For the second summer in a row I haven’t been far afield so I have taken endless pictures of flowers and tried a few new things like the mini wildflower meadow thanks to free packets of seeds from 38degrees and buzzy bee charities…and not mowing part of the ‘lawn’.
But every time we had a rainy spell it was mushrooms that grewor were they toadstools or fungii…
The tomatoes were a great success, both of them.
Mr. Nosey Potato got left behind at my house then there was another lockdown so I planted him in a pot…
This was my best shot of the Bournemouth Air Festival – I missed the wing walkers flying over the back garden and a Red Arrow flying over the roof…
When Christmas was cancelled I left the Chreasterbirthdaymas tree in the front garden and tied a ribbon on for each day of lockdown. This month it is a Breastmas treeas October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.
This is the newest garden development Chez Tidalscribe, a wheelie bin store with deluxe plant shelf and self filling watering can. Thanks to Strobe Interiors. And it’s that time of year when gardeners can cheat and buy lots of cyclamen at the greengrocers ( and just about everywhere ) for instant colour.
Hanging’s too good for him, that’s what my grandfather would have said.
‘Have you had enough time to think?’
I blinked and tried to focus on my latest family liaison officer, ‘call me Nessa’. I had already lost two, one to Covid and one to stress, not surprising, talk about a poisoned chalice. Time to think, I had done nothing but think. But decisions? All decisions had been taken from me that night, our lives reduced to forensically sealed bags.
‘I have to ask you this again, I must be sure you understand, you cannot tell anyone where you are going, you cannot contact anyone at all. One slip and someone will find you, not her family, but some low life… We can inform your family that you are fi… okay.’
As if I would want to contact anybody, even if I did have the means. I don’t know where I am, let alone where I am going, though the ends of the earth would not be far enough.
‘Just please tell me Nessa, did he have any message for me? Are you keeping it from me, did anyone hear him say anything?’
‘I’m sorry, he would not open your letter and he had no message for you or the children or any family…’
There wasn’t anything in that letter, no hate or anger, just one word, I almost felt like writing it in blood, WHY? I know what you are thinking, I must have known. I used to think that about the wives of murderers. We were a normal family, not perfect, he wasn’t around much, but we did things together when he was here; the kids miss him and their toys and our home, keep asking. There was his shift work, overtime and going out with his mates, I knew when I married him he needed his own space, to chill out. On the computer at night if he was home, everyone’s husband does that, don’t want to watch soaps on television with their wives, do their hobbies, photography, plan the next holiday, order DIY stuff from Amazon, do the Tesco order. Okay so occasionally I felt, wondered… but liven up your marriage, nothing wrong with fantasies those on line articles say. I dismissed those thoughts, must be me, just imagining those occasional looks from his colleagues on the rare occasions he took me to a Work Do. And I thought if there was anything they would know, his work colleagues, his superiors. A couple of times there was some sort of trouble at work but nothing came of it.
‘Why didn’t you lot confront him, you had the most evil man in the country serving as a police officer and you did not confront him. Don’t worry, you can’t feel as guilty as me, but I will not bear it alone.’
At least Nessa did me the service of not trying to answer. What I do have to bear alone is giving birth to Satan’s spawn. I have even been tempted to smother them in their sleep.
An adventure, we’re going to pretend to be a different family and I have reached a decision; I will choose a country that does not have English as its first language, rural life out in the provinces, hopefully few will speak English. If the children forget and start chatting about the past no one will understand them. They are young and they will forget, we will learn a new language together, refugees do that all the time. Other families must have done this before me, I’m not the only murderer’s wife. But no amount of pretence can change their evil DNA.
Nessa’s speaking ‘What have you told the children?’
We’re going on a big adventure to a new country safe from Covid. Yes I know, pathetic, but what would you have told them if you were in my place?
