Disengagement


For the last couple of days, I was at an offsite session with work. It was a very instructive period.

On both days, I got there about mid-morning as I was coming from my hyperbaric treatment. It was held at a plush venue in one of the office towers in the city. The last time we did this was about March in 2019, and then Covid struck.

It was the usual mix of activities – strategy sessions, games, presentations, guest speakers, team exercises, and reviews. Back when we had it last time, it made for a change from the daily humdrum, but these days it’s quite novel. We hardly see each other anymore, and any gathering is unusual. On top of that, so much has changed, the department has grown, and there are many new faces.

Typically, these events are upbeat and self-congratulatory, and even a tad gung-ho. I’ve never been a great fit for this kind of event because I’m of a different nature. Bear in mind I’m an IT person working in Marketing, and we’re pretty much oil and water. I can tolerate the happy-clapping, but I will never be passionate about making money for other people. That’s the subversive in me coming out.

That was true again this time, though more pronounced than previously because of my recent experiences. Where before, I might have shrugged my shoulders at it, I saw it more cynically yesterday. I was there, slightly damaged, feeling a bit of an outsider, looking at it all as if through a pane of glass.

I actually do well at some of the activities because, by nature, I’m more direct. I feel too cool for school sometimes, but then I get impatient and intervene. Sometimes – previously – I’m coercive, working with people to draw out the essence of their idea and gently coordinating until a solution is achieved. Yesterday, I was more strident.

Later I wondered if my cynicism was unfair. People take meaning from their work, and they’re lucky. It’s not for me to judge that. I may have loftier notions, but who am I kidding? To each their own. I was always out of step – happily so – but I feel foreign to it now. My own is different.

This was only the second time I’ve been with the extended team since I got sick. I’m healthier than before and, in many ways, seem roughly normal. I don’t think about it a lot, but it becomes awkward at times.

To start with, I don’t know what people know of my recent trials. When they ask how I’ve been, what do I say? It’s a real downer to tell them I’m recovering from cancer, but I don’t want to lie either, and if they know and I say nothing, aren’t I being disingenuous?

It pisses me off there was no official notification back when it all started. They said they would but never did. Had they done so, the sting would have gone out of the tail long before. People would be curious, but they may just as likely be happy to see me up and about.

I have no problem with people knowing. It’s the truth, after all, and I’m alive still, so it’s a better story than it might have been (I wonder sometimes what story work would have come up with if I had perished from this?). And, I’d rather be open about it than hiding it away. It actually does me some good to talk about it.

It turns out that some people knew, and others had no clue. Many had noticed my absence and thought something was amiss but didn’t know what. For me, nothing could be worse than rumours and innuendo, but in the absence of hard information, that’s what happens. I can’t tell you how pissed off I am about how it was handled. All the pressure was put onto me.

And so, it came up yesterday, and I faced the dilemma several times, not knowing exactly how to respond. In every instance, I was honest – but you don’t know how much to say, and you’re conscious of what the other person is feeling and how awkward it is for them to respond, which becomes difficult.

What’s ironic is that we had sessions about exclusivity and accessibility on Thursday, some of which felt personally relevant and was a reminder of how none of that happened with me.

We had drinks last night, and it was another interesting and instructive experience. I found it hard because with my diminished hearing, I had to lean in hard to make out what people were saying amid the background noise.

The other side of that is that I found myself having to try extra hard to make myself understood. One guy had earlier told me how much my speech had improved since the last time he spoke to me a few months ago, which was gratifying. I’m probably overly self-conscious about my ability to speak clearly, but in the noisy environs of a busy bar that becomes very relevant. I could see people struggling to understand what I was saying, and a little bit of me died each time.

What happens? You begin to disengage. You don’t put yourself in that position of embarrassment. It runs counter to the articulate and social person I’ve always been. I feel diminished.

Shortly before I left, I got talking to one of the women there, someone I’ve always liked, a thoughtful, sensitive person with great depths. She knew I’d been away, but not why. I told her. The bar had emptied a little by then so I didn’t have to strain so hard. I sensed that she wanted to talk to me, but in the end, I walked away.

As I walked to the train afterwards, I regretted that. You know how sometimes you think of things you should have said after the moment has passed? Generally, I say those things at the time, but they’re in the way of wit. Last night I regretted not being more open with her.

I have this great idea of being more transparent and authentic with others. It appears one of the great lessons from this experience – and yet, with a sympathetic audience, I failed.

