It’s a question we ask and are asked constantly – which is curious, as it tends to elicit such a meaningless response.
“I’m very well, thank you! How are you?”
Any elaboration on all that is going on for you – or just an honest “I feel crap” – is generally received with unease.
A full-bodied answer to the rhetorical “How are you?” is like stepping outside of age-old British etiquette and throwing an elephant into the room.
These days, I am bombarded with the question – but it is saturated with unprecedented levels of sincerity and compassion.
So, how am I?
I normally play around with these posts over the course of 3 days – until they coalesce into a literary snippet of whatever I’m experiencing that week.
But when you’re locked inside a white box, undergoing chemo and a stem cell infusion, time trails as slowly as a snail lugging its way across sand.
The whole gamut of human emotion can be felt in the time it takes to brew a cup of tea.
When I started to write on Sunday, this is how I was…
I’d just graffitied the whiteboard on the wall with love hearts and flowers and the mantra “This too shall pass”, when I sat down to write.
Radiologists have inserted a needle into my jugular vein and forcibly tunnelled it under the right side of my upper chest, to an exit point at the level of my armpit.
The pain of the procedure has subsided, and 2 plastic tubes dangle limply over my boob.
My north-facing window offers a view of a mouldy brick wall and a drab half-light, which dissipates into darkness by 4pm.
Between the hours of 9am and 10am, I can press my cheek to the pane of glass and look eastward to behold the rising sun – before it slips behind the outline of my building and disappears for another day.
In my room, the mind-numbing whirring and occasional maniacal bleeping of machines.
From the hallway, an interminable clanging of metal trolleys and shushing of plastic bags as the bins are emptied and refilled, emptied and refilled.
The faintest whiff of anything makes me want to vomit – so each day I nudge my food supplies further towards the door. Yesterday, a nurse tripped over them when trying to leave the room.
In a bid to keep my 53-kilo body strong, I force myself to eat despite a total loss of appetite.
Within 3 days I put on 3 kilos in fluid retention. My legs looked like tree trunks.
The doctor – like an overgrown kid in a pharmaceutical sweetie shop – was quick to prescribe yet another pill, which I rejected in favour of lymphatic drainage massage.
The nurses diplomatically contained their laughter whenever they entered my room to find me lying on my back with my legs hoisted at a 90 degree angle up the side of the wall.
The fluid has now drained – no pills required.
Despite immense fatigue, my training regime continues in earnest – in the morning, when I feel strongest.
After 5 minutes of resistance band work and 5 minutes of stretching, feeling proud of my efforts, I lay down to sleep for an hour or so.
The nurses visit me regularly, to satiate their keen interest in my bodily functions. Heart rate, blood pressure, how many millilitres of wee I produced that day…
Many loiter in my room to chat – about politics, music, spirituality – and those moments of connection are like golden nuggets illuminating my days.
But their inescapable transience also accentuates the aching I have to be physically present with my loved ones.
Reading the whiteboard on Sunday evening, through a fuzzy fury of migraine, it offered little solace.
How am I, right now?
I feel relieved to have my genetic brother’s cells inside me, doing their work. Like a spring-loaded pixie dancing the lyrical segment of a 5 rhythms wave.
Last night I slept soundly, and this morning Nahko Bear and I shared a private, elating dance in my hospital room.
Glancing at the whiteboard, through a lens of recovery, the mantra reads as more hopeful.
How are you, right now?
Can you stand up and do a little jiggle?
Is fresh air filling your lungs?
Can you physically touch someone you truly care for?
Go forth into the day and revel in whatever moment you’re living!
Because once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Good or bad, welcome or unwanted – this too shall pass.