Using my elbows I worked my spine sideways across the mattress and into a position where I could roll onto my left side. It had been three days since I had tried to stand up on my own. It was bound to hurt, I knew. Working my ankles up the centre of the bed, I forced my knees to flex and move towards the edge. Supporting my weight on my left elbow, which snuggled under the good ribs, I lifted my right shoulder upwards. I paused, knowing that as soon as I pushed off and tried to sit up my right side would feel it.
It had been three days and I was no closer to understanding what had happened. The clicking sounds, two in succession, were the ribs fracturing. I knew that now. At the time I thought it was just another joint clicking in or out of position. I’d had a few years of that and assumed this was just another bit of back strangeness. Now I had to accept that loading a dishwasher on a Saturday afternoon was a dangerous thing to do. Would I break an arm today stirring my tea? It seemed possible.
They had got me into the ambulance eventually. There were three of them, careful, concerned and uniformed on the dark street. Melanie and I explained that I’d just been diagnosed with multiple myeloma and that may have something to do with the ribs giving way. They listened and nodded. We were right to call them as if I had got down into our small sedan I would never have got up out of it. They held my weight, lowered me onto the stretcher and slid me into position behind the driver.
I went straight through emergency on the trolley. A drip of pain killers started to settle me down. It was two in the morning and the doctor spoke quietly, asking questions, telling me what she knew and what she wanted to find out. She went away to phone a specialist, which impressed me but scared me too. When she returned she started at my left shoulder and worked her way down my left side, from bone to bone, gently feeling every section of my skeleton. She’d slide her finger tips across my skin and occasionally press or squeeze. She stood at the foot of the bed, looking at me as she worked her way up and down the bones of each toe, from left foot to right foot. Then up my right side it was the same. She was intent on finding and following the line of bones her training told her was there. The pain killers were working, so she pressed into my ribs. We both felt them wobble and shift each side of the breaks. There being no other damage she ordered a morphine drip and left me. I gladly floated away.
When that happens to you, stirring a cup of tea does warrant serious thought. Eventually I pushed off my left elbow and let the shot travel through me. My shoulders shook involuntarily but I kept pushing. In an upright position finally, I let both feet dangle beneath me. I sat still and waited. It was afternoon and quiet. There were a few visitors in the corridor, meekly peering into rooms. I wasn’t sure what day it was.
Another moment, another shot of pain and I stood shakily in the middle of the room.
"Holy shit” I thought. “What the hell just happened to my life?"
And a full, dopey minute later, "OK, I start now learning to live with this".
It was a compulsive thought, an instinctive thing. It was not informed by any philosophy, belief, spiritual or other commitment. It was simply a statement of fact. Standing up was living with it. Breathing was living with it. I didn’t have to understand it. I was surrounded by people who knew the science of it; the physics and the chemistry. I didn’t have to match them. They seemed to be acting in spite of me anyway. What I had to do was know it was me in the middle of all this. I could not forget that. Whatever I thought about it, this was my life.
I had a gown with no back on it. I had cancer too. I had nothing else, except an instinctive commitment to live.
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.