At the time, you feel awkward. I’ve experienced the hardship, but I don’t want to make it about me. I know how tricky it is to respond to something like that, and I don’t want to burden others with my story. Yet, I feel there are some people happy to learn.

I had the chance to be quite honest last night with someone I respect and who has the sensitivity to accept and understand, and I walked away. When it comes down to it, I feel embarrassed, which is not something I deserve.

What our dreams know


I dreamt about Rigby last night as if he was still alive and well and a key part of my life. He was perfectly recreated in the dream, vivid and true to life. I adored him and him me. That was perfectly nice, but then he disappeared. I woke up one morning, and he was gone. I looked everywhere, but he was nowhere to be found. I tried to think logically: where could he be? But really, there was nowhere else he could be. As I realised that, I began to feel that frantic sense of fear. Then I woke up.

Rigby is often in my mind, but even more so lately. The reality is, I wake up these days and he’s gone, just as in the dream, and I wonder if the meaning of the dream is as simple as that?

It often occurs to me that I lost Rigby at just about the worst possible time. There’s no good time, of course. He was a devoted companion for many years, and we had a close symbiotic relationship. I think he knew me better than anyone. That’s probably exaggerated, but he knew me in every tic, just as I knew him. I miss him looking at me with his deep eyes. I felt seen and valued. These days alone, recuperating from cancer, I miss that companionship and love – as well as the movement and life he brought to my home.

I’m on the list to get another chocolate lab puppy later in the year. I look forward to it, but he won’t be Rigby. I expect I’ll form a close bond with whatever dog I end up with, but once you’ve had a pet, you recognise how distinct their individuality is. There won’t be another Rigby, and I feel as if I’ve lost a great pal forever. It still seems hard to believe.

I fear that when I hear the puppy is available, I’ll be unable to afford it. Dogs have become very expensive, especially in light of Covid. I’m getting by financially, but there’s not much in the kitty. Cancer has cost me dearly, and I’m still on short wages. Things will improve when I return to FT work, especially if I get the pay rise I’m entitled to, but it will be a struggle to pull a few thousand out of the air when I need it.

What happens if I can’t afford the next Rigby?

While I’m speaking of dreams, I’ve had a few lately in which a woman has featured in different roles. There appears a bond between us, even when – as in one dream – we’re not in communication with each other. It’s clear that we know each other well as if we have been intimate in the past or remain so.

None of that is strange, except the identity of the woman. In my dream, I know her. There’s an acceptance of her presence, as if she belongs. Its just ‘her’ – someone familiar and well known. When I wake, though, I can’t remember who she is. She may be a complete stranger to me, a figment of my dream. But she may also be a real person, as it feels she is. And I wonder if, once more, my dreams know more than I do. It’s frustrating not knowing who she is – someone I know, someone from my past, or an imaginary figure? I may never find out.

Doing time


There’s no hyperbaric treatment today because of maintenance, so I get a welcome opportunity to sleep in. I’ve been awake since early, nonetheless, and am sitting here now wondering what comes next.

I feel a bit lost without the structure of having to organise myself. I should be up soon, showered, and sitting at my desk for work, but it’s not so much that I can’t be bothered as I’m not interested.

I will do it because I must. I’ll go through the motions and perhaps get the whiff of something that interests me. Others look to me for leadership, which places some obligation on me. I don’t want to let anyone down.

I wish I could explain what it’s like. It changes, or my perspective of it does, but I still feel pretty isolated – emotionally isolated, if nothing else. I feel a distant hope mixed in with a weariness that’s physical but also emotional. Washed out describes it well.

Part of that is simply because I feel I’ve been at this so long and because every time I think I might be approaching an endpoint, it proves to be an illusion.

I’ve kept myself up for so long, pushing through physical limitations and keeping myself positive. None of that will change, but in this moment of repose, I long for a break.

It’s one of the moments I miss the company of Rigby, not to mention the close family I once had. One who would divert me and give unadorned affection. The other the tacit support and love that would allow me some respite knowing I was in safe hands.

I’ve always been independent and am good at it. I’m organised and determined and will go it alone without flagging (well, only a little). But I know if there were someone I could lean on through this trial and open myself up to, how much easier it would be. I feel like a tree on a bare, windswept plain, bent by the wind and stripped to the austere essentials, firmly rooted but alone.

I’m pretty sure I’ll be in for more surgery before the end of the year. I expect I’ll continue to improve in other facets and return to some aspects of everyday life. I’m heading in the right direction, but some things may never come good, and others that need more work. That’s the story. No matter how I spin it, I have to do the time and keep going.