Yesterday morning I had session Three of chemotherapy and the cannula went straight in, all positives, so I wanted to do a quick blog. The only hiccup was something going on in the hospital pharmacy and they neglected to tell any of the staff on the ward that there would be delays so they could phone us all to come in later. We all had to wait for our drugs. But the four of us were so busy chatting from our socially distanced chairs that time flew. Three ladies with more problems than me and all different cancers ( though I did have the trump card of being widowed ) and great senses of humour. We talked about everything including the after life. I am part of a real club! And I should add that we all agreed the medical staff are great.
How did you all manage without Facebook etc yesterday! Of course I thought it was technical problems Chez Tidalscribe till I tuned in to that much older medium the radio and The News!
It is a good while since I was working on a novel, with all that’s been happening, though I have never stopped writing short stories. I keep wondering how on earthI managed to write forgetting that I have written five novels. I think Three Ages of Man remains my personal favourite, it is the second of the trilogy, but can also be read as a stand alone novel. It is about ordinary folk, but they do tend to have extraordinary experiences and you may find out how we are going to manage the planet and our health in two centuries’ time…
Week Three after my first chemotherapy session included an appointment to oncology outpatients to see a nurse. I told her how fit I was feeling and she reassured me the fatigue would get worse each time ( perhaps she said slightly worse ) and it was amazing how fitness levels dropped. She also said this was the week when hair thins… but she did order me mouth wash for next time; sore mouth and food tasting like mashed cardboard is probably the worst part. But like the fatigue it had suddenly got better and food tasted wonderful.
Sure enough, two days later my hair did start falling out; yay, no need to bother with the cold cap next time and I could get out my collection of colourful scarf/hat Chemo Chic wear, mostly ordered from Hannah Bandanna. It didn’t all fall out and I look rather like my grandmother, who even when I was young had very sparse wispy white hair. We just took this as being what a grandmother looked like, along with the large pink plastic whistling NHS hearing aid box that hung on her chest. Now I wonder if the hair loss was upsetting for her and was it the stress of bringing up three children while Granddad was away in World War Two ( away in Southport with the civil service, not on the front, he had already done that in WW1) or perhaps genetic, her sister was completely bald and hung her wig on the bed post overnight.
Sunday ‘chemo eve’ I went with my son to the beach hut and we had a swim in the sea. He probably got more than he bargained for; walking along the cliff top we met a couple I know, who hadn’t heard about the big BC. He has lung cancer so lots to chat about! On the way home, walking along the promenade, we met more friends at their beach hut and she recalled her bowel cancer treatment… You’re never alone with cancer!
In the ward on Monday was the young lady from last time with a full head of hair and about to put on the cold cap, proof it can work. The lady opposite me was sitting quite happily with her bald head uncovered. They were trying to put in her canula, while she repeated she didn’t usually have any trouble. At the chemo group chat the sister had said they can always find a vein. I gather putting a canula in is a nerve wracking rite of passage for medical students and I would certainly not like to try putting a needle into and not straight through a thin or even invisible vein.
Smugly I assumed mine would go smoothly, but my nurse also had trouble. I have only one arm they can use – the arm of the lymph node removal is apparently out of bounds for everything including doing blood pressure. Inevitably the desperate tapping of veins etc has to be performed with the patient looking on, which can’t help, but third time lucky. Meanwhile it was about fourth person lucky, a nursing assistant, who managed to get into the vein of the lady opposite.
The ‘red poison’ is put in slowly by syringe; it is so strong they must keep a close eye to make sure it doesn’t go into surrounding tissue. The second drug just goes in by drip and was only supposed to take fifteen minutes, but no sooner had I messaged my lift that I wouldn’t be long than the alarm beeped. The drip had come to a halt; much tapping of the tube and fiddling with the box the tubes feed through between the bag and the arm. In the end the nurse removed the yards of plastic tube, dumped it all in the bin and started with a new length of tube; an idea I had been tempted to suggest myself. All was well until just two minutes left when it stopped again, luckily she was able to restart.
Soon I was ready with my bag of prescriptions to take home, the large bottle of mouth wash making it deceptively heavy. I followed the WAY OUT signs, but luckily paused at the entrance to rearrange my stuff and glancing in the prescription bag realised the seven day course of injections ( which stimulate white cell growth ) was missing. The centre is actually in temporary accommodation in a large ward while the regular place is being upgraded; I had great difficulty finding my way back through the maze of desks, little rooms and other bays till I found Bay Three. My needles were still in their fridge.
