A Pain in the Poo Factory 09
Gradually I became unplugged. The catheter went first, a short but unnerving experience which felt like one’s insides were being yanked out via a small tube through a very tiny opening. Next to go was my deals on wheels. I said goodbye to the pyramids and decided they were worth a visit in real life. I could sleep more easily; my insides stopped sloshing around and stayed more or less in one place. I began to take careful little walks around the ward. The big moment came when I ventured to the lift, and to the ground floor, and purchased The Age. I was reconnecting with the world.
“Are you passing wind,” enquired the doc. And how. I’d been getting in some discreet but useful practice on the tricky ascending notes in God Save The Queen. A good sign, said the doc. She wasn’t referring to our old national anthem.
After six days in hospital, and many quiet days at Cathy’s place, I stepped up my reconnection with the world. I’d agreed with Cathy that our first outing would be to the Night Noodle Market, held by the Yarra river, just outside Melbourne’s central business district.
For two weeks, the banks of the Yarra river hosted 40 stalls, with an extraordinary variety of Asian street food. It was packed. There were literally thousands of people, crowding in long queues to order and to pick up. The late summer afternoon filled with aromas. People of all kinds of ethnicities jostled in queues with coiffured young men vaping on eCigarettes. Small children ran, their parents chatted, most people ate and drank, slurped and licked from cardboard plates.
It was not overwhelming, but it had been a while since I had been with so many people at close quarters. Nor had I been surrounded by so many intense smells and food. Smoke from a roasting pig wafted through the hot afternoon sun. I was standing and shuffling and edging with Cathy through the crowds. Thousands of voices buzzed through the smoke and the heat. There was nowhere to sit – there were lots of plastic tables and chairs but every one was occupied.
We bought gyoza, and chicken satays on skewers. The spicy tang added another sensory layer. I was trying not to falter at a looming sensory overload, and Cathy was becoming concerned. We edged out to a side by a low fence, to more tables and to find somewhere to sit. It was like finding a parking spot – you just needed to be in the right spot at the right time. And thus, a couple got up, and we moved smoothy into the chairs they’d vacated. We were next to an Indian family. I saved Cathy’s chair while she went off to find – pancakes or noodles, whichever she came across first.
As I looked around at the bustling crowd, all I could see in people was colons. The length of the colon or large intestine, in human adults is about 1.5 metres. I imagined many thousands of sets of large intestines, happily working away, hoovering up nutrients, absorbing water and getting on with the job of keep their owners’ bodies happy and satisfied.
As it turns out, The Age estimated 563,000 people attended the Night Noodle Market over two weeks. And so that for everyone who attended, that would make about 844,500 metres of large intestine coping with the food from 40 Asian street-food outlets. If these large intestines were all joined together, you’d have a squirmy greeny-grey tube, a bit less than the diameter of a toilet roll, stretching way off into the distance, all the way nearly to Sydney. You’d have to deduct a proportion for children, and certainly they would be people like me with up to a third of their large intestine gone. But still this length of intestinal tubing would surely stretch from Melbourne, at least to Mittagong?
Cathy broke into this rather pleasant musing with a delicious but rather unAsian-looking cardboard plate of mini pancakes with strawberries. She smiled. “And what were you thinking about?”
“Umm, tubes, actually,” I said through a mouthful of pancake, strawberry, castor sugar and maple syrup.
I decided that this odd musing was entirely normal, and in another way, it marked the end of my hospitalisation and the start of my recovery. The latter was underscored when I received the pathologist’s report. As far as I could translate it, it seemed pretty good. And when at last Cathy and I sat with the doctor to go over it, she said that as it turns out, I didn’t actually have cancer.
She answered the unspoken question.
“It was absolutely vital that we remove the large adenoma. It looked like a cancer from the earlier tests. But there are things we don’t really know until we look at them properly. That’s why we had the pathologist’s analysis. It could have turned nasty. But it’s all clear now. No chemo is needed. You’re going to be fine. We’ll see you again in 12 months.”
That evening, Cathy and I opened some Prosecco and toasted many things. I thought fondly of my adenoma, safely incinerated with assorted nasties, and decided not to get too New Age-ish about this extraordinary experience.
And yet I continue to wonder. It’s been two months since the operation; so thoroughly am I back to normal that I now read the earlier blogs with a sense of unreality. Even the bullet holes are fading, apart from reddish scar that resembles a question mark around my navel.
Yes, all this really did happen. The doctors, nurses, anaesthetists, those in the public-health system; my sisters, my daughter, my friends who visited; and especially, my beloved Cathy, all played a part. There is no pain, and the factory is repaired.