medical leave day 15: #timetoread (my year off, by Robert McCrumb)

firstly – we picked up the new, stronger (because they removed our Glands and Thyroid, if you’ve just joined us) hormones (*shudder*) – it takes a while apparently before they get the right dosage (yum) so in the meantime we’re a Tiny bit of a Test Case. the most worrying bit (hard to tell these days with the threat of C powers now removed – everything else is jelly beans and smiley faces and iced gems in comparison) is that our surgeon said:

do you know how to take your pulse?



no. not really.*

here’s how you do it. because if it’s over 90 – you need to call me, urgently.


*we had a habit of checking our pulse at 3AM outside nightclubs in the very late 80s – we didn’t know what we were doing – you can probably guess – but we got sudden recall when he asked. and then it occurred to us that we had no idea How to Take our Pulse so we’re not sure Why we Used to do it. apart from the obvious panic of the very late 80s and its accompanying recreations.

we also had another amusing piece of dialogue with our surgeon (we sent him a thank you note – do hope we aren’t the first to do that. probably the first with a crisp white envelope inset with gold and pink stripy paper now we recall our choice of stationery). here it is:

so I heard you went through with the decision Not to take opiates post-surgery.

yes, doctor.

how was the pain?


but manageable?

not really. but we knew it would pass.

ah. well. yes. (cough)

plus (we continue brightly) we just happened to see a couple of friends the other day who – um – happen to have been addicted to – um – narcotics – at some point in their life and we throughly enjoyed telling them we did post-operation pain on extra strength tylenol.

(doctor looks astonished and mystified)

well – the straightening of the back, the slow look into our eyes, the subtle nod of the head – we know what that means…..

r         e         s        p        e       c       t                               (cue: Aretha)

(doctor not sure whether to laugh – we did – so he did too – hell, get your kicks where you can, love, we got us being a Bit of a Martyr ;-)

Another Lovely Parcel!! lady-of-letters sent us the Most Excellent Choice of books.

and as it was pouring with rain (all bloody day) in manhattan today – we stayed in and read a whole book.

we picked Robert McCrumb’s “My Year Off” as our first choice for a few reasons:

1. it’s about what happens when you’re sick – and your concept of self (deeply interesting as you know We Are Going Through This Now)

2. we are connected to the story through our own story (see below)

3. we wanted to respond “to the text” (as they say in the seminars at Universities) and we’ve done that below too. hope you get something out of this – even if it’s just to confirm/or not that you’d like to read it too.

firstly – our connection –

on the 29th July 1995, Robert McCrumb, Publishing Star of London (Editor in Chief at Faber and literary lion about town hanging at The Ivy, Groucho etc) had a stroke.

on the 31st July 1995, we were standing in the newspaper office where we worked, in London (as minnow level reporter), as the news of Robert’s stroke spread through the office like a wildfire. He was 42 years old. we were standing between several men of the same age (we were Much Younger) who all went white and we understood why – the thought that went through every man’s head was:

that could have been Me.


the lucky bastard had everything going for him – fame, fortune, and a new young blonde American wife – jesus christ – what’s the world coming to?

we slunk off back to our desk and return to filing copy and answering the phones (the phones rang a lot in those days as email was still relatively new and we were one of the few people who understood how to use it on the newspaper as we were writing about tech which no one thought was that interesting – or would take off in anyway – which is why they let a minnow level reporter – (and a woman) – write about it ;-)

until lady-of-letters sent us the books today, we hadn’t given a thought, honestly, to Robert McCrumb from that day until this. we knew he survived. we heard he got another plum job in publishing. and that was that.

and then we read his book. and realized how devastating his experience of illness and loss of self had been.

forgive us for making this about us (but this is, you know, Our Blog) but we found we had a lot in common with RmC – and also a very different way of dealing with confinement (RmC scoffs at any kind of mystery/magic/fate and we Adore It) and, well, we’re not a literary lion, or a Man with a Reputation for being a Man About Town that other men envy (not this lifetime, anyway, we’re pretty sure we experienced it previously, judging by our karma with women – for Another Time that one ;-)

we do encourage you to read the book – however (and here we concur with lady-of-letters) the extracts from RmC and his wife Sarah Lyall are just irritating, they don’t work at all. diaries, by their very nature, are somewhat petty and mostly about minutiae as well as a recording device. it is only in the hands of a writer (a fine one, like RmC) that the details are transformed into prose that communicates – evocatively and honestly – the experience therein (and thus endeth the lesson….read on, darlings).

the italics are ours

“we will quote RmC like this”

ok? got some tea/coffee/juice? let’s go….

