Saturday, August 25, 2007

Strange Days

"For three strange days, I had no obligations
My mind was a blur, I did not know what to do
And I think I lost myself
When I lost my motivation
Now I'm walking 'round the city
Just waiting to come to
For three strange..."
-- "Three Strange Days," School of Fish

So I haven't posted much lately. As Steve Martin would say, "Excuuuuuuuse meeeeeeeeeee!" (And if you're not old enough to get that reference, well, maybe you should get out more. Or track down "Wild and Crazy Guy" somewhere. I think it's on CD. I still have it on vinyl, because I'd listen to that album as a child -- which probably speaks volumes about me as an adult.)

I'm having a lot of random days lately. Random in the sense of "I may, in fact, be trapped in a really bad episode of House." And by "really bad," I mean "Cameron's whiny, Chase is in too many scenes, and Foreman doesn't roll his eyes at all." And above that, they STILL can't figure out what's wrong with the patient. Luckily, I'm probably not dying.

That said, there's a lot to catch you up on.

Here's the short form:

Being scanned by machines sucks.
Not the scanning process itself, that's perfectly okay. In fact, it's easy to fall asleep, once they inject you with whatever medium they need to use (contrast dye, FDG, anti-matter, redeye gravy, chocolate sauce, whatever). Mostly I just get tired of filling out the same forms at different offices, whipping out a photo ID and my insurance card, waiting in random lobbies, reading crappy old magazines, feigning interest in random local Atlanta magazines, and trying to come up with creative answers for when the nurse asks "So how are you today?"

Needless to say, if you've ever met me, you realize how challenging the last point is to offer a glib answer without directly addressing the fact that if I were completely healthy, our paths would never have crossed that day. Usually I can temper my urge to say something really wiseassed when I realize this same nurse will probably be shoving a needle in me in the next few minutes, so I should probably remain on her good side. It makes it easier not to say things like "Mostly I just like the waiting room -- I've discovered that the $20 copay is much cheaper than managing the subscriptions to Highlights for Children and Prevention magazines." Or "I just can't nap at home. I find it restful to lie down in a confined space while being told not to breathe or swallow. It soothes me."

So to date, I've been scanned in a CT machine, and referred to a pulmonologist.

The pulmo ordered up a PET scan. No one liked the looks of the PET scan, so they referred me to a surgeon for a biopsy. PET scans are pretty cool, because parts of you glow in the results. Your bladder looks downright radioactive, in fact, but that's normal. It's the OTHER glowing parts that make doctors nervous. Like, in case parts of your chest glow? Specifically lymph nodes? That's usually a bad sign.

It makes a doctor nervous enough, in fact, to leave all bedside manner at the door.

One example of a sentence you don't want to hear: "At first glance, this looks like a lymphoma. Which, if you had to have cancer, isn't really a bad cancer to get."

Look, I don't like any sentence involving the phrase "if you had to have cancer" -- cause, um, we don't really have a CHOICE IN THE MATTER. And "...isn't really a bad cancer to get" makes it sound a lot like you're being assigned to escort the less-than-attractive, mean-spirited girl at your buddy's wedding. I mean, sure, maybe they tell you she has a great personality, but it's still kind of a bad draw. You'd much rather have the hot single bridesmaid, preferably the one who's on the rebound and can't wait to hit the bottle of Cuervo at the open bar later -- but that just ain't in the cards. You've got Olga -- and she's looking at you like Sylvester looks at Tweety in the cage.

So just to keep things honest, I signed up for the biopsy. No simple in-and-out needle procedure, this -- no, I gotta do it the hard way. Apparently you can't reach lymph nodes in the chest without actually CUTTING somewhere.

Being scanned by people sucks worse.
A couple of Mondays ago, a surgeon cut an incision in my neck in order to shove a scope down in my chest, look around, and remove some tissue. On paper, this is a good deal. I never had pain from the neck incision, but I could definitely use help with a better story for "where'd you get that scar?" than the truth. (Feel free to add these in the comments.) Of course, what they don't tell you is, when you wake up, for the next week or so, it feels like someone took a wire brush behind your sternum and did some polishing. That part hurts.

And when I woke up, I had two incisions. One for the scope, and one for the port-cath they installed in my chest. I remember being in the recovery room and hearing someone talk about "looks like lymphoma," and then I think I saw a penguin, and the beaver from the Rozerem ads. Just sayin', they're using fantastic drugs for anesthesia these days. The beaver, in fact, may have mentioned the cancer. It's all a little fuzzy. That said, the plan with the surgeon was, if the pathologist noted a malignancy, I'd get a twofer -- whilst still under, the surgeon would install the port, because chemo would be the next stop. Good times. But basically, I knew that if I woke up with two incisions, I had cancer. Despite my drug-enhanced state, I could still count to two. And it still wasn't any fun.

