He’s good at his job. I regard him as one of the best. Not that I've got all that much experience in ranking oncologists, but I can tell - and so it appears can the hoards of patients he has.
But today we met probably for the last time. We prepared for the visit by listing a number of points about how things had gone since the last time we’d seen him. That was only two months ago, and the smaller gap between visits was because we knew my condition was deteriorating quite rapidly.
Going out anywhere for me now is quite a hassle. It begins right here where I'm sitting. With the aid of the chair I crank myself up so I can stand. The steel frame is ahead of me. I grasp the left handlegrip firmly while the right hand waves its way towards its grip.
I usually miss it. The spasticity of the hand tends to guarantee that result, no matter how carefully I try to guide it to its target. Sometimes I get it right, but the fingers are hopelessly curled.
Tracey is often there, which makes it easier. She opens my uncooperative right hand and spreads my fingers along the grip. Then she locks the thumb on.
Now I have the chance to maintain balance.
The object of the exercise in yesterday’s case was to get me into the wheelchair. For that, I must turn myself at 180º on getting up from the chair. My left foot is the agile one, so it must do the twisting and turning little by little while I balance using the frame, and drag the right leg into position an inch at a time.
This means moving in a clockwise direction. I can't balance on the right foot, you see, in order to go the other way. By this time it is curled awkwardly. Moving it backwards turns out best.
I did the 180º turn eventually and Tracey had the wheelchair behind me. Sitting in it was trickier than you might think. The right knee was locked, and unlocking it suddenly might have brought me crashing down.
“Keep your right arm in as you sit,” Tracey reminded me. Failing to do that means the ridiculously sensitive skin of the right arm is raked by the wheelchair arm, and will look like someone’s tried to skin me alive.
I kept my right arm in, allowed the right knee to unlock as gently as possible, took the weight with my left arm and hand, and eased myself down.
“A journey of a thousand metres begins with a successful sitdown in the wheelchair.” [Ancient Buddhist proverb.]
The next tricky bit was the transfer to the car. Christian was away so this was a two-person job instead of the usual three. I've decided to spare you a description, and spare you one of getting out of the car into the wheelchair at the hospital. Every transfer is fraught with danger, but we made it unscathed.
We’ve taken a full half hour to do the five-minute trip from home to surgery. When I could walk to the car, not long ago, it would take four minutes.
The waiting room was chock-a-block full. Tracey was forced to stand beside me until a chair was vacated. My appointment was for 2.30.
We needn’t have hurried. The Melbourne Cup [3 pm start] came and went. It provided some entertainment at least. I'd forgotten what a buzz the Cup gave the once-a-year experts.
Our turn came. Tracey wheeled me in, and Nick greeted us warmly. We’d got to know him quite well over the four years and there was a mutual trust among us and with Pam, the Head of the Public Hospital Oncology unit. They had all the relevant notes and Tracey gave a copy of ours to each of them.
There were no surprises. We all knew each other well enough for Nick not to offer hope, as he might have done to people different to us, of yet more proteinuria tests in a few weeks and another possible burst of Avastin. We knew that it had done a great job but had outlived its usefulness and was likely now to do more harm than good. Clearly. he and Pam both agreed with us on this.
“Now is the time to do everything and anything you want,” he said, “Eat your favourite foods, have a glass or two of wine.”
“We already do,” Tracey told him.
He came from behind his desk and, with the warmth of a friend, shook my left hand.
Pam leaned down and put her arms round me. “Hug,” she said. “Give me a hug.”
“You were always bossy,” I hugged. We laughed.
In a few minutes we’d be driving the short trip home, with a careful transfer at both ends, and I'd be back in my chair again. But as we rolled out of the surgery, the sun was warm on my face, and the breeze had settled. Parrots were chattering in the trees across the road.
It all seemed strangely new.