THE NEW NORMAL #55 – NEW YEAR, SAME ME

Happy new year everyone. 11 days in and it’s been a bit of a ride, hasn’t it? Trump has taken ‘nutso’ to a whole new level, Brexit has started to work through the gears and Covid is continuing to hit hard across the world – most of all in the UK where our natural approach of finding ways to circumnavigate the rules seems to be shooting us in the collective foot….repeatedly. Still, you didn’t come here for current affairs did you? I’ve had a few messages recently, tentatively checking in on me as I haven’t written since November so it seemed like a good time to put finger to keyboard (not as good as ‘pen to paper’ but more accurate).

When we last spoke, I was heading into Christmas with a good feeling, a festive spirit if you will, and all went pretty well. We missed family, like everyone else, and we didn’t really see friends apart from a brief and thrilling dalliance with neighbours when we were still in Tier 1. In fact, there were only two moments of real note over the whole Christmas period. Firstly, the day after Boxing Day, I managed to somehow starve myself of nutrients so that my body couldn’t warm up, leaving me shaking involuntarily and in need of food and whatever my long-suffering wife could force down my throat. This was a stark reminder that even if I don’t feel hungry then, I have to keep eating or my body will very quickly decide that it has had enough and start to give up.

The second moment of note was that we took the younger three of the children up to Bodmin in the pursuit of snow and we were successful. Aside from getting my Ford Fiesta stuck in the snow-mud slush, we managed to get enough snow together to build a vertically challenged snowman and had a fairly brutal snow ball fight which ended in fits of giggles and two adults trying to convince a six year old to stop eating snow that was, in all likelihood, resting on sheep dung. It was 45 minutes at most but it was a memory made and locked in which is something I’ve been very conscious of for the last few months. So that’s a big tick.

Apart from that, I managed to eat Christmas dinner, I didn’t win a single cracker, we played numerous board games, watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and opened a bunch of presents from friends and family. A normal Christmas by all accounts. Except that it wasn’t, was it? Aside from all the Covid stuff, this wasn’t a Christmas I was supposed to witness if my March 2020 prognosis was anything to go by so there was a risk that I would crumble in a pile of snotty tears at any moment. I didn’t though. I genuinely enjoyed living in the present, being present and just taking things slower as my physical state dictates which allowed me to breeze past most of the what ifs, maybes and twitchiness every time ‘Last Christmas’ came on the radio. This feels like a win and snuggling down to watch the Julia Donaldson special with my boy while the fire roared was a real moment of calm in the eye of the storm.

My main Christmas present this year, however, was a feeling of gratitude and appreciation that I felt at every turn. Gratitude that I had my family around me when so many were alone, appreciation for every morsel of food that I was not only able to eat but also digest when some of those I shared a hospital ward with this summer won’t have been so fortunate, gratitude for a warm, dry house when there are those spending Christmas in a shop doorway and appreciation for at least one more chance at Christmas, even if that’s all I get. When I was going under the anaesthetic influence back in August, I have a vague memory that I begged some faceless deity for just one more Christmas so, fair deal.

We saw the new year in with a couple of games, a little booze and a stream of the Hootenanny which was a couple of minutes delayed so the fireworks outside went off before we’d even charged our glasses. We didn’t care though, 2020 and all its nightmares were officially over and we could look forward to all the sunshine and roses that 2021 was going to bring us, right? Wait, what? You mean absolutely nothing has changed just because we’ve all replaced our calendars and necked some mid-priced Prosecco? We’re in ever stricter conditions than before and this time it’s cold and this time I actually have to work from home? Madness. Still, it’s approaching a semblance of normality so I really can’t complain (well, I can – work can still be annoying from time to time but at least I can turn my Zoom camera off and swear frantically at the screen without anyone noticing. You can’t do that in a conference room and maintain your employed status).

Talking of getting back to normality, I had my first phone call of the year from Oncology yesterday which was relatively uneventful. We discussed me shivering, me falling over in the bath, me taking lots of drugs, me losing weight and me going to the toilet. Sometimes I feel like the conversation is a little one sided, so I like to ask how the medical professional is and learn a bit about them but after some initial chit-chat things tend to get a bit awkward so, in a reversal of normal life, I have to start talking about my poo again just to ease the tension.

The main thing of note from the conversation was that I am now due to resume my immunotherapy treatment and then have yet another CT scan to find out how things are looking ‘in there’. Thus begins the slow build up of pre-scan anxiety and the rarer but more potent pre-scan results anxiety. Honestly, the treatment I can cope with because, aside from a few misguided cannula insertions and getting sweaty buttocks from the wipe clean chairs, there is very little risk of anything out of the ordinary happening. The scan itself is also pretty uneventful but once you’ve been through that hoop it just starts a ticking time-bomb until the results get delivered. It’s a lot like hitting ‘send’ on that carefully worded email telling that special someone that you love them or your boss where to stick it and then realising that you can’t put the pin back in the grenade. Mixed metaphors? Me. Non monsieur.

One last thing, I went for an eye-test today. Now, on the face of it, this is a little mundane but an eye-test during a pandemic when you have cancer and above average anxiety about going outside is a different ball game. Firstly, I had to negotiate the near-abandoned mall to get to Boots and I can tell you that walking through this normally packed mecca of capitalism that echoes with the Covid-19 safety reminders is an eerie experience. The fact that one of the few things open was the ‘essential’ Krispy Kreme stand just added a sense of the surreal to proceedings (and yes, of course I bought some. It would have been rude not to). Secondly, there was the running-of-the-gauntlet that is the make-up section of Boots (something that normally freaks me out just as much as clowns) but there was nobody there and no make-up. Where were they hiding? Was there to be an ambush? Anxiety ratcheted up.

Finally, I made it to the optician’s bit at the back (seriously, why do they hide the bit for people with poor eyesight in the back corner of the shop?) and went through my usual rigmarole of having puffs of air blown in to my eyes and the endless choices of “which is better, 1 or 2? 1 or 2? 1 or 2?”. What is newsworthy, however, is the two bits of overhearing/earwigging I did while sat in the waiting room trying to remain two metres away from everyone else at all times. Firstly, there was the member of Boots staff making a phone call about glasses to an elderly and clearly alone gent. The meat of the call took about 1 minute (i.e. Boots will deliver your glasses next week) but the next five minutes was pure humanity as she asked the chap how he was coping, whether he needed anything and what he was doing with his days. Bravo to that lady and all the other unsung and unseen heroes out there who take the time to care about their customers even when there isn’t a bonus in it for them.

The other overhearing was a man for whom English was not his first language trying to understand why he had to pay for another Covid test when he’d paid for one last week and then stayed at home for 7 days. The emotion, stress and sheer confusion of the conversation which eventually involved three members of staff and someone on the end of a phone. Voices were raised, frustration was vented but in the end the guy went away satisfied, but it did bring to light how terrifying it must be to be coping with the litany of guidance changes around Covid-19 (64 to date and counting) when you’re in a foreign country and dealing with in a language that isn’t your mother tongue.

So, to summarise, Boots staff in Plymouth have seriously impressed me today, my health is about as stable as I could have hoped for and work is still a source of stress but boy is it good to be properly back in the saddle (fun fact, I was once thrown off a pregnant horse, so I am never getting back in an actual saddle ever again). Treatment, scans, meds to come and maybe some surprises too but I reckon we can cope with those. 

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