A Pain in the Poo Factory 03
Good news in the Big Adventure #1: I would not need a stoma. A stoma, of course, is not really what they mean in the unpleasant expression, “to tear you a new one”. The cancer site meant they while they would remove a fair section of the bowel, they could join the ends by stitching or maybe with medical-grade duct tape or superglue or whatever it is they use. And this would not affect the end point. I was ready for a stoma; to help matters if it came to that, I had set to work on a parody of a popular First World War I marching song:
Pack up your Troubles in your Old Colostomy Bag
And smile! Smile! Smile!
Good news #2: I could have the operation done at the Austin Hospital, in Heidelberg. There was nothing wrong with an operation in Bendigo. But in Melbourne, I would be close to my daughter; to Liz and Catherine, my sisters; and in particular, to Cathy.
The not-quite-so-good-news, or niggling apprehension: everything would happen at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But what if they played ON-J hits on an endless loop over their PA system?
The good Ms Newton-John’s musicology has passed me by. In particular, Grease slipped through my hands. The only song of hers that I ever recall is Banks of the Ohio. And ever since I realised that the ON-J Centre is where the big adventure will happen, that wretched number has taken up residence in my head, like a feral squatter. I first heard this song while I was still at school, and I remember being quite mystified at how a row of rather dull commercial, mercantile and trading banks of The Ohio could possibly be the subject of a love song, much less the object of a romantic attachment. At that time the world was full of things that made no sense, and I marked these particular Ohio banks down as yet another example of the incomprehensible world of adults.
Back to the point. I began many visits to the ON-J Centre. Sometimes Cathy came with me. There were scans, they took a blood sample, and I sat with an anaesthetist. He cheerfully told me that during the operation I would be completely paralysed; even the muscles that allow me to breathe would be shut down. “But we won’t let you die,” he winked and assured me.
The pre-admission doctor asked me a large number of questions about my general health. Diabetes? No. Heart problems? No. Kidney trouble? No. Strokes? No. It was like being in the middle of an advertisement for the Nancy Reagan approach to drug education: Just Say No. And then we got to: allergies? Yes: racism, sexism, bigotry, intolerance, any song by Olivia Newton-John.
In Heidelberg, I had lunch with Liz. We sat together for two hours, and for much of the conversation we ranged over the childhoods we shared. In particular we looked at the lives of our parents; we talked about what it must have been like for them when we were growing up. We both felt compassion. We realised that none of us had had a major illness. Notwithstanding my father’s illnesses towards the end of his life, we had inherited some pretty robust genes. So this bit of cancer was by far the worse medical thing ever to happen to me. But in a strange way it feltclean.
And so, I told the pre-admission doctor that my medical history was bland and rather uninteresting. He was a jovial Australian-Indian with not much trace of an accent. He beamed at me.
“No, it’s very good. I wish more people were like you.”
He wanted to listen to me breathe, but couldn’t find his stethoscope. He looked everywhere. I asked, perhaps a doctor without a stethoscope is like a cowboy without a horse? He agreed, that might be so.
Cathy would sit with me during the waits. She had a laptop with her, and tackled some fearsome and complex spreadsheets. It’s budget time, she said. And while she manipulated numbers, projections and estimates, what did I do? I composed a parody of Banks of the Ohio. That was a most pleasing study in contrasts.
Although I know
Where poo is made
There something lurks
It’s something grave
And now I’m here
Gonna feel okay
I’ve joined the ranks
At the Oh En Jay
Next time The adventure begins