me.
During the week I had been labouring. My spirits had been subsiding. Indistinct feelings, hovering between hope and despair, were bugging me. I had been looking ahead to the possible years to come where keeping my spirits up, no matter what, would be a key issue. If I felt bad or were faced with too much adversity, my health could deteriorate rapidly.
I was concerned about money, going back home to Cornwall, care and support issues… and one big, inevitable question. What kind of plans can I make? “Take it one day at a time”. Well, yes, but people and authorities want plans and timetables. When can they visit, when can I do an astrological session, can I take them on an ancient site tour next September? Um, the answer is, I really do not know!
In the morning, when Lynne came in, she was really worried. I was ‘out of it’, wheezing for breath and a shadow of my former self. Poor Lynne – I’m putting her through such a lot. She called the hospital. Anticipating possible sepsis, they called an ambulance. Bring him in. Quick.
The ambulance guys were great. They exuded competence and calm. One of the paramedics was in training, and I was impressed even with him. They listened to my lungs, took blood pressure, asked questions, tapped on their rather amazing mobile computer… Then the main paramedic decided it would be safer, given the infections that are rife right now, for me to stay at home rather than to go to hospital. Indeed, that made sense, but it was a bizarre truth too. There I was, ready to get whisked off to Torbay hospital with blue lights flashing, dressed in my Arabic jalabya and slippers, and suddenly I was back in bed again!
I was prescribed antibiotics, which Lynne later got from the local pharmacy. I don’t like antibiotics. But they are an integral part of the cancer treatment, counteracting the immuno-suppressant chemo and steroids. It’s a brutal system of medicine, but this is what was available when I was diagnosed, back in November. There was no holistic GP or hospital to turn to.
This sad fact goes back to the 1970s, when wiser heads could have adopted an integrated medicine approach to healthcare rather than suppressing complementary medicine and denying it facilities and funding. Had they done so then, we might not have the health and social care crisis we’re having now. It concerns money, politics and social control.
A holistic approach to myeloma would interest me but, in my current condition, I’d need proper supervision from someone who really knows their stuff. I’d need to pay lots for it and I’d need an emergency fallback system, as was needed yesterday. Also, if it involved fasting, forget it, because I’m already down to 60kg (9.5 stone) – there isn’t much of me left to detox! The only person I’ve found thus far who has specific knowledge of bone marrow cancer is Chris, a homoeopath who also has myeloma. But he’s going through the mill too, poor chap. Meanwhile, being treated remotely online without examination by someone in Oregon or Germany doesn’t quite give me confidence.
The paramedics left, and there I was, back in bed, with the fullmoon about to rise behind the hill outside the window. Quite a humdinger fullmoon lining up with Saturn, Pluto and Mercury for a hard-facts, gear-grinding, seismic few days of intensity that are part of the larger Saturn-Pluto conjunction happening at present. Not an easy time – except perhaps for viruses and their propagation needs.
I had a privileged glimpse into the dying process last night. When you approach the moment of death, the world narrows down as if like a funnel to squeeze through, and all the ten thousand things we normally concern ourselves with evaporate into irrelevance. The issue simply becomes taking your next breath. That is, until that ends too. You step through, over the threshold. Suddenly, a big, wide space appears – light-filled if you choose to see it that way. There can be feelings of relief and release.
It’s easier than you think and it’s important not to struggle against it. I know this because, when I was 24 I had a near-death experience. I went to the Pearly Gates and the Guardian told me, “Sorry, not your time yet”, but he took my friend Mike. So I came back, minus most of my childhood memory. I had been unconscious for nine days.
Life is precarious for the best of us, but cancer has brought me closer to the edge. I’m in a myeloma Facebook group where new entrants join, saying they were diagnosed just last week. But also people leave. Their carer comes online to announce that, sadly, their ward died two days ago, so they will now leave the group. It must be one of the more profound Facebook groups around. The solidarity is immense.
Yay, I’m still here! I’m more ‘with it’ today. Lynne was able to leave me alone (with tea and flapjacks) in order to go out shopping – and I hope she finds a friend to hang out with. She is so good to me, looking after me so caringly and tolerating me. It takes its toll on her. A sign at the hospital says that unpaid carers like her save the government £18,000 per year. Well, that’s good. But she is getting zero support herself for doing so. If she pulled out, the price-tag for professional carers and other issues would sky-rocket.
More another time, inshallah. ‘Inshallah’ is a useful word. In secular English it means ‘with luck’. In Arabiyya, the Middle East, it means ‘if it is the will of God’, and whenever they make a statement about anything, they tack the word onto the end of the sentence. It’s a statement of realism. It acknowledges the role of the Great Unknown in our lives.
God bless you all. Still your friend, still here. Palden.