Disrupted and dislocated


Today is the sort of disrupted day that makes prognostications such as I indulged in seem irrelevant. I’m sitting in the French restaurant I visited a couple of weeks ago. French music is playing again. I have a hot chocolate in front of me and an almond croissant on it’s way. I’m killing time a head of a hyperbaric session at 12.30. Earlier, I was at St Vs for another scheduled appointment.

The appointment this morning was with an infectious diseases specialist. It puzzled me at first when I was reminded of the appointment. Bad as it is, cancer isn’t infectious at least. Then I remembered. They’d discovered I had an infection last time. I’m on a long course of antibiotics to treat it. This was a checkup.

It’s all very familiar to me by now. I see specialists of every stripe, confusingly so sometimes – who’s responsible for what? But, no matter, the routine is identical.

I sign in at the front door, as you must do at every hospital these days. Then I make my way to one of two waiting rooms where I register my presence. Quite often, the waiting rooms are full. Many of the patients are aged, and it appears more than half are obviously in a bad way. You sit up straighter. You try to project good health, as if to prove to the world that you’re just a visitor and don’t really belong. Hospital waiting rooms are dispiriting places.

On this occasion, I didn’t need to wait long. I was called in to see a doctor I hadn’t met before. He was affable and conscientious. He had a quick look at me but didn’t have much to add. He went through the scans of my last PET scan, which I found vaguely disconcerting. He pointed out the white patches which were plates, and loose clips which would remain in place forever.

It was clear he was a sceptic when it came to hyperbaric treatment, which put a dampener on things. Through the conversation, it became clear that there was still a long road ahead of me, and that I would be returning to them regularly in the years ahead, even if it all went well.

I left feeling chastened. That’s not unusual. Out in the world you can blithely believe what you want, but in hospital medical reality held sway. They’re always encouraging, but cautious in their prognosis. You remember fresh, nothing is certain.

After another blood test, I left. There was just short of three hours until my next appointment and there was no point returning home. I walked towards the CBD. I felt a little glum thinking it’s alright being positive, until…

It was quiet and there were empty shop fronts, but so much I recognised and remembered still. There was a time the Melbourne CBD felt like a second home to me. I knew every nook and cranny, was familiar with bars tucked down anyways and cute little eating places I shared with friends. For probably 20 years I reigned over that, but that time was gone forever I realised.

I looked through the front window of a favourite bookstore before entering The Hill of Content just down the road. I browsed the bookshelves, as I have hundreds of times before over the last 30 years.

As always, there’s the serenity of a library, made hip by the interesting music playing in the background. As I take down books to examine, the same chastening thoughts curl like smoke in the back of my mind. There’s a rising resistance however, until I bump up against the edge of ‘fuck that’ – so familiar and welcome. It’s lucky I’m a gnarly prick.

I felt better after that and so I bought a book, for old time’s sake. I wandered down to the city centre and then through familiar stores, making my way slowly towards the station. I was surprised to see so much demolished and new construction in their place.

Soon, I will return to the Alfred for my daily treatment (though none tomorrow). I suppose I’ll make my way home after that and I suppose I’ll rouse myself to do my job. That’s what I mean by disrupted, though dislocated may be a more apt term. After all this, what point work?

There is a point, though. I just have to recall it.

Maverick pragmatism


The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and it’s certainly warmer than it has been lately – but I find myself out of sorts.

I had my morning therapy which, in hindsight, always seems a bit of a blur. Outside of unwanted dramas, such as I experienced the week before last, it’s pretty uneventful, if not downright dull. I travel to the hospital in the dark, I lay quietly for nearly two hours, wiling the time away, and then I return.

On this occasion, it’s the return that has left me sour. Reversing out of my parking spot at the station, I heard scraping and got out of the car. It seems my front bumper had caught on something, and the momentum had wrenched it out of position on either side. There’s no serious damage and is easily repaired, I expect, but it’s annoying.

Home now and back at my desk working. I feel very unmotivated, but it’s nothing to do with what happened earlier.

I visited the office last Friday for a change and had lunch with my manager while I was there. Later, we had a discussion in which we had opposing opinions. The experience crystallised views that had been forming for the last six months.

My illness, if that’s the phrase, has left me ambivalent about the point of work. I know I need it to pay the rent, etc., but I can’t get excited about the actual work. In principle, anyway. This has always been in me.

