Arrive. Hand over your patient card with a smile. Fine thanks, you reply to the smiling friendly receptionist who asks, somewhat unnecessarily you think, how you are. You take a seat as directed and wait for your name to be called by one of the radiotherapists.
Through the glass sliding door into the change room. Dress/top off. Bra off. Gown on. Stuff clothes into the green bag.
Carry it into the treatment room and put it on the chair. Hi. Good thanks. Name, date of birth, address.
On to the hard cold bed of the machine. Whoops, forgot to take your arms out of the gown again. Off the bed. Arms out, clutching the gown around you as you try to retain some control over exposing your body to strangers. Give that up and climb back on the cold hard bed of the machine with the gown unwrapped underneath you.
Whoops, forgot to take your glasses off. Off the bed, drop glasses into the green bag while clutching at your gown to hold it up. Back onto the bed.
Goggles on. Arms above your head and hold the bar. Legs up as they put the red cushion beneath your knees. Feeling thankful to have been doing abdominal exercises with Tom lately.
Lying there unable to see what’s going on, listening to the numbers flying between the two radiotherapists, feeling them mark your body, the cold of the tracing making you feel more exposed. Lie heavy as we move you Sharon. Left arm lifted into position, left hip shifted, ribs moved.
The cube is taped to your stomach – although you only know it’s a cube because you’ve heard them mention it. You can’t see anything because of the goggles.
The bed goes up and up – to shoulder height. You can’t see it because of the goggles but you can feel it from the way they make their final adjustments.
Sleeves of the gown are draped over your breasts.
All good Sharon. We’re out now.
A pause and you lie there watching the white square in the goggles.
A voice over the intercom. When you’re ready, a slow breath in for a short one. The yellow bar floats into the blue box and turns green. And breathe normally.
When you’re ready, another slow breath in for a short one.
Great. Breathe normally.
The machine whirs and clicks like a cicada, the bed jolts into position and you see your spine and ribs on the screen in the goggles. The word pug seems to be repeated down your spine and you wonder what that’s about.
Okay Sharon. When you’re ready, a slow breath in for a long one.
The yellow bar turns green and you concentrate on keeping it there, only barely aware of the machine’s high pitched squeal.
Wondering if you can hold any longer. The green bar wobbles, bounces up and down gently within the blue box, and you clench your jaw with the effort of holding your breath.
Just when you think you can’t hold anymore, ‘And breathe normally’.
You can tell you’re struggling to bring your breathing under control by the way the yellow bar bounces around. You breathe out, all the way out, and hold. Your breath swoops into your body and the yellow bar flies up the screen. Hold. Breathe out. Just as you get your breathing under control ‘when you’re ready Sharon, a slow breath in for a long one’.
The machine whirs and spins, or at least that’s what you imagine is happening from the noises you can hear. You can’t see anything because of the goggles.
The green bar wobbles. You concentrate hard to keep it there.
You want to close your eyes but you can’t because the green bar might turn yellow. You think about how good you are at breathing. You remind yourself of your years of practice. That makes you want to laugh and the green bar wobbles and you get the giggles and it wobbles some more. You clench your jaw even tighter but some giggles escape along with some breath. Luckily the blue box is just wide enough to contain it. You tell yourself this is no time for jokes but then your other self tells you that if now isn’t a time for jokes then when is? And you argue with yourself while the machine squeals its high pitched squeal and your arms tingle from holding the bar above your head and the green bar bounces gently and ‘breathe normally Sharon’.
The screen in the goggles turns back into a white square. You lower your arms gently because they’re really hurting now and remove the goggles. I’ll take those says the radiotherapist as he comes back into the room. He lowers the bed and you sit up, lifting your legs over the red knee cushions, clutching your gown around you as you stand, stuffing your arms into the sleeves and covering your body to counteract the feeling of exposure. A too-late gesture that nevertheless makes you feel somewhat in control.
You put your glasses back on, pick up your bag, yes see you tomorrow and smile as you head to the change room. You rub MooGoo udder cream into your left breast, dress, unlock the change room door, push the green button to open the sliding glass door, wave at the receptionist, go through one more glass sliding door into the hospital corridor, turn left and make your way to the car for the 32 minute drive to work in peak hour traffic.
Another one down. Only eleven to go.