31 January 2012

riddle my guts with buckshot

January 31, 2012

Month one is one day from being in the books. Let’s re-cap January. It was not the best of times; it was not the worst of times. I neither died nor spent more than a minute or two wishing I had. Most importantly, even though I fell flat on the floor one night trying to, I can make it to the “commode” (my PT’s phrase which was more unsettling than any other she could have chosen, especially since she probably chose “commode” in an attempt to not be unsettling) unassisted and, shall we say, successfully complete my intended transactions.

Let’s re-cap the re-cap. Suckiness was moderate. Potty independence!


Yesterday, I ran an experiment to explain a phenomenon associated with trips to the downtown (UAB) Kirklin Clinic where reside my neuro-oncologist, my regular lab, and, in the ineffable horrors of Mordor, that chamber of doom, that sinister capsule of torturous din, that loneliest of solitudes—the MRI machine.

Over the years of my tumor’s tenancy, I reckon I’ve been run through that tube at least 50 times. You might suppose that as an old pro I would be able to make it through the exam with ease. You’d be more than just mistaken, you’d be doing your supposing in a galaxy so far, far away you’d be as likely to run into some droid-peddling Jawas than to comprehend the terror I undergo every single time for every single second of those thirty minutes that I am suffocating! paralyzed! trapped without recourse! in that whirring, whomping, Armageddoning tomb.

In short, magnetic resonance imaging is not my cup of tea.

Back to my experiment. I wanted to test the degree to which various factors of my doctor’s visits resulted in my typical cyclonic stomach activity. Were there any Pavlovian triggers? Any particular moment/ site of dread-inducement?

As a baseline, this data: I usually leave the house feeling fine, start getting a little nervous as we approach our final turn, detect a stirring of butterflies when we park, and then, invariably already late for my scan, the cyclone. Invariably too . . . the commode.

My hypothesis: Since I had no MRI scheduled for the day, my dread would either be non-existent, negligible, or minor. My secret expectation: the mere association would riddle my guts with buck-shot.

Conclusion: Dread—non-existent upon entering the premises, minor at labs having blood drawn, negligible during the doctor visit. Turns out, my hypothesis was correct and my secret expectation was unwarranted.

Geez, what a gas-- conducting unnecessary experiments and reporting the results to you, my exasperated reader, using extraneous, nay, superfluous, yea even a turgid lexicon.


That being said, I’ll keep today’s report on point. My physical therapist was slightly impressed by my improved gait and muscle control. I was rewarded by graduating to one of the big, bouncy, therapy balls [new visuals]. I had assumed that my personal regimen would never include those things. But you know what they say about assuming . . . it makes an ass out of you and ming.

All assumption aside (which makes an ass out of you and mption), my ass got introduced to a big, bouncy therapy ball. Was it a little scary at first? Yes, me being a fall risk and all. Was it difficult to exercise on? Yes, me being a weakling and all. Was it kinda awesome? Yes, yes it was.

29 January 2012

jinxes and telekinesis

January 25, 2012

Today, I went to physical therapy by prescription whereas for months I have been ignoring the prodding of my family. It’s an interesting thing, “doctor’s orders,” how it can be the coup de grâce of a persistent disregard of “sound advice.” And get this: I think therapy is going to be a tremendous help in untangling my gait and in preventing an atrophy of my left leg. Who’d of thought? Well, there’s my family . . . common sense . . . medical precedent . . .

But other than that . . . fine, let’s do this thing. Twice a week. And every day at home while consulting my exercise sheet. I predict my nemesis shall be the “Angry Cat Stretch.” [see PT sheet]

January 26, 2012

Today, I performed my physical therapy at home. Performed. Ha! Like the world’s worst circus act kind of performance. Like a squirrel in the last phases of road-dying before officially becoming road-kill kind of performance. Like DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet . . . well, you get the idea.

It can only get better because it cannot get any worse.

I might have just jinxed myself. Tomorrow will tell.

January 29, 2012

I did not jinx myself. I can sense, if not palpably then psychologically, strength returning. Strength returning! What a vital phrase. The boxer on the seven count rising with a grin. This is no springtime sally into a new season of viridescence, no gradual babble toward a meager brook waterfall. This is strength—vital not vernal. The grizzly sloughing its deep hibernation and prowling for nourishment, be it flesh or flower, a return of strength its only object.

Back to a humbler reality. I’m no boxer. I’m no grizzly. Besides, I’d rather be green than grizzled.

