Tag Archives: medicine

LOCKJAW: CHAPTER 30

 

It is an easy life to wake up every morning and to hate our jobs. It is an easy life to piss and moan while we drive to work. It is an easy life to hate our bosses and to begrudgingly accomplish a list of tasks set out before us. It is an easy life to be put upon, allowing the world and circumstances and fate to blow us this way or that way and to kick the ground and say, “If only my luck would change.”

It’s easy to be a victim.

Whether it’s a bad marriage or a job that is uninspiring or a disease that catches us off guard, it’s easy to slouch down, shut our eyes, and feel sorry for ourselves.

It is also very amazing how quickly our perspective will shift and change once these horrible responsibilities that have been “placed on our shoulders” are suddenly gone and missing. How desperately we would eat the scraps from the table we were previously dining at.

Sitting in My Yellow Chair, I think to myself that I would do near anything to have my job back. To have any job back. I would go back to the video store I worked at as a senior in high school, I would go back to the coffee shop I worked at as a junior, I would go back to the sandwich shop I worked at as a sophomore. Paperboy, garbage man, toll-booth attendant, just let me live. Let me stand in the sunshine and talk to someone. Let my cares be menial and pointless and let me eat turkey sandwiches for lunch. Let me leave at five and drive home in bumper to bumper traffic and give me my thoughts—reasonable, logical thoughts. Let me think of my wife as the woman I married and love dearly; let her be the object of my affection and desire and let me not see her as my caretaker any longer. Let me grow old and come to take care of my mother. Don’t let my mother stand by idly and watch me die, cradling her son in her arms as I shrivel away, fading further and further into The Black.

Give me Life. Give me Freedom. Give me Adventure. I want to sail. I want to scuba dive. I want to scream. I want to skydive. I want to camp, hike, and swim. I want to travel in an RV. I want to visit Nicaragua and Ireland. I want to live in the woods. I want to fire a gun. I want to make a movie. I want to write a book. I want to have a family, grow old, and die with no regrets. I want to learn to play guitar, cook, and perform sleight of hand magic tricks. I want to stand up in front of a large group of people and say, “THIS is my story. THIS is what happened to me. THIS is how I got through it.” I want to donate my time to something, someone, anyone. I want to donate my money to something, someone, anyone. I want to make a difference. I want to talk to a child with cancer and say, “You’re going to be OK.” I want to alter and inspire those around me. I want to effect change. When I die, I don’t want to say, “I wish I . . . . ” Instead I want to say, “I did all.” If I saw it, I took it. Life is a fruit tree and everything is waiting to be picked and gobbled up. Some fruit is higher than others but, with the proper motivation to climb, all is attainable.

All is attainable.

More than anything, though, when I come out the other side of this disease, and you believe me, mark my words, I will—when I come out the other side, I am going to be a different person. Baptized by fire, existence will not look down on me but I will look down on existence, and I will conquer it and I will own it and I will eat everything it has to offer.

When I can walk, I will run. When I can think, I will write. When I can move, I will create, accomplish, execute.

Until then . . . until then, I will sit here and I will hibernate and I will simply try to inspire myself.

Cancer has a very vicious duality to it. The one side, the first side, the more prominent side, is very sad and dark and depressing. It’s very aggressive. It has sharp teeth and it bites and it (literally) kills you and (figuratively) those around you. It attacks your mind, body and spirit. It chips away at you piece by piece and makes you hate yourself and your life and your existence. But then, there, on the obverse side, is the stranger side of Cancer; the bit that people rarely speak about and the bit that the public rarely sees. Cancer is inspiring and life changing. It will clear your mind. The world comes into focus. The path becomes clear; the path of movement and forward momentum; the plan of attack.

My mother looks at me and says, “What are you thinking about?” and I look up and say, “I just want to live,” and she says, “I know . . . you will,” and I say, “No . . . I mean . . . when this is over. I want to go—” I reach up and touch my jaw. Something feels Wrong. Off. Stiff.

I place my thumb under my jawbone and apply pressure and I rub my cheek and I try to open my mouth but suddenly my teeth are clamping down on each other with the tenacity of a bear trap and my mom says, “What are you doing?” and between pursed lips I say, “I . . . can’t open my mouth.”

And so, how do you respond to that? Someone has a seizure, call 911. Someone is turning yellow, put them in the sun. Your heart hurts? You’re probably having a heart attack. Your face is going limp? You’re the victim of a stroke. These are obvious decisions but . . . I just can’t open my mouth. My mom says, “Does it hurt?” and I say, “Uh . . . no,” and then we both sit in silence trying to figure out what to do in the least dramatic scene of all time.

I wave my mom over and lift up my hands and she grabs me and I stand up and I say, “Let’s go for a walk,” and, instead of going outside, we just manipulate ourselves in a great big circle around and around and around the inside of my house. I make seven laps before I’m completely winded and need to take a break.

In the kitchen I lean heavily on the counter, stick my fingers between my teeth, and try to pry my mouth open. It’s a scene directly out of a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Jade enters and says, “What are you doing?” and I say, “I can’t open my mouth,” and Jade says, “Why?” and I say, “I don’t know. I think I have lockjaw,” and Jade says, “Right . . . ” and I say, “Look at me! My jaw . . . is locked! I cannot open it! I have no key! How much more evidence do you need?!” and she steps forward and examines my face and says, “Hmmm. We could take you to the doctor?” and I say, “NO! No more doctors! No more IVs! No more hospital beds until I have to go back for the chemo. We’re figuring this out on our own. Who do we know? Can we Ask Jeeves?” and all of my words are coming out in chunky gusts and gasps.

