Following last month’s posting of the first chapter of Not a Pheasant Plucker,https://dermotthayes.com/2016/06/03/not-a-pheasant-plucker/ here’s the second chapter, A touch of pain…ALL COMMENTS WELCOME AND ACTIVELY ENCOURAGED
‘It’s not good news, Mrs M. You should’ve come to see me earlier, but we’ve been through all that. The results of your blood tests and biopsy are here. It’s just as I expected, the tumour is inoperable and secondary tumours have developed. I’m surprised you’re even walking around.’
Seanie’s mother listened to the doctor’s words. He was confirming what they both knew a month before when she’d first come to see him. She heard words and phrases like ‘metastatic’ and ‘phase four’ and ‘unresectable’, but it was all Latin to her.
The doctor was a good man, she knew, she’d known him all her life. They were almost the same age and he’d seen her through three pregnancies and two miscarriages, whooping coughs, measles, chicken pox, the death of her husband and God knows what else in between. He wasn’t giving out to her. He was only filling the gap caused by his own despair and helplessness, by talking. She couldn’t hear the words, just the sound and tone of his voice and the way his eyes tried to avoid hers while he looked straight at her. It was as though she’d gone already, ceased to exist, a dent in his cushion.
She’d felt the first pains in June, like a pain in the stomach, or thereabouts and she thought it was something she ate. It wasn’t like her. She could eat anything and though she wasn’t fussy, she was particular about her meat, it had to be fresh. The diarrhea came shortly after the stomach pains. She got something from the chemist. He was a young fella, a rash on his collar and spots on his chin, still wet behind the ears. He said it would stop the diarrhea. It was a fruity powder in a sachet, a diorylite, he said, to prevent the dehydration. He gave her Motilium, too, he said it was to make her stool firm. She couldn’t get out of the place fast enough. She wished she could’ve bought a bottle of Milk of Magnesia. It never did us any harm, she thought, and that and cod liver oil kept you regular and healthy.
She never went back after that, even when the diarrhea became a regular thing and she stopped eating, lost her appetite. She was losing weight, too even if she’d always been as thin as a whippet. ’There’s more meat on Good Friday,’ her mother used to say about her. But even though she was thin, she was always strong. ‘You can’t put fat on a thoroughbred,’ her Da would say in her defence. But now, she knew it was different. Aside from the bursts of pain that could double her over and leave her breathless, the strength had left her. She used to think nothing of lifting two boxes of oranges. Now she couldn’t lift a match to strike it.
‘Will I see out the Christmas?’ she asked him.
The doctor put down his notes. He took his glasses off that had been perched on the end of his nose. He held them in his right hand, between his forefinger and thumb and drummed them off the edge of the desk. He stared straight at her, meeting her gaze. For the first time today, she thought.
‘There’s no need for that talk,’ he said, unconvincingly, then hesitated, thinking. ‘It’s time to put your affairs in order, Mrs M and you might think about the Hospice. There’ll be no problem getting you a bed there where you’ll be comfortable and there’ll be people around you who’ll understand and can care for you…’ His voice trailed off. There was a silence between them. He looked at her, almost pleading, as though he expected her to agree with him, to make it better. But she’d had enough of that. Mary Maher wasn’t going out without a fight, she thought.
‘Ye didn’t answer my question,’ she said. He looked at her, confused.
‘Will I see out the Christmas?’ she asked, again.
‘I don’t know,’ he answered, a defeated, helpless look in his eyes, ‘I really don’t know. I can’t answer that. You could live a week or another six months. I don’t…is there any family you’d like me to contact? Will you have someone to look after you? Do you want me to make enquiries about the Hospice?’
She felt dizzy trying to listen to him. She could hear his voice and she knew he meant well but he was talking again to fill his own void and quell the fear he felt, she thought, because he was talking to a dead person and they were sitting in the room talking to him.
‘That’s alright, doctor, I’ll be fine,’ she paused, then giggled when she thought of what she’d said, ‘I won’t be fine, of course, I’ll be dead.’ She giggled again. He smiled and she laughed and then they were both laughing and then the tears were running out of her eyes and she was sobbing and he looked at her, helpless again, gripping the edge of his desk with both hands, clamped tight. And then she felt the pain as though someone had caught her innards in a vice clamp and she was gasping for air, choking. The doctor stood and walked around his desk to the sink. He grabbed a paper cup from the conical dispenser and poured the water and then he stood over her, rubbing the small of her back as she was bent double in her chair, before him. ‘Take this,’ he said and pressed the paper cup into her hand. Then he went to his dispensary cabinet and fussed about with a key and a cabinet at the back with a metal door, within the glass fronted cabinet. He took out a hypodermic needle and a small bottle, unscrewed the top of the bottle, inserted the needle in the soft, inner cap and extracted some of the medicine within. He looked at ease, even though his eyes darted back to her from what he was doing. She could breathe now, the pain had passed. She sipped the cold water. She was used to them, the pains, by now, although that one was heavier than the usual. The doctor didn’t look as nervous or put out now. He’s doing what he knows best, she thought, and that’s what I’m going to do. No hospice, I wouldn’t have it. I’ll die in my own bed.
