I have rarely felt delight in life quite like this, unless it was marrying my Favourite Wife, or the arrival of a child. To have farewelled a dear friend, bound for a distant land, and then to find them again, unexpectedly, and to walk arm in arm once more: this is a pure and bright joy. I feel like a ringing bell, chiming gratitude to all creation. (I am waxing appallingly lyrical – I know it – but read on, and I don’t think you will blame me).
On the table in front of me several pieces of music are spread out, some I’ve just played through in anticipation of an eisteddfod competition coming up. These little black dots, lines, wiggles and squiggles, this universal language little changed over centuries, has suddenly come alive to me again, almost two years after I believed I had put it aside for good. As I wrote in Loosing What you Love early last year, it was a painful trial to reach the end of my life as a very amateur woodwind player; but now I have the unparalleled exhilaration of a second chance. A month ago I rejoined my former recorder consort, The Treblemakers, and I can once again practice for an hour at a stretch, sometimes more, all because of one little tablet. Just one. A tiny white pill.
I am writing at the small table we live around in The Karenvan, our idyl, our holiday home fourteen minutes from our own front door. It’s midwinter, the solstice just days ago, and mornings are white with frost. We came here for an afternoon last week and stayed till 10pm, just to see if our little old caravan, with its slightly newer annex, was liveable in the hibernal dark. With two heaters on high, it can be done!
We have come back again for a few nights, and today we had two of our grandchildren with us, and two of our delightful daughters. We played tennis this afternoon; although truth be told it was all play and no tennis. “Hit and Giggle” my mother would have called it. But with this new lease on life, a second wind, I rolled around the court with no need of the habitual breathing machine for a good couple of hours. I can now sit with friends or family for an hour or two at a time, sometimes even more, without the NIV apparatus (Non-Invasive Ventilation is the clinically alarming term the respiratory physician uses) that has become de rigueur. I feel better than I have in several years.
Oddly enough this astonishing, almost unbelievable transformation began with an idea of my own. For a long time I’ve taken a particular drug which years ago made a marked improvement to my speaking voice. But it’s a strong medicine; and has the odd effect of making it very hard at times to wake up. Because of this I decided to reduce the dose, with Dr’s oversight, and stop taking the drug. But when I did my eyesight deteriorated so nauseatingly that I actually threw up. Twice. It was appalling, but gave me an obvious idea: would increasing the dose improve my vision? So, I proposed this to the GP, and began an incremental increase. Sure enough my vision soon became significantly better. But I found it disconcertingly weird that a tablet could improve eyesight, so I asked the GP if it made any sense. The drug acts on nerves, I learned, causing muscles to relax, thus taking longer to fatigue. How simple is that?
And this gave me another idea. On the next six-weekly visit, I asked if there were other muscle relaxing drugs that we could experiment with. The Dr. was a little cautious, I must say, but I persisted with my proposal and left the surgery with a script. That was a Friday afternoon, and on Saturday I took the first tablet. It made no difference at all, but the GP had said that it would take a few days. Sunday, nothing. Monday ….. maybe. Tuesday, I feel rather good. Wednesday: astonishing.
From early this year my breathing had noticeably worsened. I became unable to lie down in bed for more than about 5 hours. At the beginning and end of the day small tasks were taking a toll, and I was spending more and more time sitting still to get my breath back. This symptomatic decline had begun to cast an unwelcome shadow over life, I have to say. I had discussed it with respiratory physician who said that there were palliative medicines that could be used, but I would do better to postpone their use as long as I could. She explained that the word ‘palliative’ only means ‘to alleviate’, but it’s still not a word one wants to hear. But all of that is gone. Gone!
Much of the challenge still remains. I can’t see so well, and the wheels on my chair are as necessary as ever they were. To date there is nothing new known about my condition, but out of the blue a treatment has been discovered. I know nothing about the future, how long this treatment will prove effective, what the prognosis was or is: nothing. But my days, which were happily full and satisfying, are abounding with new life and hope.
The timeless dots on the pages in front of me are begging to be played: they are notated joy, the promise of music, of community, of life. Also on my table is a beautiful plum wood renaissance instrument which I have just purchased from an oboist in Sweden as I had given my precious recorders away to younger players. It beckons, and I have to turn back to the dots!
Do write, I’d love to hear from you.