My mom says, “Your aunt used to be a nurse,” and I say, “Yes! Absolutely! That’s right. Get her on the phone. Let’s solve this mystery!” and now my teeth are biting so hard into each other that it actually is starting to hurt and I’m getting so tired from standing up that I decide to go lie down on the couch, burying my face deep down into the crevices of the pillows.

I hear the phone click and my mom says, “Drink milk,” and I say, “And then what?” and she says, “I don’t know. I guess that’s it. Something about . . . blood and . . . I don’t know.”

Jade raises an eyebrow and shrugs and says, “You should probably get more calcium in your diet anyway,” and I say, “But of course,” and she pours me a tiny glass and I drink half of it, gag, drink the other half and sit down. Jade brings me another glass and I sip on it before, slowly, like oil on the Tin Woodman in Oz, my joints begin to loosen and I can stretch my jaw and talk again.

Cancer is, if nothing else, a very tragic adventure unlike any other that I’ve been on. Like a haunted house, it keeps you on your toes and it keeps you guessing and it makes you roll with the punches. Seizure! Swerve, block. Blood transfusion! Uppercut! Heart cancer, lung cancer! Pop-bang! “And now here comes his signature move: Lockjaw!”

Of all the things Cancer is, boring is not one of them.

I shut my eyes and wonder what tomorrow will bring.

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CHRISTMAS EVE: CHAPTER 27

 

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If the fifth floor of the hospital was a kind of relative paradise for chemo in-patients—big rooms, big beds, remote controls, specialty nurses—then the second floor was one step above a skid row methadone clinic.

 

A red-haired nurse who’s seen better days leads us out of the elevator and down a narrow hallway with, I kid you not, a flickering fluorescent light. The tiles in the hallway are cracked and breaking, green and white checkered, garbage cans are over flowing and puddles of water seem to be leaking out from the cracks in the walls. We pass a clock and I see that it’s just breaking 2:15 a.m. and is officially Christmas Eve.

 

My eyelids are getting heavy and my legs are feeling even heavier. I’m running on fumes, and when they lead me into the dark room, no one even bothers turning on a light. I lie down in bed, my wife covers me up, says something about coming back later, my eyes flicker, and she’s gone.

 

I wake up forty-five minutes later, lean over the side of the bed and puke into the garbage can, unsure of where the bathroom is. The cable connecting me to my IV, which they gave me in the E.R., cramps up and starts beeping. Nobody comes. I press the CALL button on my receiver but nobody comes. I press it again… and again . . . and again . . . but nobody comes. BEEP-BEEP-BEEP.

 

The thought of bubbles traveling down the tube into my veins doesn’t bother me so much as the actual noise of the blips. Each tone acts like an arrow through my skull. BEEP-BEEP-BEEP. It holds open my eyelids, slides a metal plate under my eyeball, shoves down, pops it out, disconnects my optic nerve with a hacksaw, and jams a white hot screwdriver into my brain.

 

I reach out into the darkness and push the machine as far away as I can, 3 or 4 feet. I push the CALL button again . . . and again . . . and again. Ten minutes pass. Fifteen minutes pass. Twenty minutes pass. I look around and see a phone just out of my reach but don’t know whom I’d actually ring.

 

Suddenly, in the hallway, I hear footsteps approaching. A shadow begins to grace my narrow vision through the doorframe. Finally. Finally. Finally.

 

A nurse with dark skin and purple scrubs approaches . . . and continues on . . . heading somewhere else. I cough into my hand and shout, “HEY! EXCUSE ME! UH . . . MISS?!” The footsteps stop and I hear the soles of her shoes turn on the tile before they begin to grow louder again. She turns into the room and, seeming unsure, says, “Hi, how are you?” and I say, “This machine, it’s . . . I don’t know what’s—” gag— “wrong with it and—” gag— “can I get some nausea medication? I’m—” gag— “I have cancer and I—” gag— “sorry . . . I just need something for my stomach and I don’t think this call button works,” and the nurse says, “I’ll see what I can do about the medication. Your call button should work fine. I’ll get you some ice chips,” and she turns to leave just as I lose control of my stomach and vomit more blood into the trashcan.

 

Twenty minutes later a man enters and takes my blood. I puke again. I roll onto my side. I mash my face into the pillow. I turn on my other side. I can’t sleep. The sloshing sickness in my stomach is listlessly rolling through my entire body. My brain feels like it’s bleeding. My toenails hurt. My bones hurt. I try to sleep but am wide awake, alone, cold. Where is my medicine? I start to gag again and my stomach feels like someone is twisting a knife into it. I slam my thumb into the CALL button three times in a row before shouting, “HELLO?!” Nothing.

 

Another man enters and says he needs to take my blood. I tell him someone was just here forty minutes ago. He says he doesn’t know about that even though I show him the Band-Aid and the hole. He takes blood from my other arm. I tell him I need a nurse and he says he’ll fetch someone. Twenty minutes later the nurse shows back up. It’s 3-something-a.m. at this point and I feel as though I’m about to begin hallucinating with exhaustion. I ask about my nausea medicine and she says that she spoke to the pharmacy and they said I’d need a doctor’s prescription first.

