Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sports days and fairness

My son's school sports day. Every parent knows that, what the spring and winter equinox were to our ancient ancestors, the navitity play and sports day are for us. Of course, it has that terrible sense for me of being the last I'll attend, in all probability. Strange to think of it...made even more so by the fact that he's still ignorant of the fact that I'm dying.
I love being a dad. Perhaps because it too such a long time and was fraught with difficulties, I did so appreciate my son when he came along. And we've built so a great relationship. The thought of the heartbreak he'll have to go through is still devastating for me. I feel guilty at leaving him alone no matter how much I tell myself that it's entirley outside my control. I worry about the emotional consequences for him, the financial implications for him and his mum, the whole thing..
Seven is still so very little to have this dumped on your plate.
Still, he got 2 medals - a 2nd and a 3rd - the sun shone and it was a beautiful day. Trying to take some consolation.
Chemo tomorrow so I'll let you all know what happens.


Monday, May 28, 2007

In and out like a fiddler's elbow...

I spoke too soon.
Got home on Wed night, felt a bit ropey. Come Thurs morning temperature was up above the dreaded 38c mark, so that was me back into the hospital for until last night. Things seemed to stabilise pretty quickly and, actually, I feel better then when they let me out before.
Watched TV on the ward on Saturday night: Channel 4's 50 Movies To See Before You Die. See, if anybody ahould be compiling those lists, it should be me. It reminds me of an old story about Vietnam. The Vietnemese used to dig this really complex tunnels so the Americans had these guys, nicknamed tunnel rats, whose jod was to go down these things in the dark with a flashlight and a handgun. So, one day, the squad is sitting around listening to the radio and they hear Pres. Johnson's speech about the war where he says he has seen the light at the end of the tunnel.
The Tunnel rat grunts: "What the **** does that guy know about tunnels?" he asks in disgust.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

I'm back...

Sorry - I was whisked off to hospital almost two weeks ago. My temperature had spiked and they thought I had an infection in my lungs and a blood clot in my leg. Turns out it was the other way around. Still, I'm back now and, if you give me a day or two to get settled, normal service will resume.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Some sad stuff and a Runyonesque greyhound

As my regular readers will know, it's not my intention to make this a grim account my death. Yet, there is terrible pain happening here. My wife of almost 20 years is trying to make sense of the prospect of a life without me. I look at my little boy and feel crushed at what he's going to have to face.
My dad died in 2001 when he was 79. He had a number of strokes and was in a nursing home. It's hard to know how aware he was of his circumstances but he was still able to give my hand a squeeze. I was sitting beside him when his breathing appeared to gently stop. I called for the nurses, who checked him, found his heart had stopped and asked if I wanted him resucitated? My mum, brother and I had discussed this and, although my brother had been a bit unclear, both mum and I felt that trying to revive him just to put him through more pain was cruel. So I told them no and they left me alone with him. Dad didn't believe in God, heaven or hell. Yet, the conviction I got in that room with him, that his suffering was finished, is one of the factors in my own attitude to my death.
He was a real character, from a Belfast working-class community that was full of characters. During the war, his brother joined the Navy but dad, as an aircraft fitter, was seen as a vital trade. He loved greyhounds and walking and, at times when he didn't own his own animal, he would volunteer to walk others dogs for them.
So, one night he is met by an an old crony of his, a bit of an Arthur Daly character, who buys and sells racing greyhounds. Here, Billy, this character says to him, I've somebody coming from England to watch this dog race tonight. Will you walk him up to the stadium? My da is surprised and tells the owner why, the dog has never won anything in its life. The owner takes something out of his pocket which, he says, he bought from an RAF pilot who uses it to keep alert on night missions. It's speed, which he slips to the dog. What about the race stewards? the da asks. Don't worry, it'll have walked it off before the race starts, his mate tells him.
So, my dad starts walking the dog towards the stadium. It starts off okay but soon the greyhound starts to behave a little strangely. It starts to stagger, to stand still in strange three-legged postures, make weird musical keening sounds, stop and stare fixedly at unremarkable objects. Dad panics, the stewards can't miss this. However, by the time they reach the stadium, the dog seems fine, except for a strange look about the eyes.
The race comes around and the thing comes flying out of the trap. The buyer can't wait to own the thing. Strangely, this performance is never repeated on its move to England and my dad's friend is always very wary of bumping into his customer on a return visit to Belfast some time.
Is it any wonder that my dad loved Damon Runyon ?


