Brewers in High Dudgeon

Listen my pretty, and you will hear,
a story of drinking less craft beer.
A tale so exciting and so intense,
like sitting in pain on a white picket fence
where the pickets will stick you right in the rump.
You’ll have visions of murdering Donnie Prump.
The reason for your anger and your ire
is the moron’s demand that we all burn a tire.
He claims the air is far too clean
and that it’s not really air unless it can be seen.
So he orders up soot and poisonous smog
as he sits and tweets like a bump on a log.
“Drinking is wrong,” he says with a sneer,
“so I’m cutting production of all craft beer.”
The brewers respond with a monstrous howl,
while Prump orders the extinction of the spotted owl.
The brewers decide on a right sinister plan
to expunge the earth of this despicable man.
The stage is set to drown him in hops
and they’re helped by an army of angry cops
who’ve seen his crimes and heard his lies
and are happy to help silence this man they despise.
The cops circle the despot with their police cars
and NASA scientists offer help, “maybe send him to Mars?”
The brewers send truckloads of hops and barley
and wait for the signal from their leader named Charlie.
When the word comes down, the trucks dump their loads,
covering the despot in hops and blocking the roads.
Nobody can reach him to allow him to breathe
so they turn away quietly, and silently leave.
The use of the hops caused a reduction in brew
but the drinkers applauded because they knew
the removal of Donnie was worth the sacrifice,
and they knew they could brew something quite tasty with rice.
Though many had wanted to use a cudgel or bludgeon
they accepted the hops because they were in high dudgeon.
The drinkers the brewers, the cop and the con
all wanted to off him, to get rid of Don.
So that’s the story of cutting back on libation
when there’s a higher calling of saving the nation.
Lest you think this story is just wrong and capricious,
please understand fully that I’m being facetious.
I’d never seriously suggest wasting a hops flower
on a lowlife scum, not for a minute or an hour.

Truly. Just being facetious.

Posted in Absurdist Fantasy, Poetry | 1 Comment

Bloody Borders

Whine. Whine! Whine!!!  Okay, there. Maybe it’s out of my system. I have a tendency to make minor inconveniences into major dislocations of my enjoyment of life. “Mountains out of mole hills.” “Much ado about nothing.” The “problems” about which I wrote most recently, involving newsletters and deadlines and poor, poor me having too little time and too much responsibility are, and were, unworthy of space on this screen. So let me shift gears and write about something that may or may not matter, depending on one’s perspective.

The “caravan” marching toward the U.S. formed in Honduras. The participants, depending on who you believe, either are fleeing intolerable conditions that threaten their lives and safety or are seeking opportunities not available to them in Honduras. Of course, non-Hondurans may have joined the caravan as it snakes its way across Mexico. Non-Hondurans, too, either are fleeing intolerable conditions or simply looking for a better life than the one the left behind.

I heard someone say, just last night, that he has no objection to immigration, but only if it’s legal immigration. Illegal immigration, though, is intolerable. I didn’t engage the commenter for a variety of reasons. But it occurred to me, from the context of his remarks, that he felt illegal immigrants simply choose to ignore the law and, instead, try to make their way in to the United States illegally because it’s faster. That perspective identifies members of the caravan as law-breakers who have chosen speed over lawful entry. And, I think, it may assume the process of entering legally is long, but not too long. Finally, his perspective does not classify participants in the caravan as refugees; they are, instead, parasites. Bear in mind that I’ve not had the conversation with the guy so I can understand his motives. I’m making all manner of assumptions about them.

If my friend who opposes illegal immigration were to explain my support for the people in the caravan, he might suggest that I have more regard for the outcome of the caravan’s march than for the laws that would prohibit its members from pouring across our borders. And I suppose he would be right. I would tell him that inflexible laws that fail to accommodate humanitarian emergencies do not deserve my respect. I would tell him that process should never be the sole governor of decisions whose outcome could be either life or death.

There would be more to the conversation. But the components necessary for the conversation to change one or both of our minds would be missing. The missing components include the hard facts about: 1) what, exactly, are the laws surrounding immigration and refugee status; 2) realistically, how long can prospective immigrants from Mexico and Honduras and Guatemala, etc. expect to wait to be admitted to the U.S. legally; 3) failing to get into the U.S., either legally or not, what fate likely awaits the participants in the caravan; and 4) in the event participants in the caravan who make it to the U.S. border (many apparently simply want to stay in Mexico) were allowed in to this country, how would they be integrated into our society and at what cost, borne by whom?

Many more facts would have to come into the conversation, as well. And my friend and I would both have to stake our positions on where to draw the line between acceptable levels of “unauthorized entry” (let’s stop calling it illegal immigration for a moment) and acceptable levels of social support for unauthorized entrants. Because, no matter how much compassion I might feel for people fleeing economic oppression or real violence, I have to acknowledge that, at some point, our ability to pay the economic costs of entry (whether authorized or not) reaches its limit. I think the problems with immigration in Europe clearly illustrate that social and economic systems not designed to accommodate enormous influxes of migrants tend to break down in chaos.  Put in simpler, but less charitable, language, when does economic self-preservation override humanitarian compassion?

Migration, immigration, humanitarianism, compassion, empathy, foreign aid an assistance, and the rule of law collide in ways that neither “side” likes to admit. The immigration issue is far more complex than most people seem to understand. Yet the solutions we offer are simple: Build a wall to keep “them” out or open our doors to those in need. Neither solution is adequate. In fact, both solutions are woefully inadequate and probably would have consequences no one can realistically anticipate without excruciatingly meticulous research. Even then, policy decisions would be apt to overlook critical facts or overstate the relevance of others.

If my words seem less argument one way or the other and more hand-wringing confusion, that’s exactly my point. Arguments either way fail to adequately address the scope of the problem. Confusion does, indeed, reign. In my opinion, the only truly reliable long-term solution is to help build the economies and civil structures of countries who are supplying the bulk of immigrants. In a nutshell, make life tolerable at home for would-be immigrants so they don’t see walking thousands of miles with their children as their last remaining hope.  That solution is so, so big it seems impossible. But it is possible. In my mind, though, it’s possible only with the radical redistribution of wealth out of the hands of the richest and most powerful and into the hands of the rest of the people who live in abject poverty. Easy-peasy, right?

Ultimately, the problems of immigration and migration and refugees are stoked by poverty. I foresee a global disruption in which the richest people alive become targets of the poorest. While the rich control the money and can finance their own protection, the poor have the advantage of sheer numbers. A bloodbath of global proportions would leave both populations in shreds. I foresee bloody borders around the globe. Maybe even in my lifetime.

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Cancer and the Church

This morning, after having heard nothing from my oncologist’s schedulers, I called again. This time, I spoke to someone who said she would get something done. But unlike the same commitment I heard last time, this one said she would put me on hold until she pursued the matter to conclusion. I was on hold a good 30 minutes. At the end, I spoke to the scheduler who earlier said she doesn’t do the scheduling for Little Rock and they would call me. Apparently she called the Little Rock facility and went through the process of getting my biopsy scheduled. I’m to be in Little Rock early next Tuesday morning, requiring an early morning drive in the dark. But at least it’s scheduled. But I won’t get the results until eight days later. And, then, I suppose the waiting will begin again to schedule pre-operative tests, the surgery itself, etc. Assuming, of course, that the oncologist’s sense is borne out and that surgery is the best option.

While you’d expect the “cancer thing” the be my most aggravating challenge right now, I’m placing editing the church newsletter right up there with it. It’s 49 minute past the deadline for receipt of materials and I’m still waiting on at least two pieces. Later today and this evening, I’m involved in another church activity. Leading up to it, I have to finish smoking the pork loin I agreed to provide for the committee’s dinner tonight.  Tomorrow I have a follow-on all-day commitment with the church. On Sunday, well…Sunday at church. Then Monday and Tuesday I have medical tests scheduled. When will I finish the newsletter so it can be distributed before the end of the month? I guess it wouldn’t be the end of the world. It’s frustrating. I don’t have time to write any more. I have to work on the carcass of the newsletter so it will be ready to receive the outstanding materials.

Posted in Cancer, Frustration | 2 Comments

A Little Pareidolia and the Gift of Gab

When I look at white billowing clouds in the sky (not this morning…it’s dark), I can see a thousand shapes. Dogs, birds, human faces, you name it. Once I remember seeing what looked like a long stone wall alongside a highway. I’m in good company with such hallucinations. It’s not uncommon for me to hear the phenomenon discussed or to read about it in sweet stories about children who, while looking innocently skyward, see fairy tale figures dancing through the sky. It’s not just clouds, though. The hallucinations occur while looking down at the ground.

Yesterday morning, I gazed outside at the leaves and dead branches littering the ground beneath my window. I was surprised to see, quite clearly, the head of a laughing dog, a boxer, looking back up at me. The rest of the dog’s body melted into the ground, but the face and hears and the open mouth were clearly visible. I stared at the image for thirty seconds or more. It didn’t move. But when I let my eyes drift away for only a second, it was gone. I tried to return my gaze to precisely the same spot. It was a useless attempt to recapture the dog’s image.

