"Cow is giving kerosene, kid can't read at seventeen
The words he knows are all obscene, but it's alright
I will get by, I will get by, I will get by, I will survive."
-- Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter
I drove to Parma for my second day of chemo after a sleepless night spent jacked up on steroids and hell's fire burning in my gut.
I felt okay initially after arriving home last night. The feeling did not last. My innards began to slowly simmer. A progression of coughs, belches and hiccups caused paroxysms of pain. It felt as if my throat had been coated with lighter fluid, and each convulsion served as a source of ignition.
I switched from recliner to couch and back to the recliner trying to get comfortable. I looked in vain for "Lockup" on television. I thought that watching men in prison would make me feel better about myself.
As I got into the car for the drive this morning, rain fell in sheets. I had refused Mary Lou's offer to take me. I'm a man. I don't need any help. It was supposed to be an easy day with a couple hours of chemo and a bone scan. No big deal.
But as I pulled out of the driveway, my stomach convulsed. I paused the car at the end of the drive and leaned over the plastic bowl on the passenger seat that I had brought along for the ride. When nothing came up, I mustered what strength I possessed, pulled out into the street and drove off.
The trip to Parma was against rush-hour traffic, but with the rain falling hard in the early morning gloam, my eyes blurred by lack of sleep and my body suffering from the after-effects of deliberate poisoning, I realized long before I reached the highway that I had made a horrific choice, something akin to getting behind the wheel after consuming a quarter of Jack Daniels. Pure idiocy.
I managed to white-knuckle my way to Parma without killing myself or anyone else and got my radioactive injection for the bone scan. I had time before my 9 a.m. chemo appointment and, despite the napalm flames shooting down my throat, could not escape the basest of human urges: hunger.
Somewhere inside of me was a pathetic creature in need of food. I found the cafeteria, ordered an omelet, home fries and toast and, after a longish wait, tucked into a breakfast that I consumed with surprising gusto. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, I'll make it through the day. Maybe, just maybe, I'll live.
Styrofoam plate cleaned, I headed to the infusion center and took my corner seat. A few other patients were scattered about the room. Richard quickly hooked me up with an Emend pill and a bag of anti-nausea medication.
A woman walked in and sat in a recliner halfway across the room. We smiled at each other as we both settled in. I'm not sure why, but I pulled the bag of Twizzlers out of my Nike tote, walked across the room and offered her a piece.
"I haven’t had one of these in awhile," she said and took just one stick.
We made our introductions. Joanne was being treated for lung cancer, too. A nagging cough prompted her to quit smoking in January 2011. She was diagnosed with cancer a couple months later and had been undergoing chemo for the last 10 months. Despite the doctors' best efforts, the cancer refused to leave her body.
I'm guessing Joanne was in her early '60s. I didn't ask. She had wrapped a scarf around her head. Her normally mocha-brown skin was a strange shade of brown. She said she was trying hard to keep her life stress free, but that people in her life had made it difficult. She tried to remain philosophical.
"I'm blessed," she said. "I woke up this morning."
I reached out my hand, which she took and held for a few wordless seconds. A minute ago we were strangers. Now we were deeply connected by the exigencies of our disease and our abiding fear of death. We had a short cry together and I returned to my recliner, ready or not, to face the day.