I’ve always had a bit more of a detached view than most and was aware that it didn’t amount to much when you thought about it. To counter that, I had personal ambition and the sort of innate competitiveness that can turn the most trivial into a contest. I had to do it, and that being the case, I wanted to do it well and get all I could out of it. As it happened, I would often experience the joy of doing a job well. That remains true.

I still feel it when I get involved. I feel the surge of a looming challenge and want to overcome it. And, when I do, it’s very satisfying. It’s a pleasure of the moment, though, like being on the winning team when the siren blows. It’s good, but I question the value of the team.

Recent experience has emphasised that. The value of many things is open to question now, but in reality, all I’ve done is travelled further down a road I was already on. And I’ve become more actively conscious of it. Where before I might have given a frustrated shrug of the shoulders, now it is something urgent I must act upon.

I have become a bit of a maverick outsider, talented and respected, but consciously outside the system and somewhat disdainful of it. Again, much of this is by nature but more pronounced now. I suspect I always knew I could get away with more because I was smart and used it. And I’ve never been interested in belonging – just the opposite, probably. It suits me to come swooping in with the answers and then sit back with a satisfied air – though I probably seem more aggressive than that.

I’m conscientious and hard-working and fair-minded, but there’s something of the hare to me. My manager is the tortoise, which is why we made a good team. He plods along at a steady pace, making the occasional clumsy blue but utterly reliable in the sense that he’ll keep going without dissent or complaint. He’s a team player and company man.

He also does all the stuff I have no interest in doing – budgeting and admin, managing staff and responding to senior management. I’ve done that in the past but am long past it now. I realise that I may appear all care and no responsibility. I have the luxury of being a maverick and even being outspoken occasionally. My situation has added a layer of tolerance.

I’m glad that I don’t have that responsibility. Even if I were perfectly fit, I wouldn’t want it. That’s my limit now. I can manage doing the things I’m interested in and not anything I’m not (mind you, that’s the best use of me also). It doesn’t mean I don’t take responsibility – I do and am prepared to hang my hat upon my performance.

Perhaps by nature, but also by virtue of his role, my manager is a pragmatist. I think I’m pragmatic too, sometimes harshly, but I’m also a bit of an idealist. That’s a virtue of being a maverick.

We had a discussion, if not an argument, about how the piece of work we did – live chat – was being used. It’s very poorly used by a section of the business, and it offends me in two ways – that I’ve gone to the trouble of building this, and they abuse it, and because I think it shockingly unprofessional.

My manager shrugs his shoulders. Not your problem, he says. He’s like a tradesman who does his bit, and if the whole remains faulty, it’s not his problem. The difference is that I invest in the whole. I’m not just interested in whether my bit is working or even if the whole is working; I’m invested in the outcomes and how well it is used.

I get a lot of that from my consulting background when success was measured by performance. We’re building tools, and it matters very little if there’s a green light when you turn it on, if the tool is improperly used, or if it doesn’t achieve what it’s intended.

The pragmatist in me says I should let it go – be like my manager. I can’t be, though, even when I question the value of work. That’s because whatever value I find is in the quality of the work I do. It’s pointlessly empty otherwise.

I feel sure I’m coming to a crossroads. My immediate priority is to make it to January next year when I qualify for long service leave. Now that’s a pragmatic objective. After that, I’ll have to check where I’m at. The reality is, I can afford the luxury of being a maverick at work and being tolerated for it, but I can’t afford to be so cavalier with my life. I have to survive.

I imagine there must be a way to reconcile these disparate elements, but I don’t know how as yet.

Upping the ante


Most of the time these days I’m pretty tired. I’m up a little after 6.30 in the morning, travel by train to Prahran, and walk to the hospital in time for my treatment. A couple of hours later I’m doing it all in reverse. At home, I get caught up in work, which is a combo of meetings, emails and deep analysis. There’s a lot to do. At the end of the day is bed and sleep, which is not nearly as good as it used to be.

Nothing here is too extreme. In reality, I’m using as much energy – or less – than in the good old days when I went into the office every day. The difference now is that I’m still recovering from cancer.

It’s not pleasant feeling this weary, but I don’t mind it, mainly because I think it may be necessary.

I don’t know if most people understand how utterly draining major surgery is to the body – not to mention the radiotherapy and chemo that followed. I’m still amazed to remember how weak I suddenly became after my surgery last year. I was a big, strong man who could go all day. Once I regained consciousness, I couldn’t raise my arm above shoulder level and needed therapy to walk again.

Much of the last half of last year remains a haze to me. I was very weak and frail and lived from treatment to treatment. I think back to the mind-numbing routine every day with an ambulance arriving to collect me and take me to the hospital for my treatment, and the trip home afterwards. There was very little else.