p. 2: “to all concerned, this book is meant to send a ghostly signal across the dark universe of ill-health that says, ‘You are not alone’.”

this is one of the reasons we write team gloria too. and also so we don’t forget what the experience is like. those who forget, are doomed to repeat. we know this one, bitterly darlings ;-)

p. 2: “throughout my period of recovery I was often alone with my thoughts. When, finally, I came to record these, this book became the mirror of an enforced season of solitude in the midst of a crowded life.”

if you’ve read the section “la vie jet-set” – you’ll know that we used to like nothing better than jumping on a plane and getting the hell out of here. this enforced solitude has changed us. we’re grateful to live where we do – in a lovely part of manhattan – if you’re going to be confined to a square block radius of the planet – this is a pretty beautiful place to be. but to not be able to go further – to keep walking – because we get so exhausted and cannot get ourselves home – is humbling to the extreme for someone who has not bought a full size beauty product in a long time. our bags are always packed with travel sizes. but today the bags are in the hall closet. empty.

p.3 “I have been forced into a renewed acquaintanceship with my body and into the painful realization that I am, like it or not, imprisoned in it.”

we had no idea we had a thyroid until they removed it. we had no idea what our glands did until we had to take 21 pills a day to replicate their function and help them grow back. we used to think our lack of knowledge was amusing. now we know better. our body was not amused. and we are now learning to take care of a body that we abused (we’re not going to go into details – we’re sure you get it) in so many ways over so many years. and now we’ve stopped. now we are the guardian of our body because it’s where our soul lives. and we never want to have the feeling we did in ICU (post-op emergency room) where our body was soaked in sweat from the 5 hour surgery, it felt tortured, even under heavy sedation as that lifted, and the nurses were rushing to soothe us and make us stable and we could hear the panic in their voices. we felt like we had a choice – not necessarily to die – but to fully commit to being in our body – and we had the sensation of sinking deep inside and drawing on our strength and coming back and taking down our temperature and submitting to the care of the nursing staff – “she’s coming back” – we heard that. we did. “she’s coming back”. from where? we have no idea. but we went there. very briefly. as they removed the breathing tube and gave us an aspirator to open our lungs we took the biggest breath and tried to scream at the pain as our lungs opened on their own.

p.70: “Sometimes I wondered when I was going to open the newspaper and read my own obituary”.

there is a horrible inevitability in los angeles and nyc right now of reading the female executive obit. you see none of us were important enough – a generation ago – to get the kind of obits that male executives got – but now they are starting to appear – breast cancer, ovarian cancer, heart attack – shortened lives. we don’t think this one would have killed us – and we want to make sure that the next one doesn’t either – there has to be a better way. and we now know that when you’re sick, they don’t know how to cope. but they sure write a lovely quote when she goes.

p: 76: “To top it all, yesterday, I bit my tongue as I was eating.”

our whole head felt like a foreign land the first 72 hours after surgery. swollen. tortured by the too-tight-but-necessary-to-reduce-swelling bandage around our whole neck and fastened with no mercy (we understand but please, never again) and we kept biting our tongue and the inside of our mouth because we had no sensation of the dimensions of inside our head. we had forgotten this – until reading this line. it helped us to remember how far we’ve come. it was just two weeks ago tonight that we were lying in the hospital bed for several hours on our own post-surgery. unable to talk. unable to sleep. unable to read (and our bags were still locked up downstairs). unable to sip water even. they came every hour to draw blood and check on our vital signs. we sunk into a depression. we started to weep unceasingly. “don’t cry!” said the nurse-aide. we looked up at her as if to say (because we could not speak) “our throat was sliced open, we have a burn mark from the heart monitor because we were under for so long, everything hurts – this is an appropriate response” and then we threw up everywhere from the general anasthetic and just quickly (maybe it’s against the rules?) she smoothed our hair back, the smallest and the kindest gesture, and then went to empty the sick bucket).

p. 145: “I shall never forget the moment when Salman very sweetly read a page from the opening chapter, ‘doing the voices’ with characteristic brio.”

we didn’t have Salman Rushdie come and read to us – but we had So Many Other Friends Who Did. we’d forgotten how NICE it is to be read to. it’s soothing to pull up a black (hard to get but ever so much nicer) pashmina and snuggle under the gray cashmere scarf that CM bought us and lie back on the couch cushions and hear various American accents read Armistead Maupin’s fine words.

p. 171: “In some ways this whole experience had been like a punctuation mark in the middle of my life.”

