Chris Bateman’s Lockdown Diary: Chapter One: When you can’t kid the kidney – or sidestep your bladder


Chris Bateman’s Lockdown Diary: Chapter One: When you can’t kid the kidney – or sidestep your bladder

This first blog sets the context for how being an immune-compromised person affects one’s everyday behavior during the Covid-19 lockdown. Trot with me through the minutiae of my everyday cancer-survivor life before easing into my own unique lockdown slow-waltz in my next blog. Here we go…

What could be more appropriate than to start this blog two hours into a three-hour chemotherapy infusion?

Perhaps I’ll see just how, what’s commonly known among cancer survivors and oncology caregivers as ‘chemo-brain,’ affects my writing!  So far, I’m able to order my thoughts relatively well as I peer at Table Mountain over the head of another survivor being infused with cytotoxins opposite me. I’m in the chemo room on the second floor of Blaauwberg Netcare Hospital with four other patients, having got over some initial irritation at an hour’s delay in my appointed 1 pm starting time. The cancellation last Monday of my chemo-session due to my blood count being below acceptable risk levels meant that instead of the usual 9 am weekly start, I’m being slotted in much later today. Seems the afternoon slots are far busier, leading to some impromptu time-slot juggling. OK, now I think the fatigue I’m feeling due to the anti-histamine injection an hour ago (to avoid the swollen, peeling itchy wrists and numb fingers and upper chest rash I suffered as side-effects), is accelerating the chemo-brain. It took me about three minutes to formulate that sentence. Brings to mind that old barman’s greeting, “what’s your poison?” and the similar feeling that (much later) accompanies heavy consumption of alcohol.

If alcohol dulls your brain, then cytotoxins straight into a vein port in your chest do a quicker, better job. Just without the disinhibition and initial elevation of the liquor. While a few too many drinks may take a good while to render one ‘dof,’ an anti-histamine injection is relatively instant. Within an hour or two anyway. Chemo, like alcohol, affects different people in different ways. With me, my oesophagal cancer-tailored toxic mix includes an initial blood thinner and saline solution (the last to help protect my kidneys which I guard on non-chemo days by drinking three litres of water). I’ve found that over the past 15 chemo-therapy infusions I’m pretty tired within a few hours of each one (I started to write “very” there, had an interaction with a nurse calculating my number of chemo cycles, (five of three sessions each), and completely lost my train of thought. Those who know me well would say that’s not unusual (especially with anything involving numbers), but heck, I can always trot out the chemo-brain excuse! At least I’m a bit better with numbers than someone we all know – in itself an indictment. OK, where was I? Oh; about to tell you that on Day Three and/or Four, post-chemo, I’m properly whacked. As in, if I don’t take an afternoon sleep, I get sloth-like, without even the energy to hang upside down from a roof rafter. Did I ever do that in my wilder, more youthful days (on alcohol)? You’ll have to ask my long-time friends and/or former digs mates. I do remember once dancing very romantically and intimately with a broom, to great amusement from fellow party-goers.

To use a somewhat less civilized expression, nearly 40 years ago I had intermittent episodes when I could accurately be termed a ‘piss cat’.  I am, since my cancer, once more deserving of that feline moniker. Except that this time it has to do with my over-imbibing of…wait for it…water! It’s a strange thing, urination is, because it graphically illustrates the mind/body connection. If I tell my mind when a long splashy release ends, that there really is more, then hey presto! – there is. I can even manage a third longish tinkle, using the ubiquitous power of the mind. Yet the body will not tolerate the opposite; as in telling myself, I don’t have to go when I actually do! It’s led to my breaking off mid-sentence or mid TV series, cross-eyed and pigeon-toed, rushing down the passage. Only when I get to the loo do my eyes uncross. Only then can I start playing urethral mind-games.

Back to real-time blogging. My (our) oncologist has just walked in and plonked herself down in an empty chemo chair next to me, sighing, ‘phew, the public holidays in that three-day work-week played havoc with our scheduling.” To general survivor chuckles, I ask her if a round of chemo might not help, or perhaps a bag of mainline alcohol?  I’m actually feeling a bit guilty. Her presence and comment may well have something to do with my firing off a somewhat frustrated e-mail to her earlier about the lateness of my chemo session. I really must learn to ‘cross the bridge’ better in my relationships. Imagining her side of it and remembering the context of last week may well have led to my having had a kinder, more empathic approach. After all, I am by profession one who should get both sides of the story.

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