I was physically incapable, pretty much. I averaged between a thousand and fifteen hundred paces a day up to Christmas. I picked it up a little after that, but only got it up to about 3000 paces a day by March. Even a month ago, I was probably doing no more than 4,500 paces. Now, and for the last couple of weeks, it’s been north of 8,000 paces.

Last Saturday, my whole body ached from the unfamiliar exertion. I felt pretty old. But, no pain, no gain. I would do 10,000 paces easily before, and often quite a bit more. If I want to recover fully, if I want to get back the strength I’ve lost, then I have to get the miles in me. That’s all there is it to it.

Unfortunately, what makes it more difficult is my hip. I didn’t have to deal with that before. By the PM most days, my hip is aching and have a distinct limp. I hope that is something that will improve, but I don’t know. Motion is lotion, my stepdad used to say, so I’ll err to believe that the increased exercise will do it good also.

Ever since surgery last year, most of my physical indicators have been elevated. That’s no surprise with the body flat-out trying to recover.

I used to have a resting heart rate in the sixties. Now, it rarely falls below 80. It might peak after a brisk walk at around a hundred. Now it’s nearer to 130.

My blood pressure is all over the shop. It was high last year before surgery. In the moths after it feel drastically so that I was prone to faintness and even collapse because it was too low. Now it is high again.

I hoped and expected that as my fitness improved they would improve also, but that hasn’t been the case. It may still happen in the near future, and perhaps all it needs is for my fitness to stabilise and my body to adjust. For now I take it as a sign that my body is still busy healing. There’s a lot still happening in the background, and I hope that’s all it is.

I’ll review once my hyperbaric treatment finishes. I’ll be very disappointed if there’s no evidence of improvement. For now, I’m taking blood pressure medication again, and thinking about seeing my GP in the near future for a general check-up.

It’s easy to overlook other things when it’s all about the cancer, but maybe there’s a cue to look further, look deeper. But then, I don’t really know.

People and place


I’ve done an awful lot of reading over the last year. Getting sick freed up time and changed my habits. For a while, after coming home from surgery last year, I didn’t have the concentration to read for long periods. Still, outside of my daily sessions for chemo and radiotherapy, there wasn’t much I could occupy myself with. I wasn’t working, I wasn’t writing, and I was sceptical of watching daytime TV. I’d keep myself busy with small things, often just browsing social media and the internet on my iPad. I’d break it up, though, with reading.

At the same time, my daily routine changed. I’ve always read before going to sleep, but in the old days, that might be a half-hour after going to bed at 11pm. Suddenly, I was going to bed by 9.30 because I didn’t really have the energy to stay up much later than that, and I’d read for an hour – or more – before switching off the light.

Before, I would go to the library for my books and otherwise judiciously order a book or so online for delivery every month. I barely left the house when I was sick, so the library became impossible. I still bought the odd book, but with less money coming in, I did that less and less. I’d never really taken to it before, but suddenly Kindle became my main way of reading. I’d still rather read an actual book, but it was cheap and convenient to check for specials and purchase for a few dollars.

Reading by Kindle opened up many different reading options than before. Besides the mainstream stuff, here was the stuff aspiring writers would self-publish to the world wide web. Not surprisingly, the quality was pretty haphazard. Since the start of the year, I’ve read about 70 books, probably 50 of them on Kindle. About half of them would get my tick of approval.

Recently, I’ve read two books described as viral bestsellers, and in between, one of Agatha Christie’s books.

In a way, I could understand the popularity of the contemporary books. Both had an interesting premise, which is why I read them. In both cases, I was disappointed.

I love literature, and I’ve read a lot. I like to be entertained, and sometimes I’m happy to immerse myself in some escapist fiction. Ideally, I want to be moved also, and perhaps even informed. I don’t expect that so much, but having been brought up on great literature, it’s always a pleasant surprise when I am. What I do expect is a standard of story-telling that draws me in and is credible not just as a plot but in the characterisation. Ideally, I want to feel as if I’m in the same room and feel as if I know the characters. That, to me, is good writing.

The two contemporary books were racy but lightly sketched in comparison to that. They feel very much a product of the social media age, so I wondered if the kind of writing I enjoy is now old-fashioned? Does it – indeed, can it – resonate with a younger generation as it did with me? Am I out of step and my expectations unreasonable? Have I been spoilt – and others, ‘unspoilt’, more capable of enjoying this because they know no better? Or is it just a matter of disposable nonsense?

