9 1/2 Weeks

Today, I rode my bicycle. First time in almost 9 1/2 weeks. No, this post has absolutely NOTHING to do with a movie about sex and eating jalapenos blindfolded in lingerie. It’s just the first movie reference that popped into my head when I looked in my journal for the last date I rode my bike. Monday, September 14th. A grocery run to Trader Joe’s. 64 days ago. My bike chain jumped the gears on the way home with 30 pounds of groceries in the pack on my back. The chain wedged itself between the gears and the bike frame, and it took me about 20 minutes to cautiously work it free, reset it, and slowly ride it home using only the one gear I got it to loop back into. 21st gear. The top gear. Up hill the last 2 miles home.

It was my last ride. The pains and symptoms that had become a part of my recent life with kidney cancer were becoming more than I felt like riding to the store with. In fact, by that night, I started to notice an increasing pain in my lower abdomen that, by the next night, made me decide that a trip to Urgent Care was a good idea. Because in my mind, after my catheter and camera bladder exam the Friday before, I thought this new pain might be a bladder infection. And at this point in my Summer of Cancer adventure, NOTHING was going to stop me from having the surgery scheduled for October 6th, to get my cancer-coated kidney out of me.

As I’ve mentioned to a few folks since, that pain I was feeling turned out to be a little bonus affliction called diverticulitis. You fans of WebMD can play with that one at your earliest convenience. A couple more trips to the doctor and two prescriptions of antibiotics later and the surgery happened right on schedule.

Anyway, that’s all just backstory now. Same with why I would ride to buy groceries and run other local errands. It’s all just history now, and probably more filler for another post I’ll write before the end of the month.

The important thing about this day was, I rode my bicycle. For the first time in almost 9 1/2 weeks, I rode. Six weeks to the day after surgery. Just like the doctors said not to do. Not to fuck up the healing I can’t see on my insides, while the scars I can see on my outsides do the same.

Today, I rode my bicycle. It felt good. The day felt good. Writing this felt good.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

Flatliners

Disclaimer: To the best of my waking knowledge, on October 6th, 2020, I did NOT experience an NDE (Near Death Experience). I am, however, a writer. And as such, I possess a vivid imagination. Also, who the fuck knows what happens to the subconscious mind under the influence of Propofol.

I made friends with my pre-op nurse from the moment she parted the modesty drape, separating my bed on wheels from the growing numbers of first-shift hospital workers. I was glad I did, because it was she who overruled my anesthesiologist when it came to tapping a vein in me for the IV drip to dreamland. Hell, my anesthesiologist couldn’t find a roll of adhesive tape in the cart drawer. It was good my nurse stuck me before the sleep doctor had a chance, and I hoped that anesthesiology proper, and converting deciliter to milliliter ratios, was more her thing than a simple needle stick.

It was now 7 am. I was scheduled for surgery at 7:30, but a second doctor I also didn’t know told me it looked like we were all ahead of schedule. My face must have had a look, because it was then my pre-op nurse said she would be accompanying to the OR. That made me feel better, somehow, and told doctor number two that being early actually sounded great to me.

Until it didn’t.

Inside my head, it is a very logical place. Well-ordered. You might even call it regimented. I tell myself I keep it that way to allow more freedom along my internal bandwidth for creative things like poetry, or memorizing the script to Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Unfortunately, now was NOT the right time for my creative nether to have nothing but free space for my imagination to roam. Unconsciously, I knew my body was flashing back to the last time I was on a bed with wheels. To the second CT scan, the first time I was scared, when it confirmed what the ER doc already told me.

I had cancer.

Somewhere between the anesthesiologist and the incident with the lost adhesive tape, and the moment when I was being wheeled past what seemed like dozens of scrub-wearing, mask-bearing staff, a second anesthesiologist from who knows where appeared… and at that moment I wanted to say that anesthesiology must be a growth industry or something… to let me know he was going to be taking over the drugs, and that he was also going to be putting a “little something” in my IV drip before they took me to surgery.

This is where the details start to get fuzzy, and I remember having this image of Julia Roberts and Kiefer Sutherland in a movie from 30 years ago, about med students and… well, you read the bold italics, above.

I remember asking him if this was the part where I count backward from a hundred, and don’t make it past 97. I remember him telling me that the “little something” was only to relax me before… I don’t remember what. I caught sight of my pre-op nurse next to me, helping push me through the halls, and for a few seconds, I felt better. I remember how loud the hallway was. The masked folk talking amongst themselves, almost faceless, and realizing that it really didn’t matter if I remembered their faces, because I wouldn’t remember them anyway. I remember my pre-op nurse, although I couldn’t remember her name. I really wished I could remember her name.

Then my destination . The OR. And I remember how bright, God how bright, it was. I saw the operating table with the lights above it and wondered how I was supposed to get to the table from the bed with wheels. I looked around the theater at all the new masked faces I would not remember, doing not much yet. Waiting for, what… me? I remember my surgeon, who I had met the Friday before this Tuesday, reintroduce himself to me as all the bed pushers parallel parked my bed with wheels next to the operating table. I remember four or five masked and gowned folks, none of whom looked big enough or strong enough to transfer me from the bed to the table, all grab an edge of the sheet beneath my gowned body, and on a sloppy count of three, awkward lift me from one flat surface to the other.

I remember they took my gown, and I realized the “little something” must be working, because I didn’t give a shit who saw my dick or my balls. And I remember my, “Hey, I’ve only known you for a few days and shouldn’t you have to buy me dinner before you do this to me?” surgeon ask me nicely to scoot down a little bit so they could drop my arms into the full-length, slotted restraints, there to keep me from accidentally crossing my arms over my body while they had my belly carved open on the table.