Those children and I who saw things that aren’t there may have experienced a phenomenon called pareidolia. The term is defined as a “psychological phenomenon that causes some people to see or hear a vague or random image or sound as something significant.” The explanation of the phenomenon goes on to say, “Pareidolia is a type of apophenia, which is a more generalized term for seeing patterns in random data.” Actually, I rather hope that neither the kids nor I are coping with either pareidolia or apophenia, because both terms seem to carry with them a close relationship with psychoses of one kind or another. Yet I see the terms, especially pareidolia, bandied about to explain the sightings of animals on the surface of the moon and Jesus on toast and tortillas.

I’m not sufficiently intrigued by the idea this morning to explore it further. My “exploration” took all of three minutes on Google. But with a little dressing up of the language, I suspect I could convince an unsuspecting reader who wandered by that I knew whereof I speak. That speaks more to others’ gullibility than to my “gift of gab.” (Side note: “Gift of gab” is defined as “the ability to speak with eloquence and fluency.” What term would be used to describe “the ability to write with eloquence and fluency?” I do not know. But I want to.)

And that’s all for now.

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Ear Noise and Forgotten Birthdays

I’ve never mentioned this to anyone. Not my wife, not my doctor, not to a friend. Maybe I should have said something, especially to my doctor. But for the longest time, I didn’t know what it was. I heard this noise when I got up out of bed and went into the bathroom in the early morning. I thought it was a noise outside the house. It sounded distant. But then I’d move through the house and it would move with me. It always seemed distant, but it was there. It was like a noise I imagined a bird or a squirrel might make, a repetitive sound that didn’t change at all. Finally, about four or five months ago, I realized: I hear this noise regardless of where I am. And, increasingly, I heard this noise all through the day and night. I finally figured it out. Are you ready? I’m hearing my heart beat. Or, perhaps, I’m hearing the blood pump by or around or through or near my ears. And it’s driving me crazy. I haven’t mentioned it to my doctors. I don’t know quite how to describe it. But I guess I should say something. Especially if what I am hearing is getting louder and more pronounced and more frequent and more maddening.

It’s especially upsetting right now, with the cancer thing and so forth. But I guess I should mention it. Next time I’m in to see a doctor. If I ever get an appointment. Which will require a biopsy appointment first. Which may never happen.

On an unrelated topic, I think I had fewer birthday cards and messages this year than ever before. A card from my friend in Franklin, Tennessee. A call from my brother and my niece and her husband. And I think that’s it. No card from State Farm (a huge letdown, as that’s always been the highlight of my year). No, I did get an e-card from the clinic in Little Rock that injected my spine last year. One can never forget the spine puncturist cards. I got online birthday wishes on Facebook, too. Quite a few. But the decline in e-cards and physical cards was stunning. We don’t wish happy birthday any longer, I guess. It’s a little sad to see it go. Not terribly sad, but a little sad.

The absence of a birthday card from my oncologist was moderately depressing. I wasn’t sure whether to chalk it up to the brevity of our relationship or her assessment that there’s no return on a patient who won’t be around in a year. That is a joke, in case you were running to call the suicide hotline.

On a more serious note, I do notice of late a tendency to tear up over nothing. I wonder whether that’s related to my cancer or something else? Could be both, I guess. Whatever it is, it annoys me and makes people uncomfortable around me. That sucks. It just does. I’ve always been one to spray gallons of tears at the drop of a hat, but this is getting ugly. I can’t have this. It just won’t stand. I may have to stay indoors behind curtains. Really.

When I cast the jokes aside, I feel a little like rolling up into a ball and releasing whatever it is that’s inside. But that’s not the way I should behave, especially with my wife in close proximity. That would alarm her unnecessarily. But, then, I feel utterly exhausted, to the extent that I might need to ask her for help moving from point A to point B. Yet that’s nuts. I’m not weak yet, not by a log. I guess my imagined weakness is purely psychological.

Shit, I’m wandering all over creation here, am I not? It’s time to go to bed. Nearing midnight. Time to go to bed. I wonder if I should post this now or wait until morning when I can edit and remove the more embarrassing stuff. Probably best to release it now. When my worst warts can be seen and excised. God, I didn’t bargain for this. I didn’t know how an unconfirmed cancer diagnosis would make me feel weak and unprepared to make decisions that will impact my wife and my family from now on.

If I can focus on tonight’s wines of the world. Israel wines. Israel food. Nothing much positive to say about it. Enough. Just enough. Maybe more later.

 

Posted in Health | 5 Comments

Fourthgraders

On occasion, I slog through writing I’ve posted here or stored in directories on my hard drive. I’m looking for words that have merit, writing of which I might one day be proud. I’m afraid I rarely find those gems to stoke my ego. Instead, I tend to become disgruntled and disappointed that I can produce so much of so little value. It’s not that I think what I’ve written is “bad writing,” necessarily. It’s just irrelevant. Sometimes, I’m fascinated at how nice something I’ve written sounds, only to realize I’ve said nothing but did it beautifully.

But sometimes the irrelevance is satisfying in an odd sort of way. It makes me laugh that I might have written something with sincerity only to discover that it’s painfully silly. For example:

“Here I am, again, mindlessly barking at the wind, bellowing at shadows cast by leaves blowing in the breeze.”

I wrote that about nine months ago in a post I entitled “Affixing Blame on Tuesday.” The post was a rant in which I blamed Facebook for the demise of meaningful conversation. I wrote the excerpt above when I realized I was engaging in utterly unproductive bitching; simply bitching to bitch. I laughed at myself, but at the same time I realized I was griping because I felt isolated and unproductive. I couldn’t very well  blame myself, could I? So I selected a faceless enemy (pardon the precursor to a pun).

I’m inside today, cowering from the rain and chill in the air. But it’s past noon, so I feel safe in showering and venturing out. I have no idea what time has to do with it, but my fingers spilled the words on the screen and I didn’t feel like cleaning up the mess. I may go vote, inasmuch as I think “they” may have corrected the ballot by including the Democratic candidate for Attorney General. “They” left if off on the original ballots.

In closing, let me ask about the language comprehension of fourth-graders. Should a forth-grader know the word forehead? Foreshadow? Forewarn? How about foreplay? How do we decide which words are not age-appropriate and which are perfectly good any time? And who is this “we” person the controls our language and our lives?

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Mixed Emotions

I began writing this yesterday, but couldn’t seem to remove the self-pity from it, so I opted not to post it. I don’t think I succeeded in the removal with my edits and additions, either, but I’m posting it anyway.

For me, whose attention span can seem measurable in nanoseconds, my overwhelming focus on my diagnosis of lung cancer is utterly foreign. Rather than frantically skipping about as usual—from idea to idea, topic to topic, interest to interest—my mind seems unable to deviate from its laser focus on the disease. I have until now thought my difficulty in maintaining interest in a topic for very long was a tragic character flaw, and deeply annoying. But that was before this entirely unwelcome singular focus that seems to overwhelm my interest in almost everything else.

I took an online test yesterday (Wednesday) morning, an instrument that ostensibly measures attention span. My report, which showed a score of 38 out of a possible 100, suggested  I “seem to have a rather short attention span.”  It goes on to say “…it would be a good idea to visit a psychologist in order to assess whether Attention Deficit Disorder may be an issue.” So, I need to see a psychologist because I am at least borderline ADD and perhaps completely out of my mind. Okay, the score reflects the way I’m used to being in this world. But it does not reflect this recent inability to relieve myself of the focus on deviant cells attacking my body. I suppose this cynosure (that’s a new word for me, courtesy of an online Thesaurus) is a temporary reaction to a foreign object, like a grain of sand in an oyster. Following the simile to its  conclusion, the tumor growing in my right lower lung may become a gleaming pearl, a potentially deadly shiny object. Yeah, right. See, even in monkeying with linguistic acrobatics, my attention comes right back to lung cancer. The cough, a constant reminder and the trigger for my visit to the doctor in the first place, doesn’t help, either.

Until the last several days, I thought writing about my emotional and intellectual reactions to the slowly evolving diagnosis would help. Instead, I find that I sometimes have to force myself to write and I don’t even know what to write. I can’t write how I feel because I don’t know how I feel. And that frustrates me beyond comprehension. I always know how I feel. I always know how to express my anger or fear or joy or general happiness. But I don’t know what this is. I’m not afraid of dying, but I am afraid of the process of getting there, I guess. And I am upset with the damage the process would do to others who matter.  And the thought that I might have done something long ago to avoid this pisses me off. The best I can do to describe it is an amalgamation of guilt, fear, and anger.

The guilt component relates, I think, to the fact that I smoked for 35 years. I didn’t stop even when my father died of lung cancer. I kept smoking even though I knew smoking was directly linked to lung cancer. And I exposed my wife to second-hand smoke for many of those years. So perhaps what’s happening in my body could happen in hers because of my behavior. That guilt is impossible to cut out with a scalpel or to kill with chemicals or radiation. It’s there. It’s a permanent fixture that resides in my brain and cannot be excised, nor should it. I deserve it as a constant reminder of my responsibility for outcomes that I could have and should have seen coming and could have done something to avoid.

The fear is not for me but for my wife. But then it becomes fear for me, too. I fear what going through this with me might do to her. She already went through the nightmare of cancer when she had a mastectomy followed by months and months of chemotherapy. She doesn’t need this crap. And, perhaps at some point she will decide she’s not willing to put up with it any longer and will just let me deal with it myself. I guess that is a fear I’ve always had for reasons that escape me, that I’ll be abandoned. Perhaps I know, somewhere deep inside, that I didn’t support her during her battle with cancer, the way I should have. Perhaps I was more concerned with my pain than with hers. I honestly don’t know. But something inside me tells me I’ve been someone or done something that is deserving of abandonment. It’s probably an unreasonable fear, based on a vaporous framework created out of thin air. It’s vapor. But it’s vapor I breathe for some reason.

