Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dead Dogs and Whiskey

I knew my friends were curious, so I devised a home brew do-it-yourself chemo regime just like my own real one. Everyone who tried it now raves about it and can't wait to get their own real cancer treatment someday.

NOTE: Although the best results are achieved if your test subject can somehow manage to catch the flu during the home made chemo trial, pretty realistic results are none the less achievable without having the flu.

First of all the subject will have to run a full marathon, preferably on a hot day. If your subject cannot run a marathon, any distance that will cause the subject to throw up and collapse at the finish will do. Physical exhaustion is the cornerstone of home-style chemo.

Next, to initiate depression, your subject should crawl home from the run and euthanize the pet dog. If no dog is available, a cat might do or perhaps a hamster or fish. Any treasured creature will do or even burning the mint vintage XKE Jag in the garage if no living things are about. The point is to induce massive depression somehow.

The final stage is to drink as much cheap whisky as quickly as possible after the run and the "pet regret" project. If not whisky, have the subject drink whatever liquor he or she can't stand going down, much less coming up again. Less liquor will be necessary if your subject has the flu and much more if he or she does not. The point is to induce a monumental hangover with the maximum amount of nausea.

I would love to hear your results of trying this with your friends and relatives. It has worked wonders with my crew. They all tried it with great results. None of them ask me anymore "How are your feeling today?” because they finally know.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Note: As background, this piece was written in response to directly observing an introductory "chemo class" for patients at a major cancer clinic.

I was in a room today with people whose nightmares had all come true. The haunted looks on their faces reminded me of the faces of the prisoners in photographs of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. The faces in the room were colorless, grainy, still and timeless--the faces of humans slouching to their bitter ends. Faces as passive as the wildebeest brought down by the cheetah--all struggle gone and resigned to being dinner...

These people were haunted by the ghosts of their former selves--ghosts that once had dreams, but the dreaming ghosts were now hidden behind dead eyes and bottled up behind lips that dared not speak in bodies tense with future pain.

All the family and friends in the world and all the material goodies on earth were beyond them now as they no longer lived in the land of those careless "immortals" who live their lives as if there would be no end. The people in the room had suddenly become mortal and could not go back to their fantasy lives of vanity, status and careless fun. The people in the room had no idea how to live life as mortal beings. It was all too new. Mortality had been roughly shoved in their gray faces by the uncaring clown of the universe--and painfully ground in like a cream pie full of broken glass and hot coals.

They had not yet realized that this--this--is what it is like to grow up. Bloodied and battered--pushed to the limit-- these poor faces did not imagine that they were being given the opportunity to finally be human--to not be judged or to judge themselves by their accomplishments or material wealth by arriving at a place beyond judgement where the core of their humanity resides.  They were being given the opportunity to teach the "immortals" still living in the fantasy world what it really means to be a man or a woman. Not by becoming some vision of perfection or bravery--not in the guise of a noble suffering saint, but by becoming a mortal human, stripped of all the trappings and vanities--naked in an uncaring universe and still able to create meaning, still able to give and still able to love... 

Thursday, April 12, 2012


My friend Doug, who is not a writer, but should be, visited me yesterday, and I told him about my recent experiences with pain. He told me that, as I writer, I should set down my thoughts and feelings before more time passes and I forget. Here are my thoughts and feelings.

The worst thing about pain is… I was about to say “the worst thing about pain is” and complete the statement by saying something else is worse than the pain itself. And that would be dead wrong! That would be to diminish the role of pain in being the worst thing about pain. Having recently experienced a "9" on the pain scale of 10, I will honor pain by saying that pain is the worst thing about pain.

However, the second worst thing about pain is certainly fear—fear that it will never end. Even though a nurse might say  “45 minutes and it’s done” or “just 10 minutes; hang in there.” 10 minutes is NOT 10 minutes and 45 minutes is NOT 45 minutes; any future time is an eternity away at a pain level of “9”. Time stops. The clock ceases to move in your brain, and you no longer believe in the linearity of time; you believe in “the eternal now” and that eternal now is Hell.

One of the definitions of Hell I remember from my theological education is “eternal separation from God.” I am not at liberty to speak of such a separation from the Deity, as I no longer presume to speculate about God, but I am competent to speak of the horror of being segregated from humanity in a prison of pain. If we are social animals, as we are indeed, the worst place just short of Hell must surely be (even for an introvert like me) separation from the human tribe.

No person, no matter how close, not even a spouse or a mother can ever understand a “9”, even if the spouse or mother has at one time herself experienced a nine. The human brain kindly protects us from having any exact memory of a “9”. So unless your significant other is also in the same pain at the same time, there is no one in the universe who can truly be with you on that painful plane of being. Alone...

Now, pain-free, engaged in the merciful process of forgetting the "9", I am haunted by the feeling that I have seen a ghost—and the ghost is me.