By Chris Adams
Originally performed by Paul Adeyefa (O), Eve Hedderwick-Turner (V) and Ayesha Casely-Hayford (R)
O: Hi my name is Owen.
V: My name is Vera.
R: My name is—Renee.
O: I have diabetes.
V: I have high cholesterol.
R: I have—
O: It’s a medical condition.
V: It’s a manageable medical condition.
R: I tell myself it’s just a manageable medical condition.
O: I take an injection, normally once a day.
V: I take a pill.
R: I take a pill once a day.
O: I went to the doctor because I was thirsty. Like, super super thirsty. I’d finish a glass of water, and I’d need another one. So I Googled ‘why am I so thirsty?’ and Google told me it was a symptom of diabetes, so I made an appointment with the doctor.
V: I went for a routine check up. High cholesterol runs in the family, so I keep it monitored. The doctor wanted to draw some blood—well not her, obviously. She sent me to one of these blood-drawing assembly lines where there’s a whole row of chairs and they call your number and a nurse stabs you in the arm and before you’re ready they tell you to get a move on and then call ‘Next!’
R: I went to the doctor because I thought I had the flu. The doctor asked me a few questions and then he said he’d like to send me for a test. I said What test?
O: When the doctor gave me the results he said, So the test results are positive, but don’t worry everything will be fine. It’s a manageable medical condition.
V: She said, No need to worry. It’s manageable.
R: The nurse who did the test—she didn’t say anything. Not right away. And I knew—she didn’t say anything. Her eyes—I’ll never forget the look in her eyes. She was a professional, a trained professional, this was her job, she’s probably told hundreds, maybe thousands of people—but still—the look in her eyes.
O: The first person I told was my mum. Because she went with me to the appointment. She was okay.
V: I guess I told my girlfriend? She said: Does this mean we need to become vegans? I said: No, I’ll just take the pills.
R: I didn’t tell anybody except my doctors for an entire year. I couldn’t—I couldn’t say the letters. When I saw the word written somewhere I’d feel sick to my stomach. I finally told my best friend and he went—ballistic. He started to cry. He said Why didn’t you tell me sooner? Did you not feel you could trust me? Why did you hide this from me? We didn’t speak for three months after that.
O: It comes up in conversation, usually when talking about food. ‘Oh sorry—can’t have that right now. I’m diabetic’. And then people want to know only one thing: Are all the injections painful? People are obsessed with pain.
V: On the rare occasions it comes up in conversation people say, ‘Oh’ and move on.
R: If I tell people—or when they find out—what they really want to know is: am I to blame? They want to know if I deserve it. Like was my boyfriend cheating on me, or did I have a blood transfusion, or was I born with it. Because then they can—
O: And I tell them: You get used to it. And they shrug their shoulders. Maybe there’s a bit of judgment? People probably wonder: Does he like to eat too much cake?
R: If I’m not responsible for it, then they can pity me. If I am responsible, then they can judge me.
O: But I really don’t care what they think. It’s none of their business.
V: People just don’t care. Over half the population will have high cholesterol anyway.
R: Everybody has an opinion.
O: After all, it’s only a medical condition.
V: It’s a manageable medical condition.
R: I tell myself it’s a manageable medical condition. But most manageable medical conditions don’t send you to a therapist. And a support group.
O: Is there what? A community? Oh. Yeah I suppose to some extent. There’s a national organisation. I could go to a support group if I wanted but I’m too busy.
V: A high cholesterol community? What, like a garden club—like let’s all go plant flowers because we have high cholesterol? No.
R: I was really nervous about going to my first meeting. Because I thought it would be all these gay men. Like, all the gay men—and me, over in a corner somewhere. I remember going into the building and feeling so—aware. Like all the passersby on the street knew why I was opening this door to this building. When I got inside there was a woman at the desk and she asked if she could help and I almost turned around and ran out the door. But I didn’t. I said: I’m here for—I couldn’t even finish the sentence but she knew. She smiled at me. She said: through the double doors, turn right, and it’s the first room on your left. I was the second person to arrive. I felt—exposed. Like I had forgotten to put on any clothes that morning. I started to shiver and this woman—Martha—she said: Are you cold dear? And then she—she—
O: What? Of course people touch me.