The anger is toward myself and it resides comfortably with the guilt. They’re a pair. Why did I allow my behavior to get me to this point? Why? Because I’m an idiot. I imagined, I suppose, that it would never happen to me. I’m mad at myself for ever allowing that absurd sense of invincibility to invade my thinking. That very sense of invincibility left me exposed.

When I try to unravel what I feel, I end up with, as I said, guilt, fear, and anger. But those emotions combine to form something I can’t name. And that nameless emotion is what I can’t quite describe. Somewhere, mixed in with all the other emotional crap that I should be able to discard like trash, is the sense that I deserve this diagnosis. Intellectually, I believe that is bullshit. But emotionally, I can’t quite bring myself to erase it. I don’t believe people get sick because they deserve to get sick. I don’t believe people are hit by cars or fall from tall buildings or are struck by lightning because they deserve it. But there it is. A feeling that I KNOW is wrong and nonsensical, but I can’t shake it, regardless.  So, maybe my knowledge that it’s wrong is just a cover to make me seem sane; maybe I believe it and I’m only saying I don’t to convince myself that I’m not crazy. God, just the thought processes that led me to write that sentence may be used as evidence at my commitment hearing.

When I’m able to pull myself back from this strange abyss for long enough, I realize that the likelihood that my cancer is apt to be lethal is probably quite small. I’ll know more when I have the damn biopsy (breathe…breathe), but I’m banking on learning that it’s in an early stage, that it can be removed surgically, and that my life will return to normal.  Everything I’ve learned about lung cancer since this experience began suggests that my cancer probably is not at an advanced stage. The surgeons probably will be able to remove it by removing a piece of my lung. In a few months after surgery, if all goes well, I should be almost back to where I am today. But, then, I read that 30% to 50% of lung cancer survivors whose tumors are successfully removed eventually die from a recurrence of lung cancer. So that little tidbit tends to tank my buoyant mood.

My next post will not even mention cancer. Unless I get significant news. In which case I’ll retract my commitment and journal away.

 

 

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A Simple Desultory Biopsic

If I’m not mistaken, early diagnosis and treatment of cancer is one of the best predictors of long-term survival. So I find it strange that medical professionals responsible for arranging for and scheduling tests diagnostic tests would not put a premium on speed in getting tests scheduled. Yep, I’m ventilating again.

I’m still waiting to have my lung biopsy scheduled. That is the single most important test that will be undertaken to help understand my cancer. The biopsy will reveal whether I have small cell lung cancer or non-small cell lung cancer (or, in the event miracles occur in light of 9.5 SUV levels from PET scans, no cancer at all).  And the biopsy will suggest treatments. Surgery is the most likely first step. But what about chemo and radiation? We’ll see.

***

This morning, after I wrote the preceding paragraphs, I went in for a lung function test. I sat on a sculpted wooden stool inside a plexiglass case and breathed through a mouthpiece, following the technician’s directions. I breathed in, breathed out, panted, expelled every molecule of air from my lungs, held my breath, and performed all sorts of other contortions with my lungs. At one point, I inhaled a bronchodilator agent a couple of times. I then went through some of the same tests I had done earlier. When all the tests were completed, the technician showed me the results in both numerical and graphical form. While my numbers weren’t bad, they were lower than the standard expected for someone of my age, gender, and weight. The numbers improved significantly (by more than twenty percent) after I inhaled the brochodilator agent. Essentially, he said, that means that the bronchodilator addressed some problems (inflammation, I gather) with my lungs. He suggested that smoking could conceivably have caused the problems. The results of my tests will be reviewed and interpreted by a pulmonologist and will be posted to my online information center, which I’ll be able to review shortly after the information is posted.

***

It’s now nearing 5:00 p.m. and I still haven’t received a call to schedule the biopsy. Not that the wait for the biopsy has anything to do with the lung function test. Except, I suppose, they’re both tests, so they’re related. But not really. Sort of like the CT scan of my head that will take place next Monday morning is unrelated to the biopsy or the lung function endeavor this morning…but they’re all tests and they’re all related in some convoluted way to the “mass” (I hate calling it tumor for some reason) in my lung, so they’re relatives, like brothers and aunts and sisters and cousins and fathers and great grandmothers and sons and third cousins thrice removed. Or something like that.

***

Earlier today (MUCH earlier today), I attempted to write about the emotions I’m feeling as I think about what my diagnosis (in both its present form and in the form it will take after the biopsy) means and will mean to me and to my family and friends. I couldn’t finish writing the explanation because it seemed drenched in self-pity, which I didn’t want it to be. But no matter how I reconfigured the words and rearranged the sentences, it screamed self-pity at me. Perhaps that’s what my words conveyed. But I wanted NOT to convey that. I wanted to express my raw emotions. I wanted to document how I felt so one day, when I return to read what I’ve written, I can understand how I felt. I’ll go back to what I wrote and give it another try, either by editing it or starting over. If I can fix it, I will. If not, I’ll post it anyway. Because even if I can’t extract the self-pity from it, maybe that’s what I actually feel and will just have to get over the embarrassment of being shallow and self-centered.

***

I wonder whether I (or anyone else who reads the title of this post), ten years hence, will have a clue what I tried to do with it? Probably not. Maybe not even today or tomorrow. About three months ago, I posted something under a similar title: A Simple Desultory Dystopic. It was a short, vapid attempt at dystopian fantasy. A dystopian fantasy seems to be morphing into a dystopian reality “as I live and breathe.” My attempts at black humor are falling flat, I think. Perhaps another day.

 

Posted in Cancer, Health | 2 Comments

Slightly Improved

I heard back from my primary care physician this afternoon. I was surprised to hear back from him, after the lambasting I gave him for failing to respond to my phone calls and online messages. His reply suggested that he had only just seen my messages, as they are funneled through staff for handling so he doesn’t see all of them. I felt like a jerk. I sent him an apology.

He mentioned in his message that he’s spoken with my oncologist. The two of them believe, subject to information provided by the as-yet-unscheduled biopsy, that I am a surgical candidate to remove a portion of the right lung where the tumor is located. I wish I could get the damn biopsy scheduled ASAP. The oncologist’s office called today to tell me the first available date for the biopsy is October 31; however, I learned that they had scheduled it to take place in Hot Springs, while the doctor recommended I go to Little Rock for the biopsy. So I told the scheduler and she said she would get back to me. Nothing yet. I do have other tests on the calendar. This Wednesday morning, I go in for a lung function test. Then, next Monday, I go in for a CT scan of my head. The oncologist wants to know whether there are any issues suggesting cancer has spread into my head (she says nothing suggests that has happened).

Naturally, commitments I’d previously made had been thrown out the window. The only things I think I’ll be able to complete as committed this week are: 1) smoking a pork loin for Friday evening’s dinner with the church Long Range Planning committee; 2) attending said dinner and planning session; and 3) spending all day Saturday at the church, participating in a congregational long range planning workshop. Though I signed on for those things, they no longer hold the appeal they once did.

I had scheduled an appointment for today to see a Nurse Practitioner who works with a dermatologist. I kept the appointment. She prescribed something that I am to apply to my scalp three times a day for a week or so, then reduce over time; that should eliminate the itching I feel on my scalp. I sure hope so. Otherwise I may have to scalp myself. But, of course, when I went to pick up the prescription, it was not ready. Late this afternoon the pharmacy called to say it was ready. But we were about to leave for an evening engagement, so the drugs remain locked at the pharmacy. Maybe soon.

I’ve mellowed since allowing myself to be consumed by ennui’s second cousin in the wee hours of the morning last night. Thanks to messages from good female friends,  I have forced myself to awaken from my morose stupor. (I don’t know why I used female as an adjective just now; I may have to examine that one day when I return to my explorations of my mind.)

Tonight, we attended the last HSV Open Mic Night of the year. It was well-attended, with around 200 people in attendance. The guy who agreed to take the reins from me last year seems to have done an admirable job; better than I was doing. I remain proud that I grew it from babyhood to an audience of 150, but the guy who took it over has done better than I could have done. The fact that he’s a musician and knows lots of local musical talent helped. And his professional history as an impressario of sorts didn’t hurt, either. Regardless of the reasons, he excelled beyond what I was able to do with the event. More power to him. Tonight’s acts were excellent, by the way. And I saw my friend Craig, the venue manager, and let him know of my health news. Unlike some folks, I don’t feel compelled to keep my diagnosis a secret. I rather prefer to put it out there, in the open, so I don’t have to remember who is in on the secret and who isn’t. It’s selfish, but it serves a purpose.

My wife made apple pie this afternoon. She planned to make it yesterday, but I was perfectly willing to put it off. It’s my birthday pie. I shun birthday cake. Birthday cake is for conformists. I bend just enough to allow for a sweet pie. I’d actually be even happier with a savory pie, make with meat or perhaps shrimp or lobster, but I’m already stretching tradition by eschewing birthday cake. I need to maintain my membership in the North American middle class; if eating sweet pie accomplishes that objective, so be it.

