Friday Flash Fiction Five Hundred – Harry H

 ‘…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…  

Week Three

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

We missed the Tuesday bargain…

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In The Yellow Zone

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…

Friday Flash Fiction Five Hundred – On Board

Tina looked out at the wide expanse of empty ocean and sighed.

‘I never want to see the sea again.’

‘If I had a pound for every time you have uttered those words,’ said Ben ‘I could pay our ransom.’

‘We don’t even know if they have asked for one, I mean they don’t seem very good at being pirates.’

Ben didn’t answer, his thoughts hung in the hot still air unspoken. Did the fact that the motley crew seemed to be first time pirates act in his and Tina’s favour or not? They didn’t appear to understand English and he and Tina had no idea what language they were speaking. Perhaps the old couple with all their missionary experience might have guessed, if he hadn’t dropped dead with a heart attack on the beach. The new widow had been reluctantly rescued by a tiny fishing boat and Ben and Tina had happily waved them off assuming they would alert another boat or the authorities.

Night had not brought darkness as the fire raged behind them. They took cover from the swirling hot ashes in the shallows. Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink. The wretched lines had gone round and round in Ben’s head as he licked his parched lips.

Strangely, just before dawn came, it finally became dark; the flames died down with nothing left on the island to consume. The morning sun revealed the stark ruins of the hotel against the blackened hills.

Ben walked round the deck of the small boat again as if the view might have changed. At least they weren’t tied up in the hold, there was no need, no chance of escape. When they were rescued, wading then swimming out to the boat and being hauled aboard, they had been pitifully grateful; the proffered tin mugs of tepid liquid tasted as sweet as bottled spring water.

That had been four weeks ago, though they couldn’t be sure, it was timeless out on the seas. But they could no longer hope they were being rescued. It was not kidnap for robbery as they had nothing to take. The diet of fish and rice was monotonous, but they had not died in the fire or drowned, they were still alive.

‘Never heard of the place or its people, can’t we just ignore the messages?’

‘No Madam, they have two British Nationals who were reported missing eighteen days ago. The photos taken by the pirates appear to match the couple’s work ID photos and pictures put in the media by the family. We can’t put off informing their families any longer.’

‘Certainly not, their demands are outrageous. The British Government never pays ransoms, it would set a dangerous precedent and if the media get hold of this story… Negotiation is still the key. Have we found out any more about their wretched island?’

‘Their nascent tourist industry, in fact the whole island, was destroyed by the wild fire, that’s why they want us to give them a new island.’

Friday Flash Fiction – Digital Dialogue – Absence | Times and Tides of a Beachwriter (tidalscribe.com)https://tidalscribe.com/2021/08/20/friday-flash-fiction-digital-dialogue-absence/

Friday Flash Fiction – Digital Dialogue – Absence

‘Hello, is that Luke?’

‘Yes.’

‘It’s Ali.’

‘Who?’

‘Ali, Ben’s friend.’

‘Umm…’

‘Sixth form, best man at Ben’s wedding?’

‘Oh, er yes, so why are you calling?’

‘Have you heard from Ben?’

‘Not since Christmas was cancelled.’

‘Oh it’s just that I, we were wondering… we haven’t been able to contact him.’

‘Why do you need to contact him?’

‘We don’t, we just wondered why none of us had heard from him and they missed the quiz evening again.’

‘I didn’t know my brother was so popular.’

‘Perhaps I could ring your mother?’

‘I hardly think so as she’s been dead for eight months.’

‘Oh er I am so sorry, she looked fine at the wedding.’

‘She was fine at the wedding, anyway, I must cut you off, conference call coming up…’

‘Hi, Ali?’

‘Yup.’

‘It’s me.’

‘Who’s me?’

‘Louise, Tina’s sister, chief bridesmaid, top table?’

‘Louise, of course, sorry I didn’t get back in tou… answer your messages.’

‘That’s not why I’m calling. Have you seen Ben?’

‘No. I’ve been ringing round everyone, no one’s seen or heard from him, phone’s dead.’

‘Oh Ali, I’m really worried now, same with Tina, she hasn’t been on Facebook for weeks.’

‘You were right to call me, but don’t panic; what about your parents?’

‘They’re worried, I mean we’re not one of those families who call all the time, but she’s not answering in our WhatsApp group or anything.’

‘Has anyone been round their flat?’