‘This is something to relieve the pain,’ the doctor said, as he approached her with the needle.
‘What is it,’ she asked.
‘It’s a mild morphine solution,’ he said.
She nearly jumped in her seat but she didn’t; she was immobile because, though the pain had receded, she was still in its grip. She watched the doctor unbutton the sleeve of her blouse and attach the rubber band he used, to her upper arm and then he tapped her arm, just below the elbow, searching for the vein and then, while holding her arm, gently, with one hand, he eased the air out of the needle and quickly sent it home, before she could muster an objection. But if the truth were told, she was glad; glad of some relief, glad of the knowledge, of the loss of uncertainty, glad that she now had a project, to die in peace, to see Seanie right, poor soul and make her peace with her friends and neighbours. Sure, I could’ve died in the street or be struck down by a bus. At least this way, she thought, she could see it coming.’
And that was it, as she felt a weight lift from her shoulders. She looked at the doctor who was looking at her, concerned. But she didn’t feel the pain, anymore, the pain of not knowing, she thought.
‘I won’t need the hospice,’ she said, ‘at least, not yet. There are things to do, Christmas is only around the corner and I’ve nothing got and if it’s me last, I’ll make it one to remember.’
She smiled again, appreciating her own private joke.
‘The family’s all grown up and gone but I’ve one son, the youngest. He’s still at home to look after me,’ she told the doctor, knowing the reverse was the truth and she had Seanie to worry about, on his own, after the life he’d had. And the doctor looked at her and didn’t believe a word she was telling him but he marvelled at her strength and resolve.
‘I’m going to give you a prescription,’ he said, ‘for painkillers, but I’m sending the district nurse around to you tomorrow and I’ll give her all you’ll need and show you how to set yourself up and keep you, well, comfortable.’
His eyes were avoiding hers, again and she felt sorry for him because, although right then she felt no pain, he knew it would come and he could do nothing for her. How many people has he looked after until he couldn’t any more and all he could say was ‘you’re dying, she thought.’
And with that, she began to gather her wits and her belongings about her. She rolled down her sleeve and fastened the button. The doctor walked over to the door and took her coat down off the hook. He held it for her, by the collar and waited until she rose. That wasn’t as easy as she might’ve thought, she discovered. The pain had slid away but so did the floor, she thought, as she pushed herself up to stand. ‘Jaysus,’ she said, as she gripped the arm of the chair and the doctor’s desk. The doctor rushed to her side and gripped her elbow, her coat now hanging from the crook of his other arm. ‘Do you want me to call you a taxi or someone to collect you?’
‘No, no, sure I’m only down the road. I’ll be right as rain in a minute. It’s just a dizzy spell. I stood up too fast and I’m probably high as a kite, too.’ The thought made her giggle again as an image of herself, standing on the street corner, sniffling and scratching herself, waiting for her dealer, with all the other brass monkeys, flashed in her mind’s eye. The doctor was looking at her again, concerned, as he held her coat up . She didn’t bother explaining it to him. ‘I’ll be grand,’ she concluded as she slipped her arms into the sleeves of her coat, the warm, black, wool one she always wore when she went out, for Mass or an appointment. She wrapped her scarf, snug around her neck and tucked the ends into her coat, crossing them over her chest, before she buttoned up. She patted her chest, to assure herself that all was secure. It was something she always did. The doctor handed her her handbag and the small, carrier bag she always carried with her to remind her to collect the messages, some bread and milk and a pork chop for Seanie’s dinner. She stole a quick look at herself in the glass door of the cabinet behind the doctor’s desk and made a slight adjustment to the scarf she wore and had never taken off throughout the entire visit.
‘Right, that’s me, now,’ she said and turned to the door. The doctor stepped ahead and opened it for her. ‘You take it easy, now, Mrs Maher. Go home and put your feet up, get some rest. The nurse’ll be around to you in the morning and I’ll drop around, myself, in the afternoon, when the clinic’s finished, to make sure you’re comfortable.’
’Thanks, Doctor, you’re a good man,’ she said, as he reached out and grasped his left hand and squeezed it. She walked out the door, past his receptionist and into the hallway without looking back.
That’s that, now, she thought. Her next thought was about how she’d tell Seanie.