Trouble loomed as I walked upstairs to get dressed for the third and final day of my first round of chemo.
My mind and body had begun to betray me after another sleepless night fed by nausea and insomnia. I needed help in a big way. Mary Lou agreed to take me to Parma.
Killing myself with cigarettes is one thing. Causing fatal accidents on I-480 is quite another.
I don't like riding in cars much. I'm a control freak. I drive. I let Mary Lou drive only a couple hours at most on long trips, which is silly. Not only is she an excellent driver, she once had her pilot’s license. Flying a plane obviously requires much more skill and attention to detail than driving a car.
Yet the trip to Parma made me want to scream. Did this woman not know how to properly drive a car? Sleep deprivation had driven me to the edge. I felt surly and mean and didn’t care.
We arrived about a half-hour late. My recliner in the corner had been taken and I settled for one of two empty seats across the room. I squeezed Joanne's hand when I walked by, but we didn't talk.
Cindi served as my nurse du jour while Richard attended to other patients. I told Mary Lou yesterday that I'd developed a man crush on Richard because of how well he had taken care of me the first two days.
All of this led me to contemplate what it must be like to work with those who are extremely sick and, in many cases, dying. I guess that a certain distance must be maintained with their patients, that emotional firewalls must be built to get through one day and return for the next.
Mary Lou sat with me for a bit and then left for work. She would be returning after my afternoon brain MRI to take me home. The second two days of my chemo routine are much shorter than Day 1, which takes nine or 10 hours. I receive just the smallish bag of etoposide, saline and some anti-nausea medication through my IV on Days 2 and 3.
My mind calmed as I settled into my recliner. I wrote a bit, listened to one of my favorite albums (Green Day's "American Idiot") and read a few pages of Copperfield.
I also got a call from an unfamiliar prefix at The Plain Dealer on my cell. It was one of the big bosses. He said everything I had hoped to hear: The paper was ready to help me and my family in any way possible. I asked if the paper might let me chronicle this adventure. We agreed to talk the next day in the office.
Cindi unhooked me from my IV and released me to the world. I had just enough time before my MRI to bolt down a greasy grilled ham-cheese-tomato sandwich. I took a few sips of Italian wedding soup, one of my favorites, but found it too irritating to swallow.
Dr. Verma called for the brain MRI to determine whether those nasty small-cell bastards had marched northward from my lung. (To that point, I'd had an X-ray, two MRIs, a needle biopsy, three CAT scans, a PET-scan, a bone scan and probably a couple others tests I had forgotten. If the unexamined life is not worth living, I've got a lot of living to do.)
After pushing some old people out of the way at the radiology department check-in desk (I have a considerable size advantage over most elderly folks), I made it to the front of the line. I filled out the obligatory questionnaire and headed back into the bowels of the operation to don an ultra-fashionable hospital gown and wait my turn.
I shuffled to the changing room, got "dressed" and walked back to the waiting area situated at the epicenter of the various testing rooms. Nearly all of the seats were taken by people in street clothes apparently not awaiting for tests. My mood darkened again.
I muttered, somewhat quietly, I thought, that the place "looked like a fucking bus station waiting room" and braced myself to just stand there until my name was called. In my present mood, I could not muster the will to ask someone to move the hell over so some poor schmuck with lung cancer could sit down. There are limits to my abilities, after all.
But an attractive younger woman reading a Kindle must have heard my profane outburst. She looked up at me, shifted just a bit to her left, and offered me a seat next to her. Embarrassed, I thanked her and sat down. Good to know that people can be kind to idiots, too.
We talked a bit about her Kindle. She then looked at me and said: "If this is a bus station waiting room, maybe this is what purgatory looks like."
That made me chuckle.
The MRI tech eventually called my name. She explained that she’d be doing 20 minutes worth of scans, would then pull me out, inject a radioactive solution into me, and do 10 more minutes of scans.
For the uninitiated, the narrow, tube-like confines of an MRI machine can be scary, especially if you are claustrophobic like me. You wear ear plugs to shield your ears from the fearsome noises the machine makes as its magnets whirl and do their magic.
The first 20 minutes flew by. I think I might have even dozed off. As she pulled me out and injected the solution, we talked a bit about why I was there. She said she had quit smoking years ago, yet her last full pack of cigarettes remained in her freezer. She recently considered throwing it out.
"But then I think, I better not," she said.
Like most former smokers, she still dreams of cigarettes. Her decision to quit smoking came at age 35, when the choice became cigarettes or birth-control pills. She chose sex. Good choice.
The small kindness of the woman in the waiting area and the time the busy technician spent talking to me lightened my mood again. Dressed again, I waited in a quiet area with Copperfield and my iPod for Mary Lou to fetch me. She eventually drove me home without complaint or incident.
I received a call late in the afternoon from Dr. Verma with my MRI results. The bad news? I have a chronic case of sinusitis. The good news? I'm virtually brainless, but what gray matter resides in my thick skull is cancer free.