Wednesday, June 24, 2009

sea breeze

The night has rolled on, thinning to a scrape of heels on concrete, a shriek in an alleyway, bass notes spilling from a passing car. The pier has closed finally, shutting down its multicoloured circuits for the night, leaving just a workshop window illuminated, tucked beneath the dark boardwalk. There’s a barely discernible silhouette moving about in there, like an ant caught in a light box. Meanwhile, the moon leans down low and bright, scrying our fortunes in the polished black surface of the water.

Karol is sitting in a wheelchair by a tall, open window that overlooks the sea. He grips the armrests, leaning forwards with his chin up, his face whiter than the net curtains, breathing like he’s just been running a race.
His wife is holding on to one of the rear handgrips, either to keep herself upright or her husband in the chair, it’s hard to tell. She smiles at us as we haul our gear into the room – her smile, like her hair, thinning and untended.
‘Can’t you help him?’
Karol is a cancer patient of a year or so, the tumours slowly metastasising from where they first laid root in the right lung, creeping on through the rest of his body despite the drastic treatments called down on them. He manages his condition at home and at the local hospice, with a bottle of Oromorph to supplement the other pain relievers when things get too difficult.

The problem tonight, though, is that Karol is hyperventilating. He nods to say he understands what that means.
‘Don’t - leave me - until I’m better,’ he says.
‘We promise.’

I coach his breathing to bring it back down to a normal rhythm. He gradually relaxes his grip on the chair. His wife comes round to sit on a facing stool.
‘All day he’s been worrying that the cancer will stop him breathing,’ she says, rubbing his knee. ‘The doctors are happy with the way things are at the moment, and everything seems to be holding, but now and again Karol gets a bit – well - worked up.’
‘I think I tripped out on all the meds,’ he says, his breathing levelling out and his shoulders relaxing. ‘I grew up in the sixties. You’d think I could handle that.’ He laughs, but then his face seems to slacken again with a dreadful kind of existential sweat.
‘The walls just seemed to be bearing down on me,’ he says, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. ‘I just couldn’t seem to get my breath.’
‘That’s why we came to the window,’ says his wife. ‘The ozone.’
‘It’s got to help.’

I make a phone call to request a home visit from the out of hours doctor. Karol could do with some lightweight sedation tonight, to see him through to a visit from a Macmillan nurse in the morning and a thorough-going review. A trip to A&E would only make things worse.

‘Karol is an artist. He did all these paintings,’ she says. ‘Look.’

We scarcely noticed them as we came into the room at first, but now things have calmed down we’re able to take in our surroundings. There are huge, square canvases hung around the room, vigorously painted, intensely coloured images of pelicans jostling on flaming yellow and blue beaches, a naked woman reclining on a leaping zebra, a cascading forest of orchids and tigers. And then, just by the door, an abstract canvas, the biggest of all of them, strung from ceiling to floor – a massing cloud swirl of ochre, burnt earth, carmine and terracotta.

‘I tried to get down how it felt to be told I had cancer,’ he says. ‘How it feels.’

We all look at the painting, as the net curtains gently bow and snap in the cool sea breeze.


Anonymous said...

Family Affairs put me in touch with your blog and I'm so glad she did. You write so vividly and immediately. Thank you for an insight into a world very few of us ever see.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much, MITC! :)

Dark Side said...

Another excellent post Siren where once again I was moving around the room and what an amazing site.

You are very talented..xx

family affairs said...

Yes I did and a few others and now I've got follower envy because you have recently acquired more than me. Which is pathetic I know. But there we go. Very evocative post as ever and if I'm honest suspect the reason you have more followers is because you have a BRILLIANT writing style. Still. I have just been to Bangkok and have taken some good photos. Not that I'm being competitive again or anything. Lx

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks for your lovely comment, Dark Side.

Hey, Family Affairs! Gimme a hug! I owe you big time! Drop me a line if you need any driving / typing / heavy lifting / dog walking &c. :0) xx

Anonymous said...

I've been lurking by your blog for weeks though never comment. This to me is the saddest post ive read and it brought me to tears!-and im a man!

I've yet to trawl through your old posts-i intend to in time-you are born/blessed with this incredible gift- all i needed to do was close my eyes for me to be in the room with you, Karol and his wife.

Be well-and dont stop writing!

A lurker from Bedfordshire.

family affairs said...

I need all of the above except for the dog walking and possibly roof tiling, plumbing and mowing lawn and commenting OVER AT MY BLOG like normal bloggers, not making me constantly come over to your house. Lx

loveinvienna said...

‘Don’t - leave me - until I’m better,’ he says.
‘We promise.’

This made me sad, not entirely sure why; perhaps because so many of your 'customers' demand this from you when they don't need it. Karol did need it but he felt he should 'ask' for it. A proper cry for help you could hear :) Somewhere in these quoted lines is your job description I suppose!

Excellent post Spence, was right there with you. Terrible thing, the big C.

Liv xxx

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Anon!
I know a lot of these posts are pretty sad, and sometimes I feel a bit guilty for writing them. But I suppose it's an unavoidable aspect of the job. In reality, there are lots of positives to keep you afloat. Anyway - thanks for your comment, and for reading the blog. :)

Family Affairs - Do you need roof tiling? That's one of the jobs I've done in my time. Hardest job in the world... xxx

LIV - how are you?
You're right - cancer is such a tough deal. I'd far rather be taken outright than have to live with a gradual decline (just cowardly like that, I guess). Amazing job that hospices / Macmillan nurses do, though. Palliative care is not the glitzy end of medicine, but should get much more recognition and resources. I'm amazed that Martletts Hospices are still charities, and get no central funding. How is that possible?

Hope you're well and everything's good with you.

family affairs said...

Thx for your comment - I managed to entice you over! Yes please, roof tiling required when you have a spare moment in between saving lives. (phew - your still on 57) Lx

Gerry said...

As you go about your work people give you the gift of their most precious stories. What I like most about what you do with these gifts is the tenderness and respect you confer on each one.

Keep writing, keep writing. Um, dunno about scrying our seaside fortune though.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks, Gerry.

Although I do go to some lengths to change details and keep identities hidden, I would really hope that if anyone read one of these posts and thought that they were the people involved, they wouldn't feel misrepresented. Even if what I'm writing is tough to read, I hope they would be able to say that it was truthful.

BTW - I agree about 'seaside'. Too much. I nipped it out - but kept 'scrying' because I can't think of any other occasion when I might get away with using that word! ;)