Perhaps if I had been born in another time, another country, another town, in another family, with another name and the planets had aligned in the heavens in a different configuration, then maybe none if this would have happened. I would not be the person I believe myself to be. When I look in the mirror who would I see? Perhaps I am him, or her. Perhaps I am you. My life would have followed another path with another story, a different set of characters, setting and plot. A different beginning, middle and end. Not better nor worse, who’s to say. Just different.
Perhaps in the thread of time, one decision made differently, a glance in an alternate direction, a no instead of yes. A hello and not good bye. And perhaps I wouldn’t now be perching on the side of the bed, and not for the first time this month, head resting on a pile of pillows, with a needle and catheter inserted into my back between my 3rd and 4th ribs draining what will be a litre of fluid from the pleural lining of my lung. Another litre of fluid. That’s three litres in the last six weeks so far. There’s more yet to come, but that is in the future, a life not yet lived and breathed.
I am awash with fluid. Water water everywhere so the saying goes. I am like Canute raging against an incessant and unremitting tide. Impotent and futile against the power of nature and the elements. The lungs, according to Chinese medicine represent grief, and as the sea of sickness seeps from my body drop by drop I feel the release of decades of grief held vice-close, of sadness, of fear, of shame, of guilt, of secrets, of abuse, of self blame, wrong choices, missed opportunities, isolation and silence. Oh the silence is deafening now, drowning out the white noise that butts and rasps and rattles in my head like a hornet trapped and angered. A pestilent and painful reminder that I too am trapped, that I too am pestilent. Looking out upon the life I want to have that lies beyond my reach. Out of my grasp. On the other side of the glass. Slipping through my fingers. Nothing to do but surrender, be here now, allow the grief to subside like a receding tide, when all is revealed and I can breathe again.
Forty minutes and three coughs later and I am done. The cause of this, my latest incapacitation, the breathlessness, the palpitations, the discomfort, pain and physical restriction when life is reduced to a corner of the sofa and dependency on others, lies malignantly in a plastic bag upon a metal trolley, not yet for discarding, but for analysis, searching for more clues in the crime of my disease.
Beside me, Dr H. wraps things up with a manner at once professional, friendly and endlessly reassuring. We have met several times over the last year, despite my best intentions not to, and he maintains an easy dialogue throughout the procedures that both distracts and normalises this most un-normal of circumstances. As bedside manners go, he rates a 10/10. As I think it, I hear the words fly clean out of my mouth and into his ears.
Drain removed, plaster applied, all swabbed clean and tidy a thank you to the team and I am wheeled from day theatre down the corridor to recovery before the next victim, sorry, patient is wheeled in. Recovery consists of spaces for four patients and Eric* the nurse in charge.
“Hello again” I say
“Hello again you” he replies. “Back again? How are we today? Can I get to a drink of water?”
His accent places him in the region of the Philippines. Like so many of his NHS colleagues I have had the good fortune to meet, who come from South East Asia, Thailand, Africa, the West Indies, eastern Europe, Spain, Greece, India, China, Hong Kong, I am grateful he made the journey to work here, healing the sick of Great Britain. Clearly we cannot sustain this great and wonderful institution alone. Our global friends are a intrinsic to its health. And for all our sakes the NHS, needs saving, before the disease of neglect and lack of funding and secretive selling off kills it off once and for all. Where would we be, where would I be without it? Not here and now, that’s for sure.
Eric turns the monitor so I can monitor myself. My oxygen sats read 92, I know they won’t want to let me go until they each around 98. Eric remembers I like a challenge! Tentatively I begin to deepen my breath, lung slowly re-inflating for the first time in weeks, like a butterfly unfurling from cocoon, spreading my wings, come on, come on, I will myself, that’s it, 93, 94, you can do it. Heart rate is starting to come down from over 100 bpm, it has felt like a runaway train the last few weeks, even when stationary. Is this what it’s like to feel human again? I’m almost scared to remember.
Eric bustles back with a poly cup of water, de- licious. He sings quietly under his breath to the retro tunes whispering forth from the radio, to my amusement, he really does seem to know every song.
“You missed your true calling” I joke, humour returning in equal measure to breath.
“I think you’re right” he laughs
Dr H. Pops by to check up on me just as my sats reach 98. Job done we both agree.
“No offense,” I say, “but I hope we don’t meet again for very long time,”
He smiles, as I have said this very sentence on several occasions over the last year. What I really mean, is thank you thank you thank you. Thank you for making me feel so much better. Thank you for the gift of modern technology, science and medicine that found its way from you to me and means I am not drowning in my own water, but alive and kicking. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. He departs taking my gratitude with him, radiating 10 out of 10
“OK young lady, you’re looking good, home I think.” Says Eric
“Yes please,” I say to no one but myself.
A new song starts up on the radio, Eric sings along,
“At first I was afraid I was petrified,
La la la Laa la la la Laa la la la lala laaa….”
HEY! Wait for me Gloria, I’m just putting my skates on,
You sing it girl, you sing it loud. And she does ,
“I will survive! Hey Heeeeey!”
And with that I pirouette into the corridor and back into my life.
(c) Leah Bracknell
Butterfly photographs: Seb Janiak