Patience is a virtue; virtue is a grace. Grace is a little girl who doesn’t wash her face

A cartoon of a microwave
Beep, beep, beep, beep

There’s a remarkable phenomenon regarding our microwave at our home in Streatham: like most microwaves, it usually displays the time, but on a fairly regular basis I find the time has been replaced with a single number – usually something small such as ‘3’ or ‘4’. This baffled me at first, until I realised it was just the seconds remaining on the timer when Mariacristina had given up waiting and stopped heating whatever it was she was heating before the timer hit the end.

In line with what I’ve said before about my wanting things to be right (and perhaps a bit of OCD), I’m always satisfied by the final beeps of the microwave, knowing that the food has been in for the right time and happy with a job well done – I’m willing to wait. I’m not sure Mariacristina has ever heard the beeps, though – she has an irresistible urge to stop the microwave before it reaches ‘0.00’. We don’t use it much, but this way I always know when Mariacristina’s been heating/defrosting something in it.

That probably sums up a difference in our approaches to many things. When we bought a television for our new house in 2012, Mariacristina quickly saw one that was probably suitable and was ready to buy it, but I insisted on taking the more patient (but slow) approach of checking and comparing a number of options to make sure we get the best deal. She’s a satisfier, whereas I’m a maximiser. Sometimes my approach means we get a better deal, but often it just means it takes four times as long as I agonise over the possibility that there might be a better option.

Mariacristina kissing GeorgeWhen Mariacristina declared herself in love with me, with the overwhelming, sincere spontaneity of a southern Italian, I was terribly, hopelessly English and insisted we should get to know each other better before we could possibly even think about such an idea – despite the fact that I had always fancied her back in Naples and had already been reminded what a wonderful individual she was. In short: when Mariacristina wants something, she wants it immediately; when I want something, I’m quite happy to wait and make sure everything’s as close to perfect as possible – or faff about wasting time because I’m scared of making a commitment, as Mariacristina might say. Poor Mariacristina – the patience I forced on her before belatedly realising and admitting I was hopelessly in love with her, too, did not come naturally!

In hospital, undergoing treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, however, the patience that comes naturally to me has been a boon. I’m now on Day 24 since the end of chemotherapy, and Day 30 since the start of the protocol, and every day I hope my neutrophils might have come up. I’ve had the occasional wobble up to 0.1, but invariably that’s fallen to 0.0 the following day.

I can’t remember exactly which day I began to be confined to my room, but it was pretty early on. You could argue that it’s easy to be patient when you’re surrounded by books, films, magazines, the internet, etc, but although they serve as a welcome distraction, keep me entertained and help me to keep living my life, the essence of my being in here is all about waiting at the moment. Apart from the odd blood transfusion (I’ve probably got another coming today, as my haemoglobin is down in the 70s) and platelet transfusion to keep my numbers up, I’ve not had any treatment for more than three weeks.

In spite of my patience, I still find it a bit frustrating each day the neutrophil count refuses to budge – Mariacristina suggested I stop asking so I won’t be disappointed – but I’m well aware that it could be a lot worse. Knowing that when the count does start to increase I’ll get to go home for a week or two gives me something to aim for; while the prospect of eating bacon sandwiches (among so many other domestic delights – not least Mariacristina’s cooking) helps me to remain cheerful, as my bacon theory suggests it should. The doctors have suggested I’m now into the period when the neutrophils should start to reappear, so it feels as though there is a light at the end of this (relatively small) tunnel.

Meanwhile, though, I’m enjoying my vast array of entertainment, keeping this blog updated as much as I can, while I can, and loving the daily visits of Mariacristina and other friends and family. And – when my ready meals are taken to the kitchen to be microwaved, I can’t help but wonder whether the nurses let the timer run down to zero, or stop it a few seconds before…

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