The Starbucks concession at work closes at 4.30pm every day, and it wasn’t long before I found myself regularly appearing at 4.25pm for a cappuccino (and usually a frothless latte for lovely Lou – WITH NO BUBBLES) to get me through the last hour and a half – or longer – of work. I always tell the Starbucks staff that they should be pleased to see me, as it means it’s almost time to go home; I like to tell myself that makes up for my slowing down their closing-up progress…
Initially, there were a couple of factors in the timing of my cappuccino run: firstly, the lateness of my usual 10-6 (or even 11-7) shift meant I never wanted to have my lunch before 2pm, as otherwise the yawning afternoon would have stretched out for too long ahead of me; and secondly, when I get my head down to my work, I like to plough on, keeping the momentum going – so it tends to require something momentous (such as a meeting with the boss, or the closing of the coffee shop) to break my focus.
I’m a huge fan of (real) coffee, so restricting myself to one in the morning with my breakfast and one in the afternoon takes some real willpower. But it’s more than just a caffeine addiction; that 4.25pm coffee is the perfect moment to split the afternoon, stretch my legs and get a boost for the last stint of work for that day.
In short, it’s part of my routine. Here in hospital, there’s a new routine, and I’ve been getting used to a whole new set of milestones each day. The days are very similar and, fortunately, not very exciting from a medical point of view at the moment, so it’s often the little things that bring interest beyond my vast libraries of entertainment – as well as, of course, the greater excitement of visitors, and Mariacristina’s arrival in the evening.
There is definitely some comfort in routine, but many of the regular milestones that define the day in hospital are unchanging, blurring the distinctions between each one: observations (obs) at 2, 6 and 10 (am and pm); medications in the morning, at lunchtime, in the evening and at night; the breakfast-time routine of ordering, eating, having the tray taken away and having the bedsheets changed – nothing really changes from day to day, although most of these small events do at least offer the consolation of human interaction.
There is more potential for change when the doctors come around, so I always look forward to their doing the rounds. Although the conversation seems for a long time to have been a variation on “Anything new to report?” “No. Any neutrophils?” “No”, there is at least the potential for news of low haemoglobin/platelet counts, or some development in the search for a bone marrow match – not to mention the hope that they’ll triumphantly declare my neutrophils have made an appearance…
Later in the day, I may not have my 4.25pm Starbucks cappuccino, but its place has been taken by the excellent hot chocolate the nurses make; there’s some competition between them as to who makes the best, but I couldn’t possibly reveal the league table. Again, it’s part of my routine; apart from being very tasty, it defines my afternoon by giving me a happy moment – however small – to focus on, splitting the day and preventing the hours from seeming to drag on. It’s amazing that such a minor joy can lighten the load so effectively, but if the prospect of a bacon sandwich can make me happy despite my having leukaemia, then a delicious hot chocolate can definitely help define the day.
There are other moments of joy, too, that help to make each day individual and to keep things from getting too dreary. Apart from the wonderful messages of support I receive on www.georgeneedsyou.com, Facebook, my phone, the blog, etc, I often have the excitement of letters and the occasional parcel in the morning – I always delay the gratification of opening them until after I’ve had my breakfast; thank you, all! Visitors are another source of delight, of course, and also help make each day unique; thank you, too, to all those who have come or are coming soon.
Routine brings comfort and order to life; but too much of it is definitely restrictive. Here in hospital, where the days are so fixed, it is the unexpected and unpredictable moments, as well as both the small and large joys, that make it much more bearable – even without my cappuccino.