Unexpectedly we are back in the hospital as Charlie has an infection in his blood. We are on the wing of a ward which seems to be designated autism alley as there are two other patients suffering from the A to varying degrees. One quite happy with his trains, Charlie happy shooting people who deem to talk in his presence and one girl who wanders into our cubicle to visit us throughout the night. Today was a bad day for her. Consumed by a firestorm, she got naked. She trashed her room and bloodied her mother and set to repeatedly bashing her head against the wall in frustration. Always fascinating, certainly depressing. Oddly she seems to be the most sociable of the group. Today our eyes met and I got a smile from this girl in her glass prison and I felt terribly sad for her and very thankful that Charlie is who he is and that we manage to rub along without too much of a commotion. There’s always some poor bastard worse off than you. And that’s a bold statement when cancer is in the mix.
The feeling that this week Charlie and I are more like McMurphy and Chief out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is almost a welcome distraction. It’s easy to be blasé about an infection. People get them all the time. But scary things can happen and after this last year I can fair feel mortality pulsing out of every cubicle, anguished in the knowing that life can be snuffed out like a candle given unlucky circumstances.
Life on a cancer ward has been a surprise to me. I expected continuous panic and misery. Being on an open ward turned out to be like living in a tented community. Days filled with constant bustle, laughter, chatter, a mix both of the most moronic and amazing people I’ve ever met interwoven with communal kitchen politics. Tempers flaring at dirty dishes and teabags left in the sink. Nightimes bring the soft murmurings of families, the kindness of strangers inviting you to join them to eat, the cooing of mothers comforting their babies. I enjoy listening to the different languages, the timbre of their voices rising and falling. I enjoy simply not knowing what they’re saying. It takes my mind off gnawing thoughts that fill dark nights. Life on the ward has to me an aura all of its own. Sometimes filled with adrenalin and activity. Sometimes, especially at night tense and hushed, only the cry and wail of the afflicted, low worried voices, sinister sounding alarms and the terse pulling in of air from an oxygen mask. There is no escaping your worries then. You can only lie in the dark, look at the ceiling and face them.
So we are back to taking things day by day for the moment. Putting the brakes on before we get too close to the edge again. Another obstacle for Charlie to cross. But in the end I visualise Charlie years from now as a tall boy with some odd ways and a refreshing sense of humour. One who has learnt to manage his own firestorms and emotions. I think of that day when he’ll be able to have a calm conversation and say thank you to those who have helped him and I’ll sit there and think; “Goddam it Chief, you fooled ’em all”.