I am trying to remain upbeat and, for the most part, I’ve been successful. A couple of meltdowns have proven to me that I’m not the tower of strength I never thought I was. But I’ve been pretty solid. I’m feeling reasonably solid tonight. I just can’t imagine having to maintain this sense of solidity while facing a snail’s pace of action on the part of the medical community. Waiting weeks for a vital test seems unreasonable to me. But so does turning people away because they have no medical insurance.

On an utterly unrelated note, I learned today that in Garland County, where I live, the early voting ballots failed to include the Democratic candidate for Arkansas Secretary of State. By the time the error was caught, 220 people had already voted. Voting was stopped and a new ballot will be available as soon as possible. But those 220 people who didn’t have the opportunity to vote for a Democrat for Secretary of State have every reason to be enraged. I doubt the county will do a damn thing to rectify the situation for those voters.

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This Could be Serious

Until this very early morning, I’d done only a little research into lung cancer and its treatment. Now, after having explored the matter a bit, I wish I hadn’t done my investigation. Ignorance, they say, is bliss.

Unless the doctors have been utterly wrong, my prognosis involves the potential for some truly unhappy experiences. Surgery for lung cancer is invasive, dangerous, and involves an extraordinarily unpleasant set of circumstances. It’s not simply “cut into the chest and remove a tumor.” It’s far more involved than that. Typically, a patient spends five to seven days in the hospital following surgery, with a tube (or tubes) coming out of his chest and attached to a special canister to allow excess fluid and air to drain out. I remember the chest drain after my open heart surgery fourteen years ago; it’s ugly and unpleasant. At least that was a temporary situation that led to a more positive outcome.

Lung cancer surgery is messy stuff. It’s painful from the start and the pain and discomfort lasts for quite a while, from what I’ve read.  According to material I found online at cancer.org, the complications of surgery can include “reactions to anesthesia, excess bleeding, blood clots in the legs or lungs, wound infections, and pneumonia.” The site goes on to say, “While it is rare, some people may not survive the surgery.” The site doesn’t explore options. Such as “what if the patient opts against surgery?” I am thinking about that now. I just realized it’s only a few minutes past 2:30 a.m. I thought I woke up a bit before 5:30 a.m., but I fooled myself. And I’ve just about finished my first cup of coffee.

Here’s what I found on a website of the National Institutes of Health:

In fact, many patients with NSCLC (non-small-cell lung cancer) have been cured by surgery. However, there are also many cases that fail to achieve a cure following surgery. In fact, 30% to 55% of patients with NSCLC develop recurrence and die of their disease despite curative resection. Therefore, many patients eventually die of their disease due to recurrence after surgery. Furthermore, surgery itself possesses a certain amount of risk. Although treatment-related death is relatively uncommon, there is still a significant risk of mortality, and most patients experience a decrease in lung function after surgery. Thus, despite the advances in surgery, treatment by surgical resection is less than perfect, even when a complete resection is possible.

“Most patients experience a decrease in lung function…” Is that something I’m willing to live with? Until I began looking into the realities of the disease, I had been under the impression that I was facing something uncomfortable and deeply troublesome but not truly deadly. “This is 2018,” I said to myself. “Lung cancer killed my father, but that was many years ago. Advances since that time must have made the disease less deadly.”

That’s what I told myself. But the more I explored it, the more I came to realize I had been deluding myself. Lung cancer hasn’t become any less deadly. It’s just as lethal today as it was when my father died. Maybe it takes more time to do its dirty work today, but it still does its dirty work.

So, as I contemplate this new information, I have to ask myself: Is it worth going through the misery of a fight whose outcome is not subject to any positive guarantee? Would I have more time to experience life more fully by simply rejecting treatment altogether than by spending time in a hospital and at home as a wounded invalid than by subjecting myself to treatment? I suppose I need to listen to doctors and surgeons, rather than depend on a Google search to inform me about life or death matters, but I don’t want to delude myself into thinking “oh, they’ll just do surgery and my problem will be solved.”

I realize, of course, that I’m exploring life and death decisions in the middle of the night, relying only on Google for my facts. And I realize that’s stupid and the information upon which I’m relying is probably not the most trustworthy. I know I need to talk to oncologists and surgeons and others who really know the topic. I know that. But I know, too, their jobs are to give patients hope, even when hope is a candle whose wick is short and unlikely to last very long. I want to know what’s real, not what’s possible in a fairy-tale world.

I realize, too, that I’m making a lot of assumptions. I haven’t even had the biopsy yet. But the oncologist’s matter-of-fact suggestion that surgery is the likely first step in treatment led me to bypassing a bunch of possibilities and wishes and hopes. Though I have no desire to ignore real “what if” scenarios, I have no interest in escapism for the sake of delaying the onset of reality. The fact that the medical professionals have found what appears to be a 2.6 cm mass in my right lung is serious. The likelihood that it’s malignant, borne out by the PET scan “brightness” scale, is more serious, still. The oncologist’s comments that essentially dismissed radiation and chemo as first lines of defense/treatment suggests the tumor is, indeed, a serious matter. All the “stuff” I’ve read that presents lung cancer as a damn serious and often fatal disease makes me think, again, that “this could be serious.” Could be, hell. Is. And that’s scary.

I’ve not “given up.” There’s more to learn, of course. It’s possible that I might live a perfectly happy and reasonably healthy life for years to come after surgery to remove a piece of my lung. But I don’t want to fool myself into thinking such surgery is likely to leave me “well.” One isn’t “well” if one is missing a significant piece of one’s lung, methinks.

All of this thought of  what it might be like to be me after surgery suggests I’m being very, very selfish. What about my wife? What does she think? Good question. She’s not apt to share what she thinks. She’s never been one to open up that way. I guess she might open up if she were to think my thinking runs counter to hers. Absent knowing, though, I can only base my thinking on what I think and what I know and what information flows my way.

My father’s death from lung cancer was horrible. He was in constant pain for at least the last few days. Morphine did little to relieve his agony. I don’t plan on suffering through what he went through. I’m just not willing to do that. On the other hand, I don’t want to cut things too short too early. I know. It’s very early to be thinking such stuff. But that’s what one does in the wee hours when one has nothing else to occupy the emptiness.

 

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Adolescent Angst at an Advanced Age

The best part of melting into a puddle of hot wax, gravity spilling it into low spots in one’s mental terrain, is that hot wax eventually cools and becomes malleable. After a day and an evening of allowing myself the luxury of fear and anger, this morning I’m cooling into a lump I can mold into something presentable. One must be presentable on one’s birthday, mustn’t one? Yes, today marks my official entry into geezerhood, though I’ve been claiming membership since I was in my early fifties. I’ve said for years that one becomes a geezer when one “attains adequate age and eccentricity.” Inasmuch as I am by proclamation the arbiter of the definition of geezerhood, I get to decide the adequacy of both attributes. Pretty slick, huh? There are days I’d like to be the arbiter of things of more grave import, like whether all members of a governmental administration are subject to being dispatched through the use of a heavy-duty wood chipper. All right, enough of that little slither toward darkness!

Today, I reached sixty-five years of age. That stuns me. I have always believed I was destined to be younger than that. And I believe it still. I am no more sixty-five years old than doughnuts are made by mixing cement with powdered meat. The very idea is anathema to me! Okay, I’ll admit my physical age has reached that spot on the calendar. Mentally, though, I feel very much like an adolescent, still poking around my psyche in the hope of finding something that, once and for all, allows me to understand and articulate who I am. Apparently, adolescents are slow on the uptake. That something obviously doesn’t exist. Finally, on the morning of my sixty-fifth birthday, I’m coming to realize that we never finish understanding nor articulating who we are; we’re in a process of perpetual change. There’s no moment in time at which we can say with rectitude, “This is precisely who I am,”  Defining this is a lifelong endeavor. And it’s never finished.

For most people, though, the pursuit of the unanswerable question of who am I? does not become a fixation the way it seems to be for me. Most people either get used to the idea that they’ll never know or they delude themselves into thinking they do know. But I have never been able to satisfy myself in those ways. Even this morning, as my sixty-fifty year begins to unfold and I’ve just announced that I know the question can never lead to an answer, something nags at me. Intellectually, I understand that the question has no definitive answer. But emotionally I think the answer is there, somewhere, hidden under a hitherto unused fold of cerebral matter. If I look long and hard enough, I’ll find it. What I’ll do with it once I discover it is beyond me.

But back to the wax with which I may mold myself into something presentable. If I allow it to cool too fast or harden too much, I’ll become stiff and inflexible. But if I attempt to shape it before it cools enough, I’ll flow into an unrecognizable flow of goo. The key is to allow the wax to reach and maintain a fictile stage, a point at which I can bend and shape myself to respond to the world around me.

I vaguely remember thinking, as a teenager, that I needed to leave some of my youthful attitudes behind me as I entered adulthood. I still feel that way. Some of my ideas and attitudes about life are better suited to a teenager than to an avowed geezer. I guess I’m still wrestling with adolescent angst at an advanced age. And I’ll keep seeking an answer to that unanswerable question: who am I, at my core?

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Crack in the Armor

The mind can wander into strange places, miserable dark alleys littered with the carcasses of dead animals and reeking with the stench of drunk old men defecating in their clothes. One’s mind can saunter into dangerous territory when the pressure is on. By pressure, I mean  fear steeped in anger and intensified by a mixture of too much wine and a few shots of whiskey.

I didn’t plan to wade into an acrimonious mood last night, but that’s where I went. The more I thought about the fact that my doctor never returned my call, after I returned his, the more upset I became. I allowed myself to grow more and more upset with him until, finally, I drifted through those dark alleys and smelled their ugliness. I  reacted.

