The ‘C’ Word
I’ve spent the past two days in and out of consciousness. The double threat of Covid and Chemotherapy has left me feeling pretty out of it. It’s a shame because the weather is really beautiful outside, but I have been managing to enjoy it here and there. I’ve tasked myself with leaving the house at least once a day to walk Lucy and I’ve managed that both today and yesterday.
Last night I woke up suddenly to the taste of bile in my throat and I thought I was choking on it. I panicked, reached out for the water by my bed and started to haphazardly drink it, occasionally stopping to cough more. I then dug out some medicine that the hospital gave me a few cycles ago, which I swore I would never need. It’s an anti-acid and paracetamol combination medicine that worked a charm on settling down my throat. How the hospital knew that I would contract Covid and need medicine for my throat is beyond me, but I’m not going to start throwing around accusations just yet. They are helping me in many other ways. I had also complained to them that my throat was consistently hurting in the mornings and I wasn’t sure why, but… damn, I’m making excuses for them. Stop trying to be a nice guy, Dan. Just accept that the hospital spiked you with Covid because they feed off your unhappiness and lust for your suffering. Giving you the medicine was just their way of reigning you back in when it eventually struck. You’re such a sucker.
After the coughing/choking episode, I was feeling pretty shaken up. My nose had also been bleeding, something which seldom happened to me before starting chemotherapy. I made my way downstairs so I wouldn’t disturb Anna. The time was about 1:15am. It’s been a while since I’ve had to grab the blanket and knuckle down on the sofa. What followed was pretty much consistent with everything that has been happening to me this week – I floated between lucid dreaming and loose consciousness, struggling to establish what was really happening and how long I had been asleep or, not asleep, in mental limbo. There is a comfort in knowing that when your body is at its most overexerted, the default reaction is to intermittently slip in and out of a sleep so deep you start to doubt your grasp on reality. It takes away all that complicated thinking stuff and just leaves you as a shell of a human, thoughts and feelings merely reflections of a consciousness that you have lost all control of.
My head was pounding as I lay there; my eyes were shut and they felt like they were a meter away from each other on my face. My feet felt like they were a mile away from my head. Everything was discombobulated. It felt like there was enormous space in the room but I couldn’t quite fit into it. I pulled the blanket over my head and cocooned myself inside. At some point, I fell asleep.
For some reason, I kept dreaming about being back in Philadelphia. I used to run on a trail next to the Schuylkill River nearly every day. I remember looking at Philadelphia on a map when I was first told that I was going to be working there for a few months, and being totally puzzled at the name of the river. It looked so out of place compared to the names of everything else on the map. For the first 3 months that I was out there, I avoided saying it for fear of making an idiot of myself. Over time, I discovered that you can pretty much say anything with a British accent in Philadelphia and people will only ever find it either endearing or entertaining. I learnt the name of the river, and it became my favourite place to run.
The trail runs for miles alongside the river before coming to an end in the city. Pretty much every running route I did would use it in some capacity. It was just down the road from my apartment and was the most pleasant space for running in the city. I remember doing intervals on it during the sweltering summer months and almost collapsing at the end of the workout. There were little bar pop-ups on the grass by the river bank at the time. They were cordoned off by small wooden fences and full of people drinking overpriced beers. It was Saturday afternoon so there was a good vibe. I shouted over the fence to a guy standing behind the makeshift bar – “Can I buy a bottle of water please, mate?” He told me that they were only taking cash. I’m not sure I used cash once in all the time I lived out there. I told him this, and, to my surprise, he gave me the bottle of water for free and told me to bring my mates back for a beer later that day. I had every intention of doing so, but I didn’t.
On my favourite 10K route, I’d run to the end of the Schuylkill Trail and come off at South Street. There’s a ramp from the trail that meets a bridge that goes over the river. You’d regularly see people doing hill repeats on it. I’d head along South St and up Spruce St, through the university on the Woodland Trail. It took you to a nice little graveyard called The Woodlands. The graveyard has a small semicircle road around it which was good to run around. It was at the top of a hill overlooking part of the city and running there at night was always peaceful.
