In the last episode, our friend Doris (64) bolted from the Emergency Department (ED) at Whangarei Hospital after three hours, before her surgical assessment could be delivered. She just could not sit and wait in agony any longer.

Perhaps the reason clients of the health system are called patients is because they require patience. The next day a neighbour, finding it tough to watch her suffer, took her for a gentle massage. Though it didn't cure the pain, the open fire at the premises, the sunny back porch, and the tenderness shown lifted her spirits in a way clinical hospital ambience never does.

By the Friday before Queen's Birthday Weekend, when her pain was 10 weeks old and intensifying, friends and neighbours mounted a coup, kidnapped Doris and returned her under guard to ED at the hospital. Miraculously this time it was not too busy so she was assessed immediately. The first drip-line she'd ever had was installed to administer saline solution. Blood and urine were extracted, painkillers swallowed, a doctor jellied her belly before examining its contents with an ultrasound machine, and spinal x-rays were taken.

Later a young surgeon - who looked eerily like Derek Jacombs of Tauranga-based blues band Kokomo - explained a further CT scan would be required.


Rocking up to radiology the next week for the scan involved sitting for 90 minutes drinking vast quantities of water, the insertion of another drip-line, and then being pushed bodily inside what Doris said felt like a whirring silver jet engine with a robotic voice to tell her when to breathe.

The machine delivers cross-section images of the innards, like slices of the pie.

Next was the appointment to hear the verdict. By now, with painkillers on board, Doris was feeling quite confident. A hernia maybe she thought. No trouble to whip it out. No such luck.

It turned out Doris - according to a different surgeon - has months to live rather than years because she has metastasised colon cancer with secondaries in the liver and lungs, probably inoperable, possibly untreatable, plus a rare Spigelian hernia which is nothing to do with the price of fish, and two possibly similarly incidental, spinal compression fractures.

"Phew" exclaimed Doris, "No wonder I hurt. At least it wasn't hypochondria."

Then she went into shock. This was the last diagnosis she - a practised denialist who in her heart of hearts doesn't even really believe in cancer - expected.

She took an instant dislike to this latter surgeon who pointed the bone at her, and to the comedy socks he wore. But later she realised that in condemning him rather than merely his unwelcome news, she had herself committed the mortal sin of shooting the messenger.

She resolved to be more philosophical about this sudden change of circumstance, while setting about the terrible task of informing her nearest and dearest and figuring out what on Earth to do next.


- Next week; Ruminations on death, as well as overwhelming support from family, friends, and neighbours in the wonderful rural community in which Doris lives.