Owing to the length of all this, I am breaking it up into portions more digestible. This is Part One
In late September I arranged for a colonoscopy, a grim prospect I had avoided but many others insisted it was no biggie and probably a good idea. When the results came in, I was in the colonoscopy recovery room where they take the lucky receivers. My brother, Tom, was there with me inasmuch as I was told to bring a driver. It was nice seeing him, waking up. We gabbed a second and the doctor came over. It had taken him no time at all to locate cancerous cells in my colon. He had these amazing still photos of various places in my colon, lol – macabre yet fascinating. What we saw on this one polyp was a dark mass he easily identified.
“I have some rather bad news for you.”
Wow. There it was. He then asked why I came for the colonoscopy at this particular time?I told him it was a series of rationalizings whether to or not. “Well”, he said, “you are probably big time lucky. This one is undeveloped and easy to take out. I have arranged an appt with………..” The appointment was within days and surgery set for a week from discovery.
On October 9th, Tom let me out and I walked into the surgical facilities at the downtown Norton Hospital. I got there at 6:30 on a crispy cool morning, without the slightest idea of what was to come. We laughed a bit in the surgical prep place where I lost my clothes and everything else. They were all exceedingly pleasant. I even met the anesthesiologist, lol.
It was later that evening when I groggily fought my way into a light bath and smiling faces, and I slowly – we’re possibly talking days – realized what condition I was in. Namely in a position I had no idea of – a netherland of pain pills, pain, generalized shock and a truly helpless sensation. Thus also began “life after cancer surgery”.
I had developed huge issues with breathing for a while – almost right away, in fact, owing to cigarette usage. I remember junctures where I was so congested, I was breathing maybe 3 times a minute.. It necessitated the use of a Nebulizer machine. Man. This is a contraption they throw over your mouth and nose and they have a fan working like an amphetamine-driven gerbil, loud, obtrusive but surprisingly satisfying.
The days which followed were laden with pain killers and coming to understand what was going on in and on my tummy. I had myself a little machine – a wound-sucking device which got rid of leaking fluids from the massive cut. Those wound vacs are amazing. I was lying down with no hope of standing for 3 weeks, with occasional forays a couple weeks in with a nurse holding my arm and me in a walker, clutching my wound vac in my hot hand, making our way around the corridors with me standing straight up. But my stay at the hospital lasted a week beyond what would have been normal. I had flirted with such touchy issues as a suspected heart arrhythmia and I even developed new specialists to drop in and say hi daily.
My own Doctor – Dr. Rodriguez – who always seems to friend me first, then “doctorate”, was clearly concerned. So I stayed in the hospital an additional week. This was a small trip to hell. As mentioned I also became totally intolerant of the frankly excellent-looking food. I began losing weight. I mean, as little as there was to lose now, lol. But I was nearly 160 pounds when I transferred to Oak Lawn.Rehab facility. This habitual declining of food lasted until Christmas Day, living at home, when I weighed myself at 143. This was the height of my despair.
During this process, I was also trained by necessity in hydration issues. Hydration – drinking enough water, if nothing else – was also working against me and I swear, re-hospitalization was looming. It was the lowest point in my recovery. I was crushed, sad, full of regret over my stark inability to overcome something so individually-impactable and ostensibly changeable,- recovery – especially if I were the only factor impeding the damnedable process of choosing to succeed. I cried here – not just because of the looming mortality issues, but nearly incoherently and almost impossibly full of self-pity.
Next post I will go deeper into this chronology but first, a word about what sweeps one out of despair.
Now seems the most appropriate time to mention the factors most influential in turning around what was a hopelessly systematic, nearly fatal defeat. This is really about the support system of Love and emotion and all the positives about friends and society everyone should already be invested in, but – alas – we aren’t, are we? Love breaks things down. It is almost poetic.
I think that Love is the antidote to loneliness and failing. It’s a lesson which happened for me at the very beginning. My friend Jason Maravilla’s personal loyalty expressed itself so glaringly, and it warms my heart to this very day. Apparently,originally, I is literally out of it for a few days. Jason noted my online absence, checked the stars and his suspicions and called my Mom. My sis had left a vague message in Facebook mentioning my morphine drip and total current disability, which he may not have seen. Jason immediately acted. He called Mom and found out where I was and the room number. He then called me and asked if he could visit. I mentioned I was not great company under the circumstances, but that I would be beyond delighted if he stopped by. Later that evening Jason strode in wearing an incredibly concerned look. I tried my best to make him smile, lol, but he was rather shocked at my tubes, gear and those dreadful hospital images announcing a patient’s helplessness. He improved almost immediately as I spoke clearly. I must hace seemed well, lol. All I could do was barely be there for him but he had another duty.
The presents he brought were just about the grandest rays of Sunshine in my entire life – I am tearing up now, writing this. “I thought you might want to check out what you’re missing online, brother. I miss arguing with you, ha ha!!” He handed over the this stylish little Chromebook in the box – I am typing on it at this very moment – an exceedingly lightweight, totally dedicated sort of thin, laptop computer. He also had bought 8 pairs of socks, lol. How can you beat that? 8 pairs of socks, man! I should get sick more often!! I was nearly embarrassed at how amazingly handy this was going to be. My own computer is another laptop, but it weighs pounds not ounces and the Chromebook was far more perfect for a man lying down to work with it on his stomach and not really affecting his wounds.
It turned a communicative corner for me and my world once again opened up before me. Make no mistake, I have officially logged years in front of a computer – but so much of it has been commercially-based or generally email-filled, Facebook and message board relationships, I doubt anyone can truly appreciate strictly-personal, intense level of my gratitude for the gift. I then slowly came back, using the Chromebook to fill in the hours when my brain worked and slowly reentering the world. Which led to the second and third levels of inspiration – my incredibly excellent immediate and extended family and my online friends – so many of whom I grew up with and with whom I have been drawn yet even closer as they have consistently reacted and spoken so well of me and so hopeful of my progress. This unvarnished love is that rarest of things – it stops deep inside like nothing else can, nudging in right next to a man’s heart. My Aunt Jody sent me a billion “e-cards” emails – she likes to arrange the art online, making them cute and personal – all of which I was moved by. I got to speak with her now and then as well as with everyone else including my completely disturbed daughter. She did not react well to suddenly being called by my mother who said, “Your Dad has cancer and is getting operated on.” LOL, Mom, that one was not your best move ever. Finally, I got to make a Skype call with my single most beloved human, just about a week and a half into all this. She visibly relaxed in seeing my handsome mug smiling and joking, which I can rarely not do.
I was transferred to Oak Lawn, a single occupancy bed room rehab community. They began forcing me to work, lol, bless their hearts and they are exceptionally good therapists. They were hugely concerned about my weight and appetite. It was about here when I realized where I truly was in the improvement cycle. Baby steps. I had unexpected setbacks now and then. Some days were incredibly rocky, full of reluctant compliance. In spite of speaking with my doctor, I felt a cocoon around me.