Jonty Este is a 48-year-old journalist living in Sydney. He was born in the UK and has been in Australia since 1988, spending most of that time as a writer and editor with The Australian newspaper. He is director of communications with the Media Alliance, the journalists’ union, where he specialises in researching and writing about the way the news media is changing.
This is the fifth in an irregular series about his experiences with cancer. At the bottom of this post you can link to his previous articles.
As avid fans of Ian Fleming’s novels may recall, when James Bond tracks the nefarious Dr No to his island hideout of Crab Key, he and Honeychile Rider are locked in a luxury apartment and treated like honoured guests at a luxury spa.
It is, of course, all artifice. Bond is being kept — in preparation for his epic showdown with the master criminal — in a mink-lined prison.
Curmudgeon Towers, our Sydney seat, may not be lined with mink, but it boasts a big-screen TV, wireless internet access, a wealth of literature and music and I have the companionship of the marvellous Max and a parade of visitors to help pass the time.
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But for all that, the Towers is, for me at the moment, still a prison and I’m going a bit stir crazy.
It’s far better being here than being stuck in a hospital ward, I hasten to add. But I’m a restless sort of a bloke. There’s a perverse torment in being visited by envoys who bring their news from the real world: who’s been an a-se at work, what so-and-so said when in their cups at the pub the other night. The bovine antics of shoppers in a crowded supermarket when Max is trying to get home in a hurry.
It’s all happening out there and I’m stuck here.
Now, of course, you count your blessings — and I’m keenly aware that there are many people who would kill for the chance of spending a month of simple leisure, gravitating between lengthy reading sessions on the sofa and opiate-enhanced afternoon naps.
And it’s not that I haven’t got plenty to do — I’ve always wanted to try my hand at creative writing and this hiatus affords me the down time to do just that. But still …
After the operation I had a period, which lasted about a fortnight or so, where life consisted of a series of little victories: getting to the shower and having a shave the day after the op, going for the first tentative walks around the ward and, eventually, downstairs to the café for a real coffee. Being able to do the Herald cryptic, despite having a head full of morphine.
You measure your progress in the number of tubes being removed from your body and each one is a minor landmark: the stomach drain from my nose, which frightened my friends’ small children, the catheter (ouch), the drain from my wound: “Your body will be able to absorb any more fluids from now on,” said the nurse. Yay! Back to normal.
Then you go home and luxuriate in your normal surroundings: being able to sleep in your own bed and deciding when you will get in and out of it; eating real food. Having the odd small glass of wine with dinner. Changing your own nicotine patch (have I mentioned I gave up smoking?)
I’ve been sitting in front of the computer for half an hour and by now, in the normal course of things, I’d have had at least one gasper and would be contemplating the second. There are none in the house. I dare say I could drag my bones five minutes down the road and buy some, but that would instantly tear up three weeks of abstinence, and I really don’t want to do that.
Having a major op is an ideal time to chuck away the smokes, but as you start to feel better all the justifications for giving up seem to fade as quickly as the pain and you are left to fall back on the (eminently sensible) reasoning that led you to give up in the first place. But eminently sensible reasoning and the urge for a cigarette seem to lie in different areas of the cerebral cortex.
Anyhow, I’m not going to smoke, so I might just as well resign myself to being a bit grumpy about it and have done with it.