Walking Tall

Today, I walked farther than on any other day of post-op doctor’s orders. Although none of my doctors ever said how FAR these walks, or what I refer to as Street Hikes, are supposed to be. Street Hikes, because saying that “I went for a walk” sounds like something from a time and place where poets would visit nature, and contemplate, in mental verse, the changing color of the leaves. Then slog home and, with quill and ink, scratch out five full pages of words, trying to craft similes connecting turning leaves to emotions felt while knees-deep in a mud bog before the winter solstice, or a fork in a road no one should travel, that leads to a different time and place where people have learned to hate poetry in the 21st century.

Yeah, I walk a little differently than that.

If you are one of the lucky ones to follow me on Instagram, you may have seen a couple of stories of me… walking. Not Street Hiking. More like Street Shuffling. Slowly. Painfully. Walking tall, one halting foot in front of the other. I made sure that, when I posted those videos, that on the days I spent more time grunting than silently breathing, I left the sound off. Because if I didn’t want to hear my own body complain on a quarter-mile, 20 minute shuffle in the neighborhood, I sure as hell didn’t want anyone else hearing it, either.

Today, I walked just over 3 miles in just under one hour. So, doing the math, I walked 12 times farther, 4 times faster, than my first halting outside steps the day after I got home from the hospital. Now before you start SLOW-clapping me to blush, remember that 3 miles-an-hour is still officially SLOW AS HELL. Once upon a long, long time ago, I covered that same distance in right around 20 minutes. Also, once upon a long, long time ago, I would have said, “I ain’t doin’ this for my health”.

Which now is the ONLY reason I’m doing it.

Because the last thing what’s happened to me is going to do is keep me from walking tall.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

Night of the Living Dead

*The following is a word-for-word journal entry from Thursday, September 17. There is no embellishment or editing. NOTE: two days earlier, I took myself to Urgent Care for pain in my left abdomen. I assumed a bladder infection following a catheter camera examination the previous Friday, and hoped it would be caught quickly so that cancer surgery would not be delayed. A urine sample and talk with a doctor identified nothing at that time. However, five days AFTER this journal entry, rapidly increasing abdominal pain and a second appointment, along with another CT scan, revealed I was suffering from diverticulitis, or an inflammation of the interior lining of the large intestine. This was treated with two prescribed antibiotics, and my surgery would happen, as scheduled.*

9:06 am.

Oh look! A brand new day!

(49% sarcasm)

The girls are coming over today. Daran said ‘errands’, which means she wants an extra pair of hands for the Grandlings. Since I’m mostly fine, and have ZERO else to do, I’m all in. Maybe there’s a Horchata Cream Frap in my future!

12:20 pm.

Cooked and ate breakfast. Load of dishes. Now getting ready for the kids. Watched Night of the Living Dead – 1990 during all of the above. Drew no contemporary life parallels. I feel tired after all that. Guess I’ll see how I feel tonight. 19 days to go.

I don’t know what other motivation there is. There is no relationship or reward, or seemingly anything pushing me to this ‘first finish line’. Just counting down the days. Admittedly, that’s not much. The last couple of days, I haven’t felt too journal-wordy, either. I know it’s rooted in the Tuesday pain and Urgent Care visit, and some lingering right arm nerve pain from over-popping my shoulder around the same time. That just leaves me flat.

*By Sunday night, after dog sitting from Thursday night till Sunday afternoon, what started out as a mild pain and a whole lot of worry had turned into enough abdominal pain that I was emailing my doctor and popping a Percocet in hopes of having a few hours of relief and maybe a little uninterrupted sleep. Fortunately, the pain never returned after the meds wore off, and within a couple of days, I was being treated for the unexpected BONUS condition, in time for the BIG operation.*

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

The Morning After

“Funny how nothing else in my life seems to matter after 5:24 pm yesterday. Women, food, to do list, job search, none of that… that’s about it except for which friend to tell.”*

*Journal entry for Friday, August 21.

This morning I read over the journal entries from those first, critical days in August, when my very ordinary isolation life became my very ordinary survival life. Besides my literary creativity in trying to best describe what a clump of dissolving-in-urine blood mass should be called, the 24 hours after First Symptom were spent repeating the phrase,

“I’m scared. Of course I’m scared.”

The fear which consumed me, and navigating those feelings, through “very ordinary” things like eating and sleeping… and at that point, having not yet told anyone… well, I can barely remember what that felt like, even while reading my words as I compose what I’m typing right now.

By the way, my chosen simile for what came out of me every time I was brave enough to pee was “hibiscus tea”. You’re welcome. Let THAT image carve its own space in your brain going forward.

“And now the questions… How long will I live? How will my quality of life be? Who will be there in my future? Seriously, will I even see the election? What comes after that? What DOES come after that?”**

**Same journal entry for Friday, August 21.

You know, it’s been 11 weeks and I still ask most of those questions. The election question just seems silly right now, but on August 21st, November 3rd seemed like one hell of a long ways off.

There is a thing said of athletes as they mature, and as experience begins to show itself greater than any ability with which an athlete plays the game. That thing said is, “The game begins to slow down” for them. It is that moment when experience and a history of being good at something, trade places, and the doing of a thing is made easier merely by having been there and done that so many times, that there is an almost unconscious take-over by the body, of the mind. Call it Gladwell’s ten-thousand hours. Call it simple muscle memory. It’s how I know I could still roller skate when I haven’t laced up a pair of roller skates in decades. How I know I can field a ground ball behind second base and, all in one motion, throw it, without looking, to first. And it is how, without ever having been this scared for my life, the game of life slows down, and I am able to make check-box decisions, one after the other, even when, in my head, I hear myself screaming louder than the crowd of spectators that surrounds me.

