There is too much floor in this room. The shiny linoleum is squeaky clean but depressing in colour. That colour would be called ‘dun’. And there is, literally, room for a pony. I could actually have a pony in here. But I’m not sure the pony would enjoy taking the lift to the second floor. Do ponies do stairs?
There should be other beds in here, but there aren’t. My health insurance buys me a room to myself, so I’ve got it, but it looks like at least two other people have been wheeled into a corridor somewhere to make it happen. I’m not sorry. I like the privacy. I want to be alone.
With all this space, you’d think I’d have a bathroom, but I don’t. I have to get out of bed, stagger across the excess yardage of this room to the door, cross the hall and use the shower and toilet facilities in the corridor. It’s like friggin’ Beirut in that corridor. Not that I’ve been to Beirut. Or Mogadishu. Or Baghdad, or any other place that people without any experience of a warzone liken to normal, safe things that aren’t anything like a warzone, in their efforts at hyperbole. Anyway there’s stuff happening in that corridor that makes me long for the cold sterility and endless synthetic flooring of my private room.
So that’s where I stay, and stare at the long wall of timber panels that look like they should be storage, but aren’t. It’s very weird. This is a weird room. Maybe because the last one I stayed in was – and I can’t believe I’m using this word to describe a hospital room – cosy. And not just by comparison. Its cream walls had faintly art deco sconces and the floor had a kind of bald carpet that muffled the sounds of people’s shoes. Here, people squeak in and out without mercy. And in that previous room, I had tables and shelves, filled with flowers and knick knacks from home. But it was a longer stay, and six weeks ago, and the first tidal wave of bad news. People rise to the occasion.
There’s nowhere to put flowers in this capacious room, no furniture except my bed, my IV trolley, my wheely table, and the crowded bedside table with its stupid phone with the tangled cord. Mum is the only one who calls on that phone, everyone else just sends me a text. But when that phone rings and I reach for it, the cord is so tangled that the entire thing comes with the receiver. The weight of it falling off the table creates a medical emergency as I try to catch it and am punished with crippling pain from the enormous incision down my abdomen. It’s not Mum’s fault. But it’s a stupid phone. And a weird room. And I want to go home. And not have this happening to me. And.
I’m not allowed to go home. Not until I can master the sadistic toy that the physio gave me. It has a tube, and a clear plastic housing that contains three coloured balls. When I say coloured, they’re all blue, but one is pale blue, the next is a middling shade of blue, and the last is dark blue. When you blow in the tube, first the light blue ball hits the top of the plastic housing. If you blow hard enough the next one also hits the top. But you have to blow really hard to get all three balls to the top in the one breath. And right now, it’s just not happening. Crippling pain, and all that. The things they come up with to measure your progress. Blowing into a tube will determine my fate. Like a random breath test. Ha! Fucking sadist.
It’s Christmas Eve. This – indicates hospital room – is not a Christmas tradition of mine. This is a first. Well, it’s obviously not my first hospital room, but it’s my first Christmas Eve spent in one. Not something I want to turn into a tradition. Once is definitely enough.
They try to make the best of it. They had some awkward carolers come visit. Volunteers, I suppose. A bunch of strangers file into the room and admire all the space. ‘This is a big room, isn’t it?’ and smile at you like you’re the lucky one. Then they start singing at you, trapped in your bed and tied down with tubes and attachments, a captive audience. Because nothing says ‘festive season’ like people you’ve never met invading your private space to shout glad tidings and joy at you, after an assault on your body carrying off parts of your organs and all of your remaining sanity. Anyway.
Dad’s little act of love was typical. He lugged in a portable flat screen TV and a DVD player, so that Nick and I can watch Love Actually tonight. One of our actual traditions. Dad had to purloin an extra wheelie table to accommodate the set up. I couldn’t spare my first wheelie table. They expect me to eat dinner, so I need a place to pretend to eat off. It’s a charade we all enjoy. And good to know that with Beirut happening in the hallway and two ailing people possibly ousted from this room, spare wheelie tables can still be purloined. Perhaps I am the lucky one.
The reality of which might slowly be uncovered.
Gradually, as if via drips from a leaking tap, things might turn out to be ok. Perhaps starting tonight, when Nick will give me my Christmas present early, allowing my ear lobes and throat to sparkle and glint in the sunlight of the following day – at home. Later still, when the cancer is eradicated the first time, and then a second time. And continuing, years later, when this Christmas Eve is just a bad memory – awkward, lonely, and painful – but undeniably laced with gratitude. When the scars from the incision are fading, but the ghosts of the past still haunt the blood tests of ordinary life.
They opened me up in hospital and took some things out. They unwittingly put other things in, that I didn’t have before. Some of them are things that I still carry, without even realising. But the load gets lighter, and the future less improbable as time goes on.
So perhaps that’s what my Christmas story is about. Hope.