The Walking Dead had been trundling along for a good couple of years before I stumbled upon it. My husband was over the moon when it first started. I asked him what it was all about. Zombies came the answer. Thanks, but no thanks.
As I was feeling like a zombie myself, I decided to have a quick perusal. It starts out like Day of the Triffids. Sheriff Rick Grimes wakes up in hospital. There are no doctors or nurses. He realises that while he has been in a coma, the world has been taken over by the walking dead.
At first it starts out quite promising. Rick is reunited with his family. They and about ten others form a tight community, slaying zombies on the way. By the third series, cracks start to appear. Other groups start challenging them for resources. This all builds and the tension rises. Now we have entered series seven and everything has changed. A group call the Saviours, is now dominant. Rick and his group are now slaves sacrificing everything to the mighty Neagan and his baseball bat Lucille. All the while, those zombies keep multiplying.
The Walking Dead is interesting because the people who shine out are the ones in the “normal” world are the weakest. One such character is Carol. When we meet her in series one, she is a downtrodden wife to a husband who beats her. She loses her daughter and is eventually forced to kill her before she becomes a zombie. This experience makes Carol stronger. She plays on the fact that people assume she’s a boring housewife. She bakes cookies and readily performs other menial tasks to encourage this. All the while she is plotting. She’s hoarding guns, sharp objects, planning her next attack.
Some people think that people who have illnesses are like zombies. Sometimes thanks to pharmaceuticals, we are. They also think that like the zombies, we can infect others. The only way to combat them is not a pick axe in the head like in the Walking Dead. It’s to drug them up even more for “their quality of life”.
In reality, we are more like Carol. Secretly storing information, secretly researching. Getting ready for our next attack. Underestimate us at your peril.
I am firmly in the clutches of the hospital. Part of the deal with Herceptin is not only the two-hour thing, but regular heart scans. This is because Herceptin can affect your heart tissue. At the start of my treatment, I was having these heart scans every three months. Now it’s been altered to every six months as my heart is bearing up well.
Heart scans are quite odd. You go into a room and take your top off. Then you lie on your side on a table while the radiographer wires you up to a machine. The radiographer then puts some gel onto two paddles. These paddles are wired to the machine. They rub these paddles on your chest and in time you can hear your heart beating, which is a bit reassuring. I think it’s a bit like the ultra sound scan that mothers to be have, except that the focus is on your heart not the baby. After about five minutes, it’s all over.
As well as six monthly heart scans, I also have a head and neck MRI every six months too. In fact, I’ve had so many head and neck MRI’s I’ve lost count. When I went last time, I think I knew more about the pre-scan checks than the student radiographer asking me.
I was seeing Dr H every three months but this has now changed to every six months, usually after a head and neck MRI. I can arrange to see her whenever I like which is good.
As the Royal Marsden sort of, prescribed this treatment, I also go there every six months too. This has now become a bit of a social occasion for me, my sister and my parents. We all meet at Pret a Manager opposite South Kensington tube. Whilst in there we discuss tactics and any questions that we have. This normally will revolve whether they have my latest scan from Nottingham. Nottingham always says they send them off but the Marsden always maintains that they haven’t received them. Someone, somewhere is sending them or not opening the right in box.
Anyway, we make the short walk from Pret a Manger to the Royal Marsden in Chelsea. When we get there, I check in at reception while my parents and my sister scrabble around for seats. I must say that they usually have been good at keeping to their appointment times, but the café there does sell books, which is never a good sign in a hospital waiting room.
When we are called in, it’s usually to a small room that we all struggle to fit in. Inevitably, I never see the Prof I but usually one of his minions – I mean registrars. They won’t have had the scans from Nottingham so will base their assessment on me and me alone. They will say to carry on with the treatment and see you in six months. Then, after I’ve made my appointment for six months’ time, we go to Carluccio’s opposite the tube station and have a meal to discuss what has just passed.
And so, it was until my last appointment at the Marsden. The registrar came in. We all introduced ourselves. He seemed a jolly chap. Then he dropped a bit of a bombshell.
“It’s lovely to meet you all but I am at a loss to know why you all come down from Nottingham every six months? We are merely repeating what you are being told in Nottingham. As they are administering your treatment up there, then surely you could save yourselves a journey?”
We were gobsmacked. My sister put him right though. She explained that only I lived in Nottingham. Both her and my parents lived in south west London therefore coming to Chelsea wasn’t an issue for us. The reason why we kept coming back to the Marsden was that it has be emphasised to us that eventually, the Herceptin would stop working. When this happened, we wanted to stay with the Marsden in case there were any other treatment options. As the Marsden leads the world in the development of cancer drugs, in the future, I could become eligible for clinical tests that could maybe, get rid of my cancer completely.
That shut him up. There were a few letters that went back and forth between the Marsden and a rather bemused Dr H. But we finally reached a settlement. I made my appointment at the Marsden to see them in six months’ time. If it was all tickety boo, I would extend it by a couple of months. The key thing was to stay on the Marsden’s books. I didn’t want to get discharged as I would have to go through a right palaver to be admitted again.
What this whole predicament demonstrates is the weird nature of illness. When you are severely ill, you have doctors, nurses, consultants and even professors clambering all over you. When you make a recovery, their hold on you lessens. You still have your appointments and scans. But no one seems that interested because it’s all normal. It’s something that people and especially the loved ones of people who are ill can’t get their heads round. You want them to be interested. You want them to view you as your top priority. But they don’t. The reason that they don’t, is because you aren’t. You are OK. You may be in pain, but you are not in life threatening danger.
However, doctors can sometimes be wrong. They can dismiss patients only for them to get worse and even die. It’s this fear that creates so much anxiety when it looks like they aren’t just interested in you. However, this dismissive attitude should be celebrated. It’s good to be stable and normal.
Dr B said early on in my treatment:
“The longer we can keep you out of hospital, the better…”
She’s right. It’s good NOT to be in hospital. It’s good to be boring. We should embrace medical professionals’ dismissiveness and not fear it. It’s good not to be the centre of attention all the time but to just sit back and relax. Relax until the next crisis occurs…like a zombie apocalypse.