V: Is that a real question?
O: Why wouldn’t people touch me? I’m not—contagious.
V: It’s not like I’m going to give high cholesterol to anybody, is it?
R: She touched me. No hesitation or thinking about it. She just—touched me. See, people they know in their brains—well, most of them—some of them know in their brains that I’m not going to—that they can’t ‘get’—from me. But sometimes I feel there’s a field around me—like when you try to put the same sides of two magnets together. You can’t see that magnetic field but you know it’s there because of how strong it pushes the magnets apart. It’s like people are never able to get too close to me. There’s always a field in the way.
O: I guess you could say I’m conscious of it. Yes. I have to be. I have to be aware.
V: I don’t really think about it.
O: I have to be careful about my diet, my blood sugar levels, but it doesn’t take over my life.
V: No—wait. Let me revise that. I don’t really think about it except when I have to take the medication. Oh—and when I think of my grandmother. She had high cholesterol. She had a heart attack when I was twelve. She died. So when I take the medication, and when I think about my grandmother—that’s when I think: ‘I’m a person with high cholesterol’.
R: The first three? four? six? months—it was all I could think about. I’d wake up and my first thought would be ‘Here’s a person with—waking up.’ I’d brush my teeth and think: ‘Here’s a person with—brushing her teeth’. I’d walk out the door, I’d hop on the Tube, I’d sit at my desk, I’d get a cup of tea, I’d answer my email, I’d scroll through FaceBook, I’d listen to a podcast, I’d treat myself to a Nando’s—but it was never me, just me, doing those things. It was always ‘a person with—’ doing them.
O: Nothing changed, really. After the diagnosis. Nothing about me changed.
V: It doesn’t interfere in my life. I’m still me.
O: I sang in a choir at work before. I still sing in the choir.
V: No change at all. I liked to go hiking before. Still go hiking now.
O: Go to the theatre.
V: Play the guitar.
O: Make dinner for friends.
V: Take trains. I like train travel. Still do that.
R: I dropped out of my book club.
O: Watch The West Wing.
R: I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t—
V: My girlfriend and I are getting married.
R: I was seeing this guy in the book club. I stopped talking to him.
O: Go on dates. I’m a serial dater. Like I just love going on dates. Three? Four a week.
V: Next year. We’re drawing up the guest list.
R: It’s been two years since I’ve been on a date. But—
O: My friends call me a dating slut. But I just love to meet people.
R: But last week I went on—
O: Um I guess if it comes up in conversation I tell them. Everybody’s been fine with it.
R: For the first time in two years. And—
V: She’s like No Vera, we can’t serve the chocolate mousse—too many saturated fats—and I know she’s just being concerned, caring—looking out for me. But for goodness’ sake it’s a wedding. I want chocolate mousse at my wedding.
R: Yeah it went really well thanks. It went really well. I agreed to go because he knows. And he’s educated. He’s educated himself. He doesn’t—there’s not a field. With him. It’s early days but yeah—there’s not a field.
O: The future?
V: The future.
R: The future?
O: Future’s pretty bright. It’s under control.
V: Pretty good I suppose. Can’t think why it wouldn’t be.
O: Got a lot going on. Staying busy.
R: If you’d asked me last year I would have said—
O: Staying active.
R: Bleak. A grey day. One grey day after another. No colour. No colour anywhere but—
V: I’m looking forward—
R: But this year. I’ve decided to be—me—again. I hope—
O: I have hope.
V: I hope.
R: I hope I remember what she’s like. I tell myself—
O: It’s a manageable condition. I’ll get along fine.
V: It’s perfectly manageable.
R: It’s a manageable condition. I’ll manage.