 

This is how hospitals work. You have stage 4 cancer. You’re skin and bones. You’re a grown man who weighs 130 pounds. You’ve been admitted to the E.R. for vomiting up blood. You have a track record of various ailments and, at 3:30 in the morning, nobody will give you medicine to stop you from throwing up more blood because the doctor, who is asleep, can’t sign off on a form.

 

The nurse, in all of her wisdom, brings me enough aspirin to tame a mild headache. This is tantamount to trying to fix the World Trade Center with Elmer’s Glue. I would kick her in the teeth if only I had the energy. She tells me she’s trying to get a hold of the physician and I say, “Isn’t he asleep?” and she says, “Yes but . . . uh . . . we’re trying to reach him . . . ” and I say, “OK . . . please hurry.” The nausea is growing in me like a weed, choking out my life and energy, taking over all my thoughts.

 

The Useless Nurse leaves and the machine starts to beep again and the first man enters and takes my blood again, claiming that he didn’t get enough vials for all the tests. I tell him that a second man was already here and that he should have quite enough between the two of them and he tells me he doesn’t know of a second man. He pokes me in my arm, takes more vials and leaves, fetching the nurse. She returns, adjusts the machine and says that there’s still no word from the doctor.

 

It’s 4:30. I sit up in bed and stare at my feet, thinking about how I’m not even halfway through this process yet. Wondering if this is how death looks. Wondering if these will be my final memories. Not this moment exactly . . . but a collection of moments just like it—hospitals, nurses, beeping, cleaning solution, needles, blood, vomit, and stiff hospital sheets, crunchy with starch and dried urine. I puke again and the blood seems to be retreating, being replaced by yellow bile. That’s a good sign, I think to myself. I lie back down, place my forearm over my face, and try to force myself to cry. It sounds lame but sometimes a good cry is all you need.

 

Instead of crying, I puke again. My stomach is a war zone filled with corpses.

 

I stand up and make my way to the dark bathroom, the fluid from the IV bag washing through me and cleansing my kidneys from all the poison I’ve taken in. I am a junkie, drugs coursing through my veins, ruining my life.

 

I pee, crawl back into bed, and watch the sky start to turn gray. The clock reads 5:45 and I still haven’t slept. Still no word from the pharmacy. Still no aspirin or ice chips. This place is getting a bad Yelp review fer sher.

 

At 6:15, the second man enters my room again and says he needs to draw my blood. He says they had enough blood but forgot to do one test. Beaten, broken, destroyed, I say nothing. I just stick out my thrice-stabbed arms and let him take as much as he wants. I turn on my side, pull my knees to my chest and wonder where my wife is, where my mother is, where Sue is.

 

I press the call button. Nothing.

 

At 7 a.m. the Useless Nurse shows up with more Aspirin. I swallow it and puke it up. She says she’s still waiting to hear from the doctor. I don’t say anything. She leaves.

 

At 8:50 my wife shows up and I am so happy and hopeless and helpless that I finally do cry. I am so alone without her. I tell her everything and she says, “What? WHAT? WHAT?” and when the first man enters to take my blood a fourth time because someone just called in one more test, Jade says, “No. You’re not taking his blood. Get out. Get out of here,” and the man says, “But we—”and Jade says, “That’s too bad. I’m sure you’ll figure something out. Leave.” And the man turns and walks away.

 

The Useless Nurse enters, and before she can speak, Jade says, “He needs his nausea medication,” and the nurse says, “I know, he—” and Jade says, “No. You don’t know. He’s in here because he’s puking up blood and you give him, sorry, aspirin? ASPIRIN? Where did you go to school? His call button doesn’t work? Where are we? What is this place? You think ice chips are going to help him? He can’t eat. Did you call the doctor?” and the nurse says, “I . . . left him a message . . . ” and Jade says, “Where’s the pharmacy? I’ll go talk to them,” and, twenty minutes later, my wife, not an employee of the medical field, returns with good news. She says that someone will bring me a bag right away—not a pill, but a bag of medication so I can’t throw it up.

 

At 10:15 a.m. we ask if we can go and we’re told that the doctor wants to see us first. At 11:30, we ask where the doctor is and they say he’s making his rounds but will definitely be here before noon. At 12:45 we ask how much longer he’ll be, and they say he’s on his lunch break but will absolutely probably be here directly after that at some point. At 1:15 Jade leaves to get herself lunch. At 2:30, he still hasn’t shown up but somebody tells us that he’s on the fifth floor. At 3:45 people stop showing up to our room. At 4:15, there is still no sign of anyone. At 5:15, a male nurse walks by in the hallway and my wife grabs him and says, “Where is Dr. Manfred?” and the nurse says, “He should be here shortly,” and Jade says, “Can we leave whenever we want?” and the nurse says, “Yes . . . I mean . . . we can’t force you to stay but   . . . a doctor should see you,” and Jade says, “You have 15 minutes to bring him here or we’re walking out this door.” At 5:30 Dr. Manfred shows up sporting an arm cast and says to me, “How you feeling?” I say, “Good.” He says, “Throwing up blood?” I say, “No. Not since last night.” He says, “Good. Call us if anything changes. You may leave.”