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

It's chemo time again...

..and my platelets are improved from last week, so I got the treatment. Loooooong day, tho' as, with Monday being the Bank Holiday, they were doing 2 sets of patients yesterday. As a result, I'm a wee bit tired but, other than that, feeling fine. So, if you don't mind, I'll make this a short one.
Check back soon.

Monday, May 7, 2007

How much is a life worth then, pal?

General Giap, C-in-C, North Vietnamese Army

John Donne

Two quotes, both linked to war novels. I'd run a lttle quiz except I'm not sure how many people would know the book the General Giap quote comes from. A guy called Kent Anderson, an ex-special forces soldier and Portland, Oregon cop, wrote two amazing books. The first, Sympathy for the Devil was about Vietnam and the second, Night Dogs, was described by James Crumley as the best cop novel he'd ever read. I wonder if that impresses you as much as it does me?

Anway, 2 quotes and, of course, we all know the one we identify with. A human life means nothing? What a horrendous thing to say. And yet...For many of us, death doesn't exist. We're entirely happy for it to cut swathes through Iraq, Darfur, wherever...Never bothers our conscience, never makes us doubt our faiths. But dare death presume to come near us - US! - then that's an outrage.
So, if the bell tolls for us each time - really tolls for us - what are we going to do about it? What difference does it make to how we see ourselves and the world around us?


Sunday, May 6, 2007

I mean Owen Meany of course!

It's the classic pattern, first the ankles go, then the spelling....

Own Meany, Mississippi John Hurt and how I've discovered that I was vain about my ankles

Yes, vain about my ankles! How fickle and superficial we are. See, I'm not a looker but, the other day, whether it was steriods, diabetes, whatever, my ankles became very swollen. They looked just like my mums and she's an 82 year-old woman who left school at 14 to go and work in the Belfast linen mills and whose body shows the terrible cost of growing up poor. And, it was only while looking at these swollen, ugly things that I thought "I had a nicely-turned ankle in my young day..."
Actually, I had a couple of days when I was pretty tried and sore. Today, we stayed at home, just the three of us, and it was exactly the day I needed to recharge and I feel the benefit of it.
The members of the Rocking Vicar blog - - have been coming up with some great music/book suggestions - I've started reading A Prayer for Own Meany and sometime mentioned Mississippi John Hurt, one of my very favourite old country blues guitarists. But here's a question: are re-reads of favourite books out? Should I concentrate on the ones I haven't got around to reading yet? Let me know what you think. And check back soon.


Friday, May 4, 2007

7th sons and holiday graves

This part of Donegal still has its tradition of healers, 7th-sons-of-7th-sons, old women who make up their own potions - even anti-cancer sweets have been mentioned to me. And if you're hanging around cancer patients, all these things get discussed. Everyone has a friend or family member who were told their situation was hopeless. They went to this person, said the prayer, took the sweeties, made the vow and whatever, returned to the doctors to discover that the cancer was gone. You hear hundreds of these stories. So many, in fact, you wonder who are in all the graveyards around here. Unless they are eternity's answer to the holidayhome bonanza...
Pardoxically, when people hear you have cancer, they also tell you how they've never heard of so many people dying from it. And there will follow another story - of misdoagnosis, perhaps; of partners left behind and young children devastated.
Without going into all the theology, I don't belive in an interventionist god who is going to sort out my situation. Not one who would do that for me and leave kids in Darfur to die in agony or watch Jews go to the gaschamber.
But a magic sweetie...Wouldn't that just be great?


Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Chemo and a little Readers' Digest moment

Yep, hospital yesterday and, even though my bloods were a bit iffy, they decided to go ahead. Felt okay afterwards. The whole chemo thing is weird because it a) definitely won't cure the bugger b)it might even make me feel worse in the long term. Still, I kinda see it as my only revenge. I'm not a computer-games guy, I mean, how many geeky habits can one man find room for? - but I like to visualise myself as one of those macho Starship Troopers blazing away at the buggers with a huge screw-you ray gun.
So, to the Readers' Digest moment. Last week my blood sugar soared so I have to take this diabetes test, where they prick your finger and the reading comes up on a little digital display? So, the nurse keeps doing this, tutting, then trying it again. Finally she says "I don't know why it's doing this..." and shows me the readout.
"Expired," it says.