I am weak but getting stronger.

There is one exercise, however, that I cannot perform unaided as yet; and in a traditionally functioning body, it would require the fewest calories, the least exertion—my treasonous left ankle refuses to flex my pathetic left foot. [Note: this is not the Angry Cat Stretch which I predicted to give me the most fits.] This inflexibility is a source of giggles (glad to serve some purpose) for the wife and the son as they watch me attempt to achieve this practically paralytic feat. <<<<<<<< a pun! (Glad to serve some purpose.)

I stare at the bastard foot willing it to move, emptying my bag of other people’s tricks—Uri Geller, Obi Wan Kenobi, Criss Angel. Nothing. I’m not discounting telekinesis, mind you, just my own paranormal capabilities.

Another technique I try is to mock my left ankle by showing it how ridiculously simple is the thing it can’t do. My method? Flex my right foot, whistling whimsically, back, forth, up, down, and for flourish, a roll about, and for max scoffery, a yawn or two while checking my watch. I don’t own a watch. I think we can all agree that to check an actual watch is much less derisive than checking an imaginary one. Needless to say, this technique is useless.

Ah well. It’s only been a few days. Speedy recoveries are for HGH sluggers and the T-1000 cyborg from Terminator 2 doing that liquid metal regeneration thingy.

Maybe the ref only just started counting. Maybe I’m a fat enough bear to hit the snooze button once or twice. Maybe come spring . . . who knows? . . . maybe I’ll do that liquid metal thingy.

25 January 2012

daring decimation to do its worst

January 24, 2012

I have to say, I expected a more emotional response from yesterday’s visit to the Kirklin Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center. For its proximity to my house, the KCCCC is where I will be getting my three week (after chemo rounds) blood work done—keeping up with those red and white counts, reportedly important numbers.

But my point is this: Nearly five years ago, I came to that building five days a week for a month to have my brain irradiated. For a month, I had friends who were variously dying, slowly like the rest of us, on a speeding train like some others of us. We were a band of five or six whose appointments with post-space-age-disintegration of cells coincided. Some of us, like me, were neck-up patients, the rest were neck-down patients. All of us were fast friends. We knew each other’s illnesses, of course, but we also knew each other’s hopes and loves, things we had done, things that come hell or high-water, we would surely do. We told stories, some of which were vast conflations—for the tickle of lies and the ensuing laughter. [For a fictional account of one of these days, I refer you to my story living online @ http://mixedfruitmagazine.com/issues-3/waiting/]

Actually, I think my real point is this: I expected a surge of sentimentality as I approached the doors of the KCCCC, as I rolled into the waiting room, as I looked down the hall where the radiation techs stood in front of their complicated imaging machines, as I waited. But nothing registered. Perhaps because my name was called almost immediately. Perhaps because five years is a long time in neuro-oncology terms. Most likely, though, was the sense of disconnection between myself and the five or six freshly fast friends in the partitioned back room comparing scars and life-expectancies, waiting for their names to be called, daring decimation to do its worst. Come hell or high-water.

A poem I’ve been working on--the narrative is true in as much as the memories are accurate.

Uncle Ben and the Eye of Charley

Uncle Ben, unrelated, just a friend

Of the family: his tumor grew too large,

Too fast, I learned

Of his death too late

To love him more. To catch

One more croaking cat from his Pop’s

Pond deep in the Carolina

Tobacco acres, or another stringer

Of pompano from the Nag’s Head surf.

We tripped along the rows

Of his Pop’s farm—unearthing arrowheads.

Uncle Ben chunked our wishful

Thinking back into the field, spat

Upon the genuine articles, like Christ

For blind eyes, and presented

Them as if now a buffalo stampede

Would surely follow.

Those were all the early years.

Fish-fries and whacking thick brush

With his gleaming machete.

It’s fine if other things happened,

It’s fine if that was all.


Uncle Ben’s pick-up woke

Up angry and stayed sour all day.

Me and Christopher

Rode with Ben. Rain pelted the window—

Splattery novae keeping

Me wide-eyed. I tried to see the lines

Uncle Ben claimed to see

Clear as day.

The hurricane shoved us,

Lane to lane. Eastbound the bridge

would close, said the radio.

Ben leaned forward,

An earnest effort to gather

Momentum. We had come too far

To turn around. Tire-spray and fumes

Sneaked through the broken floorboard.


