It takes three months before I finally fall apart.
I have been up on nine a few times, cried a few times, but always managed to hold it together and stay calm and focused on getting through this. If life has taught me anything about myself, it is that I rise to the occasion and thrive on challenges. I can run on red almost indefinite. But after three months I have lost track of the number of doctors and nurses that have had their hands inside my back or put needles in my veins. I have lost track of the number of times I have been rolled down to surgery and put under. Lost track of the number of days I’ve spent away from my children. The constant pain has done all it can to try to drive me insane. My only terra firma in this, are my routines. My hospital room with its yellow walls, the get-well cards on my bedside table, my orange tin lamp, the slow walk down to the cafeteria where I eat a shell food sandwich together with Johanna, my crosswords, my bi-daily i.v. fasting and surgery. I have found my place in a small and fixed universe within which I manoeu-vre with slow and gentle moves, playing the long game with a determination that is not flaming, but steadily glowing.
It’s March, and on a few rare occasions I get an afternoon’s leave from the hospital. There are no words to describe the wonderful sensation in stepping outside the hospital walls, eyes squinting against the sun, and breathe in the air and the smells of dormant spring, drying asphalt, pine trees, distant cigarette smoke, morning traffic… and that most wonderful smell of them all: not-hospital-room. Don’t get me wrong, I am actually one of perhaps quite few who will readily admit to a certain appreciation of hospital smell. That comforting blend of antiseptics, steel, newly laundered sheets, breakfast, rubber gloves, vending machine coffee and an almost absent whiff of something else that I suspect is a fearsome combo of diarrhoea and death. This is the smell that might one day save your life. The smell of morning traffic may, on the other hand, be the last thing you smell. Just a thought.
Anyway, that feeling, oh yes that feeling, of stepping into our family car, awkwardly sloping on my side in the passenger seat while holding myself up with one arm in that weird handle over the door that, up to this point, I have had no idea for whom it is put there. Apparently, car manufactur-ers around the world care for people with vacuum pumps in their backs. Who’d have guessed?
Sitting in that car, belonging to that other universe, which used to be my home just a few months back but now feels exotic and strange, I want to laugh and cry at the same time. My beautiful children in the backseat are watching my vacuum pump with a certain look of doubt (except for Morris, who still lives in that world where everything is equally probable and improbable, until further intel may pivot the scales).
But, although I am on leave from hell, on a guided tour through heaven, I notice that it’s difficult for me to handle these days. My routines are offset, and it gets hard to distribute my energy over the hours and maintain that glow, that untouchable determination. The long play. As weirdly as it sounds, I find comfort in coming back to my hospital bed those nights, and sink myself down into the daily grey routines without pine tree smells and sunny skies and beautiful children. As beautiful as the horizon may be, my mental health and survival depends on my lowering my head and fixing my eyes on those dull white lines in the middle of the road, one by one. Inch by inch. Somehow, viscerally, I know this. Small steps. The long game.