 

This is how hospitals work. Well-oiled machines of idiocy.

 

 

 

 

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MECHANICAL DONUT: CHAPTER 7

 

Hey, baby! Whether you’re here because you like the comedy or the train wreck, it’s Cancer Monday! And this week is a double whammy because you’re getting chapters 7 and 8 together! Oh, my goodness. What a deal.

So. If you’re all caught up and want to continue reading, please do! If you’re new here. WELCOME. This is a story about when I had cancer. Sometimes it’s happy. Sometimes it’s sad. Sometimes there is just fierce ambivalence to the force of life. Click here to jump to the beginning and start reading this tale of wonderful woe from the very top.

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For the past few days, I’ve been drinking a radioactive concoction called barium and trust me, there is neither anything berry or yum about it. Seventy-two hours ago, a small yellow package showed up at my front door postmarked from the hospital, asking that I mix this powder with water and drink deeply. How to describe it? So many competing tastes and textures. If I were being polite, I would say it has the consistency of semen swimming in powdered eggs (powdered lumps included) and tastes of Elmer’s glue with just a hint of mint.

So no, it’s not terrible but it is bad enough to make me plug my nose and gag while I try to chug it as quickly as possible lest flies mistake it for what it smells like and begin to lay eggs in it.

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The chemical drink, I’m told, causes my insides to “light up” and reveal any inconsistencies with a “normal, healthy human,” which, as far as I can tell, I am not. I’m not exactly sure what this procedure will be, but I assume they have some kind of machine that will take pictures of my insides; some kind of giant X-ray. I’m imagining lying on a bed and smiling; it’s school photos all over again. THEN I’m imagining going across the street to Denny’s because I saw that they’re featuring their seasonal pumpkin pancakes right now, and I feel like I deserve a little comfort food.

A male nurse with black hair and a soul patch approaches me with a gown and says, “OK, Mr. Brookbank, we’re going to get you in and out with your CAT scan. First, we’ll have you put this gown on and then we’ll get you all hooked up with your IV and blah blah blah.” Everything else he says turns into static. My eyes shift to my wife, who grimaces. I say, “Uh . . . OK . . . OK. Do you . . . do you have a restroom I can change in and, uh . . . have a panic attack?” and the male nurse with the soul patch says, “Yes, absolutely. Right this way.”

Inside the bathroom I change into the knee length, butt-revealing gown and stare at myself in the mirror; blue eyes filled with fear, wispy beard standing on end, skin the color of bad eggs. I don’t give myself a pep talk. I don’t say anything. I just stare at my reflection and try to imagine what it feels like to not be afraid of needles.

“Everyone is afraid of needles,” my wife says and I respond with, “No. Nobody likes needles. Not everyone is afraid of them. I don’t like the cold. I’m not afraid of it. You don’t like onions. You’re not afraid of them. My fear is deeply psychological and . . . it’s very . . . you wouldn’t understand. They’re pointy and silver and . . . They’re just so fucking pointy and silver!”

The Internet tells me the complex is called trypanophobia, an illness so foul that they actually had to give it a name no one could pronounce.

Soul Patch calls my name and escorts me into The Room. The door shuts and clicks behind me. In the middle of the floor is a giant Mechanical Donut, 6-and-a-half-feet high with a bed that rolls in and out of its delicious center. Next to the circular, steel pastry is a robotic arm that has a bag filled with clear liquid dangling from its “hand.” It is this clear liquid, I understand without being told, that will be shot into my veins to assist and activate the barium.

I ask Soul Patch how long he’s been doing this and he says, “Coupla’ years,” and I say, “I mean IVs. How long? Are you good at it?” and he says, “Oh. Yeah. Couple years. I’m good.”

Yeah, right. Your voice has the confidence of an eighth grader buying beer. Intern! Intern! Intern! And for the first time I find myself intentionally trying to focus on the pulsating lump of my lump, trying to distract myself from the needle.

I ask him what the CAT scan is for, and he noncommittally answers, “Oh, you’re a new patient, and we just like to do preliminary work on everyone prior to surgery,” and I say, “But specifically my pelvis, abdomen, and lungs?” and he says, “Uh . . . yeah . . . sort of everywhere, but yeah. There, mostly,” and I think, “Shame on you, kid. You’re not old enough to buy beer and that is a fake ID.” I think, “I know what you’re looking for. You’re looking to see if it’s spread anywhere. You’re looking to see if it’s growing. You want to know what to do if the surgery doesn’t work or if you’re too late.”

Soul Patch tells me to lie back and I do, reluctantly. He tells me to hold out my arm and I do, reluctantly. He holds my wrist and starts to slap around my forearm with two fingers. “How,” he asks, “are your veins?” and I tell him I don’t know. He asks if I’ve drunk any water recently and I say, “A little,” and he says, “Uh, OK. This is usually a bit easier if you’ve been drinking water but we’ll see what we can—” slap, slap—“do . . . . ”

My eyes are the size of dinner saucers, and my hands curl into fists of fear. I want to scream for Jade to bring me water, water, WATER!!! A cup, a glass, a gallon, a hose, anything. We’ll see what we can do??!! What does that mean?? I imagine him sliding the needle under my skin and into my vein, missing and probing, fishing, hooking, sticking, stabbing, wiggling, my wrinkled and hibernating vein exploding over and over, blood leaking out and running all over the floor. In my mind, Soul Patch keeps saying, “Oops, oops, sorry, again, once more, my bad,” until I finally just pass out.