I logged into the patient portal and unloaded on my doctor, sending him a message expressing my anger that he didn’t return my call and hadn’t bothered to respond to an earlier portal message.  In the clarity of early morning darkness many hours ago, I realized there may have been a thousand reasons he didn’t respond. He might have been ill and didn’t make it to the office. He could have faced an onslaught of patients sick with the flu. His computer might not have been functioning properly. His staff may not have delivered my phone message to him. So many possibilities. But I focused on the one that fit my mood, that he simply ignored a patient, the most important patient: me. I suspect he might decide he doesn’t need nor want a patient like me. He doesn’t need an ungrateful patient who fails to recognize that the doctor has other patients, some of whom might actually be more needful of his attention.

Goddamn! I thought I was perfectly capable of handling admittedly bad news like an adult. Instead, I soaked my self-pity in alcohol and lashed out in anger at someone I might need to help me maneuver through the morass. Dumb shit. Okay, I’ve done enough self-inflicted damage and have engaged in sufficient self-recrimination. What’s done is done.

If an as-yet unconfirmed diagnosis can have the effect of making me lose it like that, how am I going to handle the results of the biopsy if they are what I expect? That’s my concern at the moment. How am I going to respond to actual data that support the diagnosis? I’ve been just fine with this entire process as it unfolded until last night and then suddenly I allowed myself to fall apart, basically, and lash out at my primary care physician. Fortunately, I did it on my computer in the privacy of my study. It could have happened in his office. I should be kept in a cage.

***

Hours, I mean MANY hours, have passed since I wrote the paragraphs above. I was unwilling to post them because, by so doing, I would have admitted to being the deviant prick I’ve turned out to be. Well, what the hell. I am who I am. I wish I were someone else, but I think I’ve written recently about wishing. It’s a fool’s game, the passtime of idiots.

Tonight, my wife took me out for my pre-birthday celebration. We went to a new restaurant in Hot Springs, a place called 501 Prime, that I believe is by far the best restaurant Hot Spring has seen since I moved to the area. I had ribeye. My wife had prime rib. I started with a combination plate of oysters on the half-shell; the oysters were east coast and west coast…maybe a Gulf oyster. My god, they were orgasmically good! As was the beef. And the Beefeater’s gin martini. And the no-name cabernet sauvignon. Damn! What a nice meal! As stupid as it may sound, I thought as I was eating the dinner that the meal could have been my very last high-end dinner. You know, I was thinking that cancer could eat away at me faster than I could get back to an upscale restaurant. That’s such bullshit. I deserve better than to treat myself like a blundering imbecile. Christ!

On the other hand, I have to recognize that, if the lung cancer diagnosis is confirmed, things could go south in a hurry. So I need to prepare by making my plans apace. It won’t hurt me to create a plan that won’t be used. It can help to create a plan that might need to be used sooner than I might want.

Jesus! My mind is wandering where I would rather it not go! Let me focus, instead, on French rosé and the beauty of the restaurant that served our meal tonight. I think it’s a biblical verse that says, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 

I promised myself that I wouldn’t get all maudlin, nor would I go overboard with fear or regrets, over this diagnosis. And I need to force myself to grow up and stick to the plan, the plan in which I behave like an adult. Okay. I’ll do it. I will. Starting right now.

I thought a while ago about the fact that I’ve never participated in an orgy Who thinks such things? Okay, enough. I’ll post this and wonder why I didn’t have the good sense to treat this post like so many other “drafts.”

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2700

Here it is, my 2700th post on this blog. That’s the number of actual published posts. One hundred eighty-nine additional unpublished drafts wait in the wings. I wrote about ten of those drafts last night. I’m glad I didn’t publish any of the ten I wrote last night. They would only reveal how much of a phony I am, how my facade hides the person I’d rather not reveal. Ha! I openly reveal quite a lot of my flaws, so the ones I hide must be truly astonishing. Indeed.

Lately, my posts have veered away from fiction and poetry, my two favorite things to write, and into journal entries about my life experiences. I am not sure whether that’s good or bad. My fiction and poetry have potential, I think, so ignoring them is apt to cause what skills I have to corrode and weather and weaken. My non-fiction and rants and the like hold little promise, but they might one day remind me or someone who matters to me what was on my mind during what is shaping up to be an odd time of my life. So I don’t know. Lately, nothing I write seems to grab me by the collar. Yet I continue to spoil blank screens by filling them with words.

2700 posts. That translates into 7.39726 years’ worth of posts, if I had posted just once a day. I can’t possibly have had enough ideas worth sharing to merit so many posts. So I can only conclude that I suffer what some would uncharitably call diarrhea of the fingers. Some people speak just to hear themselves talk. I type just to see what I’ve written. It’s not all bad. It’s almost impossible to produce that many posts without something decent spilling out from time to time. But the sheer volume makes it hard to wade through and find those rare gems that might merit consideration for inclusion in the “collected works.”

I’m not in the mood for writing in celebration of my 2700th post this morning. But at least I recorded the event for posterity. You can’t ignore posterity. Unless you’re the Republican party under 45.

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Slivers of Fear

I felt slivers of fear as I awaited the doctor’s return call that never came this morning. There was not a damn thing I could do about the results of the PET scan that was done two days ago, so I tried to keep those slivers from growing into sharpened logs. But when I went to my medical appointment, the anxiety grew more than a touch. The oncologist revealed both potentially good news and likely bad news. The good news is that the PET scan did not reveal multiple “bright spots” that would suggest the spread of cancer. But that’s no guarantee. The bad news is that the mass in my right lung showed up as considerably brighter on the screen than we would have liked it to be. “You’re hoping for a brightness level of less than 2,” she said, “and yours was 9.5. That suggests a very high probability that the mass is malignant. I’ve seen brightness levels as high as 20, so it’s not as bad as it could be by far.” I didn’t record her, so the words are what I remember, not necessarily exactly what she said. But she made it clear that she was quite confident I have a cancerous mass growing in the lower lobe of my right lung.

Next steps are as follows: 1) biopsy of the mass (she suggests going to Little Rock, which is what we’ll do); 2) test lung capacity for reasons I do not recall; 3) MRI or CT scan of head to check for any malignancies in my brain. The last one, she emphasized, was only as a precaution, not because there was any reason to believe there was any cancer in my brain.  An MRI is preferable, but I told her of my bad experiences with pain in my neck when I attempted MRIs before. She’s likely to arrange a CT scan, instead.

As for treatment, assuming her preliminary diagnosis is correct, she said the most likely course of action would be removal of the tumor or, perhaps, the lobe of right lung that’s involved. Radiation would probably follow and, perhaps, chemo.

This thing is apt to completely wreck my schedule for the foreseeable future. Not that I have anything on my schedule that’s life-or-death important. But I have commitments that I’ll have to break and social engagements I’ll have to miss. I’ll have to let multiple people know what’s up and will have to listen to their well-intentioned and heart-felt affirmations that all will be well. People want to say something but often don’t know what to say when met with a potentially scary diagnosis and an uncertain future for someone they know. I can relate to that. I’ve felt the discomfort of not knowing what to say, yet wanting with all my heart to empathize and emphasize that I’m here and I care. For that reason, I rather wish I’d not have already let the cat out of the bag to a few folks who are close to me in one way or another. Their lives and mine would be easier if they were ignorant of my health challenges. On the other hand, I suspect there may be a time in the not-too-distant future that those awkward expressions of support will be extremely meaningful to me and perhaps requisite to maintaining my sanity.

By now, anyone who’s reading this will have rightfully concluded that, as far as I’m concerned, I believe the biopsy will confirm what I already know: I have lung cancer. The biopsy and the subsequent surgery will reveal much more information, including whether it is very bad and deadly or, as I suspect and hope, only moderately bad and fixable.

Yes, it could be something else and not cancer. But that would surprise me. And it would surprise the oncologist I saw today. So I’m not going to cling to a wish and a hope. I’m going to face up to it and deal with the process as directly as I can. I may retreat to my private space behind the garage and weep inconsolably on occasion, but I’ll otherwise try to put on my brave face and convince people that I’m a man of steel. There’s no way! I’m not a man of steel. But I’m not one to wallow in self-pity, either, if I can prevent myself from doing it. And sometimes I can. We’ll see whether I wither. I tend to be fine unless someone around me cracks, emotionally. And then it’s like the flood gates have opened. I hate that about myself. It’s an embarrassing character flaw. Seriously; I think something got broken when my masculinity meter was installed in my brain.

On one hand, it hasn’t quite hit me. It’s still not real. On the other, I’m coming to grips with the reality that I’m going to have to wrestle with a medical problem and go through some uncomfortable experiences.  My father died of lung cancer. But I don’t plan to. Then again, neither did he.

***

I began this post before I saw the oncologist today. I’m including what I wrote beforehand as a reminder to myself what was going through my mind before my visit with the oncologist.

My primary care physician called me yesterday afternoon to discuss the results of my PET scan. But I was sitting with my wife and some friends in a bar in the central part of the Village, enjoying a drink and some intriguing tacos. The number that popped up on my cell did not look familiar, so I didn’t answer it. When I listened to the voice message a few minutes later, I tried to return the call but the phone was answered with “this CHI telephone number cannot receive incoming calls.” The doctor’s message asked me to call him back today between the hours of 8 and 4:30 and he wanted to know whether I had yet set up an appointment to see the oncologist to whom he referred me. I called just a minute or two after 8 this morning, but he hadn’t arrived yet. The woman who answered the phone said she would leave a message on his desk to call me. He didn’t return the call (I write this sentence as an addendum at 5:51 p.m).

