Poet Giles Turnbull writes: In addition to blindness, poor control of my diabetes also led to kidney failure. I received a transplant in 2013 and all looked good. Then on 4 July 2014, a year after the transplant, I fell down the house stairs and didn’t remember anything else until mid-September, at which point I had received one dose of chemo and had one more ahead of me, plus some radiotherapy.
The immunosuppressant meds that I take to stop my body rejecting the new kidney left me vulnerable to other infections. One had crossed my blood-brain barrier and I had brain lymphoma. I wasn’t in a coma or anything, I just had zero memory, short or long term; I couldn’t have told you my name let alone that I wrote poetry!
But all is good now. Every 6 months I visit the hospital for a check-up, and each time they ask how my memory is. Apparently high dose chemo and radiotherapy can lead to early onset dementia. I enjoy reading novels like Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, and Still Alice by Lisa Genova, because I like to know what might await me. This is how I imagine myself, hopefully many years hence.
The Missing Man
There’s just a blur where it used to sit
between my ears and above my sneeze.
My mission is a puzzle
that started with an assignment —
I’m a contract killer?
Maybe it was a push in my aching back,
maybe just a prompt,
but it melted into the laughing dawn,
left me clueless about 8am,
where I’d been with whom —
I’m sure they were poets,
they have an unmistakable flavour and scent
that clings to my shirt,
of sniffer dog’s feet
and parrot’s feathers.
Somebody is watching me
while I wash my face,
eyes that enquire how long I’ve been wiping,
what I’m trying to erase
… I have not the foggiest.
I cannot remember what I am
supposed to use this soggy cloth for,
it cries occasional tears along my cheek
before returning to the bowl
and sinking back to sleep.