At home three days later I was waiting for the district nurse to come and do my first injection, they can call any time between 8am and 5pm, but I had this funny feeling the hospital may not have contacted them and phoned up before noon to make sure. No they did not have me down and did I have the prescription form? NO, I had not thought to look in the bag and check. They cannot do injections without the oncologist’s prescription form on which they have to stick a tiny label peeled with difficulty from the syringe and write the date. What number to ring? After searching through my bundles of information I had no idea, but actually phoning the main hospital number and working through the options is the easiest approach and I did end up in the right place. The nurse said notification should have ‘gone to the hub’ and then out to the district nurse. I was home alone and no I couldn’t send anyone to fetch the forgotten prescription. Fortunately she agreed to phone the district nurse and email them the form… I wasn’t totally convinced and had almost given up hope when the nurse turned up at 4.55pm.
Now my aim was to learn to do injections myself, it looked quite easy. In the stomach is not as bad as it sounds, subcutaneous, under the skin, just a matter of taking a fold of fat skin. I’m sure there are many people out there used to doing injections on themselves for various conditions, but this was my first time. The next day I did it under supervision, no problems, yes I would manage fine by myself tomorrow.
The nurse said the cap on the needle point is very stiff so you have to grip tightly and pull hard. Next morning I did exactly that… the plunger came out and liquid sprayed into the air. I had broken it. I took out another syringe and made sure I gripped the right part, success. Perhaps I would keep quiet and not tell anyone about the broken one…
The canoe took them the short distance from the anchored boat to the gleaming white shore. Close up, the island lived up to the promise of paradise glimpsed at first light. Tina wanted to race up the beach, but as Ben helped her out of the canoe she stumbled and fell to her knees, feeling sick. She plunged her hands into the hot sand; weeks and weeks at sea and they were no longer land lubbers.
Their new guardian laughed. ‘Your first steps back on British soil and you kiss the ground.’
Ben tried to stand up straight with some dignity.
‘Is this really a British island?’
‘Technically I suppose it is no longer, since your good queen gifted it to us at midnight, but this is your home now.’
‘Home,’ said Tina ‘isn’t someone coming to fetch us soon, you said…’
‘I said we would deliver you safely from your kidnappers, what your government has arranged I do not know, but why would you want to leave this beautiful island, weren’t you seeking a dream holiday when you left home?’
‘Where are we?’
‘You don’t need to know that, a real desert island, but it is our new home as well so youwill not be lonely.’
He pointed out to sea where a strange fleet of boats old and new was heading for the shore. Tina stood up shakily and turned a full circle, taking in blue skies and palm trees; a dream island but her only thought was water, she knew only too well now how precious fresh water was.
‘Have you charted the island, are there streams, springs?’
Ben was looking out to sea. The boats were laden with bundles, supplies hopefully and once they had eaten breakfast they needed to plan, take in everything that had happened, slip away and search for an airstrip and the nearest village. He believed little of what the guardian had told them, this was hardly likely to be a real desert island.
‘What do you mean, more money, we gave them a whole island, what more do they want?’
‘Money to build an infrastructure Madam, the island was abandoned fifty years ago, there’s nothing there.’
‘That’s what they wanted, a peaceful island far from civilisation.’
‘They wanted a holiday industry to replace all they lost when their own island was burnt to the sand.’
‘Must be something there, who lived there before?’
‘A few thousand people, we forcibly evacuated them.’
‘Please don’t tell me it was one of those nuclear tests.’
‘No, no actually might have been chemical warfare development or some kind of scientific experiments, records destroyed, but we managed to track down one old navy chap through his nephew on the internet, nephew’s doing his own research on the island.’
‘So what are you going to tell the families, when are you meeting them?’
‘We’re meeting them in ten minutes.’
‘And in tonight’s headlines family and friends of the couple caught in a holiday nightmare kidnapping staged a protest at Downing Street, pleading
Fly Ben and Tina Home.