It occurs to me (rather frequently, and not just recently) that it is hard to arrange to have communications with medical professionals. They are busy and don’t have time to chat on the phone. But technology exists to enable them to communicate online with patients during hours that fit their schedule. Yet they seem to use those capabilities rarely. For example, I can post messages to my doctors using a patient portal. The doctors could use the same portal to respond or to initiate communications to me. But I think I’ve only received one message through the portal in all the time I’ve used it. Either my questions go unanswered or I have to ask them again during my next office visit. It’s frustrating. I wonder why the results of my PET scan weren’t posted to the patient portal in the same way the results of my CT scan and my X-rays were posted?

 

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Confusion

Scraps of paper hide the scarred wood of my corner desk. A well-organized person would have placed the sheets of paper in piles, ordered by subject, but I paid no heed to organization. I left each sheet where it fell from my fingers. And it’s not just paper. A plastic mug, the one  I fill with iced tea or water during the day, sits empty on top of a sheet of paper torn from my three by five note pad. The stapler rests askew on the edge of the desk. A yellow plastic twenty-five foot measuring tape offers evidence that, at some point in the recent past, I wanted to measure something nearby. Or, perhaps, it’s simply an indication that I noticed I had the tape measure in my hand when I arrived at the desk and discarded it, rather than return it to its rightful storage space. A business card given to me months ago by someone in another city awaits a decision on its fate. For now, it takes up space. An external drive intended as a backup for my computer peeks from beneath a stack of paper, waiting to be used as it was intended. There’s more. Much more. Evidence of a mind steeped in bedlam.

There should be a word that describes the chaos of disorder the way “cacophony” describes the chaos of noise. I suspect such a word exists. I just don’t know what it is. My lack of knowledge of that real or unreal but required word disturbs me. If I knew the word I would write it on a slip of paper that soon would be lost beneath the litter covering the desk. And one day I would come across the note, thrilled at the reminder of a moment of enrichment of my vocabulary. But I would wonder what to do with the paper. Eventually, I would discard it, knowing full well the gem of knowledge has no value except to trick me into believing I learned something.

Disorder bothers me. My own disorder annoys me even more than others’ disorder disturbs me. Yet I do nothing to permanently correct it. Periodically, I “get organized,” only to allow myself to slip into bad habits of creating stacks of unrelated pages. Soon, they lose the characteristics of “stacks” and take on the attributes of cellulose in open anarchy. Why, I wonder, do I permit myself to foster disorder that so upsets me? Am I punishing myself for failing to produce anything of value out of paper-shuffling? Is my disorder a disorder, as in evidence of a mental rat’s nest in my brain that manifests itself as chaotic disarray? I won’t have the answer to those questions any time soon. I’ve pursued answers my entire adult life, only to find myself lost among answers to questions I haven’t asked.

I value order. I value knowing where to find things. I suppose I just don’t value those things enough to overcome my copious organizational flaws. Perhaps I need a keeper, someone who maintains a firm hand over me, someone who has tools to keep me in line. I don’t want to be controlled, though. I want to be coaxed. Cajoled. Even conned. Tricked into behaving the way I want to behave. I just want an organized desk, a desk that doesn’t distract me from writing meaningful materials. A desk that doesn’t permit me to spend my time, instead, railing about the confusion I find inside my head some mornings. Like this one.

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Late-Breaking Heart-Healthy News

My cardiologist’s nurse just called to say my stress test was normal. I told my wife this morning that I hoped the nurse would return my call to report the doctor was stunned that my heart was healthier than that of a twenty-five year-old professional athlete. “Normal” is okay, though.

Now, all I need is for the next series of tests and biopsies and the like to have similar findings and I’ll feel compelled to treat my body better than I have thus far.

I told myself I’d document this chapter of my medical experiences. To anyone who has signed up to receive automated email announcements of my posts, let me apologize for the multiple intrusions. At least this was a happy (from my perspective) intrusion.

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Que será, será.

I had my PET scan this morning, which is about all I can say about that. It was only mildly uncomfortable to stay motionless on a table for about twenty minutes while the machine took pictures of the inside of my torso. I have no idea what it showed, nor when I’ll learn what it showed. Perhaps I’ll know when I meet with the oncologist on Friday afternoon, the doctor to whom my primary care physician referred me for a needle biopsy.

While I was at the clinic undergoing the PET scan, the oncologist’s office called in the hope of having me visit with her during her time in the Village today. I would have been happy to, except that I was having a PET scan less than fifty yards from her main office. My cardiologist’s nurse called while I was being PETted, returning my call, to say she does not yet know the results of my cardiac stress test, but that she’ll call when she does. I’m surprised it takes so long.

I’m still calm about the entire process so far and I don’t see any signs of that abating. As the song says, “Que será, será.”

On the way home from my PET scan today, I stopped at recycled clothing stores, where I spent a total of $9 on two pairs of slacks and one windbreaker jacket with the old Hot Springs Village logo embroidered on it. The slacks are a bit snug, which is one of many reasons I’m planning to starve myself a bit in the coming weeks and months. I’ve allowed myself to grow into the corpulent old man I told myself I would not permit. I’ll fix that bastard!

This evening, we are meeting friends for dinner at a restaurant on the far side of the Village. Saturday evening we’re going to 501 Prime for dinner, an early celebration. Sunday is my 65th birthday. “Que será, será.”

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Looking Back at an Abandoned Opportunity

Old Whitesboro Christian Church

After Restoration

Several years ago, when we still lived in Dallas, after we closed our business and retired, I had the idea of restoring an old church. It came to me during one of our aimless weekend drives in March 2013. We stumbled upon the town of Whitesboro, a town directly north of Dallas between Gainesville and Sherman, and noticed an old church building on one of the town’s main streets with a “for sale” sign in front of it. It has been a Christian Church once upon a time, but had long been abandoned. I had the idea that we might buy the church, restore it in some fashion, and create a business in the unique space. On whim, I took the real estate agent’s name and contact information and made a call. I learned that the sellers were asking $45,000 for the property. I didn’t have that much readily available at the moment (yeah, like, I’ve EVER had that much readily available), but it seemed to me like a steal, even with the knowledge that it would require a lot of restoration. So I contacted a friend and asked, half joking, whether he’d like to go halves withe me and restore the place. He, too, was a shade short of cash. And, of course, I suspect it would have cost an additional $100,000, at a minimum, to make it usable. At any rate, the idea went nowhere, though it nagged me for a long, long time. I really wanted to buy that place. But I knew nothing of Whitesboro and its market for…anything. Coffee house? Event center? Wedding chapel?  Who knew? I didn’t.

So it was best that I didn’t buy it, I decided. But I learned one recent afternoon, returning online to visit the whim five years later, that someone bought it in May 2013. And they restored the old church into an event venue that, apparently, caters mostly to weddings. I found the venue’s website, but it doesn’t say much; mostly, it’s a site with “romantic” photos of weddings and photos of the accouterment intended to recognize and celebrate special relationships.

I’ve explored dozens of opportunities—make that multiple dozens of—to invest in a business or a building or an idea that I’ve opted for one reason or another to abandon or pass by. I wish I had a time dislocation device that would enable me to interrupt the space-time continuum for just long enough to see what would have become of my investment had I not turned away from it. (“To have used “time machine” in the previous sentence would have been lazy and uncreative, if somewhat less pretentious,” he said to himself.)

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Hair Cut and Land Lust and a Need for a Tractor

My hair is considerably shorter this afternoon than it was this morning, thanks to the sharp scissors and well-maintained trimmer of a very nice barber in Fountain Lake, just up the road from Hot Springs Village. I took the selfie without my glasses because my lenses tend to magnify my eyes to a great extent. My eyes and the flesh around them appear to be widen my face even more than gluttony has done. I really should ask my favorite wife to take photos front, back, and sides so I can produce a flyer I can give to the barber (either the nice one from today or another one in another place at another time) so I can get my hair cut the way I like it. Maybe I’ll do that.

I learned that my barber’s house has a view, after the leaves fall, of a high spot in the Village that may include my house. He lives on seven acres in the valley below my house, where he spends time working his land with a Kubota tractor. When I learned that he had both acreage and a Kubota tractor, I think I drooled on the barber’s cape protecting me from falling grey hair. It was embarrassing, but the barber didn’t mention it. He did notice my interest, though. He said he has a few three to seven acre parcels for sale near his. I had to close my ears, lest I attempt to purchase land without my wife’s knowledge or consent. And if I committed to purchase land, I could not help but commit to buy a tractor. These would have been dangerous moves, because we do not have the money to do such things. And my wife would have borrowed the barber’s straight-razor, which I will get to later, to solve the problem. But I digress.

Based on the sentence in the paragraph above referring to a barber’s cape, you might have presumed that I knew what to call the sheet barbers use to protect their clients’ clothing from hair. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t. All I could think of was “sheet.” I doubted that slick piece of fabric would be called a sheet, but I couldn’t for the life of me think of what else it might be called. So, I resorted to having a conversation with Mother and Father Google. Mother Google told me it’s called a barber’s cape. Father Google added that the white strip placed around the neck during a hair cut is called a Sanek Strip, but he quickly added that Sanek is a registered trademark, so it should be written as Sanek®. If one opts not to use the trademarked term, one is free to call them neck strips. The purpose is to catch loose hair and absorb perspiration and drips.