So many questions!

I’m not expecting high literature, though certainly, in the case of one of these books – which aspired to be more, I think – the opportunity was missed to transcend the storyline. It was a much-lauded book compared by one to Annihilation, which is indeed an excellent and much superior book (by a proper writer). Look, it wasn’t terrible, just a bit tedious, unconvincing, and filled with unlikeable characters.

What is lost is depth. There’s very little sense of place or much consideration to it, it seems. The setting was conceptually vivid in both cases, but nothing more was made of it. It’s like writing a book set on Krakatoa and letting that be the sole reference point, without any description of the burbling volcano or the jungle or the sea surrounding it. We got signposts, not descriptions, interior or exterior.

Then there is characterisation, upon which so much good writing and great novels rest. But, again, we’re given outlines without detail or insight.

I read both to the end out of curiosity, but there wasn’t any tension. To my way of reading, they both lacked weight and heft because nothing was described sufficiently for you to care about. As a result, nothing got under the skin.

I’ve mentioned Agatha Christie for context. I’ve never been a great fan of her work. I read a few in my teenage years, but probably no more than two or three since then. Her appeal now is a quaint nostalgia, helped along by the iconic characters she created. I’ve always found her formulaic but inoffensive.

I don’t know what it was, but I enjoyed reading the old Christie novel (The 4.50 From Paddington) more than I did these other two books. Perhaps it was familiarity with her work and characters. Though much in the time she describes is foreign to us now – servants and whatnot – its novelty has been diminished by the years past. Ultimately, there’s more warmth and vitality in something written as if from memory than something designed to shock and constructed out of old tropes.

But then, I’m certainly becoming a curmudgeon as I grow old. I reckon I have similar views on music and movies.

There is still a lot of decent writing out there; you just have to seek it out. I’d encourage anyone who seeks to write, but let’s not overpraise nor condemn. That’s true of anything, anytime. I get that blurbs and a lot of critical comment today is meant to catch the eye, and not all of it is sincere. Judge with discretion. Nothing gets better without saying it as it is.

Grommeted


I was up extra early yesterday to get into the hospital to recommence my hyperbaric treatment. It was still dark when I left home. These days, the only time I’m ever up that early is when I have a hospital appointment.

It was cold and it had been raining. I drove to and parked at Sandringham station to catch a train. At that time of the morning, the train was sparsely populated, but it reminded me of the once ever-so-normal days when I would catch a train to work every day. Just as then, I sat by the window with cans on my ears watching the world go by as I listened to my music.

The sun had just peeped over the horizon when I arrived at Prahran station. This is familiar territory for me. For many years, I lived a decent walking distance from here. I would visit the bars and restaurants not far away when there were more bars and restaurants to attend.

As I walked down Greville Street towards Punt Road the nightlights winked out as the sun made a milky appearance. I passed by the College Lawn, where I’ve had many a pint sitting in the beer garden, and where once I won the door prize. It was all so familiar. Agreeably so.

I signed into the hospital as usual and made my way upstairs. First priority was to have a temporary grommet inserted into my left ear before settling down for another hyperbaric session. Things moved slower than I hoped, then not as smoothly as they might once they did. It wasn’t a great deal of fun, but I finally had a grommet inserted on the second attempt (the first attempt is sitting loose inside my ear canal). Thrilled a delighted.

I had missed my booked session, and they had to squeeze me in for a letter time. I had 40 minutes to kill and so decided to get a cuppa.

Hospital cafes aren’t my cup of tea (or coffee), so I exited the building and walked towards St Kilda road. More memories returned to me. I remembered working at Caltex on St Kilda road in the late nineties. Once a week, a mate and I would walk through Fawkner park towards the Alfred Hospital, where there was a sausage sizzle every Friday.

Back in those days one of the hot nightspots around Melbourne was the Chevron, on the corner of St Kilda Road and Commercial. Spent a lot of time there also, and took the opportunity to check it out. It’s apartments now and has been for about 15 years.

I found a cafe to nest in and ordered a hot chocolate. I sat in a deep, mustard yellow armchair by the window and read The Mask of Dimitrios. In the background French lounge music from the thirties and forties played. By happy not-so-much a coincidence, the pleasant staff were also French. It was a nice half hour I spent there, and I left feeling in a more beneficent mood than I had on my previous visit to the hospital.

I had my session and returned home.

This morning I woke early again for my next session and repeated the itinerary of the previous day, albeit shifted 30 minutes later.

