I oscillate between an arrogance about my survival and a debilitating awareness of my life’s precariousness. It’s increasingly more of the former now. A year ago, it was only the latter.
At my most precarious, I ended up isolated in a hospital room, immunocompromised and on the verge of malnutrition. I’d barely eaten in three weeks and by this point, I couldn’t keep food down even if I tried, not even with anti-nausea medication. I was getting by on litres of sucrose and saline. I was starving and incessantly dizzy.
Even after the doctors managed to get my white blood cell count up, they still weren’t comfortable discharging me. Hospital trays went back to the kitchen untouched and I couldn’t walk ten steps round the tiny hospital room without running out of air. My nutritionist, a tiny, soft-spoken woman, frustrated and out of options, recommended a feeding tube. I cried and pleaded. I was so tired of syringes going into and tubes poking out of my skin. I had to try really hard to eat, they said. Then and only then could I go home.
When you came to see me at the hospital, cumulatively, I was eating maybe a teaspoon of mashed potatoes a day. I was basically relying on cups and cups of milk and apple juice to satiate my caloric needs. It wasn’t working and I knew it. Earlier that afternoon, heaving after few steps to get to the toilet, I cried.
“This can’t be my life. I’m never going to leave this hospital.”
And then I berated myself.
“All you had to do was stay alive. But you fucked up so bad, you ended up isolated in a tiny hospital room you can’t even walk around.”
I was in bed when you came in with my aunt. I had given up.
You prayed for me and had me sit up. Because, “come on, you can sit up.”
I don’t know what conversations were had, I was busy moving my food around, trying to hold back tears at my inability to bring a spoonful of food into my mouth.
You said you had to go to the washroom, but right before you left, you scooped up a spoonful of mashed potatoes and placed it on the side plate. “I don’t doubt that you can do it” you said. And for the first time in months, without thinking, I put a spoonful of food in my mouth.
And then I sat, shocked and confused. I hadn’t eaten in so long, I didn’t know what to do with a mouth full of food.
“Aunty, I don’t know what to do.”
“What do you mean?”
“With the food in my mouth…what do I do?”
“You swallow it.”
A really wild take if I ever heard one.
But I did. It tasted like metal and dear God it hurt so bad. Because of radiation and chemotherapy, I had mouth sores and my jaw and throat muscles were hella weak. I ate maybe another spoonfull before it was too painful to eat but because of you, I also had a bowl of cream of wheat in addition to my milk and apple juice. And then I just kept getting better.
My aunts said it was a miracle. I’m not very religious and so I don’t really see it that way. What you did was affirm my resilience at a time when I absolutely didn’t think I was ever going to make it out alive. Every time I saw you, no matter how terrible a day I was having, you prayed for me and reminded me that I could survive. And unlike everyone else, I could believe you because you’d just beat cancer a few months back yourself.
You loved me even though we met when all I could give was shrugs and dangling tears.
I’m so sorry that the cancer come back. I’m so sorry that I never got a chance to reciprocate your kindness. I’m so sorry that this pandemic means we can’t properly honour your life and kindness.
I’m so sorry Naphtaly.
Rest in kindness:)
Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash
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