For the first time in my memory, the barber took care to explore my ears, both canals and exteriors, for unruly hair. Apparently, he found some, as I felt him gently insert a pair of scissors in my ears and snip the offensive stalks. He then used an electric trimmer to remove additional fuzz from around my ears.

He asked if I wanted my eyebrows trimmed, which I did (he hadn’t bothered to ask whether I wanted a sharp pair of scissors stuck in my ear; I guess it’s assumed customers whose ears appear as thick forests to the barber want that done). So, he trimmed my eyebrows nicely, taking off a good half inch (okay, a fraction of an inch). Then, he asked if I wanted him to trim my neck with a straight-razor or the trimmers. “Your choice,” I said. He used the straight-razor. There’s nothing like hot lather smeared on one’s neck, followed by the closeness of a straight-razor shave.

I do not know precisely why, at this advanced age, I still possess this lust for land and a tractor to work it. I’ve never lived on a farm or ranch, so it’s not nostalgia. I’ve mentioned fernweh before, a German word meaning  longing for a place one has never been. I wonder if there is a term in any language meaning longing for a lifestyle one has never lived. Or something like that.

Enough for today. It’s time to grill a steak. It’s cold outside, so standing over a hot grill will feel good. Tonight’s dinner, very low carb thanks to my pre-PET scan dietary requirements, will consist of ribeye steak (thawed after many months in the freezer), steamed broccoli, and something else that’s related in some form or fashion to broccoli but that escapes me for the moment. Until the next time I write.

 

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Tuesday Talk

I don’t have the results back yet from yesterday’s stress test, but it wasn’t nearly as much of an ordeal as I remember from the last one. The treadmill about wore me out, but I could have gone on for a few minutes more. Last time, I thought I was going to collapse before the end of the test. I hope my ability to finish without losing every bit of my stamina suggests good news. I’d rather not have to deal with heart issues at the same time I’m dealing with lung issues. Of course, I don’t yet know what the lung issues are, at least not with certainty. The mass could be malignant or it could be benign. If benign, it could present enough of a problem that it would have to be removed in some fashion. I just don’t know. So, I’ll wait patiently and, in the interim, direct my attention elsewhere.

Where is a good target toward which I should aim my attention? How about my tendency to say “yes” when I should say “no?” I’m not sure why it’s so difficult for me to refuse to take on responsibilities. Perhaps it’s because the projects are interesting and I tell myself they will take up “just a little” of my time. Bottom line is this: I lie to myself, which causes my calendar to fill with intrusive, if not lengthy, commitments I decide I’d rather not have made (or, rather, I’d rather not have made on top of the other commitments I’ve made). To wit:

  • Compiling and editing monthly 8 to 11 page church newsletter
  • Serving as a member of the church long-range planning committee
  • Accepting the role of vice chair of same committee
  • Serving as a member of the Hot Springs Village history committee, charged with writing a 50-year history of the Village
  • Accepting the role of acting chair of said committee, at least temporarily
  • Serving as treasurer, apparently for the rest of time, for the writers’ club
  • Serving as the de facto membership chair, communications chair, etc. of same club

By saying “yes” or, in some cases, not saying “no” to these commitments, I have effectively tied myself to the Village, almost literally. How can I leave for a road trip on a whim when I have a raft of time commitments or project responsibilities to fulfill? My wife warned me, after listening to my bitching about being tied to the calendar. But even then, I agreed to be in a play. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on outcome), I have to back out of the play due to potential medical issues.

It occurs to me that the previous paragraphs paint the picture of a growling curmudgeon whose personality thrives on negativity and complaint. That is not exactly the image of the person I’d like to be. So, I’ll change my tune, as it were. I’ll turn my complaints on their head.

Though I’m inclined to say “no” to many requests as a means of keeping my calendar clear and my options open, I find myself saying “yes,” instead. In spite of acting in opposition to my inclinations, there are benefits in saying “yes.” For example, by so doing I force myself to better manage my time. In addition, my involvement with multiple activities and projects exposes me to people with whom I might not otherwise interact. Social interaction is a human need whose importance we cannot discount; we need to be with people. So, by taking on projects, I feed my need to be a social creature.

And, in spite of my disappointment at not being able to easily leave the Village on a whim, following through on my commitments teaches me patience, a virtue for which I am not especially well-known. By reducing the frequency of my “on a whim” road trips, I am effectively giving myself the opportunity to be that much more excited to take those few I am able to take.

Have I convinced myself? It’s hard to say. I feel a little like I’m being subjected to the words of a con artist. And not a particularly good one, at that. At the very least, I’ve successfully taken my mind off the fact that I don’t have the results of my stress test. Until now. Damn, I should have kept my fingers in their holsters and my mind on something else.

I just got a call from the hospital where I’ll have my PET scan tomorrow. The caller asked if I had any questions. I had several. She answered all of them. I remain not entirely sure having a PET scan will be a joyous experience, but I resign mysself to the fact that it will be done. I hope the scans do not reveal any “bright spots.” Bright spots on such scans, I understand, suggest bad things are happening to one’s body. And, after the scan, at some point, a biopsy of the mass in my right lung. None of this stuff is enticing.

I do recognize, though, that I can have all these tests done without worrying (for now, anyway) that medical bills will bankrupt me. A friend is not so fortunate. He does not have health insurance because it is far more expensive than he feels he can justify paying. He is forced to choose between spending many hundreds of dollars a month that he can’t depend on bringing in every month as a freelancer and risking a catastrophic illness or accident that could ruin him financially. Too many people face that ugly choice. It’s a choice that shouldn’t have to be made in this country. Any country. So I am lucky in the extreme.

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Borges and Writing and Life

I’ve been more productive at writing the last few days than I’ve been in quite a while. Not cranking out novels, mind you, but behaving in ways that resemble what I was doing a year or two ago—writing enough for three or four blog posts a day and then some, plus some stuff that won’t find its way to the blog. That being the case, and because I’ll be otherwise occupied off and on in the next few days, I decided to schedule a few pieces to post automatically early in the morning. This is the first such early morning piece, written long before it posts.

The other day, as I stumbled through excerpts of well-known writers’ reflections on writers and writing, I came upon something intriguing. A recent post from Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings made me stop and take notice. She writes of a gathering Jorge Luis Borges organized in October 1982 at which Susan Sontag spoke to a reporter who covered the event. Sontag said, “There is no writer living today who matters more to other writers than Borges. Many people would say he is the greatest living writer … Very few writers of today have not learned from him or imitated him.” Of course Borges has been dead for more than thirty years now, but I think Borges’ influence remains strong. I’ve not read enough of his work; indeed, I’ve read very little of it. But what I’ve read has, indeed, been influential. And what I’ve read about Borges and the comments about his work from others has been influential.

A particular comment attributed to Borges struck a chord: “All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.” Those misfortunes include all the personal traumas, large or small, that we encounter throughout our lives. It’s as if, as writers, we’re being fed a constant diet of new resources from which to choose to include in our work. It’s all source material.

When I write fiction, I write from experience. The experience need not be real, though. It can be imagined experience that sprang from combined past experiences that occupy just the right spaces in my brain at just the right time.

I’ve never tripped at the edge of a cliff, my heart in my throat,  falling in panic toward my oblivion on the rocks a thousand feet below. But I’ve tripped on a sidewalk in the direction of a concrete curb that, had I hit it with my head, could have killed me. The panic I felt in an instant as my face raced toward the sidewalk informs my senses enough that I can translate that experience into an imagined experience in which I’m hurling toward the cliff’s edge. As Borges said, “our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments” are raw material for what we write. In that vein, I try to look at my every experience as fuel for what will eventually feed the pages I write. I try. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes, I cannot distance myself from my ugly experiences to the extent that I can think of them as opportunities. But I can look back on them and file them away, expecting they eventually will make their way to a page.

Other quotes from Borges make me laugh. The following comment, though apparently spoken in frustration at having been overlooked for years for the Nobel Prize in literature, struck me as remarkably clever: “Not granting me the Nobel Prize has become a Scandinavian tradition; since I was born they have not been granting it to me.” I can honestly say that sounds like something I might write.

Another comment from Borges seems to get at my perpetual question about who am I, at my core, stripping away all the influences on me: “I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities that I have visited, all my ancestors.” I am not sure I exist, either. The way Borges put it, none of us do. We are not individual beings. We are simply formless vessels filled with sponges that, as they soak in experiences, fill out into the shape of whatever it is we define as who we are. Put another way, though Borges’ comment was sufficient, “I am simply a mirror, reflection of the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve been through.”

No, that is too simplistic, of course. That perspective suggests I have no control over who I am and that I am being created in the image of the world around me. I believe we have control over who we are. That is to say we can’t blame our failings and our foibles on experience. We have a responsibility for taking our experiences and molding them into who we wish to be within the context of the resources available to us. But there’s no question our experiences and the people with whom we interact combine to shape the people we become and continue becoming throughout life. I am not the person today I was as a young man of twenty-five. I am not the person today I was when I was forty-five or fifty-five. The person I am today is not the person I will be ten years hence.