“There ya go.” I look down, and it’s done. He tells me to lie back and keep my arm with the silvery, pointy needle sticking in it above my head. “Keep it pointed at the ceiling,” and I say, “The needle—is the needle still in my arm?” and he says, “Uh . . . no. It’s just a small rubber hose,” and I say, “Can I bend my arm without getting poked?” and he says, “Uh . . . yeah. I’ll be in this room over here and I’ll give you directions over the intercom.” I try to bend my arm and feel a little poke. Intern! Or maybe it was just the tape pulling at a hair. I don’t know. But I bet that needle is still in there. In my arm. In my vein.

Soul Patch’s voice comes over the intercom, and I turn my head to the left. He’s in a booth that looks like it’s being protected from radiation caused by nuclear fallout. I have to pause and wonder what sort of danger my body is currently in, what sort of rays I am about to endure. I try to remember what it was that The Fantastic Four were hit with when my train of thought is interrupted.

“Remember to keep your arm up—at the ceiling—like you have a question.” The only question I have is, When will this be over?

I have no idea how unanswerable that actually is.

The tech, from his bomb shelter, says, “And here comes the dye.” I watch the fluid come down the bag, through the tube, and into my arm, and then I’m pretty certain that I have legitimately shit my pants. Everything from my abdomen to my thighs is steaming hot.

The intercom comes back on. Soul Patch says, “The dye may cause you to feel like you’ve . . . wet . . . your pants,” and I shut my eyes and take a deep breath, trying not to focus on the warmth in my pelvis.

The bed jerks and slides into the donut. I open my eyes and read a sign taped to the top of the donut hole: DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY INTO THE LASER. A female robot voice comes through the donut, The Bakery God, and says, “Hold. Your. Breath.” And I do. And I shut my eyes. And I pray. Not to the bakery god, but to That Faceless And Eternal Being. I do not blame you. I do not understand. Help me.

“You. May. Breathe.” The robot says and the bed pulls me out of the donut sanctuary. “Doing OK?” Soul Patch asks, and I say, “Yeah,” but in my head I think, Not so great . . . . Did I shit my pants?

The bed jerks forward again and the robot tells me, “Hold. Your. Breath.”

What hangs in the balance of this test? What will these results reveal? The thought of this being the beginning of something bigger crosses my mind, and I try to push it away. For me, surgery is the end. There is a definitive period afterward, and I go home and go back to work and that’s it but . . . .

What if . . . .

What if the cancer has spread? Lungs? Stomach? Liver? Is this possible? Yes. Yes, it’s all definitely possible. But is it probable? I pause, trying to be logical and not emotional and yes, I realize, it is probable.

“You. May. Breathe.”

Will I die in six months? Could I die in six months? I could die in six months. If it has spread, what are my chances for survival? The Internet tells me that, depending on what kind of cancer I have, it could be anywhere between 30 percent to 90 percent survival rate, which is basically like saying, “Maybe you’ll die. Maybe you won’t,” and then shrugging unapologetically.

“Hold. Your. Breath.”

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Like all good hospitals, ours made us wait the entire weekend before giving us the (maybe) life-changing results of our test. Over those three days, every stomachache turned into stomach cancer, every pain in my finger exploded into bone cancer, every headache transformed into brain cancer. By the time they called back late Monday afternoon, I had diagnosed myself as a tumor wearing clothes.

“What are my results? My, uh, my test results?” and the lady on the phone says, “I’m not allowed to give out that information, sir,” and I say, “I know. I know you’re not. But it’s OK. It’s me, er, my body. It’s my body. It’s not a secret to me,” and she says, “I just really can’t, and actually, I just don’t have access to the information. The doctor would, however, like to speak with you.”

Outside, thunder claps and lightening strikes and the camera zooms dramatically into my face and I hear the soundtrack of my life play dun-DUN-DUUUUUUN!!!

I take a half-day off work the next day and drive back to Arcadia to visit with Dr. Honda, the friendly neighborhood urologist. When I arrive, all the receptionists know me by name and smile and welcome me in and everything is just too friendly. Jade and I sit down and she picks up the same copy of Better Homes she’d been reading previously and opens up to the page she had habitually dog-eared.

A woman calls my name and both my wife and I stand up. I start walking forward while Jade casually slides the magazine into her purse. The receptionist leads us back through a narrow corridor crowded by old people with various urinating issues. We take a seat in the room where I was told I had cancer and Jade says, “Is this where he told you?”

And I say, “Yes.”

And she says, “Where were you sitting?”

And I say, “Here.”

And she says, “And was he right here?”

And I say, “Yes.”

And she says, “Did you cry?”

And I say, “No. I said, ‘Rats.’”

She glances suspiciously around before sliding out her hot copy of Better Homes just before Dr. Honda knock-knock-enters. Jade shoves the magazine back in her purse like she’s just been caught trying to purchase extra-tiny condoms. The doctor shakes my hand, and I introduce him to my wife. He smiles and says, “Nice to meet you,” and takes a seat.

