Discharge and Admission

Wednesday 26 October

Two days after the blood clotting episode, I drove to the Royal Marsden Hospital for my second chemotherapy session. The doctor went through the lengthy symptom checklist to gauge my bodies reaction to my first exposure to powerful chemotherapy drugs. Most of my answers were ‘No’, ‘Nothing’ or ‘None’. When she finished and asked ‘Any other symptoms or problems ? ‘, I just mentioned the ‘ongoing pain and discharge from my backside’. The doctor raised her eyebrows – ‘Discharge ? Well I think I need to have a look at that’ and so we adjourned to a consulting room.

Chemotherapy is similar to the calamari from my local delicatessen. It is made up in batches in the morning and it is expensive.

My trusted oncologist examined my naked bottom and, like tens of women before her, didn’t like the look of what she saw. She opened the door slightly and shouted out with some urgency – ‘Mr. Brightside, please cancel his chemotherapy. Now’. No chemotherapy or calamari for me today.

My heart sank as I pulled my tracksuit bottoms up and awaited her diagnosis.

‘You have an active infection in your bottom that is discharging pus. I have taken a swab and will send it to the microbiology lab. There is no way we can give you chemo with this infection present. To clear this infection up quickly and resume chemo, we need to admit you and give you IV antibiotics for a few days’.

I went back into the chemo room and pondered on this development. The Doctor came over – ‘Right, currently we don’t have a room free so we can’t admit you. However, we could give you oral antibiotics but these probably won’t be strong enough to clear up the infection but don’t worry, it’s early yet, hopefully a room will be freed up later today’.

Oddly, after all I had been through, this seemingly inconsequential news had the effect of a straw delicately placed on a camel’s back.

The brilliant colorectal specialist who first diagnosed me back in August had been unerringly accurate in every single word he uttered. These prophetic words in particular – ‘The main problem here is the risk of recurrent infection in your bottom during the chemotherapy when your immune system is compromised’ and my wife’s polite request for ‘proactive antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection’ that fell upon deaf ears.

So, after just one chemo session, this scenario had indeed come to pass. We couldn’t treat the tumour in my rear end with chemotherapy because  of a raging infection in my rear end (that was essentially the tumour).

There was only one Catch and it was Catch-22.

This was just too much. I’d come to this session on my own expecting no complications. I expected a chat with my new found friends, a ham and cheese sandwich and being hooked up for 2 hours reading a book.

I eased myself out of my chair and walked out of that damned chemo room full of poorly people waiting patiently for their expensive, light sensitive chemotherapy drugs to be made up by the pharmacy. I walked down the long corridor with the blue carpet past ladies with colourful headscarves on, I walked past friends and relatives who had just popped to the shop for a newspaper. I walked past smiling and laughing nurses. I walked past a middle aged woman who had clearly been crying while she simultaneously walked past a middle aged man on the verge of crying.

I walked past a father and son anxiously looking at signposts looking for directions to some ward named after a famous surgeon. The father wasn’t the patient – the 14 year old lad was and had no hair to prove it. I tried not to stare, bit my lip and walked out of the hospital. It was a mild, grey day and drizzling. I carried on walking past the ambulance set-down area until I reached the furthest edge of the lucrative, PCT income stream that is the visitors car park.

It would be tempting to say I looked up to the heavens and screamed ‘Fuck you, cancer’, ‘Live strong’ or ‘You can take my life but you can never take my FREEDOM’ but I didn’t.

I looked down at the tarmac, looked at the raindrops staining my shirt and briefly wished I’d put my coat on before my sudden and spontaneous departure from the ward.

‘How on earth had we got here ? And where in the name of fuck were we going to end up ?’