Sub-8 Mile's Battle-o-Rama
(maybe this story will, in some way, help someone you know; if so, that's cool. oh, and F Cancer.)
late September 2016
I wake. Then I realize … that I am awake! By simulating a run for hours, nonstop, I oxygenated my body and remained conscious. It is the greatest athletic accomplishment of my life. Running has literally saved my life.
Elated, I start talking enthusiastically to myself.
A nurse, hearing this, comes in, checks on me, sees I’m ok, and exits.
No worries in this room. I’m having a party!
6:45 am. My doctor, the main oncologist, has stopped by. He’s probably here to congratulate me.
“You made it,” he says. “The good news is that the chemo has kicked in. The cancer mass is decreasing, which is what we want. That’s the good news. The … other news ... is, well, the chemo has kicked in. It’s going to get tough now. Hang in there.” He exits.
Oh, yeah … he did say that it would be a test of endurance. Well, for now, I feel fine. I mean … I can’t walk or get out of bed, but this isn’t so bad.
Plus, I did the run. I won! Right?
7:30 am. The usual team of doctors, making morning rounds, stops in. I greet them enthusiastically. They explain that I’m doing a bit better, the chemo is breaking down the cancer, and so for now the main risk is all of the many side effects & possible dangerous scenarios that I was told before.
Oh, and if they haven't mentioned it, there’s a significant risk of my blood pressure suddenly dropping -- precipitously -- and I could lose consciousness, perhaps permanently.
Sheesh. Party poopers. Always so dour. It would be much better if they’d relax and grin a little.
As they are about to leave, I say, “Oh! I forgot to tell you …”
They all stop and turn.
“I was going to put up some flyers. We’re starting a basketball league for the cancer patients. It’ll be the Hairs versus the No-Hairs.”
They aren’t really sure how to react, so I keep it going.
“Right now I’ll be playing for the Hairs, but later on I may have to switch teams.”
It’s silly enough for most of them to chuckle, except for the Guy In Charge. He looks very serious, like he doesn’t think any of the patients should be out playing basketball. Definitely a liability, and not a good idea at all.
They exit. I make a note to get the Guy In Charge to laugh at some point.
A visitor is with me, in my hospital room. I feel ok still. I'm gray, plastered with some kind of sickly sheen, can't lift my head, but, considering, I'm ok. We’re chatting. Suddenly, I sit up. I look at my friend.
“I’m going to puke.”
Our eyes lock. Nobody moves.
Then I scream, “I’M GONNA PUUUKE!!” And a stream of vomit launches through the air, across the length of my bed, arcing over my feet.
My friend, bucket-from-nowhere in hand, dives across the room and -- fully horizontal -- catches every drop, midair.
I’m astounded at the feat of agility I've just witnessed.
This moment marks the commencement of my suffering.
I plunge into hell.
Meanwhile, they pour more chemo into me, every day, starting around 7:30am, ending mid-afternoon.
Three or four times every day, horrible yellow splats blast out of me, into a tub, beneath a plastic seat, next to my bed. I have to be helped. Unable to move or hold myself up, I am flopped over the bed, face down, and suffer the indignity of having to be wiped & cleaned by another person. Limply, I can do nothing but ashamedly lie there until they are done. Then they pull up my hospital-issued pajama pants and lift me back into bed.
Days pass. I have a raging fever. I freeze under a pile of blankets. I am burning hot. I am sick. I struggle to exist.
Out of my mind, I hurl obscenities at people who are trying to bring me food.
Whenever I have to urinate, several times every day, someone has to roll me onto my side and then hold a plastic urine-receptacle up to me. They measure and test my urine, and make notes in a log.
I repeatedly drench the sheets, pillow, blankets, and my clothing with sweat that smells of poisonous chemicals. It takes a team to help me out of the bed and change me, while others change the bed.
There is an everpresent metallic taste in my mouth. It's the heavy metal in my bloodstream, destroying the cancer, destroying me.
Many, many times, I blink out. One moment I’m there, the next I’m opening my eyes to see several concerned-looking people busy in my room. I don’t understand that my blood pressure just suddenly bottomed out, that I was gone, and that they rushed into the room & have been working to bring me back.
Sometimes, I start crashing but remain conscious just long enough to see staff rushing in and starting to do … something … then I come to later and they’re not there.
One time, it happens slowly enough for me to fully experience it. The machine beeps, staff enter, they realize I’m still conscious and aware. They tell me to keep talking, talk them through what I’m seeing and feeling -- as they work to save me, again.
“It’s like … slow-moving shooting stars, all over the room,” I say, slowly and woozily. “Wow, it’s so pretty.” I’m slightly slurring and gazing about in wonder. “There’s more of them … there’s a lot. They’re really bright, and they move around and they have glowing tails … woooowww … now they’re going away … there’s less of them, now they’re gone. Oh, and all around the edge of what I see is black. It’s a black circle around the edge of my vision. Inside the black, it’s kind of dark & fuzzy, and inside of that, it looks normal, I can see the room. The black is growing and the middle where I can see the room is shrinking.” Realizing this might be bad, adrenaline or something kicks in; my wooziness is gone; I have clarity of thought. Somehow, I lift my hands. I lucidly narrate my fade to black. “My vision is this wide. The black circle is closing in. Now it’s this wide. It doesn’t hurt. I don’t feel any pain. Now it’s this wide.” Wow, somebody says, a hundred miles away. He’s really describing this well. “You sound really far away, getting farther. The black is growing, my vision is a small circle in the middle. It’s here, now it’s here … I can see very clearly in the middle, but I can’t hear anything. I’m gonna keep talking." I move my hands close together. "It’s here now. It’s closing in. It’s very small. Now the middle is less clear. It’s almost all black …”
I open my eyes. The staff are not in my room. I don’t know how long it’s been. At this moment, whatever they have pumping into me has me relaxed and feeling good.
Back in hell. Screaming fits, absolutely drenched in foul-smelling sweat, barely able to move, wasting away.
More days pass. I fight for my life in a 3-way struggle. Cancer vs chemo vs me.
Day and night, I am awash in misery and agony -- until I exhaustedly sink into a deep, dreamless, painless sleep -- only to be awakened by loud beeping alerts and staff rushing in -- returned to misery and agony. It's hell.
I do not despair; I lack the capacity for such things. The cancer and the chemo have broken me down to something more basic. “Despair” would require … more. I would have to be a higher life form than I am, in order to possess the ability to despair.
There is “exist” or … don’t. Stay, or don’t. Endure, or not.
It’s down to that.
I endure. I exist.