To his right he sets down a regular manila envelope with my name scratched onto the tab. Inside that envelope, I think, is everything. My future is just out of my reach.

He makes small talk with me and asks how my job is going, and I answer in short but courteous statements. He finally says, “Welp!” and grabs the folder and opens it on his lap and here comes The News.

“You have,” and he slides his finger down the page, turns it, examines the second page, “stage one cancer.”

I drop to my knees and tear my shirt and wail and scream and curse the Earth and the doctor says, “That’s . . . uh . . .that’s the kind we already knew you had,” and I immediately sit back on the paper-covered table and compose myself and say, “That’s great!”

Dr. Honda says, “It hasn’t spread. We’ll do the surgery and that should be it.”

YES!” We are going to (literally) cut this villain off at the pass and bury it alive. Goodnight, dickwad!

“Just out of curiosity,” I ask, “How high do the stages go?” and the doctor says, “Four. They go to four.”

 

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If you’re reading this with us weekly, thank you. The above chapters were such a bizarre place for us. Fear, uncertainty, anxiety. What is going to happen is a good question but what IS happening is maybe the better one.

Next week we’re going to get into sexy finances. That’s right, sweetheart. Chapter nine is about sperm banking. World’s most awkward excerpt below . . .

 

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The woman behind the desk hands me a cup and says, “Back through that door on the right. No lubrication. No spit,” and she looks directly at my wife and I say, “Oh . . . Ooooooh . . . .

We walk through the appropriate door and find ourselves in a room roughly the size of a hotel conference hall. Everything is white. Everything is sterile. The fluorescents buzz in the ceiling. On the walls: Georgia O’Keeffe.

Of course.

Sitting next to the door is a small table cluttered with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editions. Motivation. In the center of the room is a chair that can only be described as something you would get a root canal in. It’s black, leather, and constantly at a slight recline. I sit in it and assume that this specific posture has been scientifically proven to help nervous men climax in public places.

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Broken Bones over Broken Hearts

Thirty-three weeks ago I broke my oldest daughter’s arm.

I double bounced her on the trampoline and shot her straight into the cosmos with all of my weight, launching her into the crisp blue sky. When she came down, I heard a little pop noise and then she started to cry.

At first glance, there was nothing wrong with her arm. And it wasn’t until I grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her towards me to say, “What are you belly-aching about?” that I noticed her bone to be shaped like a crescent. Which is to say, her forearm had a very unnatural drape to it.

She was put in a cast for several months until we finally got it sawed off, exposing her healed, albeit pale and slightly atrophied, new arm.

And then you think to yourself, you kind of play the odds, because this is what we do – not as parents but as people. We kind of think like, “She broke her arm. Cool. Now that’s out of the way.”

Now that’s out of the way.

There’s this idea that, for some reason, statistically speaking, it probably won’t happen again, right? We see this kind of reasoning in Vegas all the time. “It landed on red three times in a row. It must land on black soon!” We’re all endowed with this logic that events of the past somehow affect the possibilities of these things recurring. We like to think that bad news somehow gives us a pass from more bad news for the foreseeable future.

And even as you read this and comprehend the reality of that statement, you still believe it to be true. There is this hope in us that continues to fight the hopelessness of everything going wrong always.

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And it is in this state of mind that I’m sitting on my porch at sunset, sipping hot coffee and trading tales with a friend of mine. His daughter and my two oldest are both on the trampoline. Bouncing. Being kids. Being stupid. Being stupid kids. I watch as Quinn crawls outside of the protective netting, squats down and then jumps into the grass. Perfect execution. I give it a 10. Or I would have.

Her palms hit the ground as she tries to land in some kind of cat pose – her big thing is pretending that she’s a cheetah. She likes to run around on her hands and feet, actually galloping through the house. She cleans herself by licking the back of her hands and she drinks milk from a saucer. I could realistically spend an entire separate essay speaking about whatever that is but I don’t want to get off topic.

The next 30 minutes all happen very fast.

I watch as Quinn’s head pops up. She starts to cry. Something in my stomach feels wrong but I don’t move. Jade says, “Please don’t tell me you broke your arm.” Quinn stands up and starts running to the porch – not on her hands and feet but just on her feet, her left arm sort of dangling at her side and looking a little funky. Not bad. Not weird. Well, sort of weird. But mostly just funky. I’m looking at it while she runs and I’m thinking, “This is not looking good,” and then my second thought is this. “Thankfully it’s not a broken arm because she just broke her other arm a few months ago.”

That’s my thought. That’s my logic. It couldn’t be a broken arm. Her other arm was just broken. These things don’t happen twice. That survivalist hope is flickering in me. Not it!

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Quinn runs up the porch step and heads to Jade, who says, “Which one hurts?” Quinn signals with her head – sort of nods towards her left arm. “This one,” and sticks her shoulder towards Jade.

I look at Curtis, sitting next to me, and raise one eyebrow that I’m sure he reads as, “Kids, man. They’re always falling into pits and getting hurt, ruining my nice coffee.”

Jade begins to roll up Quinn’s sleeve, one, two, three times. She rolls it all the way to the elbow and I breathe a little sigh of relief because her arm actually is fine and I kind of was starting to worry that this was going to– Jade moves Quinn’s arm slightly and my angle changes.