A friend of the couple gave a statement saying We have been told they are safe on land, on an island and arrangements are being made, but they won’t even tell us where they are. If we can evacuate thousands from Afghanistan why can’t we send one little plane to fetch two British citizens? Even Richard Branston has offered to fly them back in a private jet as soon as we know where they are.’
A government spokesman said ‘The British government never pays ransoms, but after careful negotiations a British couple, who can’t be named for security reasons, are safely off the boat and out of the hands of the pirates. We cannot reveal their whereabouts while negotiations continue.’
How did Ben and Tina end up in the hands of pirates? Find out here in a previous tale.
‘…well not exactly sore, my tongue is sort of tingling… and when I took my temperature this morning it was 36.9 and then thirty minutes later it was 37…’
‘Okay Harry, it sounds as if there is nothing to worry about, just let us know if…’
‘…and I didn’t go this morning do you think I should take the laxative?’
Harry the hypochondriac had never been so happy since being diagnosed with cancer; after forty years at last somebody believed he was ill. He was no longer worried he might have cancer now he actually had it. Now he had started chemotherapy he even had his own hot line to call anytime, twenty four hours a day, if he had any symptoms. That was lucky because he had a lot of symptoms.
At the group chat for chemo beginners he had been the star pupil, it was rather like being back at school only with tea and cake. The nurse praised him for asking plenty of questions, though his classmates kept looking at their watches. She emphasised they must ring the hot line, even if they did not think their symptoms were important.
At home Harry checked his home made charts. He had a good collection of lateral flow tests which he did daily, one could not be too careful with Covid. He took his temperature every hour after the nice chap on the hot line said there was no need to take it every thirty minutes. But he was still worried when he thought of all those white blood cells that had been destroyed. When he had told Pam across the road all about his diagnosis, treatable and curable, she had patted his arm…
‘That’s what they said about my John, but his immunity was shot to pieces and it was the pneumonia that carried him off.’
He liked Pam, she understood his worries.
‘Now Harry, you be careful that district nurse gives you the right injection, our Julie went into that anaphallic shock…’
The district nurse came every day to give Harry an injection to boost his white blood cells. They were very nice and listened sympathetically when he updated them on all his symptoms, though he seemed to get a different nurse each time, so he would have to tell the story of his diagnosis right from the beginning… If they were not there by one o’clock he would ring to check they had not forgotten.
He was quite sad when the seven day course was complete, but at least he would see them again after his next chemo session. He kept the yellow plastic ‘sharps’ tub on the mantlepiece so visitors would appreciate the seriousness of his condition.
Harry began to worry again… supposing they had got his diagnosis wrong. Surely they should have operated first, those scanners might have missed something, perhaps he had another tumour of a different sort…
It turns out to be true. Week Three of chemotherapy you feel back to normal. Perhaps even halfway through Week Two; watering the garden and a little light dead heading turned into a pile of branches in the middle of the lawn grass as I attacked the buddleia ( common or garden variety, well known for colonising railway banks and derelict buildings ) that was taking over the garden.
Even going over to the letter box seemed an adventure, then a walk round the block to confirm I was back in the land of the living…walk to a friend’s house and by Wednesday it was time for a proper walk across the River Stour to meet some writer friends for coffee then back by ferry… 6Km circular walk according to my phone. The weather has been hot and sunny so come along…
The group chat on chemotherapy for beginners I saw as a last chance to be out and about. I had been to a similar thing with Cyberspouse in autumn 2018. In those pre Covid times we all sat round a big table in a small classroom and it was a very jolly affair, with our English compulsion to make jokes in medical situations. Most people brought their spouses and there was tea and cake in the middle. This time we were in a church centre opposite the hospital in a large hall with spaced out chairs in rows. Everyone was heading for the back rows so I thought I would be helpful and choose the second row. A mistake as I couldn’t see everybody else properly. We were all given a home work pack and a cup of tea.