I remember my Covid-precautionary surgical mask come off me, and then the gas mask tightly cover my nose and mouth. I remember how restrictive the arm-slot restraints were. How my shoulders started to feel slightly dislocated, and a growing thought that I was going to have to be like this… this Andres Serrano Christ on a Cross… for the next four hours, and my head finally caught up with my body, and for not the first time I was scared.

I remember the second anesthesiologist, the good one with the “little something”, say that I was going to fall asleep now. I looked up into the lights above the table, my table with the arm slots, and squinted. I remember thinking how bright, God how bright.

I remember… nothing.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

The Avengers

Okay, NOT the whole movie, although I could write an entire ‘nother month of posts on JUST THE AVENGERS SAGA, but in this case, just one line.

“That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always angry.”

Which for me, now, begs a single question, “Is this a time for anger?”

As I wrote in the very first post of this series,

“…due to many years in the church, and a still-in-tact holy reverence for not wanting to piss-off God at a time of crisis by exclaiming things like, ‘Awww, shit!’ or, ‘Ohhh, fuck no!’, I tend to go to that inward, generally understated place of expression. That place where I take into myself all the external control of an airline pilot who knows his plane is going down, but still believes that if he acts calmly and rationally, he and everyone sitting behind him aren’t going to die.”

This intact thought includes, but is not limited to, a fear of shit going south on me in some cosmic sense if I get inappropriately angry. Or to put it another way, how much faster will I die, now that it seems my body is trying to slap an accelerated expiration date on me, if I allow myself to stew in the juices of anger? And… BONUS question in the wake of my recent diagnosis, and the potential for fucking up all to hell my future prognosis… what is the difference between inappropriate, and appropriate, anger?

Because, after all, this anger response from Dr. Bruce Banner was appropriate, right?

Some observations on anger.

Is my anger directed outward, or inward?

For the moment I’m going to start with the premise that anger turned inward is one of two metaphorical substances. Either battery acid, or vinegar. I’ll get the easy one out of the way first. DON’T INJECT BATTERY ACID! I know, you’d think people would have learned by now that injecting deadly poison is a medically proven BAD IDEA. Then there’s the strange second metaphorical substance. Vinegar. Where in all cases, battery acid poisons, in some cases vinegar… also, DON’T INJECT VINEGAR… cleanses. But you don’t want that shit in your body, either. Maybe in your crusty coffee pot, or mixed with baking soda to clean your bathroom shower floor, but for God’s sake… do I really have to warn people in a post about cancer that you shouldn’t shove non-medicinals into your body? Yeah, I do. But these were metaphorical substances and, oh… screw it.

Long story short, anger turned inward… BAD. Okay, there ya go.

So where does that leave me?

In the pantheon of universal truths, “To Serve Man is a cookbook”, “Soylent Green is people”, “Scarface and Goodfellas are idiotically overrated films”, and “anger turned inward… BAD”, only one has anything to do with how I view old me, a wannabe Dr. David Banner, and new me. Who doesn’t have a character name, yet. But I’m looking.

And to answer the question I began with, “Is this a time for anger?”

Probably not.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

Punchline

Turns out, cancer isn’t as funny as I originally thought.

A couple of weeks ago, when I first legit committed to writing about my Summer of Cancer, AKA What I Did on my Pandemic Vacation, AKA The Guy with the Blood in his Urine, I assumed, mostly because when I journal about it… personal, PRIVATE journal about it… I always seem to make at least one joke per page about what I’ve been going through since the Hibiscus Tea Incident of August, 2020. I mean, I’ve hashtagged it everyday.

#inappropriatehumor

That’s supposed to be something you can’t come back from. A promise. A solemn oath to make something potentially tragic also something you laugh in the face of. It’s like mocking the devil, or the President. Yet here I’ve been, uncharacteristically getting in touch with my feelings, in public. It’s like a sad Hallmark movie. Shut up, I know every Hallmark movie is sad, just not in the way that Hallmark intends. A lot like that movie where Forrest Gump’s mother plays his girlfriend. Two noob stand-up comics, neither one is funny. But they spend the entire movie trying to convince the audience of said unfunny movie which movie reviewer Rex Reed gave FOUR STARS… whatever… that if you just try hard enough to overcome your traumas and triggers (although this movie was made in the ’80s so I don’t think the writers even had words like “traumas” or “triggers” in the script), you TOO could be one of the sad funny people on open mic night at the comedy club.

Spoiler… no, you can’t. Because a movie about unfunny stand-up comedians ISN’T FUNNY. Just like cancer ISN’T FUNNY. At least not intentionally.

But a promise is a promise.

So I guess the trick isn’t trying to write exceptionally funny cancer jokes. That would be like Tom Hanks and Sally Field writing their own material for the open mic scenes in Punchline. And if we learned anything from the movie Sunset Boulevard (RELAX, THAT won’t be on the test) we all know that even though everybody thinks that actors are making up their lines as they go, they aren’t. And I’m not writing cancer jokes on cue as I stare blankly at the screen at the start of every blogging day.

No, I’m remembering something that could have been sad, that in the remembering of it, at least made ME laugh. And that’s the punchline at the end of story. That if I can laugh, then I can laugh the next time, and the next. Until maybe I won’t need to remember to laugh anymore.

And if I’m laughing, maybe you can laugh with me, too.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday