New Years Eve. The noise of a party can be heard.
Sarah sits on stage. She is dressed for a party, in a lush dress and a party hat.
I’ve been in bed crying all day. Not because of Brexit fears or concerns about Kim Jong Un’s nuclear capabilities, but because I’ve spent an hour googling meal replacement shakes and the likely outcome of a Heller’s Myotomy. My mum has pointed out the sanely obvious – that doing this when you’re supposed to be seeing in the New Year in the warm glow of friendship, gin and warm fuzzies for 2019 is probably not the most mentally healthy way to start 2019. Which is fair, I suppose. I think, based on the proof of the last few hours, I’ve probably not digested anything for a couple of days. It could explain why I’m feeling a bit cold, shaky and emotionally wobbly at this moment in time. Three meals-a-day plus snacks have just sat there in my oesophagus, which ain’t good for nobody. My oesophagus has been damaged, or so multiple surgeons have told me, by multiple attempts to crank it open with what I can only describe as a metal balloon. Most of the time it hurts like fuck. To the point they have had to pump me full of sedative. Once the balloon did something to me, leaving me sick and coughing up blood. It’s the only time a doctor ever called after a dilatation. Like he knew that something had gone wrong, but wasn’t going to openly say that. A sphincter in a normal, healthy digestive system, controls food dropping into the stomach and prevents acid leaking out of the stomach. My sphincter basically sits there, irreversibly clenched, like the angriest commuter on a Southern train over the Christmas period. I have a second stomach, created as my oesophagus has stretched to accommodate all the food and liquid that won’t get into my stomach through. Here a mixture of food and stomach acid rots, until it either goes down or comes up. Down is preferable. When the food comes up, it’s like baby food. Not vomit, vomit would cause less pain, scratch fewer vocal chords, make my eyes water less. A piece of bread becomes bread pudding, a chicken curry arrives in pretty much the same form it went down – lumps of chicken and onion floating in a pool of almond paste and garam masala. 10 years of eating delicious, beautiful food and watching it swept down the sink or flushed down the toilet. I mean, it’s not even like it’s meant I got skinny. I weigh only slightly less than before I got sick. My oesophagus should pulse in order to push food down through the digestive system, technically known as peristalsis. I have nothing from roughly below my voice box. On a good day, it means that I have to drink a lot of water to get food down. On a bad day, food and “debris” gets stuck, causing hours of sickness and reflux as my inanimate throat tries to dislodge whatever is making it heave. Side effects? I belch like a trooper, heartburn wakes me up convinced I am having a heart attack and palpitations caused by food resting on my lungs chime in with anxiety, collaborating with my shitty body to cripple me emotionally as well as physically, because God know when you live in fear of eating what you really need is a mortal dread of just about everything else. I once sat in a restaurant, burped really loudly and spent the rest of the evening throwing up a Michelin starred meals at a bus stop. I was on a date. As you can imagine, there wasn’t a second. I’ve probably become a cautionary tale amongst a group of friends somewhere that you should never date a fat girl from Croydon and isn’t great that It’s also developed a wide range of secondary symptoms lower down the… errrrrr… chain, including a clapped out gallbladder and enough intestinal polyps to draw jovial comments from the top Gastroenterologists in the country. Apparently I am exceptional for my age. It’s nice to be appreciated while you like on a trolley with a camera up your arse and sing a Whole New World with the nurses, because “every turn a surprise!” It just seemed appropriate. Apparently I’ve done a really good job of “managing” because: drugs, diet, and a stiff upper lip – but after 10 years of fluctuating health, yo-yoing weight, and a strong desire to retain some sense of normalcy (like friends, or a social life or just the ability to not have to sprint to the bathroom in the middle of a conversation) it becomes really hard to avoid food, especially carbs or vegetables or anything bulky. Basically anything you buy in a restaurant. And most places in Shoreditch go a bit weird if you ask them to puree a tostitos. So you eat, and eat, to show everyone you are ok. That you are fine and normal and they really shouldn’t worry about you. It’s exhausting, on top of the physical strain never knowing how much food you are actually going to digest, and means I often live on milk and dark chocolate digestives. It was fun for a while. I miss toast. I love the smell, and the crunch and the dripping of butter with ham or jam. So I eat toast. Then I regret toast. Which is why I’m now awaiting the last ditch attempt at a life. Which means surgery. But there only one or two surgeons who are capable of doing the job, and the hospital I need is in special measures, so…
In the meantime, I live with a hyper sexy wedge pillow, which makes me sleep at a right angle to stop me choking on my own digestive inadequacies. It has helped allay the fear of aspiration, which is the oh-so endearing risk of breathing in food as it comes up my oesophagus. Surprisingly the pillow and high risk of choking in my sleep has failed to do wonders for my spine or my love life. So I am seeing in the NY on my own. With a list of ailments that your average pensioner would envy. With some of the worst of my condition, “acalaysia”, beating another planned evening of happiness to a mushy duvet-wrapped pulp. Full on FOMO included. But it’s not that which kills me. It’s the sheer unreliability it foists into my life. It means that people I really care about – friends, Romans, countrymen – are left high and dry at a moment’s notice. Gigs go unattended, meals remain undigested and holidays lie strewn with sick-days and no-shows. I have never been skiing, because every time, well the one time, I book a trip, my digestive system goes spectacularly into melt down the day before departure. I spent most of what should have been my holiday in the mountains of Italy, on a ward on Croydon. It was a shitty swap. Tonight is a case in point, with the games ‘n’ gin ‘n’ gorgeous people. I mean, I was supposed to bring Balderdash. The evening is probably irrevocably ruined. 2019 derailed from the off. All because I haven’t turned up with Cards Against Humanity and a bottle of prosecco. But I know it won’t be. The one thing I have learnt is that the world goes on without you there, if you’re in bed or bound to the toilet. So, to all the people I have let down, I apologise. I understand the friends who have bailed or faded into the background. I would maybe do the same, no matter how much I like to think I wouldn’t, but-
I have to believe that this time next year, I won’t be here… In a holding pattern, where I sit in a room and wait to be fixed. Because then life can begin. Fewer compromises. Fewer let downs and wasted opportunities. In a room surrounded by people I love and who love me, who have hung on in there, believing that the wait would be worth it, and the sickly, glazed version of my with the tired eyes and the brittle smile, it worth the space. The problem is, deep down inside, I’m scared. Scared it will happen, and I will no longer have the excuses. Scared it won’t happen or surgery won’t make me better, and limitations will continue to breed, like bacteria. That I will never be whole or that I am not capable of-
In the next room, there is a sound of Big Ben beginning to strike. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12…
Sarah raises a glass.
Happy new year. Hopefully.