‘No, Mum and Dad are isolating and I’m on a Scottish island.’

‘Oh so you did get that croft? What about her work?’

‘She’s furloughed.’

‘Now don’t worry, I’ll get in contact with Ben’s company, even if he’s still working from home they would know if he’s on leave. ’

‘Tina would have said if they were going on holiday, she was always talking about going on a proper holiday again.’

‘TG Services, how can I help?’

‘Can I speak to Ben Chambers please?’

‘Chambers, chambers… ben? Chaos here, everyone working from home, except me… I don’t know the name, what department?’

‘Actually I’m afraid I have no idea, can’t you look him up on the computer records?’

‘No, confidential records cannot be shared with members of the public…’

‘Tom, it’s Ali, have you had any luck? No, nor have I, not a trace of either of them. Have you been round their flat? No of course not, you would have popped round last week if you weren’t in Belfast. I’m a hundred miles away so who’s nearest… Gemma’s in hospital, what happened to her? Call the police? I don’t think it’s that serious yet, I mean they could have gone on holiday, stuck isolating goodness knows where and we’re panicking for nothing. Okay, okay, I’ll drive down tomorrow morning make a day out of it. Have you got their new address? No, nor have I, have to message Louise, no I didn’t see her again and now she’s on some bloody Scottish island.’

‘Louise? It’s Ali again. I’m in their road, the neighbours are already regarding me with suspicion. I couldn’t even get in the building let alone find their flat, yes used to be the old asylum, very smart. I have been lurking to catch anyone going in or out, no luck so far, nobody seems to know them, so not likely to find a friendly neighbour with a spare key, not that you can just go waltzing into someone else’s home uninvited… and what did the police website say? Surely the only option is to have them break in and … no I’m sure they are fine, but there could be a clue where they have gone on holiday, somewhere warm knowing them. Not that warm, no, I’m sure they didn’t end up on a Mediterranean island with a wildfire raging. You call the police then, more likely to take notice of a relative, and you will have to give permission for a search…  ’

ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO READ BEN AND TINA’S STORY?

In The Pink Zone

If you are squeamish or do not like dark humour read no further.

One of the leaflets I received, produced by Breast Cancer Care is called Understanding Your Pathology Results, but most of us can only glean the meaning of some of the main terms. After all, the surgeon, oncologist and anonymous people in the laboratories have spent years studying human cells and what can happen to them.

When we went back to the Ladybird Suite ( pink zone ) to see the surgeon three weeks after my operation, the first item on the agenda was an examination. She pronounced the work of her colleague to be excellent; she was hardly likely to say ‘Oh my God, what on earth has he done!’ The whole area felt like a water bed, but this is normal, all those lymph fluids that were going into the wound drain bottle had nowhere to go, but eventually are absorbed – unless you are unlucky and have to have a bit of plumbing work done!

Then through the magic door into the consulting room where my daughter-in-law joined me as another pair of ears and moral support. The consultant said ‘We made the right decision to take everything away’ – she did not word it exactly like that. In layman’s terms there were lots of bits including quite a few lymph nodes.   ‘So all the cancer is gone BUT you Must / Need / We Recommend  chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy and then hormone treatment.’ WHAT!

Just because your aunt had a mastectomy years ago followed merely by tamoxifen for five years and your friend is just having radiotherapy, does not mean you will get away with it. Everyone is different and there are all sorts of tumours and grades. Basically our useful lymph nodes are also good at spreading cancer anywhere so the chemotherapy is a preventative attack. Next on the agenda was a CT scan of everything except my arms and legs to check if any cancer cells had turned up elsewhere.

No problems finding the CT place; I had already been to the blue zone for my MRI, not far from Costa Coffee and the main entrance. But somehow I couldn’t find CT. I asked at the MRI reception and she said We’re minus 1 you need to be on zero. Follow the green wall and turn left at the end, then go up in the lift. LIFT! I don’t do lifts, but luckily there was a set of stairs. There is not much drama for the CT, except you have to drink lots of water and have a canula put in your arm so dye can be injected. The scan doesn’t take long fortunately after all that water.

By the time the oncologist appointment came round it was the school holidays and Team H came to stay for the first part of their summer holiday, so my daughter could come with me. We went to town early so we could go to Marks and Spencer, actually try clothes on in the new ‘post Covid’ freedoms, though still wearing masks. Lunch out, still a novelty for me, then a stroll up the road to the hospital and back to pink zone. Oncology outpatients is down on Minus Two Floor, but strangely we were on ground level with a pleasant courtyard outside.

