Comic Mel Moon is being admitted to hospital this afternoon and she is having her throat cut in the operating theatre at 9.30am tomorrow morning.
The Edinburgh Fringe is going to be even more chaotic than usual this year, with some shows not appearing at all and a lot of acts performing at different times and in different venues to what is billed in the official Fringe Programme – all because of the Cowgatehead debacle. (See past blogs if you have to.) But some shows, dates, times and performances have changed for other reasons.
Back in a blog in February this year, Mel talked to me about her show Mel Moon Dicing with Dr Death which was to be co-presented with Philip Nitschke of Exit and would discuss her (since changed) decision to commit suicide with advice from Exit.
Now Philip Nitschke is billed as doing the Dicing with Dr Death show solo.
Why the change?
“These things happen,” Mel told me, when I went to her home in Sussex yesterday afternoon. “As is often the case when you work with someone you don’t know, things don’t always work out the way you would hope… I dunno… We were so different. So very different. Even down to some of the things we believe in. Now there are two shows. I wish him the very best of luck. He has put a lot of money into it. We got the Caves for him as a venue and he’s staying there.
“I am doing my show at the Counting House, 8th-30th August at lunchtime – 12.15pm – thanks to the amazing Alex Petty, who ran to my rescue and offered me a fair old chunk of venues.”
“So you,” I said, “are doing your own solo autobiographical show on much the same subject. Which is called…?”
“Sick Girl – same title as the sitcom Kate Copstick and I are working on for a TV production company.”
“And now,” I said, “you are going into hospital for an operation…”
“Yes. I’ve been through a bit and I’ve never really been scared before – not scared-scared… but… I spent a good chunk of time wanting to die. And now I don’t want to die. So it would be Sod’s Law if this was the thing that did me in.”
“The operation is going to take nine hours?” I asked.
“That’s the maximum,” Mel explained. “They told me the minimum will be 5 or 6 hours but to expect 9 because of the complications I bring to it.”
“Why the operation?” I asked.
“It’s a combination of factors. I had a car accident in 2008 which caused a bit of disc damage in the neck. Three or four of them dislodged, but it was fine. It was no big deal. I was young, I had a few injections for pain and eventually it stopped hurting.
“Then I got this disease – PGF (polyglandular failure) – and started living off steroids… What do steroids do? – They weaken the bone. In high doses, like I’ve been taking for the last three years, they certainly do. So I’ve been taking a couple of other drugs to protect the bones, but it’s not done enough because there was a weakness there already.
“So all those little discs have started to break up and now they’ve taken ones either side with it, so I’ve now got a neck that is slamming on all the different root nerves. So I don’t feel my hands. They’re just numb. I have no real grip and, if I hold my hand in any position for too long, it starts to twitch. And now I don’t feel anything in my lower arms, so I have burns on my arm where I have leant on the iron without realising.
“There’s no point them doing a bone graft because I still have to take the steroids and, in a few years time, the same problem would happen again. So they’re going to take away the damage in the neck and rebuild the neck using some titanium rods and some of these… I saw one… it was like a blue disc. I don’t think the discs are titanium, but I’m not sure.”
“The rods are replacing a bit of your spine?” I asked.
“I guess so,” said Mel. “The truth is I have not pushed for too much information.”
“I don’t think I would want to know anything,” I said.
“In January,” explained Mel, “I went for what I thought was a routine appointment to discuss having the next injection, because I’d been getting a bit of pain. They’d been giving me injections in the neck. Even though I didn’t feel my fingertips, the nerve pain deep in my arm was bloody awful.
“It was an orthopaedic surgeon and he said: I’m really sorry, but the option of giving you injections has gone. We need to operate and we need to do it quick. If you have it done, we can’t guarantee that the problem will go away, but we can guarantee it won’t get any worse. If you don’t have it done, we guarantee you will lose your hands within a year.
“So I signed the form, got out of there, cried my eyes out and made arrangements to have it done. It’s my throat they’re cutting. That’s the bit that gets to me.”
“They don’t,” I asked, “go in via the back of the neck where the discs are?”
“No. They say it’s safer to go round the front. That way, they’re less likely to hit the spinal chord. They cut on a crease in the neck and I’ve got loads of them from my fat.”
“Worth it, though,” I said.
“There are two incentives for the operation,” Mel told me. “One, obviously, is I don’t want to lose my hands. The other is I would really like to reduce the amount of morphine I take.”
“How much morphine do you take?” I asked.
“A shitload. I divide it between two doses. I’m on slow-release morphine. So, in the morning, I take between 70 and 90 milligrams. And I take some at night. So between 180 and 190 milligrams a day.”
“And you still get some pain?”
“Yes I do. I have different type of morphine for breakthrough pain but, if I took that as well, I wouldn’t be able to talk, so I use codeine, which I find as beneficial.”
“How long will you take to recover from the operation?”
“Well, they want you out of there as bloody quick as possible. The SALT team (Speech And Language Team) come to see you the next day and, as soon as you can speak, swallow and have your drains out, you can go.”
“I would keep schtum,” I suggested.
“No, I want to get out of there as quick as possible. The hospital I’m in is in Haywards Heath. But they’re moving to Brighton so, if I don’t recover in eight or nine days, I’ll be moved as well and I don’t want that.”
“Have you a poster or flyer for Edinburgh yet?” I asked.
“No. I thought I was doing the show with Dr Death, but now I’m doing my first solo show with no sponsor, no poster, no flyers. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for anything, including my accommodation, but the Independent newspaper asked me to write an article for them.”
“About the disease?” I asked.
“About everything that’s happened,” said Mel. “I was so excited. It should be published next week.”