Jonty Este is a 48-year-old journalist living in Sydney. He was born in the UK and has been in Australia since 1988, spending most of that time as a writer and editor with The Australian newspaper. He is director of communications with the Media Alliance, the journalists’ union, where he specialises in researching and writing about the way the news media is changing.
This is the fifth in an irregular Croakey series about his experiences with cancer. At the bottom of this post you can link to his previous articles, describing his diagnosis, pre-surgery nerves, post-surgery encounters, and the day he received some good news.
A pain in the arse: A diary about living with cancer (part 5)
Jonty Este writes:
As avid fans of Ian Fleming’s novels may recall, when James Bond tracks the nefarious Dr No to his island hideout of Crab Key, he and Honeychile Rider are locked in a luxury apartment and treated like honoured guests at a luxury spa.
It is, of course, all artifice. Bond is being kept – in preparation for his epic showdown with the master criminal – in a “mink-lined prison”.
Curmudgeon Towers, our Sydney seat, may not be lined with mink, but it boasts a big-screen TV, wireless internet access, a wealth of literature and music and I have the companionship of the marvellous Max and a parade of visitors to help pass the time.
But for all that, the Towers is, for me at the moment, still a prison and I’m going a bit stir crazy.
It’s far better being here than being stuck in a hospital ward, I hasten to add. But I’m a restless sort of a bloke. There’s a perverse torment in being visited by envoys who bring their news from the real world: who’s been an arse at work, what so-and-so said when in their cups at the pub the other night. The bovine antics of shoppers in a crowded supermarket when Max is trying to get home in a hurry.
It’s all happening out there and I’m stuck here.
Now, of course, you count your blessings – and I’m keenly aware that there are many people who would kill for the chance of spending a month of simple leisure, gravitating between lengthy reading sessions on the sofa and opiate-enhanced afternoon naps.
And it’s not that I haven’t got plenty to do – I’ve always wanted to try my hand at creative writing and this hiatus affords me the down time to do just that. But still….
After the operation I had a period, which lasted about a fortnight or so, where life consisted of a series of little victories: getting to the shower and having a shave the day after the op, going for the first tentative walks around the ward and, eventually, downstairs to the café for a real coffee. Being able to do the Herald cryptic, despite having a headful of morphine.
You measure your progress in the number of tubes being removed from your body and each one is a minor landmark: the stomach drain from my nose which frightened my friends’ small children, the catheter (ouch), the drain from my wound: “Your body will be able to absorb any more fluids from now on,” said the nurse. Yay! Back to normal.
Then you go home and luxuriate in your normal surroundings: being able to sleep in your own bed and deciding when you will get in and out of it; eating real food. Having the odd small glass of wine with dinner. Changing your own nicotine patch (have I mentioned I gave up smoking?)
I’ve been sitting in front of the computer for half an hour and by now, in the normal course of things, I’d have had at least one gasper and would be contemplating the second. There are none in the house. I dare say I could drag my bones five minutes down the road and buy some, but that would instantly tear up three weeks of abstinence, and I really don’t want to do that.
Having a major op is an ideal time to chuck away the smokes, but as you start to feel better all the justifications for giving up seem to fade as quickly as the pain and you are left to fall back on the (eminently sensible) reasoning that led you to give up in the first place. But eminently sensible reasoning and the urge for a cigarette seem to lie in different areas of the cerebral cortex.
Anyhow, I’m not going to smoke, so I might just as well resign myself to being a bit grumpy about it and have done with it.
Alert: The following few paragraphs contain drug use and mild scatological references
Adult considerations such as nicotine addiction aside, the pattern of my life appears to have regressed to that of early childhood, my role being that of both nanny and toddler.
Firstly the bag: To protect the area where a section of bowel was removed and the join needs to heal (without the passage of fecal matter through the area), the surgeon has fixed me up with an ileostomy, which is an opening in the small intestine that emerges in the front of my abdomen.
Call it a front bottom, if you like.
On this I must wear a bag for this next three months. The bag needs emptying several times a day and is changed every morning. Wipes, wet and dry, have made a reappearance in our bathroom, which now resembles the typical bathroom of young parents – and like young parents I have to confess to a certain degree of interest in the varying colour and consistency of my poo (although I draw the line at discussing this with dinner party guests. Can you imagine? – “I had a banana mashed with milk for elevenses and it was all lumpy and yellowy afterwards…” We have to put up with this sort of conversational gambit from fond parents. Here, perhaps, is an opportunity to get my own back).
Diet has to be considered. Having left behind the baby-food menu imposed by the hospital, I’m luxuriating in some proper tucker, although there are certain items, such as nuts, which remain anathema for fairly logical reasons. I got halfway through heating up a gourmet Morroccan soup yesterday until I realised that a bowlful of whole chickpeas might prove a little percussive for my temporary digestive arrangements.
And every day at 2pm I put myself down for a sleep, otherwise I get a bit cranky in the evening. Actually, I think this has more to do with the opportunity to self-administer a little light pain-relief, which puts a couple of hours of blissful balm into the afternoon.
In conclusion, if – reading this – your reaction is to say to yourself: “This guy badly needs to get out more”, you’d be spot on.
Part 1 of the series On having a large, malignant tumour in the rectum
Part 2 of the series Pre-surgery nerves
Part 3 of the series Jonty is back from surgery
Part 4 of the series Jonty has some good news
Disclaimer: Please note that Jonty is telling his own personal story; if it raises issues for you or yours, please talk to a relevant health professional. Please do not make any health decisions on the basis of what you read, either in Jonty’s series or in the comments that readers post, without seeking professional advice. I will also ask someone from the cancer field to keep an eye on the posts and readers’ comments, in case any further or qualifying information is needed.