Wendy Woolfson

How To Be Sick

Before I was ill the most medication I’d ever taken was a couple of paracetamol and ibuprofen and the occasional course of anti-biotics. Then I have cancer, and overnight my dressing table turns into a pharmacy.

I have pills spilling over the edges; anti-inflammatories, nerve pain killers, opiates, constipation pills, steroids, paracetamol, a daily nasal rinse, and anti-sickness pills to help with the effect all the other pills have on me. Oh, the irony.

I’ve made mistakes with the quantities I’m taking as well, either taking too many or too few.

Nobody tells you how to do this properly.

How to be sick.

How to manage all this medication and understand it. It all happens so quickly and the professionals throw all this information at you almost as soon as you receive the diagnosis, and just like that, my whole life has changed from running a service in social care with a team of nine and a caseload of hundreds to just, nothing. I am now the priority and medicine is my main focus.

Measurements, milligrams, and quantities.

When to take these ones, how many of those, and at what time of day.

Opiates twice a day, nerve pills 3 x a day, anti-sickness 3 x a day (because the sickness is constant)

Bowel relaxant powder sachets as and when required – how much am I supposed to poo in a day, is there a required amount?

A phone call with the pain management nurse regarding the breakthrough opiates. Me, “Oh, one syringe of 5ml equals 10mg? I thought two syringes equals 10mg?” which means they think I’ve been in much less pain than I have and I’ve been in in a lot more pain than they understood. Nurse, “Let’s increase your tablet opiates then.” Thank God, I finally get a night’s sleep with no pain after 3 months.

They throw you into this world of medicines and measurements and assume that you’re going to understand and cope with it all, whilst in pain and exhausted. I’m no Ginger Rodgers, I can’t do this whilst wearing heels and backwards. (you might be too young for that one). I struggle with numbers and measurements as it is, so this just pushes the limits of what I can deal with whilst swallowing 160mg of Morphine per day.

I have a pill box for Monday to Sunday, 4 x a day. all laid out so I can’t get it wrong. But I still do. I still run out and forget to re-order the repeats from the surgery and then it’s a scramble to get the chemist and surgery to line up their systems and help me get my pain meds on time.

We bought them a box of chocolates to thank them for their help.

My husband helps with all of this of course but whilst holding down his job, looking after the boys, keeping the household together, looking after me and running to the surgery and chemist for various prescriptions. When I look at all the things he has to do, then what I’m going through, it starts to pale in comparison and I’m exhausted for him.

The doctor phones as I’m writing this with the news of the upcoming Oncology appointment, a word that now appears easily on my phone’s predictive text, to remind me to take the time to ask all the questions I need and to tell me he’s never seen a diagnosis like this in all his career. I get emotional. This is the man who was the one to recognise there was something wrong with me months ago. If it wasn’t for him, I think I’d still be waiting for that elusive ENT appointment. I thank him again for his help through deep breaths and sobs. I’s time for a shower and to wash away fear. There’s still living to be done.