Chapter Twenty-Three: Riding the Rollercoaster

Today is hard. I feel lonely, exhausted, and embarrassingly sorry for myself. I’ve cried a lot. In fact I don’t think I’ve cried so much since the worst day. The slightest thing sets me off; I dropped my brush on the floor, I can’t get the straw out of it’s plastic wrapper with one hand, I can’t put my own hair into a ponytail. Oh the tragedy.

I have this bad habit of thinking that something will get done just by signing up for it; that I will learn French just by enrolling for lessons; make that sales call just by putting it in my schedule; have cleaned the house just by adding it to my To Do list. I never think about the actual process I will have to go through to achieve these things, and how difficult that process might be. Perhaps it’s some form of coping mechanism, I don’t know, but I have definitely made this mistake now; presuming that the simple act of getting accepted into rehab would rehabilitate me, without actually comprehending what I will have to go through to get there.

To make matters worse, I am half way through a series of supported wheelchair squats with Chris this morning when I feel something leaking down my left leg. I look down and see that my colostomy bag has fallen off and is slipping halfway down the inside of my shorts. The smell is terrible.

“Oh shit,” Mat says, scanning my face to check whether this is really bad, or really funny.

I grab frantically at the bag to try and hold it in place.

“Literally”, I jibe back at him, shaking my head slowly and mouthing ‘fuck my life’ while Chris does all he can to avert his eyes. This is so awful I guess it’s actually pretty fucking funny.

“Let’s call it a day there then”, Chris says, allowing Mat to wheel me back to my room while I attempt to stem the flow of last night’s grass-fed meatloaf. 

“Let’s never speak of this again”, I say to Mat rolling my soiled clothes into a plastic bag as he dabs at my skin with a wet towel.

“Deal”, he says with a nod.    

This afternoon mum is flying home. She has now been here for nearly three months and it is time for her to go back to her life, especially now that I am in safe hands and there isn’t a lot more she can help with. We both know it is the right thing to do, but it doesn’t make it any easier. If she goes home it will be just Mat and I again, and the chapter will be over, but things won’t go back to normal. As long as she stays here the bubble remains. But I’m being silly, I know that.

I write her a long card of thanks and we both cry as she reads it. I tell her that in spite of the circumstances, it has been a real blessing to have spent so much time with her; to chat for hours, to really get to know her as an adult, be cared for so affectionately, and to share in the overcoming of something so difficult. I am also glad she has been able to get to know Mat so much better than she otherwise would have, and that the two of them have been able to build such a strong, lasting relationship. For me this has been the greatest of all the silver linings.

I promise to call her every day (“you’d better”) and we say our final goodbye. I sit in my bed and cry until my favourite nurse, Perla, knocks on my door.

Having originally moved to California with her three young children to escape horrendous violence against her family in Guatemala, Perla has fought and beaten cancer twice, before losing her husband to it earlier this year. She has just found out that hers has come back, and she doesn’t know how she is going to afford the medical bills.

“It’s time for your first shower Mrs Beautiful”, she says, smiling with her whole body, as always.

I look her up and down, from her wild curly hair she has somehow tamed into a shower ready bun, to her green frog-eyed rain boots, complete with a crudely drawn smile below the eyes in marker pen. My heart feels like it is too big for my chest, like there isn’t enough room for me to feel this much love and sadness at once, for what she has been through, and continues to go through, and for her unfathomable kindness in the face of it all.

“Where is Mr Handsome?” she says, looking over at the chair Mat is usually nestled into.

“Oh, he’s just dropping Mum back home. He’ll be back in later tonight”.

“Ok”, she says, looking me up and down, “so what do we have?” She finishes her scan of my body, nods and scurries out of the room.

I take a deep breath and try to comprehend what is about to happen. A shower. Wow. It’s been months. I don’t even think I remember what having a shower feels like anymore.

She returns minutes later with a waterproof neck brace and variously sized pieces of plastic, before covering and carefully taping up my colostomy, all eight of my incision sites and the IV line in my right arm. She finishes the twenty-minute prep session by switching my neck-brace for a waterproof one and helps me manoeuvre onto the shower seat.

Pulling out the shower-head, she turns it on and lets the water trickle through her hand, raising her eyebrows at me in anticipation as she waits for the right temperature.

Turning the faucet towards me, she allows the water to trickle down my front. I gasp, losing myself in the sensation of gentle taps of warmth all over my body. Lifting the faucet up to my head, I lean it forward into the flow, and feel consumed in a glow of energy as the warmth makes it’s way down my head and over onto my shoulders, my ears filled with the drumming of gushing water.

She massages shampoo into my hair, filling my nostrils with the smell of lemons, and rubs a warm soapy flannel over the contours of my body. As she does this, I flit between joy and horror, as each new area she touches reveals another part of my body that has either completely lost sensation, or fires against the flannel like an open sore. My left foot explodes with such intensity when the flannel reaches it that I emit a loud shrieking sound.

Pleeeaase stay away from my foot”, I plead, like a desperate banshee.

Recognising quickly how overwhelmed I am by the experience, Perla decides that this is enough for tonight. She gently turns off the water, pats me slowly dry with a rough hospital towel and wheels me back to bed.

I clamber under the sheets, feeling the movement of each fibre of cotton against my body as I pull the covers up to my chin, reacclimatising to the heightened sensitivity of clean skin. What a trip.

I stare at the ceiling and wait for the weight of the world to lift off of me, along with all that dirt.


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