It’s funny how a new perspective on reality can shift your world.

Her arm is not all right. Nobody would ever describe that arm as all right. There is something fundamentally wrong with that arm. It is shaped like the letter U.

It’s broken. This thing has been snapped like a dried twig.

I put my coffee down and stand up. “Thanks for bringing over pizza, guys. I really wish we could eat more but it looks like we need to mosey towards the hospital.”

I grab the car keys, throw Quinn in the front seat with Jade and back out of the driveway and, insurance and the American healthcare system being what it is, instead of driving to the hospital four blocks from our house, we floor the silver bullet to ninety and gun the twenty minutes on the freeway to the closest Kaiser Permenente.

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As I glide the mini-van back and forth between lanes, Quinn whimpers softly next to me. “Are they going to give me a shot?” I look over and see her forearm bent at ninety degrees and shiver. “Yeah, Quinn. They’re probably going to give you a shot but you know what? It’s going to make you feel a lot better. It will take the pain away from your arm.”

She sniffles a couple times and then gets quiet. Jade asks her what she’s thinking about. Quinn takes a moment to collect her thoughts and then yawns like she’s bored. Super lackadaisically she says, “You know what? My arm is actually feeling pretty good. I don’t think it’s broken anymore. We can probably just go home. We don’t have to go to the hospital.”

I look over and see that ragged skin bag holding the broken fragments of bone. “You know what, Quinn? Maybe it would be best to just let a doctor take a look. You’re probably right – it’s probably fine. But just in case, yeah?”

She sighs, resigned, and then falls to sleep, probably in a state of shock.

My heart breaks for her. There is a feeling of mad urgency to our movements. Urgency that must be thought through and defined. Every move must happen quickly. But we must be smart about it. Cooler heads will prevail. I can do nothing. I can just drive. I can just tell her it will be okay. I can take her to the hospital. I can do my part.

At the hospital we enter Urgent Care and find a line of eight people waiting to speak with the receptionist. Quinn is whimpering. Everyone turns around. A man with an eye patch at the front of the line says, “Is she, uh, okay?” and Jade says, “No. Her arm is broken,” and the man says, “Come on up here, lady. You can come on up here,” and everyone in line nods his or her head.

Thank you, humans. May good things come back to you.

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A receptionist named Flora says, “Next,” and we approach. She takes our name and information and tells us there is about an hour’s wait. Jade says, “This five year old has a broken arm and she has to just sit with it for an hour?” The woman shrugs. “I just work here.”

I ask, “Can we take her to the Emergency Room?”

Flora, “Yes.”

Me, “How much will it cost?”

Flora, “I don’t know.”

Me, “Will the wait be under an hour?”

Flora, “I don’t know.”

Me, “Do you have any pain medication she can take if we wait?”

Flora, “I’m not a doctor.”

Me, “Yes, I can see that. But can I speak with someone about some Advil or Tylenol or just a hammer we can bash her in the face with to knock her out?”

Flora, “You can speak to a nurse in about an hour.”

There is nothing I can do. There is only logic. Cooler heads prevail. Make the best decision with the circumstances provided.

We walk into the waiting room and I say, “Jade, do you have any cash on you?” and she says, “No. Why?” and I say, “Because I’ll just pay the person whose first in line. I’ll slip em a hundred bucks – that’s someone’s co-pay – we’ll slide in first.”

Jade says, “I don’t have any cash,” and I say, “Me neither. Plan B.”

We sit down and stare at Survivor on the tube.

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Forty minutes later they call our name. I stand up and fireman carry Quinn through the door. In Room 9 I set her down on the bed, careful not to disturb the broken 2×2 that is her arm.

Everything goes fuzzy for me – we’ve been back from Africa for less than 48 hours and my brain is still eleven hours ahead. I can feel myself falling in and out of reality – my vision keeps going black – someone is standing in the room with us. “Time for an IV.”

A thin woman with straight black hair tells us to lay Quinn on her back. Quinn says, “What’s an IV?” and I say, “It’s one shot that they give you so that they don’t have to give you anymore. Does that sound like a good thing?” and Quinn quickly does the math in her head. “I guess so.”

The woman says, “Okay, so let’s have you say your ABCs and by the time you’re done, I’ll be done too. Sound good?” and Quinn nods as a tear rolls down her cheek. Jade takes her face in her hands and begins to run her thumbs along the corners of her mouth. I put my hand on Quinn’s chest and my other hand on her elbow, readying myself to restrain her when she kicks against the IV.

I would take your place if I could.

The nurse asks, “Are you ready?” and Quinn says, “A. B. C. D. E. F. Gee…”

I watch the needle slide in and I watch Quinn’s eyes turn into glass plates and I listen to her voice rise several octaves and I listen to the alphabet begin to tumble out of her mouth as she races to the end, knowing that it will all be over once she hits Z. “HIJKLMNOP!”

“Slow down, Quinn. Slow down.” I hate needles and I hate IVs and my stomach is running and rolling and my mind is wheezing and my hands are sweating. Just being this close to needles sends me into this very anxiety filled place. Be cool. Be cool. Show no fear. Stare at Quinn. Be cool. Be strong. You are a source of courage. Mother and Father are the name of God on the lips of children.

