I haven't blogged for some time, I suspect because I have been trying to see myself as Woman Without Cancer, ex-cancer patient, person with a past problem. Then when that delusion blew up in my face (well, down my side, actually - gory details to follow), I was too knocked out to sound off.
So, what's the story (morning glory)?
Remember the oedema? The swelling and fluid retention continued, as did the daily routine of squirting to assist drainage and relieve pressure (and have fun). But after a few weeks, my boob began to get angrier. The red skin got redder, the dimples got dimplier as the swelling swelled, and the heat got so much hotter that the cat started snoozing on the right hand side of my chest to indulge in its additional warmth. And while the lymph fluid that I had been 'manually draining' (squirting) previously had been yellow, clear and odourless, it was still yellow but now cloudy and smelly, surely indicating an infection. The usual lotions were not working, and EasyJet confiscated my Aloe Vera gel when I headed off to Barcelona for a couple of days.
I needed advice. Googling 'hot boobs' was not an option, for the same reason that ornithologists are wary of searching for 'great tits'. So I called my breast cancer nurse and headed to the Friday clinic at Bart's. The nurse said ooh, that looks nasty, you'll have to see the doctor, and the doctor said ooh, that looks nasty, you'll have to see the consultant - next week. As it turned out, the appointment with the consultant was more than a week away, and in the intervening time, the infection became even angrier: pretty darned furious, I'd say. It was when I started shivering and feeling dizzy on my way to work that i realised that as soon as I got there I would have to book off sick.
My next stop was Homerton Hospital A&E on a Saturday morning, where before I even got to the reception desk a big sign blasted out a warning that people who had recently had radiotherapy or chemotherapy were vulnerable to something called sepsis, which can kill you. Crikey, I don't remember being told that before, although I guess it might have been on the long list of scary side-effects of which I had previously signed my acknowledgement.
Doctors and nurses prodded, checked vital signs, removed blood from my arm and stuck a cannula in the needle hole as they clearly intended to either take more out or put other stuff in. Or both. And they asked questions: lots of them. Every time I met a new healthcare professional, he or she asked, 'Are you allergic to anything?'. I took to replying, 'Only Tories'. And to a person, they replied, 'Don't worry, you won't find any of those in here.' I felt better already. This was the weekend before the general election, and I was gutted that my infected boob had prevented me going out canvassing for Labour. Please be assured that I made up for it in the hospital, taking every opportunity and getting into plenty of conversations with people who were becoming ever more determined to vote to save the NHS. And I was not the only one: a patient being discharged said her goodbyes and told the nurses, 'If Jeremy Corbyn gets elected, you'll get a decent pay rise at last.'
I was admitted and sent to the Acute Care unit. I was wheeled in my bed in what felt like a somewhat regal experience, which gave me the urge to wave condescendlingly at people as I went by. You will be pleased to know that I suppressed this urge.
Don't tell Jeremy Hunt, but there were several empty beds in Acute Care, doubtless for the perfectly reasonable purpose of being able to provide immediate care for people with acute medical needs, who do not usually book in advance or sit patiently on waiting lists.
After more checks and questions, I was given a blood-thinning injection in my tummy, dressed in a ridiculous pair of stockings, hooked up to intravenous antibiotics and told I would be in at least overnight. It was time to call home and get essential supplies brought in: crosswords, fresh orange juice, paper and pen, books, phone charger and a falafel wrap. Oh, and my pyjamas and toothbrush. Annoyingly, I forgot about the earphones required to watch the telly, so puzzles would have to take priority over watching silent Doctor Who. A short while after my partner had delivered my emergency rations, I was wheeled off again, this time in a chair, relocated to a ward.
All that remained to do was rest, be dripped into, take tablets, get driven nuts by all the bloody bleeping that goes on in a hospital ward, and compose a poem. And then I noticed it: a huge and horrible wet patch spreading from my breast down my right side and onto the hospital bed. The infection had formed into an abscess, which had burst of its own accord, described later in hospital documentation as having 'spontaneously drained'. Well, I guess that's one way of describing it. The well-oiled machine of hospital hygiene and care sprung into action, with the bed changed and me cleaned up in a matter of minutes.
A good night's sleep would have been great, but let's not be unrealistic here. After a renewed dose of IV drugs at midnight, I was just drifting off at about 2am when the young woman in the bed next to mine decided to phone her mother. Yes, really. Ah well. Believe it or not, this was the first and so far only night I have spent in hospital during my cancer treatment. Everything else - from surgery to radiotherapy - was conducted on a day visit basis: come in, have radical, life-saving treatment, go home.
When the doctors did the rounds on Sunday morning, I assured them that I was much better now, thank you very much, and I was sure that I would be fine if they let me go home armed with dressings and tablets. They agreed, and in the afternoon, off I went, armed with discahrge papers that confirmed that I had in fact had sepsis, a nasty thing to which people with cancer are particularly vulnerable. Apparently, it kills 30% of people who get it, so I guess that's another of my many lives saved by the NHS.
Oh, and an amusing anecdote: My eldest son was at a festival while I was in the hospital, and texted me that he had just seen the legendary John Cooper Clarke. I texted back the title of a JCC poem, 'Get back on drugs, you fat fuck.' Only I didn't send it to my son, did I? Oh no, I sent it to my breast cancer nurse. Rapidly followed by a grovelling apology.