Call it time served on earth.

“How many times have I mentioned that I’m scared? At this time yesterday, I was peeing clear, felt fully hydrated, healthy, alive even. This morning, I feel like I need to get my affairs in order. Seriously? In 24 hours?”***

***Even later journal entry for Friday, August 21.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

There Will Be Blood

Silence. Followed by,

“That’s not good.”

I suppose there are a lot of things a person can say when an innocuous trip to the bathroom turns into a toilet-full of blood. In my case, 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.

Yep, I’m THAT guy.

Even with THIS.

Although, I’d never had a THIS before.

So, about the blood. This was the first symptom. Turns out that there are only a few possibilities for what “blood in the urine” is a symptom of. But since I had not experienced extreme urethral pain during urination (possible kidney stones), or an extreme beating in the ring like Apollo Creed’s kid experienced at the hands of Ivan Drago’s kid in the movie Creed II, that left the only other high-percentage possibility for what “blood in the urine” is a symptom of. Renal Cell Carcinoma, or in plain language, kidney cancer.

This all began at 5:21 pm, on a Thursday in August. In the meantime, through all the exchanging of emails with my doctor, and appointments made for lab work to be done on Saturday, I spent the next 36 hours alone with my thoughts, and peeing blood. Then, on the morning I was to head for the lab, the blood in my urine stopped.

Just in time for the pain in my kidney to start.

Pain that got so bad so fast, I skipped the lab appointment altogether, and went straight to the ER. This was the second symptom.

Side note. Let me take a moment here to affirm that hospitals really do have the best drugs. Because by 10 am on Saturday, the pain that woke me up 5 hours earlier was all the way gone. By 11 am, all the blood and urine the lab was supposed to have helped itself to at 8 am was drawn into vials or drained into cups . By noon, I was being gurneyed into the imaging room for a CT scan. And before 1 pm, I was being told by the ER doc that the CT scan showed a mass on my right kidney that was troubling enough for him to schedule a second CT before I could even change out of the grippy socks on my feet and the hospital johnny, flap open around my ass.

Finally, as I was riding the gurney back through the halls from ER to imaging, that was when the third symptom hit.

The third symptom was fear.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

Reader

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I’m not a reader.

Now let me explain.

I’m a damn good reader.  No disorders that I know of, comprehension through the roof, the ability to cold read, out loud, in public, strong as it gets.  I’ve been reading since I was a little over a year old, or so they said when I was growing up.

No, I’m just not a reader.

I grew up reading every day.  Prose, mostly, and that, contained in the sports section of the LA Times.  I never read comics, except for the papers on Sunday, and I was never encouraged to pick up a book during my childhood, except by command of teachers, and then, not until high school.  Along the way, I read some things, mostly by accident.  Some Peter Benchley… sharks fascinated me… and some pulp journalism style stuff you could find on the book rack at the grocery store while my mom stood in line to pay.  Besides that, the only two things I read like they meant something were Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, the World Book Encyclopedia, and the 1973 Baseball Encyclopedia.

But none of that is reading.

In the years that I should have been indulging my creative consciousness on everything from Swift to Burroughs and Dickens to Baum, I was memorizing batting averages, the etymology of 19th century English words, and the names the crew gave the mechanical shark in the movie Jaws.  I wasn’t reading, I was collecting… nonsense, mostly.  I read quickly.  I read to absorb, to obtain, and to satisfy curiosity, not for the love of the words themselves.

At least that’s the way reading was explained to me.  That it was a love affair with words, and with the stories that the words would unfold for me, if I would only let it be so.  As you might imagine, school was a nightmare for me.  I got by, barely.  Not by reading, but by listening.  I listened to every word the teachers said, and made copious notes.  Page after page of classroom notes, writing down every meaningless detail of these frustrated storytellers, never once looking inside the textbooks they ordered us to read.  Because of this, obviously, math was a killer.  English was hard because all the questions on tests were neatly tucked away inside the books I didn’t read.  History worked for me, because teachers of history fancy themselves “historians”, and would rather act out the full contents of the books themselves, than leave the interpretation of history to the transcribers of history.  I took notes, and answered the questions from them. 

That didn’t work out so well, in high school, or in college, after.

I gave reading one more shot in my 20s.

The girl I was seeing was a reader of book club selections, and I would read books over her shoulder, at night.  For a while, I became a reader like she was a reader.  Picking novels that sounded interesting based on my already-cultivated curiosities.  Bad sports stories, the occasional adventure, and spooky stuff.  Spooky stuff that would have caused childhood me to keep both hands and both feet inside the covers at night.  Blatty’s Exorcist.  King’s Stand.  A bunch of other crap I barely remember.

In this time, I realized that I read the way a cow eats, deliberately, and not in any hurry.  Not the way a predator hurriedly consumes its prey, but slowly, chewing on words and phrases, taking them all in, and then barfing them back up in the form of re-reading without actually finishing the book first.  It took me forever to read a book this way, but when I was done, I maybe knew the stories better than the authors.  

Then the girl became wife.  The wife stopped reading.  I stopped reading.

Because I’m not a reader.

At this point in this story, I’ll save you the exposition of the next 30-something years.  I’ll just tell you that, while I am not a reader, I am reading again.  I have to.  Something I discovered about the silence that only reading brings.  The silence that, I didn’t know until now, brings healing to a soul that fed on only noise, and a mind that, for most of a lifetime, knew only confusion and pain.  Words and stories that should bring healing, and a minimum of confusion and pain.  From Murakami to Bradbury, Goldman to Gibran.  I will read these, soon.

I’m not a reader, yet.

But I’m going to be.      

 

© Copyright 2017 William S. Friday