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

Circle of Friends – Part One

I have circles.

Yes, dark circles. Also crow’s feet, laugh lines, a developing neck wattle, and creping where more muscle and/or fat used to be, under certain major areas of skin. Naked, I look like a younger, prettier version of Iggy Pop. But I’m not writing about my declining, physical characteristics. I’m writing about a circle… of friends.

All those who know me well, okay TOO well, will tell you that, while I despise living an organized life, I organize really, really well. Mostly professionally. Call it the Logistics Gene. Where some people couldn’t tell you their east from west, let alone their right from their left (DM me for the best line Nick Fury delivers in The Avengers on this subject), I have been “blesscursed” with the innate ability… almost a superpower really… to organize. Not on a “Does it spark joy?” level, but more on a “Come with me if you want to live” level. Point A to points B through Z level. Road map in my head, itinerary in a thought bubble, 3-D jigsaw puzzle in my field of vision, blesscursing Logistics Gene. It’s my default setting, my subconscious subroutine. It’s how I was able to live the first 57 years of my life without having to confront undiagnosed anxiety. Still “undiagnosed”, but no getting off-track here. Hell, part of the subconscious subroutine is, I can tell you an elaborately long and wind-y story, with seemingly no recognizable end in sight, and before you and I get irrevocably lost, I will find my way back to the point of the story, and end it, before you end our friendship. You will mock me, but you will respect me.

*insert your eyeroll here*

I alluded to this in November’s Episode Four, Rashomon.

(flashback)

In mid-September, I sent out the first of a series of texts and DMs to people I had considered what came to be called the “First Circle” friends. That is, those who would be told first, by virtue of the frequency of communications between the two of us. A couple of dozen folks. The essence of that message was to tell them that I had been gotten a preliminary diagnosis of renal cell carcinoma, and that I was waiting for further steps to be taken, which would ultimately lead to surgery. In late September, having been given a date for my surgery, I sent a second round of texts and DMs to the First Circle, and a similarly-crafted message to folks in what came to be called the “Second Circle”. Ultimately, with a couple of days to go before the surgery was to take place, a final “Third Circle” message was sent to let those who, for a multitude of reasons, I had not previously informed.

So, you know how you can think you know someone… until you REALLY know someone… and then you realize you really didn’t know them at all? I will never assume anything about a Circle Friend EVER again. Through this, I have learned that a friend is not that person you assumed they were. A friend is someone who exists in reality, not in your mind. And not in your own wishful thinking about them. And a good friend is someone who never thought they needed to try and convince you of who they already were all along.

(flash-forward)

See? I got us back to the point without either one of us getting lost… for long. So now, the point.

The point.

The point.

(end Part One)

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday

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

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

Before Sunrise

“But I promise the coffee tastes better before the sun comes up.”*

*Me, today. In an actual conversation with an actual human.

It’s been years now… three years and change, anyway… that I have been, more often than not, waking up before sunrise. If you didn’t already know, I worked about a dozen years on the graveyard shift. That means sleeping in the daytime, like a drunk vampire. Sleep-deprived. Most of the time as an on-call delivery person. Then, one final year isolated in a warehouse from 5:30 pm to 7:00 am, left to scurry home between the shadows, hoping direct sunlight couldn’t catch my hair on fire before my head hit the pillow.

In time, I convinced myself that I did my best writing, best living, between the hours of dark and light. That I got my writerly brood on after midnight. Told myself that I could barely function in the daylight, and I was just living in both worlds because I couldn’t convince enough people to come join me in the neon and fluorescence.

Then I quit that job.

And soon after, my whole life crashed.

Until I found the one thing a vampire can’t understand.

Welcoming the sunrise.

Move the calendar ahead three years. Looking where I had come from. Looking where I assumed I was headed. The loss of another, much better, job. The open-ended loss of autonomy in a pandemic. Finally, cancer. And through it all, one, and only one, thing stayed the same.

A single cup of black coffee before sunrise.

All the way back three years before, even after those dozen years in the dark, my body went from undead to alive in the daylight. Regulated itself, almost immediately, into existence at the beginning of every day, not the end. Yeah, even on weekends. Woke up without an alarm. Fell asleep without forcing myself to end each day dreading the next day, because each next day began of its own free will, with coffee in my hands and quiet outside my window. Ultimately, even after the time between August and November and the shitstorm of a dumpster fire life kinda became in The Summer of Cancer, most days were still about beginning them as I came anticipate more than any other thing.

The sound of a coffee maker. The joy in the silence before the noise to come. The beauty of a new day. And the promise of how much better the coffee tastes before sunrise.

Prove me wrong.

(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 Candidate

The day I met my urologist, in person, not over the phone, he said the funniest thing I will ever hear from any medical professional, from first symptom, to surgery, and beyond. As we were about to conclude our pre-op meeting, he said,

“You are the perfect candidate for this.”

Visibly startled, even while wearing a mask, I said to him, “So, a fifty-nine-year-old man with no pre-existing conditions is the perfect candidate?” And without hesitating, he said,

“Yes. Basically, this is bread and butter urology.”

And I needed to hear that.

Because at this point, about a month into the adventure of a cancer diagnosis, I was living with more than just physical symptoms. I was living with symptoms of fear, doubt, confusion, dread, and a genuine panic about ever seeing a future that, until August, I had completely taken for granted was still on it’s way. Nothing, not the well-wishes of friends, or the educated guesses of medical professionals, gave me any reason to hope. This is some scary shit, but I left this appointment with hope.

Now if you could just box up hope, and carry it with yourself to the end of the line, when they finally “fork that thing outta ya”, like one friend said of my kidney, in a text.

At one point in my not too distant past, I had been accused by another friend… accused, in a good way… of being “the most hopeful person they knew”. That hopeful person wasn’t around anymore, having left, for other reasons, a few years before the Summer of Cancer began. Now, I was looking for that person to make fresh appearance. A Deus ex Machina cameo that didn’t rely on a well-developed plot, or other accounting of an existing character arc. Just a re-emergence of the guy I was… before.

And this moment felt like that guy was living in my body again.

(c) copyright 2020 William S. Friday