All you need to know from this chat is that chemotherapy kills fast growing cells, if it killed all cells we would be dead presumably. Fast growing cells include not only malignant ones, but those we need, such as white and red blood cells, also those we like such as our hair. All chemotherapy is different, a variety of chemicals depending on which part of you they are targeting and every patient can react differently. What is for certain is we all lose our immunity and get fatigue, a variety of available drugs and vast medical experience should prevent nausea and vomiting these days. The Big message was Ring the Hot Line, the number on the Red Card, the number written on every piece of paper and leaflet issued. Any symptom that you normally ignore Ring the hotline from toothache to temperature.
That done I walked down to the shopping centre in the sunshine and headed for Beales’ department store, ironically still open, though its flagship store in Bournemouth closed down even before Covid. The new very bright café upstairs is quite spaced out and quiet, people are still asked to wear masks in shops, even though Boris says we don’t have to and I did not want to catch anything before my Covid test in a few days. The top floor had turned into a clearance section and I bought a few little things plus my fabulous bargain of lined curtains, intended for interior decors, but ideal for my beach hut… once I have made a very big hem. Curtains are actually very heavy and I had to ask for a carrier bag which fortunately was environmentally friendly and edible. The bus driver said how nice it was to see a Beales’ bag again. I felt like I had had quite an exciting day!
Isolating or not isolating for chemo in covid times is still rather vague, urged to be very careful, but told to carry on with normal life as much as possible. Friday saw me back at the hospital for a Covid test; this time I went straight home. Saturday night I cooked a roast chicken for the four of us, my daughter had a long weekend pass and Sunday we walked to the beach hut and went swimming. At this point I was feeling very fit, I have been walking more than five kilometres and doing loads of gardening…
Monday was chemo day at the cancer centre in the Yellow Zone of the hospital. My daughter took me. In pre covid days you could bring a friend for company. Now no extras set foot past the front desk. Having been told I would be there for four or five hours on the first visit and to bring things to do and lots of layers to keep warm with the cold cap, I was the only patient there with a large overnight bag. Our little ward had four reclining chairs and one young woman had a cold cap on, looking like something out of a brain transfer in a science fiction film. I asked if it was her first time and she said no and you get used to it.
As I had to have an anti nausea tablet which takes one hour to work, but lasts for five days, it seemed worth filling in the waiting time by at least trying the cold cap, which has to start forty five minutes before chemo. First your hair is sprayed with water, then a rubber cap on, then the metal helmet which must be tight fitting. Cotton pads are put on your forehead to stop it rubbing, but the water and pads made me think of the electric chair… The weight was probably worse than the cold in giving a bit of a headache, it turned out I could have brought my own paracetamol. You are allowed to stop if you don’t like it…
I was the only new person, one old / older lady said she enjoyed the day out and we had all chosen a hot lunch from the menu. My chemo actually only took seven minutes for red stuff in a syringe into the canula and then a drip for twenty minutes, but followed by another ninety minutes of cold cap. I was allowed to go straight away; three hours and ten minutes and I had only looked at my newspaper and phone, puzzle books and kindle untouched.
Back home I thought I would recline on the sofa with a cup of coffee and heard my daughter on the phone telling her brother and husband I was asleep on the sofa, no I wasn’t… later on I thought I would get up and get the washing off the line and water the garden, but I only took one thing off the line and felt wobbly…
In the days that followed I had seven daily injections given by the district nurse, these boost your white blood cell production. On the first visit she took my temperature and it was too high, so I did have to phone the hot line; fortunately it was borderline and I had no symptoms, so I was told to keep checking my temperature. In the following days I did virtually nothing and my mouth got more sore, another side effect, but I was still eating. So this was the famous fatigue; just like when you feel wobbly recovering after an illness only more so, wondering if you will ever leave the house again or how you could possibly have thought it would be easy to post blogs while you were stuck at home. This is just a tiny insight into what it must be like for people with long term chronic conditions and those who now have Long Covid. Apart from that there was nothing else to complain about and low and behold I was back pottering in the garden on Friday and walked round the block this morning. Tomorrow, two weeks after chemo, is a visit to oncology outpatients to see the nurse, then Friday will be another Covid test and blood test to see if I’m ready for the next round…