The instructions came on one page, telling you, amongst other things, that you had to be irradiated with a full bladder. That you should arrive an hour before your appointed time, drink four 250 ml cups of water in that hour so that your bladder is full before treatment. I look at the nurse - “Water?” “Yes, water!” - besides we are doing you a favour by booking you in early in the morning. OK, OK, even in summer the sun isn’t over the yardarm at eight in the morning! I was actually thinking of tea or coffee, but the thought of a litre of tea or coffee sloshing round inside me wasn’t all that inviting
I cheat, I leave home with a bottle of water in my workbag, drink it driving in or on the train. After all I’ve managed to convince them to do me early in the morning, I’m on my way to work, the hospital is on the way. So I arrive full of water anyway, then just to be sure I have another two cups. No worries!
You are already in the routine. You got here, found your gown in its pigeonhole with you name on it. You belong here: your name amongst those pigeonholes gives you an identity. Into a cubicle, out of you clothes, nothing left but your jocks, pull on the paper bootees and put on your gown. Unlike other parts of the hospital these are not backless gowns, but comforting, wrap around, decent gowns that give you a modicum of dignity. You wait for the therapist to come and collect you.
The words, “The machine’s broken, it will be some time, you had better empty out and start filling again” came as a welcome relief. It is now thirty minutes past the appointed time, your legs are crossed, your eyes are probably crossed, your pelvic floor muscles are so tight they have almost gone into spasm - you can now empty out! You race for the one pan toilet, this is no time for courtesy and you have been in that state longest. Relief!!
Four 250 ml cups of water again, carefully paced out over the hour while you watch the procession of engineers cross to and fro as they tend to the monster in the bunker. The hour comes, then another ten minutes, then another twenty. Things are feeling desperate again when a therapist calls you in.
You go down what seems to be the start of a maze, and then you are in the room - the bunker. In the middle of the room is the monster. Waiting like something from prehistory, hovering above a table covered with a sheet. You hang your dressing gown on the hook and get onto the table. Before all this started they tattooed you - I asked for a rose and a galleon, but all I got was four little dots - on each hip, near the navel and down in the pubes. They try to locate the dots, but they have been drawing on you in blue Texta for several days now, so all the hair follicles seem to have colour in them. It seems strange having them scrabbling round in your pubes trying to find a tattooed dot. Eventually, they find the dot - out with rulers and more Texta drawings. Lights shine from the ceiling lasering out lines on you. The ladies - they all seem to be ladies - push and pull you into position. Somehow your jocks have ended up down near your knees - modesty is an interesting concept. All that pushing and prodding to find the dots all moving you round on the bed leaves your pelvic floor muscles almost rigid, and you can’t cross your legs here- you try and joke with the ladies regarding the perilous state of your bladder. Eventually they have you lined up, the Muzak starts up as the ladies leave the bunker and from somewhere remote comes the disembodies voice telling you to breath normally but lie still. The machine starts up, rotates to one side does it’s almost silent zapping of you then it whirrs and grinds to position the prehistoric head above you. Did I say ‘grinds’ - it doesn’t normally do that. It stops at an angle that is not above you. Suddenly the ladies are back in the bunker - the machines broken down again, the ‘phone call has gone to the engineer. Things are getting desperate, so I ask if they have bucket and mop on hand and no I can’t cross my legs. Suddenly the engineer is here and you have never seen the ladies move so quickly to get a sheet across me - he is a stranger, my modesty must be protected.
It is John, we are old mates, he wants a social chit-chat and catch up on the years since I saw him last. John old mate just fix it, I’m desperate. He can’t, help needs to be summoned. The ladies discuss me with John, then after he has gone to summon help, tell me that I am to be off loaded and can empty out, but to start filling up again. I rush out of the maze remembering to pull on the gown and pull up my jocks as I go. Fortunately no queue for the one pan toilet. Relief!!
Start drinking again. Four 250 ml cups, carefully measured out and paced out over the hour. Watch the procession of engineers comes and go. It is now three hours past the appointed time. Another ten minutes, twenty minutes - legs and eyes crossed. Pelvic floor feeling totally knackered.
“You had better come in now and we’ll finish you” - into the maze, into the bunker - there’s the machine, this time with the prehistoric head vertically above where I am to lie. Find the dots again, check on the Texta markings, push-pull-line-you-up, then off go the ladies. This time the machine behaves, zaps you from on high, whirrs quietly whilst the massive head goes to the other side, zaps you from there and finish!
The ladies come, tell me I can go and that they will see me tomorrow. I’m already half way down the maze, pulling up jocks and wrapping gown about me. Straight to the pan and empty out.
Three litres of waters straight through - I must have the cleanest kidneys in this city.
Prevention is, as in other aspects of seamanship, better than cure. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston
Cancer Council NSW would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we live and work.We would also like to pay respect to elders past and present and extend that respect to all other Aboriginal people.