Diane watched her daughters wobble through the ward towards her. The state of them. Neither had made any effort with their appearance. Their family choice in blue, under-eye shadow came from the selfless service range. It marked itself slowly over the years; a tattoo like badge that proved you’d toiled through life. Guess they get it from me. Care for everyone else except yourself.
‘Hiya,’ they chimed, each of their plump cheeks touching hers in affection. It made Diane cringe.
‘Hiya,’ she said. What a fucking life.
Positive thoughts will create a more positive environment for your body, her counsellor, Caroline, had told her. Diane repeated the words to herself. She didn’t want to be resentful of her daughters; didn’t want to be angry; didn’t want to be stuck in hospital dying from brain cancer. But she was. Let the mental anguish go, she told herself again. You need to concentrate on yourself now, Caroline had said. But then here were her daughters.
They moved a couple of hard, plastic visitor’s chairs by her bed and were wittering on about their kids, their work, their boring society-dictated existence. Both had their beautiful, strawberry blonde locks tied back haphazardly, like hers always had been, before the radiotherapy singed it off. Diane had wasted her life looking after everyone else and she’d taught her daughters to do the same. She’d left no time for herself and even now, dying, she felt as if her life was being choked by others.
Six sessions of horrendous radiotherapy had been a futile attempt to burn the cancer from her brain. Instead it had zapped the last bit of life she had left. All the appointments that led up to them; the calls and reminders; the aftercare; the pitying faces of obliging visitors. People she didn’t see from one year to the next, suddenly by her bedside pretending they gave a shit. Diane knew it well. She’d seen the same face on the thousands of visitors she’d watched come and go from the wards she’d worked on. All those years as a nurse. All those years toiling for a pittance; neglecting her family; losing her husband; teaching her daughters the wrong way to live. And yet she thought she was helping. And yet hundreds had still died. And yet here she was, in the same position with little hope or regard or choice.
The nurse walked in, her teeth clenched into a smile. ‘You’re looking well, Mrs. Hardy. And look at your lovely daughters, don’t you all look alike.’
Diane offered a false smile in return. It was the same mundane bullshit offered to all patients. I suppose that’s why we’re called patients. Both those being treated and the carers afterwards need to have fucking patience to deal with this shite. Are we eased into this from a young age? Delayed gratification – just wait. Work hard and you might well be rewarded with your life back. Bullshit. Diane wanted her life now. The radiotherapy and other chemicals she popped every day wasn’t helping.
‘I need to give you your medicine, Mrs. Hardy.
‘Are you two ok to wait outside for a minute?’
The girls wobbled out.
Breathe into this anger, Caroline had said. Diane found it difficult. All those drugs she’d given her patients over the years – she’d never told people to breathe into their pain. But then she’d never worked with the mind. I believe all physical illness is manifested by the mind’s negative energy, Caroline told her. It’s all got to go somewhere, she’d said. Today’s society doesn’t give us time to heal.
Time. That’s the fucking crux of the matter. I never had time for me.
‘Actually, I don’t think I’ll take any medicine today. I’d just like some water; some water and some space.’
The nurse looked at her quizzically. ‘I’ll have to speak with my superior,’ she said. ‘Are you sure I can’t give you something for the pain.’
‘No,’ Diana said.
‘Right, ok,’ the nurse said, shuffling about awkwardly. Diane knew it wasn’t the usual pattern of communication. ‘I’ll let your daughters back in.’
‘Yes, and please, go speak with your superior immediately. I’d like to discharge myself as soon as possible.’ Diane wasn’t sure where this new voice had come from. All she’d done was breathe and remember what Caroline had told her.
Caroline, I need to do more work with Caroline. I need to find another way to heal. This way does not work; it’s what’s made me ill in the first place. I need to reflect more; manage my life; make space for me and then only allow family and close friends to join me, when I feel up to it. I want to have fun; singing and dancing. I want to paint and take long, leisurely walks. Afternoon baths. I want to nibble the poetry of Keats, deliciously devour bite after bite. I want my time back.