Unfortunately, it didn’t go to plan today either. I woke with my pillow stained with blood from my ear. I reported it when I got into the hospital and it was initially waved off. I think they thought I was exaggerating. Upon examination, they discovered that actually, yes, it had bled quite a bit, and the dried blood had crusted in my ear.

There followed a couple of excruciating hours, literally so for a good part of it. ENT specialists came and went, flushing out my ear initially and cleaning out the blood. They poked and prodded as if I was an inanimate object and not a human being with live nerve endings. In the course of doing that the grommet they had inserted yesterday came out with the clotted blood. That was bad news because they had to replace it.

At first, they tried to do so without an anaesthetic, until they figured that wasn’t a great idea – a view I supported very strongly. They numbed my ear and went away and came back again to finish the job.

Even with the anaesthetic, I could feel it. The eardrum is sensitive. Everyone knows that. What they were trying to do was to squeeze a piece of tube into the hole they made yesterday, but it wasn’t a great fit. Several times as they tried I would flinch from the pain, which was an instinctive reaction – much as you might recoil after putting your hand in a fire. Ultimately, I had to hold my body rigid so that it wouldn’t move, and finally, they got it in.

I’ve had some unpleasant experiences over this journey, but today’s experience ranks in the top three.

Once more I’d missed my session time, by about two hours. I had another half hour to kill before they could squeeze me in. I returned to the same cafe as yesterday and the same chilled French folk for a flat-white and a Bex for my soul.

Afterwards, I had my third ever hyperbaric session. Very boring, but maybe it’s doing me good. I’m hoping it’ll be boring again tomorrow. Too many off-script adventures the last few days.

Clearing the boundaries


I woke up early this morning to get to the hospital for my hyperbaric treatment. I wasn’t conscious of being in any particular mood.

I drove to the hospital through middling traffic and walked into the hospital 5 minutes early. I had a RAT, which was clear, and then had to change out of all my clothes – including undies and removing my watch – to put on a pair of hospital scrubs. Ten minutes later, they slid me into the hyperbaric tube.

They reckon when it’s fully pressurised, the pressure is like being 14 metres underwater, which is about twice as much as when you fly. You’re all familiar with your ears popping when flying; that’s absolutely necessary in the hyperbaric chamber to equalise pressure and ease any pain or risk of damage.

Normally you might do that by swallowing or holding your nostrils closed and blowing. Because of my surgery and the loss of feeling, I couldn’t do the second, so all I could do was keep swallowing as the oxygen pumped in and the pressure increased. It took a while for it to work. Along the way, they had to slow or even back off on the pressure because my left ear was troubling me.

The treatment after that was uneventful, even boring. I just lay there for over an hour. I couldn’t even read a book. When the attendants released the pressure again, I felt a crackling and gurgling in my left ear. The doctor on duty inspected it and reported it was bruised from the pressure. Long story short, I can’t continue treatment until they do a minor procedure to allow for the pressure to equalise more efficiently between the inner and outer ear – similar to the grommet in my right ear, just more temporary.

I left, frustrated and weary thinking I had to have yet more surgery.

I drove to my old stamping ground, Hampton. I went to a cafe I used to frequent and, waiting to be seated, had a couple of old ladies barge in and take the table meant for me. They were a couple of Brighton types and very rude. I was shown to another table. I waited ten minutes to be served and then walked out.

I went to another cafe, relatively new and much less busy. I was served by a sweet-natured teenage girl who got my order wrong. It was no big deal, and I made nothing of it, but as I left 20 minutes later, I realised I was in a cranky mood.

I get gruff when I’m cranky, which wasn’t helped by the fact that my speech had gone off sooner than usual – maybe due to the treatment. I stalked back to the car, feeling a cold agitation and a sense of impatience for something I couldn’t define.

Today, I think, is one of the few occasions that I feel sorry for myself. It’s okay; I’ll allow it this time. I was conscious of all I had lost, which I felt ever keener knowing there was no one I could talk to about it. I’ve never really complained, but I was unlucky to lose my close family prematurely. Losing my mum, particularly, was very hard, and her death set in train a series of calamitous events that left me with no family to comfort me in hard times.

I felt the loss of Rigby too, my boon companion. I think of him a lot and am still vacuuming up remnants of his fur! It feels pretty sad. The other day, returning home, I made a wish that I would open the door and he would be there. I felt quite good about it, much like when you feel your numbers might come up in lotto this week. He wasn’t there, though. Nor have I won lotto.