some people have said “what will you write about on team gloria now you don’t have Cancer?” and we laugh because the original premise (read About) was never about illness – that just happened and so we wrote about it. because that’s what writers do. and That’s the Interesting Bit. we had forgotten that we were a writer and that was our response to life. we made our living as a writer in england for seven years. but to come and to stay in the USA (as well as for a few other reasons which we can’t go into, darlings but one of them was our life falling apart in 1997 – finally) we became a suit. we do a Very Nice Impression of a suit (much of our finest dialogue is ripped off from entire scenes of movies – some Joan Crawford, some of our own age – anything set in an office gave us some kind of background) but we don’t really know how to be one. watch this space for how That Revelation turns out. as one of our favorite (he’s an American so we’ll use just that spelling) readers wrote to us (in the email – sort of offline of the comments to preserve anonymity as he’s Rather Well-Known and Celebrated) “we’re dying to see more anecdotes about The Day Job once you return”. darling, we skate close to the wind as it is ;-) but we’ll try not to disappoint…

p. 175: “At times I felt an anger inside me, a rage that could come out in sudden and terrible ways.”

ah. feelings. bloody feelings. we didn’t have many before. or if we did, they were buried under work and rushing and commuting and caffeine and withdrawal from caffeine and back on caffeine and travel and arriving and leaving and meetings and rushing and falling into bed exhausted. there’s Nothing Like Time to see feelings rise to the surface. and boy, are some of them downright ugly. and occasionally dangerous. like the blog post we wrote the other day but the universe scrambled and didn’t send. but at least we wrote about it. at least it’s not in our body. but now it’s Out There (ahem) we have to face it. but not today. today our throat still hurts, we can’t yet talk on the phone comfortably and sod it, we’d like to heal first.

p. 204: “I went to a publishing party, supporting myself with my cane as usual, and found myself being asked, ‘Did you hurt your leg?’. ‘Yes,’ I replied, moving away ‘but it will get better.’ I felt obscurely angered by this innocent question, as if I wanted recognition for what I’d been through.”

oh god, yes. we freeze up when someone looks closely at the scar which is healing nicely and says “is that it?” as if to say “what were you making such a fuss about?” and we want to kill them because you have your throat slit and then tell us how you coped. and then when people say “we’re so relieved it’s not Cancer” we want to punch them. because we still Went Through Surgery and we’re still in pain and it still hurts our soul and we’re bored and frustrated at home and we’re going to have to take medication for the Rest of Our Life and every 6 months for the Rest of our Life we are going to be scanned and prodded and blood taken and tumours/tumors/Tobias’ cousins searched for and one day there they might be on the screen again just like before and we’re terrified of what it’s going to be like when we go back next friday to the Day Job and we haven’t answered any work email because we wanted Them to Take us Seriously and if we answered Anything we knew they’d say we weren’t that sick. we are scared that people minimizing our experience is going to lead to homicide. or at least a bitchy snide cruel aside and that’s Not Good for our Soul.

p. 215: “Outwardly, then, I am fine. I can meet people who do not know me, and pass for an unafflicted forty-four-year old. Inwardly, I still have something missing.

we definitely have something missing – physically – our thyroid, our glands and – if this scratchy voice is anything to go by – a bit of our vocal chords are a bit roughed up. and spiritually we have something missing too – five hours under general anasthesia while our throat was slit and the strange response we had to whether to re-enter our body and breathe for ourself again in the ICU. and we have known what it is like to be confined to the hospital room, attached to an IV drip, and then to our bed at home, with B and sophie staying next door to help us, and then to our apartment when they had left, and then – like we are now – to the square block radius around our house. we take a cab – but only with other people. we walked back from the movies the other day and had to stop on every street corner, our hand on our wallet checking we had enough cash to get a cab if we needed to. and foolishly we kept walking. because we’d just found out we didn’t have Cancer. and we wanted to show the world (why??) we were strong again. but we’re not. which is why we spent almost the whole day sleeping. exhausted by the trek home. we are not ready. and we need to remind ourselves. we are healing. and that, darlings, takes time. which we have. six days more of medical leave to go……

a final note from RmC:

p. 233: “I have acquired a quite new view of the world.”

we have too.

thanks for reading, darlings.

off to watch another episode of Doctor Who!!




6 thoughts on “medical leave day 15: #timetoread (my year off, by Robert McCrumb)

  1. Thanks for the HAND-WRITTEN thank you note — an impressive thing for a blogger to do!
    I’m glad to have been with you during your time in the hospital. Warm regards, Armistead Maupin

  2. Yes thank you darling. Another entry which has just stopped me in my tracks.

    I am so sorry you have been through so much pain.

    We know nothing of what you have been through. Thank you for helping us glimpse and for letting us walk with you as far as we are able.


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