‘Rest’

So things are really tough at the moment.

I can’t go into too much detail, because I’m still in the thick of it, but my father’s in hospital, while I’m still recovering from my operation, so now my role as carer/doctor/patient has never been so apparent.

Feeling my hip scar becoming painful the last couple of days, with the underlying muscle uncomfortable, I promised myself I would leave the hospital early today and rest properly. Unfortunately, I forgot this once I actually arrived home and instead did some cleaning & house paperwork.

Typical.

Terrible habits do die terribly.

Ax

Two Steps Forward

Turns out that I can’t predict the unpredictable.

I’m really not happy about that.

A couple of nights ago I went to bed. Too tired to get up to take my last doses of co-codamol, I tried to sleep through some niggling pains, slept badly, tried a new sleeping position, and then woke with the most excruciating pains in my left chest.

Obviously, I couldn’t have predicted this, but I really should got up and taken that damn co-codamol. Because I was doing really well, and now it hurts to breathe. Because I’ve obviously pulled some ligament in my ribs or back or something. Because now I can’t speak or move when the pain really gets going. But it might have happened anyway.

It reminds me of the dangers of linear thinking. I’m getting better now, for the last few days, so I’ll be getting better forever! Yeah, we’ll see about that. Let’s dance – two steps forward, and… that’s right! One step back.

So, once again, I am reminded to take it easy, take each minute, hour and day as it comes, have some fun, check in with myself! Because I can’t predict how long the pain will be gone for, and when it’ll come back.  And, hey, you know what? A couple of days later and I’m doing better.

I’ll do better forever!

Damn it.

Ax

Me? I got a lot of s*** going on…

I’d like to think of myself as very British and reserved, not burdening others with my trials.

I’d like to be the person that only after meeting them do you find out that they lost a leg in a war, and recently won a humanitarian award. “But they’re so down to earth!” you then cry. I know I’m amazing – let’s not go on about it.

I’d like to, but that’s just not true. At one point I had this cross-British-Indian sensibility about not talking about your problems, but that’s gone now.

At some point it cracked. At some point not talking about problems felt like there was something shameful going on, and that just wasn’t true. I wasn’t going to shoehorn it into conversations, but if it came up what else was I going to say?

“Oh, you’re not working? What have you been up to?” they ask.

Um, organising things ahead of my mastectomy and reconstruction? I can’t say that! That’s too depressing! Quick, think of something else! What else would take up the time?

“Um, watching The West Wing?” I offer, lamely.

Crap, I’ve never watched The West Wing! Why did you say that?

“Oh, brilliant, what season are you on?”

Bollocks.

So, impromptu lies are not my thing. And not talking about it made me feel like I had some shameful secret. And it seemed too large a topic to talk around.

So straight after my diagnosis I began telling the people I talked to regularly. Mostly by text/FB or email. As details of the operation became finalised I would periodically update people. I wouldn’t wait for them to ask questions, I wanted to be in control of what information was out there. I wanted no awkward moments when I would misspeak in company, realise that they had no idea what was going on, and have to painfully go through the details from the start. I didn’t want to be pitied. So, yeah, maybe I still have some of that British-Indian sensibility.

And what happened? Yes, we might chat about it, but more often than not we would move swiftly on to chat about our usual, joyful nonsense. I didn’t have the prickly social fear anymore, terrified of personal questions.

And, again, more often than not, I would find incredible support and admiration from others. I got a chance to see my situation from the outside, and began to appreciate what they said they saw in me.

It takes so much energy to pretend, to lie, to avoid subjects. When things get tough, and energy is at an premium why bother to waste it? There’s nothing to be ashamed of, and if there’s nothing to be afraid of – you’re open, you’re honest, and you’re free.

It feels wonderful.

Ax

Fallout (Part 2)

Practical stuff is easy. I understand the emotional stuff, but prioritise it less. And then I get impatient when it doesn’t resolve as fast as I’d like.

I’m a naturally silly person, I like laughing. It’s not usually hard work for me to be buoyant. But when things get tough, and it comes less naturally, it never occurs that I need to try harder to bring the happy from outside-in.

Be nice to yourself, friends and family advised. Oh, yeah. That makes sense… now.

