Swans on Parade

Swans at Windsor

“I need a new gas boiler like I need a hole in the head.  Oh, I already have one of those.”  I leaned forward to show the startled Gas sales man on my doorstep the horrific open wound in the centre of my bald head.  I know it was unfair of me to cut short his sales pitch in this way, but what the hell.  I had been living with this deformity for a year and was now sick of it and wanted it gone.  Filled in.  Like with Polyfilla or plasticine.

I was sick of waking up each morning with an itchy head, and despite attempts to cover the hole with plasters, would always end up touching it and picking at the scabby fringe.  This would cause it to bleed and so the process of healing overnight only to be picked again in the morning continued, like the punishment of Prometheus – condemned by the Gods to have his liver torn out each morning by an eagle, only for it to heal each night as he writhed in eternal torment.

But my torment would soon be at an end.  My day of reckoning was now at hand.  Tomorrow morning I would present myself at my local hospital for an operation.  The Plastic Surgeon had tried to reassure me, but his words were full of ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘possibles’.  His previous attempt at a skin graft had not worked, leaving me with a hole and a deferred judgement until my strength had sufficiently recovered.  He had performed similar procedures before, and there was a fairly good chance of success.

“There are risks”, he had said, “Are you sure you want to go ahead?”

“Yes, I can’t live with this hole in my head any longer,” I had replied.

I pulled on my coat and headed for the door.  A walk in the winter sunshine was what I needed to calm me and steady my nerves.  The novelty of being able to put my finger into the hole and touch my skull had worn thin.  A bit like the surface of my skull – worn thin, where the radiotherapy had degraded the surface of the bone.  A Halloween act once a year, maybe, but the rest of the time an annoyance.

Just over a year ago a lump had grown on my head.  I continued to work in my sales job, wearing a baseball cap to hide the offending lump from customers and give myself a better chance of making a sale.  Look normal, smile, keep calm and carry on.  The British way.

My GP was suitably excited, the way doctor’s get when presented with something unusual to break the monotony of coughs, colds and other mundane complaints.  My lump had grown to the size of an egg.  And so my journey into the world of the NHS began.  He sent me to a specialist who sent me for a biopsy at the hospital which revealed that the lump was a cancerous melanoma.  Oh My God…the ‘C’ word!  I had cancer.

I worked up until the day before the procedure, feeling fine.  The offending lump was duly removed, and I think I caught MRS or some other bug whilst in the hospital, as I fell ill and lost weight through loss of appetite.  The medication and radiotherapy didn’t help, making me feel tired.  Unfit for work, I moped around the house for several months.  In my twenty five year working life I had rarely taken time off for sickness and had never suffered an injury.  This was all new territory for me.

I walked in rueful reflection for ten minutes to the River Thames.  A family of swans drifted gracefully into view; father, mother and three juveniles with feathers a mix of white and grey.  Was this the same family I saw in the spring with six chicks?  The three strongest have survived.  Natural selection, the weak must die so the strong can live, but what about me?  We humans are the exceptions.  We are above Nature because we have found ways to cure disease, mend broken bones and prolong life.  I am about to subvert the natural order of things.  Twenty years ago I would most likely have died.

The sun came out from behind a cloud, lighting up a row of moored boats.  I drew myself up to my full height.  Shoulders back, I turn to my left and inspected the fleet.  Marching in line with the swans, I start swinging my arms and bowing regally to imagined fleet captains.  “The World has gone mad and we are beset on all sides by those who wish to harm us.  Prepare for battle, for we must fight to preserve our way of life!”  A startled family hurried by, thinking a madman must have escaped from the asylum.

Swinging my arms I marched away, and with a salute to the swans, crossed the road and headed home.  I felt bullish and determined.  Bring it on.  If I cannot have a reasonable quality of life, then I want no life at all.  I have prepared for this day, following a strict diet and exercising my body and mind.  I was strong enough for the trial ahead and wanted a resolution.  Hope springs eternal in the human heart.  I was ready.

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