It starts with a slight tickle in my throat. Then I sense an icy sharpness somewhere a little further down. Then I spontaneously cough. But it's not a normal cough. Instead of either a little bit of satisfying gunk popping up, or a reassuringly dry echo, it's thin. And liquid. And if my chest had eyes, i'd see it was red.
It's this succession of events that fills me with dread. Not in a Keatsian "this is my death warrant" kind of dread, more a "oh for fucks sake, not in public" kind of dread. Because when I start coughing blood, it doesn't stop for what feels like a lifetime. I can't do a big cough or a huff until whatever is there shifts, I have to wait for whatever torn blood vessel deep down in the fragile tips of my lungs clots. And the thing is my blood doesn't like to clot. Thanks liver.
So for the next 5 or so minutes I keep coughing, every few seconds. Bubble, cough, swallow, pause. Bubble, cough, swallow, pause. My inner vampire i'm sure relishes at this stream of molten rubies, but not even a disillusioned schizophrenic wannabe vampire can cast aside the disgusting clammy metallic taste and slimy consistency that i'm forced to swallow. Sometimes, if it's been going on for longer than I care to imagine, I grab a glass and start to watch the disturbing contents of my lungs fill it up. When this first started to happen a few years ago, I used to be in tears, thinking this was the beginning of the end. Blood being ejected from any part of the body is horrifying, it seems to trigger within people an extreme reaction of abject terror. Not surprising given it's our core, our unrelenting fuel.
It now doesn't scare me, knowing it's not too too serious, and probably (and like so many gory body things) because i've become so immune to anything remotely disturbing. It's not that it just doesn't scare me, when I see blood, it almost fascinates me. It's the oddest texture when it clots, like fast-setting Vampire jelly. And the colour is insane - the deepest red, so rich and regal. I suggested painting our bathroom that colour. Mum firmly said no. Pity, because it complimented the tiles just perfectly.
CF desensitises you greatly to things that might turn the stomachs of the general population with endless exposure of blood, phlegm, organs, bodily functions, and now transplants. You grow up talking about organs in terms of how they're functioning, what they're up to, why they're not working, how you can improve them. Bodies and all that goes on inside them become stuff of everyday banal conversation. Gushing blood, funny x-rays, CT scans of lumpy livers or increasingly scarred lungs become problems that need to be solved, shapes and shadows and highlights on a screen, rather than an invisible amalgamation of your 'essence of being' or some bollocks like that. Bodies are like machines, parts making up a whole. Bits and bobs, nuts and bolts. You see your body like a machine, you don't get scared when it starts to dribble oil. If something stops working, you try and replace it. I suppose it's a sort of uncanny detachment, a severing of the mind from the body.
This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—
I hold it towards you.
(See how odd that poem is? That's what i'm on about! An uncanny detachment from your body.)
Unsettlingly unfazed, alarmingly desensitized. I think this is why you'll find most CFers have a grotesquely dark sense of humour. I sure do, but i'm not sure whether the uninitiated public are ready for it. Should hear the 'jokes' thrown about in the safe confines of this house! I hate to say i've caused a few pale faces with my flippant remarks of very un-flippant things... Oops. I think it's the unknown that unsettles the most. Whoever said 'ignorance is bliss' was seriously mistaken. 'Knowledge is power' reigns in my kingdom. Knowledge calms, knowledge soothes, knowledge hands you the tools to understand what is going on in our intricate and amazing bodies. If you know, then it certainly won't be the fear that consumes you.