Monday, September 07, 2009

Clean, green, and filthy

C and I took P to Korea when she was 9 months old. Not as a rite of passage but scoping opportunities to expand the empire. We were guests of a potential investor who met with us several times before our trip. For most of these visits he brought an interpreter with him but occasionally he came on his own. We all smiled our way through these meetings with limited understanding of what each other was saying but it was all very polite and C and I were, as usual, professional to a fault. He, the Managing Director and me the Brand Manager/In-house legal. All very proper.

So much so, that when we arrived in Seoul it transpired that P and I had been booked the Royal Suite of our hotel and C was booked in the King's Suite next door. There was much surprise on the face of our host as he discovered that 'you are baby's mother and he is baby's father!' and that consequently we'd rather hoped to sleep in the same suite.

Korea is a big, smoggy city that is immaculately clean, and full of beautifully groomed women and neatly tucked -in men. Culture shock for us hit on return to Auckland Airport. We live in a clean, green beautiful country that is filthy and full of slobalobs mooching around in trackies and baggy sweatshirts. I was embarrassed to be home.

And embarrassed again on Wednesday, when I popped in for my second dose of Herceptin. It gets injected at the Medical Day Unit of Christchurch Hospital along with a raft of other potions, drugs, and blood products, so it's not solely a cancer treatment centre.

The unit is modern thanks to a recent refit and the staff are friendly and efficient. So far, so good. Unfortunately for me, other patients get to go there too. Imagine an oversize living room with all four walls lined with large navy blue leather lazy-boy recliners. Each chair has a coat stand contraption alongside on which the nurses hang the infusions and a small pump device that monitors the dose. When you arrive you simply choose which of the chairs you want to use that day and voila - that's your spot.

For me, this is a nightmare. It means choosing between the loonies you know and the loonies you don't. If you sit next to someone halfway normal you might have to endure their inane conversation or burping or farting or bad breath or lengthy explanations of their particular condition BUT if you decide to gamble and instead sit somewhere else leaving a seat empty beside you, the very next escaped psychonoid that arrives might just pop themselves right next door. The pressure to choose the right chair is immense.

On Wednesday I nearly sat opposite a man with straggly long white hair, missing teeth and a woolly beard. Where's my compassion? He was wearing old trackpants and a black singlet that slung low enough to reveal both nipples, saggy man boobs and a tangled mess of black and white hair growing in every possible direction. Where's my empathy? He started making life difficult for the nurse who was putting his line in. "Take it like a man" she joked. "I'm not a man, I'm just a great big baby" he replied in a pathetic attempt at falsetto. Where's my kindness?

I picked up my bag and chose the spot that was as far away from everyone else as possible. The lady reading 'Everyday with Jesus', the teenager in a terrible state (compassion restored), the 66 year old who regaled the room with stories of how 'everyone tells me I look so much younger than I am. I've just been blessed with good skin'. Good for you honey. The extra weight is helping you too. I have no beef with any of these people. Everyone is just trying to get through, but the sight of Mr Santa's-had-a-bad-decade was not only too much for me. It was way too much for the frail, immaculately groomed Korean women who was wheeled in by her daughter. Why should she, or anyone of us, have had to deal with semi-naked slob features in addition to the stress of the treatment?

This week's dose of Herceptin took only 30 minutes to infuse, after the 45 minutes of trying to find a vein. Two staff members tried it, and after 5 needles in 5 different spots - success.

Pin cushion Coburn, they call me. Portacath, here I come.

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