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Chris Slatter

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Don't Look Now Part 2

I was still having hallucinations. I wasn’t aware of receiving any drugs through my ever-present drip, so these fantasies must have emanated from me. There was a garden area outside my hospital window, between my building and the building opposite. It was a haven for birds as there were plenty of trees as well as bushes and shrubs. I looked out of my window one night to see the trees talking to one another, each one leaning forward to address the tree opposite while they gestured with their branches. One night there was a storm and the trees started fighting each other, wildly thrashing with their branches, leaves flying in the wind. It was quite a show. 

I mentioned this experience to one of the doctors. He looked at me dubiously with an “Oh, yes…”, while feigning interest in his computer screen. I never mentioned it to the medical staff again, although it did turn up later on my hospital notes. Be cautious about what you say while a hospital patient.Medical workers, especially those who work in hospitals are unsung heroes.

The nurses, doctors, technicians and support staff that I encountered were unfailingly cheerful, helpful and knowledgeable. I have never met a more dedicated body of workers. This extended all the way down the chain. For instance, the lady responsible for cleaning the patients’ rooms was also the oncology ward’s librarian; she sourced new books for the patients and made sure they were available for them to borrow. We had many an entertaining conversation when she came into my room with a bucket and mop. Her knowledge of authors and their books put me to shame causing me to re-appraise my concept of support workers. It is not accurate to impose a hierarchy on others, or to judge people on the basis of their jobs, I decided after a lifetime of doing just that.


After I was admitted to hospital with lymphoma I was given a lot of tests. These occasionally entailed late night visits to X-ray departments, now known as Medical Imaging due to there being a lot more than X-rays in their toolbox. One night a porter came into my room, with a trolley. Usually my bed would have been unhitched from the wall. Nowadays to transport patients, they take the entire bed with the patient in it. But Brett had a trolley. He helped me onto it. In the corridor outside my room he paused, then whispered, “Want to go for a ride?”


I understood him to mean that he was not going to take the direct route. I couldn’t wait. Banged up in a room by myself with only hallucinations to entertain me I was bored. I couldn’t move and was thoroughly debilitated by the large tumour on my adrenal gland. It felt like if I was being taken out  to the park, or to see a local beauty spot.


At night, hospitals are warrens, a, empty maze of corridors lit by spotlights in the ceilings. The effect is pools of light in a sea of shadows. The porter, whom I guessed was in his late twenties, let’s call him Brett, set a cracking pace and we soon worked up quite a speed. I could see the soles of his shoes lifting high as I lay on the trolley,. It reminded me of Lee Marvin’s walk in the movie Point Blank. The whole thing was quite exhilarating as we whizzed down endless corridors. I hoped the journey to Medical Imaging would take hours. Suddenly Brett slowed and came to a stop. Because I was lying down and being driven head first I couldn’t see what was behind me, but I could see his face. It was distraught, but with a tinge of yearning. Then a female voice issued from an unseen person, “Hello, Brett.”


“Hello, Sarah,” Brett replied.


The tones of both their voices spoke of issues historical and unresolved. I was a witness to a real life drama; too bad I couldn’t observe this encounter. But I could listen and, of course, I could watch Brett. Making myself as inconspicuous as I could I lay perfectly still. What unfolded was a tale of loss and grief. Brett and Sarah had been on opposite shifts for months, one working at night, the other during the day. I gathered that they were about to commence a deep friendship when the hospital administration inadvertently stymied them by assigning them work at opposite ends of the day. Their exchange lasted only a few minutes before Sarah had to take her trolley and patient back to the ward. This was the only glimpse I had of her, just her back seen briefly as she pushed her charge in the opposite direction. Brett was subdued and brought me quickly to my destination in Medical Imaging. He left the trolley with the technicians and left. I never saw him again. Hopefully the pair met up again as they now appeared to be on the same shift pattern.


I had been in the oncology ward for nearly three weeks and at last I was judged ready to begin chemotherapy. Chemotherapy works by interfering with mitosis, normal cell division, which means that old worn out cells are not replaced by new ones. The best-known effect of this is, of course, hair loss; hair from your head, your eyebrows, eyelashes and your body dies eventually and thins and then disappears. It’s quite startling if you’re vain like me. I took to wearing a hat most of the time, but I couldn’t do anything about the eyebrows and lashes. Eventually I would look like Elmer Fudd.


I was having the chemotherapy regimen known as R-CHOP, an acronym for a suite of drugs designed to shrink tumours rapidly. It is not without its consequences as you will imagine. These made themselves known as the treatment progressed and I will describe the side effects as they occurred. But for now, I was grateful for the attention I was getting. This began with a new cannula,

that was attached to a vein in my arm – think of a miniature version of the Christmas tree that oilmen attach to the wellhead and you have the idea. Nurses, most of whom I had become friendly

with, appeared in gowns, masks and surgical hats. It was disconcerting to say the least, like seeing your mother in uniform. Right there in the ward, they dripped chemicals into my body that would shrink the massive tumour sitting on my adrenal gland. There was no pain, no pain at all, and seemingly no effect either. After six or seven hours the first stage of the chemotherapy was over and the next day I was able to go home.




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About Me

I have been an advertising copywriter, film director, teacher of screenwriting and a television producer. I have worked for some of the world's largest advertising agencies in Australia and the UK before attending the London Film School for two years.

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