The surgeon had already visited Dad in the waiting room to drop that particular bomb. I felt badly for Dad -- he's a prostate cancer survivor, and the family went through all that a year ago, almost exactly. So I know it was a bad day for him too. The surgeon told Dad that my full pathology report would be in on Thursday, and we'd move on from there.

I spent Tuesday trying to get the chemicals out of my system, swallow Advil pills until my stomach was full, and try not to move around very much. (Tip for Teens: when the doctor gives you a prescription for painkillers, GET IT FILLED ON THE WAY HOME FROM SURGERY. A piece of scrip pad doesn't do you a bit of good when it's on your dresser, you're home alone, and you can't drive.)

Wednesday found me in a much better mood, much less pain, and desperate to get out of the apartment. So I went back to work and figured I'd learn more from my labs Thursday.

Thursday, I called the surgeon's office for details. All the nurses were out for the day, and so was the surgeon. No dice. I expected to hear back from the surgeon Friday.

Friday, 5:30pm. The surgeon called, not a nurse. When a surgeon calls you after office hours on Friday, this is either bad news or good news. Because golf doesn't play itself.

Here's my paraphrased version of the conversation:

Doc: "So we got your results back from the pathologist..."
Me: "Okay. How's it look?"
Doc: "Well, remember how I said the frozen section is 93% accurate? Yeah, um, you're the other 7%. The full lab workup on your samples didn't show any malignancy. At all. Of any kind. No lymphoma, no carcinoma, no metastases of any other type of cancer."
Me: "Is Ashton Kutcher there with you? Or Allen Funt? Are you kidding me?"
Doc: "Nope -- even the pathologist said the initial sample looked really pissed off and malignant. But the chemistry results couldn't prove anything was cancerous."
Me: " I have a chemo port, but no cancer?"
Doc: "Yeah, sorry about that. But it'll help for blood draws, IVs, and any antibiotics you might need in the next few weeks. Because we STILL don't know what's actually wrong with you."
Me: "So I don't have cancer, but I still have an easy, convenient, painless and sterile method of mainlining intravenous drugs? Can I run a line of, say, bourbon into this thing?"
Doc: "Um, I wouldn't recommend that, exactly."

Long story short (and if you're still reading this, bless your heart):

For five days, I thought I had cancer. Then I didn't. And I'm grateful for it. Cause that's scary. I have friends who've battled cancer, and they point out exactly the large caliber of bullet I've "dodged." I remind them that I'm not Neo in the Matrix. It just means I don't have any form of cancer today -- and that life's too short for a lot of things.

But for the record? There's no such thing as a "good" flavor of cancer. It's not like a dry heat -- I still firmly believe that 115 degrees is 115 degrees, no matter the humidity; and I believe that any condition ending with "cancer" is a bad, bad scene. It's just not my turn to fight that battle today.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Shut up and get on the plane....

"When it comes your time to go,
Ain't no good way to go about it,
Ain't no use in thinkin' 'bout it,
You'll just drive yourself insane.
There comes a time for everything
And the time has come for you
To shut your mouth and get your ass on the plane....

Screaming engines, shooting flames,
Dirty needles and cheap cocaine,
Some gal's old man with a gun,
To me it's all the same.
Dead is dead and it ain't no different
than walking around if you ain't living
Livin' in fear's just another way of dyin' before your time."

-- "Shut Up and Get On the Plane,"
Drive By Truckers

Sunday, June 17, 2007

24 Hours

Last week, I had a 24-hour span where entirely too many things went sideways. In the grand scheme of things, they weren't life-changing experiences, but the confluence of events was enough to make me want the world to stop for a few minutes so I could catch my breath.

Generally speaking, I roll with the changes. I tuck my head down, plow through, salute the flag and drive on. "Don't mean nothin', not a thing." But sometimes, it would be nice to have a heads-up, even if it's a fortune cookie that reads "Wear a cup tomorrow. Trust me."

Long story short:

Good, but not great.
After talking with a great girl, we finally met for an evening and had a good time together. I may have built it up too much, she may have built it up too much -- but I can't escape the feeling that it's not something I'm interested in pursuing long-term. It's not anyone's fault, it simply is what it is. Good chemistry, but not great. Fantastic person, I just wasn't feeling the vibe that it could be something. And if you're going to try work something out together, especially at a distance, you have to feel like you're working toward something.