Our temperatures were taken ( Covid reasons ) and I was weighed and my height measured.

Warning  cancer jokes…

When my aunt was receiving treatment for secondary cancer ( yes it came back years later ) she joked to the nurse ‘Well I have discovered one thing, if you don’t eat you lose weight’ then realised the nurse was a very big girl.

The waiting room was quite nice with the usual relaxing seascapes; I thought it would liven things up if they had darker paintings like Edvard Munch’s The Scream or a few Hieronymus Bosch paintings of hell.

 We didn’t have to wait long to see the oncologist and my breast care nurse was also there for support. No one can force you to have treatment of any sort; it’s at this stage celebrities go off to live on a diet of raw vegetables and try alternate therapies. The rest of us do our best to make an informed choice and writer me likes asking questions.

The CT scan was clear, excellent news. But chemotherapy was still recommended. I asked about the base line of doing nothing; fifty fifty chance of cancer returning in the next ten years, the odds only going up by 8% with chemo. That didn’t sound much, but radiotherapy added another 7% and the five years of hormone treatment another something or other. Cancer could spread to the lymph nodes in the neck, which is exactly what happened to my aunt, though she had made it well into the new century and her eighties by then… My daughter was trying to read the indecipherable charts on the screen … Statistics don’t mean a lot, they could say forty % of patients who had no chemo died within five years, though some were in their nineties, others had heart attacks, a few got run over by a bus and one fell in a volcano doing his bucket list.

I had hardly any of the risk factors for breast cancer, so we can never make assumptions and you can never know for sure the alternative outcome. Nor can they tell you how the chemotherapy will affect you as everyone is different, except, annoyingly a guarantee your hair will fall out! What would you decide?

Yes, might as well give it a go. After I signed the consent form we went into another little room with seascapes to chat with the nurse about all the downsides and I had to decide if I wanted to book the cold cap, which may or may not stop your hair falling out.

Next on the agenda is the ‘group chat’ in the church hall opposite the hospital; learning about chemotherapy. Also a home visit by the community oncology support nurse and then start treatment on 23rd August. Everything is very efficient.

In the meantime I have been swimming in the sea and gardening and walking.

https://breastcancernow.org/

Weird Wednesday

WHERE ARE WE?
THIS IS WHAT WE ARE PROMISED FOR BOURNEMOUTH SQUARE. THE DEMISE OF DEBENHAMS DEPARTMENT STORE HAS LEFT AN EMPTY BUILDING WHICH WILL BE REGENERATED AND RETURN AS THE PREVIOUS STORE WHICH LONG TERM RESIDENTS REMEMBER… IN THE MEANTIME…
LET’S GO THROUGH THIS RATHER UNPROMISING DOOR AND UP TWO FLOORS…

WHERE AN EMPTY FLOOR HAS BEEN TURNED INTO AN ART GALLERY.
LET SOME COLOUR INTO YOUR LIFE
DIZZY YET? YOU COULD TRY THIS AT HOME
A SELFIE
EVEN DIZZIER?

https://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/news/2021/08/new-arts-hub-for-bournemouth/#

Sunday Short Story – 1200 – Sunshine Break

‘I don’t care where, as long as there is a beach and sunshine…. Make that a decent hotel with a pool and a private beach…  any country that will let us in and let us out again… no I don’t care if we have to isolate when we get back, working from home is no big deal.’

Ben scrolled down the computer screen, Tina was right, they were both desperate for a holiday; two weeks away and they would worry later about getting back.

 It was bliss; by the pool, on the beach, al fresco dining and the staff were fabulous, glad to have guests and so few guests Ben and Tina were given plenty of attention. They were more relaxed than they had felt in years, their worries left at home. Ben had suggested leaving their phones at home as well, but Tina thought that was going a bit far. They would need the internet to sort out the return journey, but a good compromise was to leave phones and iPads in the hotel safe, along with their passports, as they didn’t trust the staff, plus a few bits of Tina’s jewellery in case a local business person invited them for dinner.