We burst through the rain—

One second in, the next second out.

The bridge rose, brilliant,

In front of us, stretched beyond sight

Toward the Outer Banks, toward

Another orbing terrace of charcoal clouds.

A caravan of evacuees jammed

The mainland route and Uncle Ben

Laughed. That’s right,

That’s more fish for me. He punched

My thigh (a bruise I cherished

For a week’s worth of showers).

More fish for me! More fish for me . . .

He kept saying as the sun

Sparked the chopped-up sound.

I pictured him jabbing marlin,

Mid-Atlantic, with his pants rolled.


The radio called the storm Charley.

My grandfather’s name.

My father’s name.

A cousin’s name.

Ben was just a family friend

Whose tumor came on fast,

A misfired cannonball to the head.

In the eye of Charley, on the closed-

Down bridge, which of our brains

Had begun to betray us?

Neither would know until long

After the junk-covered beach streets

And the shaking shack

On stilts, bearing Charley’s brunt.

Long after fish-foul shores—

A wreckage of dead horseshoe crabs

And battered jellyfish—the cold walk,

All of us, grit-shot and gust-sprayed,

Toward the lighthouse—the pride

Of Hatteras, the pride of us,

Having ignored the storm.

Having braved the bridge.

Having caught no fish,

But in theory, oh in theory—the fish

My Uncle Ben could’ve caught

One man left to his ocean, pant-legs hiked,

Spearing marlin, laughing,

There’s another for me!

And another for me. And another . . .

And so forth, forever, or as close

We come—Ben as far as he could,

Me as far as I can. And so forth, all

Of us, toward the lighthouse.

January 18, 2012

22 January 2012

in my skull as i eat

January 22, 2012

I am trying to devise a formula for Well-Being—a term in the early stages of my college, let’s say, ‘journey,’ that my ballroom dance instructor insisted on using in lieu of the more official “kinesiology” or the more prevalent “P.E.” Of course, in the early stages of my college, let’s say, ‘saga,’ –call it what you want, just give me my 2 credit hours, thanks, and I’ll see some of you in tennis class next semester.

The idea that I hadn’t left a “gym period” back in high-school (hell, I left it back in my sophomore year) was irksome to me, the penultimate academic irk-hood, in fact. The ultimate irk-hood was staring down the barrel of four mandatory semesters of Spanish—an acquaintance with which language also languished, scarcely accomplished, two years in my rearview.

But now, as I get older and feebler, I’m reconsidering my dismissive attitude toward my dance instructor. I wonder: maybe I should have been a more elegant waltzer, a more exuberant polka-er, a more ridiculous Charleston-er, a less sarcastic boot-scootin-boogie-er. It’s not that I think I would be a healthier person now for having mastered those dances; it’s that those well-being lessons disguised as easy-A GPA boosters (I got a C) are more important than I had thought back in the early stages of my college, let’s say, “stroll.”

Which brings me back to my formula for Well-Being. I don’t have one yet. My capacity for mathematical analysis and algebraic functions, if there ever was an inkling (and I like to think there was) has been on a steady descent into oblivion for a decade or so. And they don’t run wires into this cavern, buddy, it’s old school down here—a candle on your felt cap and the twinkle of bat eyes if yer lucky.

“Formula, formula, formula,” I stroke my beard and think. Well, I stroke my beard and think about lunch. It’s a process. You wouldn’t understand. A thought! I Google “left brain right brain.” See, ‘cause my tumor is situated in the right parietal lobe and I bet that analytical aptitude is situated smack in the middle of my tumor, let’s just see here . . .

Nope. That’s for left-brainers. Who cares, it’s quack science anyway. “Formula, formula, formula,” echoes in my skull as I eat my sandwich.

Sated, I resume. I get this far . . . something to do with the duration of a given day in which one remains in ones pajamas minus time spent on/ in front of electronic devices plus time spent in the open air doing something, anything multiplied by two plus four for reading a book.

(24/pj) – (24/i) + 2(N+0) + 4 = x

Where x = some semblance of/ progress towards Well Being.

It’s a start. A nascent hypothesis. More data required. Specific physiological measurements. Psychoanalytic determinants. A unified existential theory converted to a numerable function to be called [for alliterative purposes] the Søren/ Sartre Factor.

“Well-Being, Well-Being, Well-Being,” I stroke my beard, in my pajamas at noon, about to take a nap, and wonder . . . What’s for dinner?

It's a start.