Not something you do every day, or maybe you do? But I’m a bit OCD and there are some things I do which may seem trivial to others, but to me they’re just normal, so when I can’t do them, it bugs me.
Today, one such thing was hanging out the washing.
Having a dysfunctional left arm and hand makes this a slightly more tricky task for someone like me, because when I hang out the washing, I do it with the next task in mind. For example, I pair-up my socks so when they’re dry, I can take them off as a pair. I put pillowcases over the bar so they drop equally on each side, making them easier to fold in half when they’re dry. And I fold up my bed sheets equally, and hang them over a door, so the only creases that appear are right down the middle and they don’t need ironing. (My cleaner put them in the tumble drier last week – shocking behaviour! They not only came out slightly smaller, but were creased to hell and weren’t going anywhere near a bed like that!) You’re getting the picture, right? It’s surprising how many little tricks you can come up with when you have lots of time on your hands at home…
Anyway, back to today. I put on a white wash last night and set the cycle to finish around 9am, knowing that the beeps telling me it was finished would wake me up in time to take my morning meds.
9am this morning and the bleeping starts. I stir, then drift back off to sleep, as you do… By 9:30 I’m sick of the damn beeping, and because I’ve been woken up before I’m ready, I feel tired. So my usual morning routine feels like hard work, even before I’ve opened the washing machine door. By ‘tired’ I mean it’s day 13 of chemo cycle 2, so I have one more day of meds before my body gets chance to rebuild. Typically, I’m starting to pick up by now, so waking up feeling tired pisses me off – not a great start. But then I go to the kitchen and empty the dishwasher (another part of the morning routine). I put a bowl away in a floor-level cupboard and instead of bending down from the waist or bending my knees just a little, I try going all the way down. Now last time I bent my knees all the way down to put something in a low-level cupboard was in hospital after brain surgery and, because I’d lost all my leg strength, I just collapsed in a heap on the floor. Refusing to pull the red cord and ask for help, I had to roll over onto my arse, wriggle over to a chair and drag myself up, before having a reality check on just how weak I was and how long my rehab journey was actually going to be. But this morning I try again, and although I have one hand on the floor and the other on the worktop, I manage to get down and just about back up.
AN: as you’d expect, I immediately try and do it again, failing abysmally – not quite a heap on the floor, but I have to pull myself up rather than use the strength in my legs. One squat at a time then, Boxy… but hey, one is a start, right?
So, feeling like I can now do anything, I approach the washing machine (which, by this point, has given up bleeping at me, as I’m clearly more interested in other white appliances) with a Blackadder-esque look of cunning intent. But as I grab the clothes horse, the legs fall open without locking and it crashes onto the floor in a heap. For such a simple piece of furniture, why does it feel like the most complex thing to do on a Monday morning? Chuff. I eventually get the thing standing upright and pull my whites out of the sulking washing machine…
AN: I’m writing this sitting in my local, where the dishwasher has just started bleeping and Britt, my friendly Barista, is looking over curiously wondering why I’m giggling 😉
Now when I came out of hospital, being able to hang my clothes out on the clothes horse was one of my ‘little wins’. Shaking things out, folding them, turning them the right way out, pairing-up socks… all little movements which become ten times harder if the fingers on one hand don’t work. So when I try to do it this morning and realise that my left hand is not playing ball today, it pisses me off again; not because I’m tired, but because this is something I know I can do, but because I’m tired, today it’s ten times harder. Having already hung out the pillowcases (evenly), socks (in pairs), knickers (including at least three retrievals from the floor) and towels (evenly, like the pillowcases), I move to the duvet cover. As usual, I start by finding two adjacent corners, pull out the fabric in between and give it a shake, then Z-fold it into three (having already learnt that when folded into thirds, it’ll fit nicely over a door to dry).
AN: my dad would kill me for this; he’d say the weight will pull on the door’s hinges and stop the door closing properly… no-one tell him, he’ll never know, I never do it when he’s here 😉
Anyway. I then locate the other two corners, to repeat the Z-fold at the other end but, of course, I manage to get the Z the other way round and end up with a twisted duvet cover. Chuffing hell, this doesn’t usually happen. This is clearly now one of those scenarios where it’d just be best to start again, but no. Instead, I try to make the most of the folding I’ve already done, but to no avail. My only achievement is further frustration, and eventually I’m swearing at the clothes horse, throwing it over and kicking the washing across the floor.
After quietly congratulating myself at having the leg strength to actually kick something (another first), I look at the (not now so white) washing tangled up in the clothes horse on the floor, burst into tears, stomp off into my bedroom and slump (in a totally teenage stroppy way) on my bed thinking I’m not going to say “why me” but come on, FFS, why at all? Cancer you’re a fucking MoFo. I just want to be normal. I’m sick of this shit dominating my life. Hospitals, tests, scans, meds, side effects, treatment plans, having to take it easy…
My phone pings. It’s one of my mates in Yorkshire, asking how I’m doing. Unless they’re with me, I typically don’t tell people when I’m having a meltdown, as they usually try to help, when actually what I need is just to release the energy, then I’m ok. But this particular mate isn’t that ‘touchy-feely’ so I find myself typing into WhatsApp “Having a meltdown… just had a scrap with the clothes horse.” Her response is “you kick that fucking horse…” with a Gif of a penguin saying “Come at me bro”. Within seconds I’m laughing, as much at the penguin as the fact that I used the word ‘scrap’ for perhaps the first time since I lived in Yorkshire. I also then remember that I just managed to kick something. OK so it was a misbehaving clothes horse which, in fairness, wasn’t really the one misbehaving, I was, or rather my hand was. So with a smile back on my face, I pull myself together, stop crying and decide today’s just a bad day for the hand.
Tomorrow’s the last day of chemo 2 then I’m back into rebuild. It won’t happen straight away (after cycle 1 it took 10 days) but the functionality in my hand will come back when I stop pumping my body full of toxic chemotherapy drugs. The chemo’s just targeting the parts of me which are weakest, like my arm, my hand, my immune system… and my cancer cells.
So bring it on clothes horse – like Dastardly and Mutley, you won’t beat me. And cancer – you might frustrate me; you might weaken me; you might make me cry, feel like shit and look like a chipmunk; you might take my car, stop me from working and ruin my social life. But I’ll bounce back stronger and you’ll be the one in a heap on the floor.
Chemo cycle 2 is almost done. And unlike the clothes horse, I’m still standing.