Point of no return
My most recent ex-girlfriend (we'll call her "Q")and I are still friends. She's a good person, and I wish her the best. Really. But we lived in two different cities, and a couple of months ago she told me she wasn't interested in a relationship at a distance. She left the door open for getting back together in the future, potentially the near future -- though obviously, there were no guarantees. I didn't expect my stomach to drop to approximately ankle level when I checked her MySpace page at lunchtime and noticed her status block had been changed from "Single" to "In A Relationship." I wasn't necessarily surprised to see that she'd moved on (after all, she's fantastic, pretty, smart, and just moved to a newer, larger metropolitan area -- they don't stay on the market long that way), but I wasn't expecting to feel gang-tackled by reading the news.

My friend JL bugged me to just admit that I loved Q and move forward, but since I couldn't say it without pangs of doubt of varying size and severity, I didn't want to say it at all.

(Q, on the other hand, technically said "love you" once in our six month term of "Official Relationship," but I don't really count "drunken New Years texting" as a declaration of love, and I never reminded her of the event. Did I miss a memo, or is drunk-texting that sort of thing considered an official notice now?)

At any rate, I suspect that I can officially close the book on Q now. She's a good gal, and deserves someone great -- someone apparently other than me. I think I'd have absorbed the news better from a short personal note than from noticing it on MySpace. She certainly doesn't owe me anything, but in the interest of continued friendship, it would've been a nice courtesy.

But my stomach bothered me for the rest of the day, in a way that neither Tums nor whiskey can help.

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda: Ten Years Later
In related news, the reason I surfed MySpace that day in the first place was a completely out-of-the-blue MySpace message from my Favorite Ex-Girlfriend Ever, MM. I hadn't heard from her in almost nine years, and it had been ten years since our breakup.

Editor's Note: Calling it a "breakup" would actually be charitable. In the interest of full disclosure, I ended things after three years with the most fantastic girl in the universe simply by not calling for a couple of months. Yep. I was that guy. Totally. I'm still kicking myself.

Anyway. I still haven't stopped kicking myself for a lot of reasons as far as MM goes. At age 22, I was young, foolish, and had an emotional age of about 17, which is why I didn't cherish her like I should have. At age 19, I'd met a woman of unparalleled character, conviction, kindness, brains, beauty, and tolerance (hey, she put up with ME...). The problem was, I didn't have enough experience to figure out that they didn't grow her on trees. Now I have the perspective to know how rare those things are... and I've figured out that by the time I find someone that rare again, they'd developed the sense not to date me.

Or they've done what MM did, and married guys who liked to do all the things I didn't. I'd followed MM's career occasionally -- because that's why Google was invented. We'd lived in the same state for a while, but I never tried to contact her, because it would just create buckets of awkward, which would then be dumped over my head like green slime on Nickelodeon.

But she looked me up, and I'm glad she did. Getting her message made my day brighter, on a day where I needed it desperately. She's happy, and lives out west like she always wanted. She does good work, and loves what she does. She's married (of course), and her life is going along swimmingly. And of course, she's extra super smokin' hot. Not that she ever wasn't, but the years have been exceedingly kind to her.

I'm reminded after all these years that she's still pretty much my hero, and I never let my membership lapse in her fan club. I just stopped carrying the membership card around, because it hurt too much. I think sometimes I need to be reminded of my seemingly limitless capacity for foolish decisions.

At least I have my health, right?
On top of that, I spent the afternoon at the doctor's office, getting poked, prodded and scoped. And now I get to have CT scan of my head and chest sometime next week. I have no idea what the issue is, and even less an idea of how to fix it. As to its nature, let's just say my future careers in karaoke, freestyle rap, or as a circus ringmaster are in jeopardy.

Let me sum up....
My nightcap developed into dashed hopes. I spent my coffee break with the Ghost of Relationships Past. Lunch was punctuated with a side dish of sudden closure. And by dinner, I realized that my voice may be permanently damaged.

It's easy to think that I should've stayed in bed. But tomorrow, the alarm is going to sound again. And I'm going to answer it.

And move forward.

Saturday, May 5, 2007


Okay. So this will be, oh, take seventeen for my blogging efforts. I hung up the old place, so I'm starting anew. I'll use Blogger so I won't get distracted by the technical side of things, and thus be compelled to actually write things

I'll try to post as much as I can, whilst maintaining the notoriously annoying level of privacy I'm not well known for.

And let's not forget the butchering of the English language.

Carry on.