I miss him. I wonder how I would have coped last year with the cancer breaking if he hadn’t been there for me. I have vivid memories of that torrid time that recur to me regularly, yet in all of them, I return home to the eager affection of Rigby. I’ll probably get another dog soon and will be grateful for it, but it won’t bring back Rigby.

I’m a bit sad currently about friendship in general. No recriminations. Everything has a lifespan. Not great timing is all.

I feel I have lost a lot and possibly suffered more than my fair share of obstacles. I’ve always been conscious of not wanting to make that an excuse. You’ve got to deal with what comes your way, no ifs, buts or maybes. I’ve done that, but I’m aware of the cost.

I feel, in a way, that so many years have been lost, and remind myself there’s still time to find the comfort I need and yearn for. But, after tarrying for so long, I’m impatient to get that started, not knowing how.

There’s a feeling now different from before, which I’m unsure if it’s just a part of getting old or, more likely, it’s a part of coming close to death. There were always things I did and wanted to do, and they seemed a part of the continuum. If not this year, then next, or five years from now. There was no perceived limit or boundary. You know it exists, but distantly, and life feels boundless.

Now I feel the truth that more is behind me than ahead, and the times when I may have done the things I truly wanted were wasted. That’s an extreme perception that the urgent sense of loss exacerbates. The truth is, I did other things instead. While great fun and valuable in many ways, the things I did were transient. They were a moment that passed. I missed the opportunity to build something lasting.

It’s a classic tale. As they say, it’s later than you think.

Now, I can see the boundaries ahead. I can hear the clock ticking. Nothing feels boundless anymore. I try to recapture that sense, and it’s a key reason I strive to enhance my physical health – if I can feel and look younger, then maybe I can get some of that sense again. The sense of limitless possibilities. Maybe that can be, but then maybe it’s a delusional attempt to reclaim time lost to me.

Having got to this point, having survived cancer and experienced a form of enlightenment, I’m impatient to get back to the main game, knowing my opportunities to perform and score are dwindling. I feel it urgently: I have to make it count.

So, that’s the definition I was looking for, perhaps. It will remain true, but tomorrow is a different day and may bring a different view.

The wonder of it


I’ve been out and returned since I wrote the earlier post and found myself thinking about it as I visited the supermarket and library. The nature of a blog like this is that it’s personal, particularly in my version of it. I’m not so interested in recording the quotidian activities of my life, though I feel obliged to note down some of it. I’m interested in the psychological journey – how I see and experience things and the evolving perspective along the way. The logical extension of that is a degree of self-absorption, if not navel gazing. It aligns with my nature also.

All of that is heightened when you endure a life-threatening condition. Though it’s terrifying, it’s also fascinating. To bear witness to the breakdown of your body and functions and then toil as they slowly, haltingly, patchily repair is a thing of wonder.

It’s astonishing to comprehend when so many simple functions fail. You live at a baseline and above it often, but abruptly, you plunge beneath it. How can you not see things differently when your experience is so radically altered? The elementary experience – and expectation – of living is turned upside down when your speech and hearing fail, when your muscles become frail and your consciousness fragile, and your ability even to taste fades, and eating is a trial. With it goes a sense of self.

It is a challenge, obviously, but it’s much more than that. You become your own biological experiment. A part of you steps back, probably by necessity. It’s like peering into a microscope and being exposed to a myriad of mysterious worlds you never imagined. But it’s you!

It’s my physical self that has suffered this damage. I’m sharp as I ever was and my psyche is healthy. It’s my body that has been attacked, and hence my focus on it. I had something malicious grow inside me. It’s gone, though it can return. To reclaim what was taken is a victory. Every sign of healing is a bit of territory I take back from this foe. To become robust again, to feel my swagger return, is defiance of a fate otherwise decreed.

There are many bigger and stronger than me, true even when I was perfectly healthy. There are certainly many, and maybe most, who are more attractive than what I’ve become. I may take that as a mark of achievement one day, but for now, the only way I know I’m winning is in my physical progress. It becomes an obsession.

Winter is coming, I know. No matter how much I regain, the mounting years will slowly erode. I’ll defy that too, but it’s more readily accepted. One thing that has changed is that I’m much more aware of my mortality and the mortality of others. I know, most likely, the day will come, and I know how I don’t want to die. I’ve seen enough of that.

It’s the sense of detachment that gives me the perspective of transience. Everything passes, as it has for thousands of years. What seems vital and urgent to us now will one day be a thousand years past. I’ve had an awareness of that previously – it’s why I chose to write, to leave a mark – but it feels more real. Less theoretical, more practical.