QRSTUVWXYZ! Take it out! Take it out! Take it out! It’s done! Take it out!” Tears are racing down her face as she stares at the ceiling without blinking. “Take it out!”

I look at the needle and see the nurse pushing and pulling it, sliding it left and right, fishing around inside her arm. “The, uh, the vein keeps moving on me – keeps trying to get away. Try the alphabet one more time…”

ABCDEFGHIJ-J-J-J-J–

“Okay–nope.” Still fishing. The needle is making me sick. I hate needles. I can’t even look at them sitting on a table without feeling like my soul is twisting up inside. Tears are streaming down Quinn’s face and her mouth is stuck in a grimace of letters, “XYZXYZXYZ!”

“We almost got it. You’re doing really good. Could you give me the alphabet just one more time?”

AYEbeeCEEdeeEEefGEEEEEEEEEEE!”

“Alright, I have it.” The nurse pulls out the needle and tapes it and stands up as Quinn says, “Zeeeeeeeee. Zeeeeeeee. Zeeeeeee,” and then falls asleep before the nurse has left the room.

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I ask someone if there is a coffee station around and they say, “No.”

I slap myself around a little and pet Quinn’s hand while she sleeps. A doctor enters and says that he’s sorry about the wait but he’s ready if we are. We nod and a nurse inserts morphine into the IV while Quinn sleeps. Halfway through the syringe Quinn wakes up and sees a woman with a thing that looks like a shot poised at her arm and lashes back, “NO MORE SHOTS!”

“Sure, sure. Right. No more shots. There is no needle here.”

The nurse leaves and the doctor steps up. He’s a good looking Ken-doll type. Rippling muscles, beautiful face. Blond hair. A doctor. Lots of money. Has probably never broken his daughter’s arm double bouncing her on a trampoline. I look over at Jade just as she finishes scribbling her number onto some scrap paper. She hands it to him and mouths, “Call me,” and then winks.

Doctor Ken says, “Alright, dad. Let’s get her sitting on your lap and then you’re going to… I don’t want to say restrain… but it’s what I mean. You’re gonna want to make sure she doesn’t run anywhere.”

Jade says, “Is the morphine going to help?” and Doctor Ken says, “Uh… a little.”

I would take your place if I could. I wouldn’t want to. But I would do it.

He gently picks up Quinn’s mangled wing in his massive hands and feels it gently – touches it here and there. Tests it. Finds the sour spots. He says, “Do you know any songs?” and Quinn says, “I know uh, My Favorite Things,” and the doctor says, “I’d love to hear you sing it to me.”

And next is the moment wherein I realize two things. The first is that not much has changed in the last 100 years of medical science as far as bone-setting goes. The second is that I will never hear My Favorite Things the same again.

Quinn starts singing in a perfect voice, “Whiskers on kittens and warm woolen mittens!” and then Doctor Ken pushes the heel of one hand against the top of the break and the heel of his other hand against the back side of the break and I watch as his muscles strain under his shirt and his face distorts into a knot that looks like he’s trying to either pick up a heavy weight or fire out a huge turd.

Quinn begins to scream.

I’m sorry.

She doesn’t yell. She doesn’t shout. She doesn’t holler. She screams. And the worst part is that she does it while she continues to sing.

Bright colored packages! Wrapped up in AAAAHHHH!!! Wrapped up in AHHH ribbons! AAAAAAAHHHHHH! AAAAHHH!! STOP! STOP! THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS! AAAAHHHH! IT HURTS! IT HURTS! WHEN THE DOG BITES! WHEN THE BEE STINGS! PLEASE STOP! YOU’RE HURTING ME! IT HURTS A LOT! WHEN I’M FEELING SAD! PLEASE STOP! I WILL SIMPLY REMEMBER AHHHHHHH! MY FAVORITE THINGS! AHHHHHH! AND THEN I DON’T FEEL AAAHHHHHHH! SO BAD!

The doctor releases his pressure and the assistant steps in and wraps her arms in gauze that hardens into a plaster cast.

“Is that it?”

“Yeah, that’s it. Pick up some medicine from the pharmacy. Get rid of your trampoline.”

We go home and eat the cold leftover pizza. We go home and I pick up my old coffee, a fly drowned and floating on the surface. I carry Quinn to bed and set her down between Jade and I.

She says, “Sing me a song.”

And without looking at each other, Jade and I both begin to sing an off-key duet of My Favorite Things as she drifts to sleep.

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But I know this is not the end. I know this is not the last time. I know that she will spend her life being hurt and hurting. I know she will fall down and scratch her knee and cut her arm and maybe even break more bones. And I know Jade and I will be there to kiss them and bandage them and even take them to the hospital when it is necessary.

But it is the wounds that I can’t help heal that scare me. It is the broken hearts and the tumors of the soul that form when no one is watching. It is the wounds that cannot be healed with medicine. It is the day-to-day hopelessness that creeps into people that I fear for my daughter.

Someday she’ll come to me with a broken heart and what will I say? Someday she’ll come to me and say that she doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life and what will I say? Someday she’ll come to me and ask me hurting questions that I don’t have the answers to. Why did this happen? Why did that happen? It hurts me and I don’t know what to do. Why did my husband get cancer? Why did my child die?

I don’t know, Quinn. Life isn’t always fair.

But I’ll take broken bones over broken hearts everyday.

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