I remember seeing an episode of the Netflix show House of Cards where one of the main characters, Claire Underwood, was running through a graveyard. A random stranger shouts “Do you have no respect?” at her, stopping her in her tracks and leaving her looking despondent. Every time I ran around the graveyard, the scene would occur to me and I’d worry that people in the states might be more sensitive to someone using a graveyard as a running track. One time when I was running the route after work, I came around a corner obscured by some trees and heard a scream over my headphones. Upon looking up, I saw a woman squatting over and peeing in the middle of the trees. Her friend stood laughing and covering her face with her hand, she might have even been filming but I’m not sure. “It’s perfectly natural! I’m not looking,” I shouted as I realised what was happening. I felt vindicated of any worry that I was doing something wrong by simply running in there – I’d never pee in there.
After running around the ceremony, I’d run over to Walnut street via the university and head back towards the city. There’s an American BBQ restaurant called Baby Blues BBQ one street over from where I’d run on Walnut, located on Samson St. I’d heard a lot about this place, it being a favourite of many coworkers of mine who had spent time in Philadelphia. I’m vegetarian, so I didn’t have a huge amount of motivation to go to this particular restaurant, despite having an expenses budget and regularly eating out. I couldn’t imagine there would be a tonne of options for me at an American BBQ restaurant because, well, isn’t that the point? Meat meat meat! No lettuce to be sent out without bacon fat having touched the leaves. Put pork fat in the salad dressing etc. I had no problem with it, but it was never created to appeal to me.
I did eventually go to Baby Blues BBQ once. It was for my birthday, funnily enough. Some of the directors were on site for the week, and there was a larger cohort than usual wanting to eat out. One of the directors suggested that we go out for my birthday, which I was happy to oblige. The idea of Baby Blues BBQ was floated to the delight of some of my colleagues. Some of my other colleagues were telling me to take a stand against it. “Dan – you can’t let this happen! You’ll be surrounded by meat on the one day you have any clout to eat somewhere else!” These people clearly didn’t know me well. I’m a martyr and a saint – never shying away from public persecution. I saw it as an opportunity – finally, tick it off the list and be done with it. I was pretty sure they’d have some vegetarian options at least. There was one other vegetarian who regularly worked with us out there, and he reassured me that they have ‘a great selection of sides’. I didn’t find a lot of solace in this but he had eaten there before, so surely he his claim was going to be substantiated to an extent.
He didn’t have a point. The sides were fine, but I wasn’t running laps around the restaurant informing every customer that they simply must order more of the irresistible sides. I don’t think they were particularly focused on the sides either, as large hunks of meat towered across their plates and dared them to finish their meal. I ended up ordering a salad and had to reiterate a few times that I didn’t want any of the meat on it. To be fair, it was a nice salad… the kind of salad where the dressing completely defeats any health benefit you thought you’d get by ordering a salad. I’m still pretty sure I walked out of that place with the lowest calorie count, though. I was also the only person using that as a metric of how successful the meal was. I’d found my angle and I was sticking with it.
I’d then run along Walnut St and finish in Rittenhouse Square. There I’d usually pick up something to eat before heading home. If it was a nice evening, I’d sit and eat it in the square itself and watch the world go by. It’s a great spot for people-watching, with plenty of benches, trees and water features. One critique I have of Philly is that it doesn’t have a lot of green space, but I feel like Londoners are spoilt in this regard. Perhaps it is an unfair critique.
The next thing I knew, I was awake again and back in the room. My head still felt like a void between my shoulders and my mouth was begging for moisture. I reached out to find that all of my water was gone, so reached for another glass that someone had left on the table from the night before. I sipped it conservatively, seeing that there wasn’t much left and knowing that I didn’t want to make the short trip to the kitchen any time soon. It didn’t matter what time it was. I repositioned the cushion under my head, turned onto my side and closed my eyes. Let’s try this again.