There’s one thing I’m going to miss about NHS chemotherapy – Susan Morrison

Watching staff on the chemotherapy ward deal with the irritating, the demanding and the fearful with huge compassion has made me realise I could never be a member of their great profession, writes Susan Morrison.

Friday, 22nd November 2019, 6:00 am
Approach the loo with extreme caution if Susan's been in just before you. Picture: AFP

Toodle pip, chemotherapy ward. The needle-in-the-vein bit is finished. It’s been a blast, guys. I shall miss you, if only because its 1980s interior décor vibe takes me back to my shoulder pad and leg warmers youth.

There are things I won’t miss. Now, I have no wish to shock the good readers of this fine newspaper, but the bodily wastes of chemo patients are radioactive, but only mildly. Put the Geiger counter down. This means that when we pop to the loo, we must ensure that we flush twice.

That is all very good and well in the comfort of your own home, but should you suddenly get the urge in a more public space, well, you’re just looking down the toilet bowl of pain. Do you have any idea how long it takes cisterns to refill in public loos? Ages, mate. Weirdly, particularly the bogs actually in the hospital – a place where the toilets are simultaneously very popular and curiously hidden.

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Susan's tablets are real horse chokers. Picture: Ian Georgeson

I’ve lurked apologetically behind many a door these last months ­waiting for the magic sound of a full cistern, whilst hearing the sighs and tuts of women waiting with full bladders. Usually I fling the door open and bellow “chemotherapy” and move on. People back off.

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I’m finished with the high-tech chemo, but I’m still on the old-fashioned tablet regime for a fortnight or so. Turns out, I am rubbish at taking tablets. Well, these tablets. To paraphrase a fine Scottish phrase, one set is big enough to qualify as horse chokers.

Good people. We have landed men on the moon. We have phones that are smarter than us. My car has been built with heated seats. All tremendous advances in science, especially the heated seat.

Huge wells of compassion

So why can we not develop a tablet that isn’t coated in a substance specially designed to stick to the side of a slippery throat, thus enabling it to exude the kind of taste that is guaranteed to give you the serious dry boak? It’s like trying to swallow down a mint imperial coated with sandpaper. There’s only one solution. A generous slug of gin.

There are things I will miss. I mean, it’s not like Ward One is the ultimate Groupon half-price, spa-day treat, but I will miss the staff. Everyone, from the lovely lady on reception who could teach a snotty upper class hotel a thing or two about how to greet people, like you’ve just made her day, to the assistants who take your details and settle you in and the nurses who never fail to meet you with a smile.

I’ve watched them all deal with the irritating, the demanding and the fearful, and realised in that moment that I could never have been a member of their great profession. I just don’t have the huge wells of compassion that these women and men draw on to do the job. Five minutes in the company of some girning ingrate and I’d be bellowing “Man up or ship out, fella”.

Well short of the standards they expect.

They give you lot of tablets and bags of mysterious fluids on the ward, and every time they do it, they have to check they have the right person and the right drugs so they bounce up in pairs and demand your name and date of birth.

This gets a bit boring after a while. I tried to change things up by ­giving them my birthday first but was quickly slapped back into line in no uncertain fashion. It did occur to me that this would be the worst identity theft gig in the world. I mean, who even wants to pretend to be me? I don’t even like being me.

Imagine you’ve nicked my ID. Far from emptying my bank account of all my wealth, which would just about keep you going on Poundland Haribo for a day, you’ve got to present yourself at Ward One to get needles stuck in your arm. And flush the toilet twice. Mind you, Haribo can do that to you as well, for ­different reasons. Floaty, that’s all I’m saying.

There’s something about Mary...

Previously… Scotland’s History Festival will be under way by Friday, with loads of goodies over the weekend. Why not come on up to the French Institute opposite St Giles to have a gander? Get a fix of history – and don’t miss out on the great bistro for a darned good coffee and gorgeous cake.

On Saturday night we’re exploring the life and times of that tough lady from Dundee, Mary Slessor. A new screenplay has been produced, and you could be among the first to hear a rehearsed reading of selected highlights from the work, in the company of Professor Sir Tom Devine, Scotland’s most famous historian. Come up. I’ll show you my chemo bruises.