 So far the only locals they had met were the staff, but they were enjoying the novelty of spending time together, sauntering through the grove of trees to the beach with its quaint collection of fishing boats and locals mending nets. Or they could look up at the rolling hills that were the backdrop to the gleaming new white hotel. This was a real get away break, no television, no news, no discussions of climate change or Covid. Perhaps tomorrow, their fifth day, they would hike up the hills or venture into the local village, if there was one. They would have to ask that friendly waiter, who had a good smattering of English, what lay outside the high hotel walls and how you actually got out.

The sunset that night was a delight, Ben was almost tempted to request the night manager to open the safe so he could get his phone out and take an Instagram shot, but Tina insisted no digital image could capture the rich reds and dark streaks in the sky.

They woke late the next morning, surprised the sun was not streaming through the window. Out on the balcony the sky looked dull and the sea had lost its sparkle.

‘Perhaps it’s going to rain,’ said Tina ‘does it rain here?’

‘No idea, the air doesn’t feel damp, in fact there is a strange scent in the air, I can’t smell the sea like I usually do.’

‘It’s very quiet this morning Ben.’

Ben felt an unease; it was always quiet here, but now it was silent, unnaturally so. He felt that tingle in his spine that told him he was outside his comfort zone, he had an urge to be reunited with his mobile phone. He chivvied Tina to hurry so they wouldn’t miss breakfast.

Their footsteps echoed on the marble staircase and as they swept round the curve they saw the snooty elderly couple who had not exchanged a single word with them. Now they were poised expectantly at the foot of the stairs.

‘Hey ho, nobody on the desk’ said the husband.

‘And the dining room is empty’ added his wife.

‘It’s late, we slept in’ said Tina, ‘we must have missed breakfast.’

‘No, completely empty, no sign of life, no food, no indication anyone had breakfast.’

‘Ben, there must be something wrong, what shall we do?’

‘Forage in the kitchen’ said the old chap.

‘I don’t think things are that drastic yet,’ said Ben ‘the staff are very attentive, I’ll ask the manager what’s going on.’

Ben strode over to the reception desk as if someone would pop up instantly at his approach, but there was nobody there. He skirted round the desk and rapped loudly on the door of the office, no response. A hefty push sent the door flying open to reveal the empty office and a computer with a dark screen. Ben fiddled with the keyboard and the mouse to no avail, the old chap laughed as he tried the light switch on the wall.

‘Power’s off by the looks of it.’

Ben was staring at the very solid door of the safe. The manager was the only person allowed to open it, but where was the manager? If there was a crisis Ben wanted to get Tina back to the airport and home. Without their passports and phones they were stuck.

‘Right, there must be some explanation. Tina and I will search the grounds you two check the rest of the hotel.’

Leaving the air conditioned building they knew instantly what was wrong, the air had a dry crackle, an acrid scent. The sky over the sea had a thick haze and as they turned to look up at the hills real fear gripped them as they stared at the glowing crest.

‘There must be an evacuation plan’ said Tina.

  ‘I think love the evacuation plan has already been carried out, but it’s okay, that private beach is a godsend.’

Ben was saved from heroically rescuing the old couple from the hotel building, they were already stumbling out on to the terrace.

‘Are you certain nobody is in the hotel?’

‘Certain, bloody staff have deserted us.’

‘Forgotten,’ said Tina ‘or perhaps about to come and fetch us, they’ll be down on the beach organising the evacuation in all those boats.’

 She patted the arm of the elderly lady, proud she was keeping calm in an emergency.

As they trekked through the grove, ash was already floating down. The beach seemed much further away, they could have done without the slow old couple Ben thought to himself.

 ‘Reminds me of that time we were stuck in…’ the old man tried to wheeze out the words while his wife shook her head to silence him.

On the beach, clear of the grove at last, they instinctively turned to look up at the hills. The flames were marching down with a speed that seemed impossible. Relief that they were well clear of the hotel was short lived as they turned back to look at the beach and the sea. There was not a single boat in sight, with the ever darkening sky it was hard to tell if smudges on the horizon were boats, but the churned up sand and foot prints leading from the trail through the grove to where the water lapped the beach, indicated a hurried departure by a good few people.

‘They’ll come back for us,’ said Tina ‘we’ll be safe by the water, have you two got your phones, ours are in the safe.’

‘No, it’s on charge in our room, not much help if the power’s off…  no reception here anyway, we’re on our own… he started to splutter his words as the air thickened.

A loud crack made Tina jump and grab Ben’s arm. No one spoke as they watched the flames take hold of the grove, behind it the hotel gleamed white for a second before being engulfed in flames and smoke.