Obviously, I’ve gotten a bit off track. That’s okay, as far as I’m concerned, because it allowed me to think about certain things in ways uncommon to me. I feel better when I’m curious and exploring ways of satisfying that curiosity.

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Precursor to a Kiss

I am convinced that, during the fugue state between rousing from a deep sleep and becoming aware of one’s wakefulness, there is a period that can last, figuratively, for days. Let me explain by example.

A few weeks ago, as I lay on my right side in bed, I opened my eyes and looked at the clock on the bedside stand next to me: 4:43 a.m. I rolled over onto my back and closed my eyes, engaging in an internal conversation with myself about the relative merits of getting up or going back to sleep. The conversation included an argument that, if I were to get up, I could get a start on writing something of merit.

That’s when I imagined a scene from a story in which a woman is standing and glaring at a man who seems to be shrinking away from her. The look on her face is one of anger, but she isn’t speaking. Instead, she is simply staring at the man while pointing to a hardback book on the bedside stand beside him. The black linen cover of the book bears its title in gold leaf on the front and the spine: Precursor to a Kiss. The man looks down at the book, picks it up, and thumbs through several pages. Every page is blank.  The scene looks like a painting. There is no motion, not even breathing. But it’s not a painting. I know it’s not. It’s a snapshot that they want etched in memory.

Finally, the man speaks and the painting comes to life. “I didn’t mean for you to see it. It was going to be a surprise.”

A sneer crosses her lips as she responds. “A surprise? You wanted to surprise me with a book that says what we have between us is nothing?”

“That’s not how I intended it. I meant we can write our lives any way we want. We can create our own ideal lifetimes, just the two of us.”

“I’m not buying it. I’m just not buying it. You’re making this up. My name isn’t even in the book. It’s blank because you can write your life with someone else when you think the time is right.” The woman turns and walks out the door, slamming it behind her. Her footsteps echo as she clicks down the long, narrow hallway outside the room.

The man waits for her to return. He waits all day and all night, just standing next to the bed, staring down at the book. Finally, she returns, flinging the door open so hard the knob smashes into the wall. “And what’s more, ” she screams, “it should be ‘prelude,’ not ‘precursor.’ That’s enough to make me scream.”

All of this took place in my mind in real time. Even the long wait, with nothing happening while I was watching the man standing by the bed. It took place as it was happening. But I opened my eyes again and turn to look at the clock: 4:44 a.m.

My description of the experience and the words I ascribe to the two characters may not be precise, but they’re close. It was a while ago, after all, and all I did when I got up was to jot some rough notes, rather than record the conversations in detail. But I think I got most of it just about the way it happened. It’s impossible, though, that the entire interchange—including the entire day of waiting—could have occurred in my imagination in a minute’s time.  Yet it was possible. It did happen. Somehow, my brain processed the entire imagined experience in a minute.  During that minute between the moment I woke from a deep sleep and the time I looked at the clock the second time, I experienced something akin to mental time compression. It’s odd. But there you are. Precursor, prelude, either way, there was no kiss.

 

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Another Ode to Edward

A year ago this past June, I wrote an “Ode to Edward Gorey,” which was in reality a poorly-done knock-off of his The Gashlycrumb Tinies, which I’ve always just loved. My sense of humor is admittedly macabre. Well, I wrote another, equally poor, knock-off this morning and I can’t think of a better time to post it than right now.

Twenty-Six Kids Who Died (Another Ode to Edward Gorey)

A is for Andy who smoked crack and died
B is for Bonnie who fell off a slide
C is for Connie, ate tablets for pain
D is for Darwin, beat with a chain
E is for Ernie, who poisoned himself
F is for Frankie, killed by an elf
G is for Glynda, who breathed in some wax
H is for Harry, succumbed to attacks
I is for Irma, who swallowed some pills
J is for Julie, felled by the chills
K is for Karin, attacked by a stray cat
L is for Larry, struck by a bat
M is for Mary, who fell off a house
N is for Nancy, pecked  to death by a grouse
O is for Opal, an alligator’s dinner
P is for Paula, ‘cause she was a sinner
Q is for Quincy, stabbed with a pick
R is for Ronald, bit by a tick
S is for Saundra, beaten by thugs
T is for Terry, too many drugs
U is for Ulsie, who fell from a tower
V is for Vickie, drowned in the shower
W is for Werner, pierced by an arrow
X is for Xeno, who chewed on some yarrow
Y is for Yana, scalded in lye,
Z is for Zane, while trying to fly.

If I could do pen and ink drawings that rivaled Gorey’s, I might feel more pride about what I wrote. But I can’t. So I don’t.

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More Medical Journaling

During my annual visit to the cardiologist yesterday, I revealed that I had been conscious of a reduction in my stamina when walking, accompanied by a slight burning sensation (without pain…hard to explain) in my chest. I told him, as well, about the CT scan results and suggested that was the reason for the symptoms. He did not want to make that assumption, so he scheduled me for a “treadmill cardiolite stress test” early Monday morning in Little Rock. I don’t relish driving to Little Rock early Monday morning, especially because the preparation for the test requires me to avoid caffeine in any form for twenty-four hours before the test. The test will, according to the instruction sheet, take four to six hours. The test actually sounds like a convoluted series of tests involving walking at high-speed on treadmills made to mimic steep hills, while technicians inject radioactive dyes into my veins. Sounds like so much fun I couldn’t turn it down! At least I get to wear “comfortable two piece clothing and good walking shoes.” One aspect of the instructions for the test that concerns me is that “it is very important that you remain very still during the imaging,” referring to a segment of the process during which a “gamma camera will be moved over your heart and take several images of your heart…” I have a very, very hard time remaining absolutely still while on my back on a hard surface. My inability to do so is what made it impossible to complete an MRI last year when the doctors wanted a good look at the bone spurs causing pain in my neck and arms.  I will just have to wade through it, I guess.

That’s Monday. Then, on Wednesday, my primary care physician scheduled the PET scan. I don’t have full details, but I know it will involve time on a flat surface during which someone will instruct me not to move. Same concerns as above.  I don’t yet know when or where the biopsy of the lung mass will be conducted. I assume they will conduct the biopsy regardless of whether the PET scan shows a bright spot (or spots) that could be cancerous. Here’s an explanation of PET scans that I found interesting and informative:

Cancers grow as dividing tissue require nutrients. Cancers require sugar. In order to perform PET Scans a particular sugar is manufactured. This sugar is radioactive. Fluorine-18 flurodeoxyglucose, known at FDG, is the radioactive tracer used in PET Scans. The patient receives this as an injection, getting a small radiation exposure, less than most CT Scans. Cancer cells take up this FDG sugar and it is trapped inside. The PET Scanning machine then measures the radiation signal.

The more radiation the cancer cell takes up, the “hotter” it is on the scan. A lesion that is hot may be cancer. By matching the PET Scan to other tests (such as a CT Scan as in a combined PET-CT) it is possible to tell where a tumor is located, what it is touching and by how hot it is, how likely it is to be cancer.

…PET Scans can detect the spread of cancer. It is critical at the start of the cancer process to accurately “stage the patient.” By knowing whether a cancer may have metastasized, the oncologist can design the proper treatment.

I’m probably getting ahead of myself with this exploration of PET scans, but it’s better to know what I may be in for than to wander into it blindly.

Sometimes, I think patients can explore too thoroughly the procedures they expect to undergo. For example, I could feel my level of anxiety grow while reading about the processes involved in a needle biopsy of a lung mass. It’s one thing to know what the doctors will do; it’s another to imagine the experience in details before the procedure actually takes place. On the other hand, conducting research into the processes is fascinating. I did not know, for example, of the existence of a specialty called interventional radiology.  Assuming my reading material is correct, my biopsy will be performed by an interventional radiologist. After the procedure, which typically takes less than an hour (according to what I’ve read), the tissue sample extracted from the lung mass is sent to a laboratory for testing. The results may be known shortly after the procedure, but it could take several days for the report to be delivered to the doctors. Once that happens, I’ll have a much clearer picture of what, if anything, will follow.

Okay, enough for the clinical language of medicine. My next post will be something very different. I don’t know what that will be, but it will be very different and won’t involve my physical health.

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Medical Journalist

I stayed home most of the day yesterday, expecting to get a call to schedule the P.E.T. scan and/or the biopsy, but I didn’t get the call. If I don’t hear anything by noon or thereabouts, I’ll call my doctor’s office to see what gives. Coincidentally, my annual visit with my cardiologist is scheduled for mid-afternoon today. I suppose I ought to tell him about the suspected malignancy.

Reaching the birth month of my sixty-fifth year is revealing more medical “crap” than I ever dreamed it would. Mostly little things that aren’t new but are annoying: a clogged sweat duct on my left foot that makes it painful to step “just so;” a skin rash on my scalp that itches like crazy (and is the reason for a visit to a dermatologist the day after my birthday); arthritic knuckles and elbows; stiff and arthritic knees; the list could go on. Adding lung cancer to it is not the icing I would have chosen  to put on the cake. But none of this crap would have been my choice, so there’s no compelling reason to complain except that I’m in the mood to do it.

I doubt I’ll write much today. I got up obscenely late, after 7:00, which for me is like sleeping in half the day. I feel like I’ve wasted time I could have spent in productive pursuits. Maybe I’ll continue my “medical journal” later. Or maybe I’ll put it off until the wee hours, as I am wont to do.

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