A is for Anxiety
Out of the blue, an insidious private festering was developing in my husband’s bowel; a solitary spread of cells in slow time.
When the blue eventually darkened, the GP recommended tests. The hospital didn’t. The GP demanded. The hospital agreed. It was likely to be an ulcer. All the same, you never know. What is it that you never know? No one says.
An MRI scan was the first test. We arrived early, checked in with the receptionist and sat in the waiting room.
“William Pelvis 10.15”
Dilated pupils lift from dated magazines,
scanning the circuit of seated bodies.
William Pelvis is absent. Missing. Late.
Late arrival means that we may have to re-book your appointment.
Sweaty fear of absence oscillates
in black hole possibilities.
William Pelvis has lost his time.
Have nothing to eat or drink for 4 hours prior to the scan.
William Pelvis is a pelvic cavity,
a vacuumed space on the pelvic floor,
a static beam on the radio waves.
Please ring us if you are claustrophobic.
“William, William are you here?
William Robert, where is he?
Or is that William Robert Winder,
preferred name Robert on the form.
Yes? Oh. Robert Winder 10.15
you have missed
your pelvic scan.”
Please ring us prior to your scan if you have metal fragments in your eye.
In magnetic resonance
images of lost opportunity circle the room
like dominoes free falling.
B is for Bowel
Before the scan, bowels were a mystery covered in skin.
After the scan, bowels are scalpeled open on the internet. My cursor dissects every nook and cranny. Just in case. You never know.
Colons ascending, transversing and descending remind me of the positions of planets in astrology readings. Below the descending colon, the sigmoid ‘S’ chicane is a race track turn to be driven at speed, round to the rectum, down to the anus and across the finish line.
It seems that bowels are anxious things, easily upset and getting themselves twisted in a knot over the smallest problem. There is nothing straight forward about them. They function with no guarantees.
C is for Cancer
The colonoscopy doctor can’t bring himself to say the word. “Lump” he says to my husband. “You have a lump”. He scampers away. The nurse is left to translate. “What Doctor Chandra means, is that you have cancer. He can’t bring himself to say the word”.
I have no words. The nurse discusses appointments, options and operations.
The word ‘cancer’ is an instant definition of fear, accompanied by the shadow of the valley of death. Neither of these responses are discussed.
William and I hold hands and stumble out of the hospital. The world is no longer dependable.
In the following days, we are the only people to speak the word. Cancer. Cancer. It evokes sympathy and vague questions. Other people avoid the word like the plague, like a contagious disease transmitted by the articulation of six letters strung together.
The most useful advice is born from experience. “Black humour is the best medicine,” we’re told.
What a relief. We fire volleys of dreadful jokes. Nothing is sacred. All that has been left unsaid finds a deliciously shocking outlet and in the company of others we say the ‘C’ word as often as we can.
After his first operation we have new topics for the comedy routine; bags and stomas. A stoma is an opening in the abdomen where part of the small bowel is now in the light of day, and drains waste into a bag. William deals with it all like a superhero. He is a Stomaman.
The men are at lunch, sitting outdoors with an eye
on the world and another on the menu. They are all
getting back in shape, to their peak condition.
Supper-Man orders a porterhouse steak with fresh
salad. Ticks all the boxes for protein and five
vegetables per day, leaves plenty of room for later.
Slider-Man limbered up before he arrived.
Restless now, he orders a snack of raw fish
with soy sauce; easy to slither down the throat.
Resting his small intestine for a day, Stoma-Man
chooses his white bread rolls and chicken broth.
To aid digestion he chews thoroughly and sips slowly.
There are plans to be made, inventions to patent.
Forces of evil proliferate, paranoid leaders congregate
in specific Pacific tax havens.
Stoma-Man redesigns his bag. At the outlet a nozzle
can turn as required, on his belt a trigger can secretly fire
a flow of optional ammunition.
Bullets of former frozen carrots aim for the eyes
of traitor spies, a steady stream of watery output
sprays the open mouths of tyrants, hydrant control
loosens the outlet to maximum pressure, shoots
the opponent’s face with a paste in ostomy choke mode,
blocking the airways when life’s on the line.
Heroes of the universe, upholders of integrity, fighters
for liberty. Courageous, outrageous, hopeful and helpful.
The all new secret service S Men are reporting for duty.
Jenny Powell has written six individual and two collaborative poetry collections. Her broadening range of writing led to her latest non-fiction book, The Case of the Missing Body, published by Otago University Press in 2016. This is the true story of Lily, who has no sense of her body until she begins working in a gym with Patrick, her physiotherapist. Their shared courage allows Lily to begin discovering both body and self. The Case of the Missing Body is a celebration of a rare and unusual awakening.
Read about Jenny’s book The Case of the Missing Body here.