The Best Medicine

“Here we are
Extending into shooting stars
In our houses, in our cars
You didn’t know it
Now you do
This is the way
We move (hey)”


On the second and third chemolympic trial of my treatment cycle I get a single dose of chemo and steroids. My Soulmate says that as we leave the hospital on those days I start to get wildly enthusiastic about everything. She says that I turn into Tigger, whom she loves, but doesn’t want to live with. And by the time we get home I’m literally bouncing around the place. She goes to bed early on those days and encourages me to stay up late watching television. This week I watched ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ , ‘Harvey’,  several episodes of The Antiques Road Trip, and also listened to several episodes of the ‘Broken Record’ podcast.

Although I have an incredible tolerance, and great love, for Rioja and Guinness, I’ve never been able to cope with anything stronger than Paracetamol. In the olden days I worked in a menswear shop on Liffey St. in Dublin called Hairy Legs. We shamelessly ‘interpreted’ the looks that proper brands and shops sold. One of the tasks we had when the shop was quiet was cutting off the waist sizes on the 26’ and 28’ wet look drainpipe trousers and writing 30’ and 32’ , and selling them as such. This worked , as lads rarely tried anything on before buying it , and once bought were reluctant to return them as they just thought they were putting on weight. I imagine we singlehandedly lowered the sperm count of North Dublin for the winter of 1989.

Over the winter of 1989 to the Spring of 1990 the shop changed from stocking shiny ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Versace’ suits to Aztec print baggie sweatshirts, baggier jeans, and the maddest tees as we fully embraced the Madchester looks of The Stone Roses, The Charlatans , and The Happy Mondays. We blasted out their tunes, only switching them off when anyone from IMRO came around.

I worked there for the experience of fashion retail with my friend Ray, no not that Ray, another one. Ray and I planned on opening a shop in Galway.

Ray and I would discuss constantly what was selling, what wasn’t , what we’d do in our own shop, where we’d get the stock, and sites. We would chat during work, we’d go out together, our SoulMates were introduced to each other, it was going to be great !

One sunny Friday evening after we’d locked up the shop we decided to go for a pint, which ended up being three, and then Ray gave me a lift home. We were very relaxed about drink driving then. I was living on Belvedere Road in a house with five student doctors. I asked Ray in for a coffee, and we carried on our chat. While we were having our coffee Ray rolled himself a joint. I had taken the odd puff here and there over the years as a wee embarrassed bedraggled joint was passed around at parties, but they’d had no effect as I was usually quite drunk already, or the joint was tiny…unless it was a party on Eskin Farm, where the joints were the size of tent poles…but that’s another story.

Anyway Ray rolled his joint and then said “Would you like one ?”

“Yeah, sure” I said nonchalantly.

So Ray rolled another, and we smoked our joints and drank our coffee. After a few minute Ray looked at his watch and jumped up, “Jesus, I’ll be late picking her up ! Gotta go.”

I got up to let Ray out and the room spun around several times. This was weird. The house was old, and thankfully had a dado rail in the hall, which I used to navigate my way to the front door, I waved goodbye to Ray as he drove off. I , using the dado rail, made my way back to the armchair in the front room. I sat bolt upright, clenching the armrests. The television was driving me mad, I switched it off and sat there for an hour until I could move without feeling like my brain was disconnected from my skull and swooshing around independently if I moved at all.

And that was the one and only joint I properly smoked. It also put me off taking anything else that was offered over the years as I knew that my reaction would be on the extreme end. I was quite content with vast quantities of glorious alcohol.

The same applied to prescription drugs or over the counter ones. Literally anything stronger than Paracetamol leaves me a gibbering mess. I was on a business trip to Montana once upon a time and arrived with a touch of a cold. My friend John Weber, who we called Shaggy, was looking after us, took us for beers and dinner. Over dinner my cold was getting worse and he said that we’d stop off somewhere on the way back to my hotel and he’d get me some NyQuil. We stopped at a 24 hour Walgreens and he got me the NyQuil and said they were strong and to take one just as I was going to bed.

I went to my room and went to brush my teeth and took the Nyquil, a large green bullet shaped jelly thing with liquid inside it. I sat on the bed to get undressed. My alarm went off at 7.00 am and I woke to find myself fully dressed flat out where I’d sat to get undressed several hours previously. My cold was gone. And so was the feeling in my feet, they were numb from the cold.

So if I have a toothache, sore throat, sore toe, cold, I take Paracetamol.

Guess what is the one drug you’re not allowed take when you’re undergoing chemotherapy ?

Yes, you’re right.

Last week was the start of my second cycle of treatment and that Wednesday is the double dose day, followed by four days of anti-nausea tablets, and an injection to stimulate white blood cell count. They had said that the injection may cause some joint and back pain. But they’d said that the first time in Cycle 1 and I’d been fine. They kept mentioning ‘cumulative effect’ but I’d been fine.

And then on Sunday evening I started to ache…everywhere. I used my magic hot water bottle which did give comfort and relief, but by bedtime I knew I’d need something to actually sleep. I’d been given a prescription for Tramadol, which is the only painkiller I’m allowed, but I’d had no need to take up until now. I took one as I went to bed. I slept. I woke up without any pain or aches the next morning but felt very ‘off’. I had to take anti-nausea tablets on Monday and Tuesday. I don’t like them either. I ate a lot of cream crackers. And gradually felt better-ish.

So on Wednesday when I went up for my chemo they were concerned that my temperature was up, my weight was down, and my white blood cell count and neutrafils were high. They weren’t sure if the treatment would go ahead.

It’s so strange that at that moment I started to pray that it would go ahead. In any other aspect of healthcare or medicine in my life, check ups, dentist visits, tests of any description, if anything can be delayed for any reason whatsoever I’ll take it. And yet , with this process, I’m sitting in my big blue comfy chair, number 2 , on the Day Oncology Ward, praying that they reconsider and hook me to that IV drip, flood me with chemo, give me the steroids, so that…so that I can get better.

I want this journey to pass. I want my operation. I want my recovery. I want to run. I want to drink a bottle of Rioja. I want to go to a posh hotel for a weekend away with my SoulMate. I want to speak at Tenx9 in Belfast, I want to go to see Gorillaz with Robyn, I want to see The Flaming Lips with Jake. I want to take Elliott to McKenna’s for his first , legal, pint. I want to have a big fry on a Friday morning with my brothers in town. I want a bath. I want all of it.

Dr. Maeve appears. We go through how I’m feeling, how I’ve been since last week, she seems happy for the treatment to go ahead. I LOVE Dr. Maeve !

Yesterday I went to Dundalk to meet my daughter Robyn for lunch in MoChara, a bar that I’ve been aching to see since it opened… and Robyn has been raving about. My SoulMate rang Robyn as I travelled up to warn her that I’d had my hair shaved and not to be surprised. She said it felt like Velcro. Robyn in turn asked her to warn me that she’d dyed her hair pink and blue so that I wouldn’t be surprised.

We had delicious coffee and grilled sandwiches, Robyn went for the Cheesus Christ, and I went for the Baby Got Back. They were divine.

Afterwards we walked around to Market St. so I could show her the house that Dad,  my brother John and I were born in. We then went to Seatown Gardens which was an old graveyard. Dad used to tell us stories about when it was walled in and overgrown and they used to sneak in and tell ghost stories in the crypt. One night as they were down there an older boy hammered on the old lead roof and the boys nearly killed each other trying to get out.

I showed her Uncle Johnny’s old shop on the corner and the CBS school I went to until we moved to Monaghan.

The sun shone, we talked about everything and nothing.

It was the best medicine.



Author: paul

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