So, belatedly, I thought – what does that mean? Take a relaxing a bath. I don’t have a bathtub. And I’ve never really found them relaxing. Light a scented candle. Ditto. Never found relaxing. Plus they only seem to smell nice once you blow them out. But I light a candle a friend bought for me, and it’s quite nice to watch it glow, the room does feel more inviting, and what do you know, even seems to smell nicer. Watch TV or read. I planned to watch that boxset of Boardwalk Empire  downloaded off Sky about 6 months ago, and finally dig into those Game of Thrones novels. But dark drama suddenly seemed to be the opposite of what I wanted. I needed light.

So what did I do? I called friends round to visit. I find it hard to ask for things, but this was survival we were talking about, or rather – recovery. We watched sitcoms, and Disney movies and the Hunger Games films, but only with much comedy padding on either sides and conversations about whether Jennifer Lawrence and Natalie Dormer got on in real life (I think they do). Once I got through my dystopian reading list, I switched to comics, and playing adventure video games. I listened to 1950s rock ‘n’ roll and doowop. I was too emotionally raw for anything else.

I planned nice things to do, rather than treating them as an afterthought, something I’ve never been able to do in the past, despite trying many times. It just wasn’t a priority. It couldn’t be a priority.

Fun wasn’t a priority. I wasn’t a priority. How ridiculous is that? Difficulties are a guarantee in life. And joy can happen incidentally, more so, if you pay enough attention to what’s happening around you. But why live like that?

This is survival.

Prioritise life. Prioritise light.

Ax

Fallout (Part 1)

Emotionally it’s been up and down since the op.

This should have been obvious, really, and post-op ladies have told me since that they were advised this might happen. But in my research and conversations I never thought about my emotions. It was all about the practicalities of recovery – being laid up, organising care etc. I figured emotionally I’d be tired, but that’s all.

Well, that was dumb.

Apart from the adrenaline rush on Day 1, of relief and pride, from Day 2 I was feeling… furious! Upset! Confused, scared – often all at the same time.

“How are you?” asked a friend visiting on Day 2.

“Good, apart from feeling a bit sorry for myself,” I replied.

“Well, I’m not surprised. You looked a bit too good yesterday,” she smiled. I’d been proudly sitting in my chair Day 1 showing off to everyone how well I was doing.

“It’s all taking too long,”  I moaned theatrically, but only half-joking.

I made the mistake of reading The Hunger Games while an inpatient, because it was free on my Amazon Kindle Unlimited Trial (soon to be cancelled). Then I read a bunch of young adult fiction for a course I’m doing on children’s literature. It turns out all great young adult fiction also makes you want to slit your wrists. And The Hunger Games? Brilliant, but brutal. I was looking trashy teen-angst, but I severely misjudged. It was like trying to recuperate with 1984.

One large, identity and body-redefining operation, and several dark, dystopian books later, I was jelly.

Day 18

It is Day 18 after my operation. Or something.

It’s strange how time managed to simultaneously stretch and disappear in that interval. After all, two and a half weeks ago I almost passed out when they tried to get me out of the hospital bed… note I hadn’t actually got out of bed. I was fainting while still in bed, like some fancy 18th century aristocratic lady, except that I also had a catheter. A very pretty picture, I’m sure. I’ll go more into that later. But now here I am, mobile, washing & dressing myself, bright and awake, as though nothing happened.

Yet – if I remember further – I remember counting down the hours in the hospital until my drains could come out, or a visitor came. Dividing days into hours, and hours into minutes, until perhaps the next meal, and always until the day I could leave. But then I did leave! And I’m fine! Except I’m not fine. Not yet.

Because, just like when you probe time and a period that seemed to fly by  becomes exposed as moments of dull activity and boredom, so you can probe scars too. And what seems like incredible recovery is actually made up of smaller moments of agonising pain, absurdity and exhaustion. You just have to probe a little further.

When it gets a little overwhelming, though, you can step back – and be thankful you don’t have to remember everything all the time.

Ax

Hello

My name is Anamika Basu, and I am a doctor.

I’m also a carer for my father after he had a stroke.

Last year I got diagnosed with Li-Fraumeni syndrome, which predisposes me to a whole variety of different cancers.

And also I’m currently recovering from a double risk-reducing mastectomy and breast reconstruction.

So I’m a doctor, a carer and a patient.

And being such a bundle of responsibility, I thought it would be interesting to explore how people look after themselves when they spend most of their time looking after others. Because – it turns out – I’m terrible at it. And I’m not the only one.

Ax