I feel so well at the moment that it’s hard to believe there’s anything wrong. I couldn’t say the same on the days where they slowly drip poison into my liver via a cord attached to a disco ball of chemo fun in my pocket. To make this neo-mediaeval torture possible, they had to slip a Cronenbergian device under my skin approximately three inches above my right nipple. The weirdest thing about the operation is the fact they did it while I was still awake. A plastic sheet was draped over a stand about a foot from my face, and then they deadened the area on my right side so I couldn’t feel a thing. I think they call this local anesthesia, although I did sense the muscles spasming and contracting while they worked.
I always imagined theatres to be silent and sombre places where assiduous surgeons fear slicing into the wrong arteries or whipping off the wrong limb, though this particular crew were singing Catalonian folk songs (one was from Barcelona), laughing and joking amongst themselves, and generally having the time of their lives. I hate parties normally, but how could I be a party pooper when this one was being thrown in my honour? “Good news Monsieur Allen,” shouted the experienced surgeon over the carnivalesque din, “we’ve located the correct vein!” Relieved though I was to hear this, the implication seemed to be that they sometimes found the wrong vein. The Pitié is a teaching hospital, and we all have to start somewhere I suppose.
On the whole things are bearable, though it never ceases to amaze me how they manage to come up with new and inventive ways to torture a person in the name of making them better. Susan Sontag (her again) said that “the treatment is worse than the disease”, and the whole thing does feel incredibly counterintuitive at times. You just have to keep reminding yourself that they aren’t in the business of leaving things to chance, and sometimes life will feel like 120 Days of Sodom, but without the sodomy. Look for the positives, like the fact I’ve been offered surgery when about seventy per cent of people in my position aren’t. Patients my partner Claire has spoken to on the internet keep telling her how lucky I am. I can’t help picturing Michael Palin chained up in Life of Brian, shouting, “oooh what wouldn’t I give to be spat at in the face, you lucky lucky bastard…”
I thought the colostomy bags that I had to attach daily to my stomach for three months – the ones that I was constantly at war with – were the worst things I had to endure. At least until the day they poured fluid into the hole in my stomach to clean me out before a scan. That was definitely the most horrific moment, at least until I stepped off the metro at Rue Oberkampf on the same day and liquid began firing out of me and didn’t stop gushing from my trouser legs until I reached my doorstep. That period was so traumatic that I barely remember it – as if I’ve suppressed it or made myself forget.
Yesterday was easy in comparison, though they did manage to blow my face up so I looked like the Incredible Hulk for a few hours. Or maybe Sam Allardyce. I’d had the warm feeling enveloping my torso from the fluid pumped into my body before – it’s standard procedure with a CT scan – but it had never spread to my neck and face before. When the scanner was completed I put my hands to my cheeks and feigned surprise in a Larry Grayson-like manner, so disorientated was I. I knew something was up, because the nurse pissed herself laughing when she came back into the room (it takes a while to get used to the French sense of humour, but I think I’m getting there. It’s like when a waiter says you can’t have something on the menu, and then starts chuckling because you can after all have the thing you’ve asked for – it’s best to just play along.)
The nurse laughing at me indicated something was up, that perhaps my face had melted, and when I went back into the changing room, I stared into the mirror where a simulacrum of me under heavy prosthetics – like a character from a stupid superhero movie – stared back. I only wish I’d taken the initiative at the time and painted my face green, then videoed myself saying things like: “HULK NOT HAPPY ‘BOUT GREEK SITUATION. HULK SLAP GREEDY RAHEEM STERLING. HULK PEEVED BY FOX LAW. HULK SMASH DAVID CAMERON IN GAMMON KISSER.” You had to be there, or rather you’re probably glad you weren’t. As bleak as things can get, nothing will deter me from doing risible hulk impressions.Follow @jeres