Chapter One ( Is that a lump in your throat of are you just glad to see me? )
You know the feeling when you are about to jump into a lake from a rope or tree?
That feeling when the lumbering 737 starts down the runway and...just...gets...off...the...ground?
The feeling down deep in your belly...not of fear or apprehension but more like...waiting?
When I got The Call from Doctor Nelson confirming a malignancy in my throat, I awaited...what?! A crashing crescendo?....Horns blaring like an announcement of royalty? No, what I got was the sound of all that extra stuff leaving my head. No horns...No crashing cymbals...I GOT NOTHING...NOTHING BUT RELIEF! Silence...sound proof room type...total focus of senses.
The apprehension is the worse...its what I did to myself with my mind.
I remember just being... watching my family and friends talk to me in the full spectrum of extremes. From "Let me do that for you"...total caregivers, to " How can you do this to us"...kinda selfish...to "You are so strong...What a warrior". I had initially adopted these viewpoints of myself, trying each of them out and more than once. Maybe I was adapting to the terminal prognosis? My ex-wife even slurred out that I had a supposed illness...The role playing that goes on subconsciously by each of us? mmmmm....
If your fear based you live fear...If your love based, you live love
How automatic we all are...
In writing this rant I do not intend to instill fear, remorse or sorrow...I only am attempting to have you taste the description of this event...fresh. I also am attempting to get you to "try it on", "wear it"...a vicarious experience..? I guess we will see...
I was amazed at the utensils that were brought out for my preliminary biopsy and subsequent visits.
I have looked for a picture of the biopsy tool but could not find it... This thing had pliers handles, extra hinged joint in the middle and a melon baller type of jaw setup....something Salvador Dali could have devised... it looked sorta like the one in the middle.
Doctor Nelson sat me in a modified dentist chair that had large flaps sticking up to keep your head from moving side to side. This scared me pretty bad. He kept his right hand behind his back and I had a surge of almost panic...I mean WHAT could be back there? He smiled and slowly pulled his hand out from behind his back and held out a hypodermic needle.
Do you remember the scene in Raiders of the Lost Arc when the Nazi stooge walks into the tent to interrogate Marion? He steps in, removes this Thing from his pocket, all the while the music is building, building...the horns cut in, the tension is very great...and he assembles a coat hanger. The look on Marion's face was one of humor and relief...Remember? Well it was sort of like that. I looked at the articulated throat gouging thingy and then at the simple syringe...back to the thingy...syringe...and started laughing...
Mr. Nelson was as gentle as a man could be while removing tissue from the throat of another man...he talked his way through the procedure..."First I will numb your left tonsil" he said. I opened my eyes to have some sense of what was happening to me and saw the needle already at my lips. Glancing up I saw with shock my own reflection...But when I looked closer it made me laugh...I noticed an extra eyeball about where my nose should be...He was wearing one of those old fashioned silver discs with a hole to peer through. ( A Peels? Peals? )
I never felt the needle but I did start coughing up the Novocain that ran down my throat. He asked if it hurt at all and I could only shake my head from side to side and then only very little and mutter a distorted nugh uh. He told me "Now I will take a small sample of your tonsil " And again I watched the other tool disappear from view down my throat...only this time I could feel a snapping pressure and the sound of carrots crunching away...
The realization hit me that I did NOT like this...at all, and I suddenly had to pee. He had to test my gag reflexes to see if there was any nerve damage from the tumor. So using a tongue depressor and some long sticks he started poking my nerve areas and I was humiliated... Poke, GAG, apology...Poke, GAG, apology... The noises that issued from my mouth were reminiscent of Regan barking at the priests in The Exorcist... I was reassured that it was ok because even though it might be embarrassing it was good news. I guess about as good as you can get in a situation like this.
Next came the chemical to cauterize the biopsy...... while the Doctor applied it he was softly explaining that if it would not cauterize the wound then I most likely had cancer. I found an odd sense of peace while at the same time being absolutely terrified. Like reading The Shining...I could feel the terror Danny felt while in the hallway of the Overlook. Knowing there were things behind the doors and that something bad was going to happen. However, I could just shut the book and set it aside when it became too much, but this was a mirror image of that kind of fear. I knew it was all real and I was terrified but could not shut this book and maybe come back to it later...there was no getting around it. Maybe like The Never Ending Story???
Chapter One and 1/2 ( Sorry!...wrong number )
RRRiinngg!!, RRRiiinnngg!!. Hello?.....Yes this is Doctor Nelson calling, is this Ron? Yes it is, I replied...Well Ron I have to tell you that the results came back this morning and it has been confirmed as squamous cell carcinoma. I also have to tell you that it is very aggressive and that the average survival time is 6 months or less...you should really prepare your personal business...
OOF! Punch to the stomach...
Chapter Two ( Ah! I see you have the machine that goes ping! )
Lets see...OH Yeah...The Call from Doctor Nelson...then the trip down to Ann Arbor. Well this 3 hour trip was my gallows march. I mean...going to a distant enigmatic building full of pain, strange looking tools and the machine that goes PING!.
I remember walking in and being taken aback at the sheer immensity of U of M...the smell, hustle and bustle and I did notice two red pillars marking a side hallway.
I was was in a large chair that moved to any position like a flight simulator in the Air Force...knees up to chest then straight out...then, neck back, mouth open and inspection time!... A room full of strangers all asking politely, one at a time, if they could have your permission to shove a latex covered digit down your throat? What do you say to that? YES...of course...no problem.... Well!?? "I am dying of course" I say to myself... We all are....after all life is a disease with a poor prognosis...I just happen to be going a bit quicker than you...
I remember telling one particularly nervous one...What's the magic word?...Gallows humor... You can tell the new MDs from the weathered ones....the new ones blanched, looked around and, not finding help from the sidelines, smiled and nervously continued on. The experienced ones give you the look of a captive and protected yet gentle listener. Understanding your plight yet not allowing it to affect them...like in the movies.
My Chief Surgeon would merely talk and while talking toss statements back into the herd of waiting MD's. Each of them paying attention to her every word and yet casting glances around at the other herd members...This was hierarchical order giving in action...never mind it being Matriarchal too...it just seemed to flow.
A female was assigned to remove the flap of skin, tissue and veins from my left arm and described the resulting scar as a "cute little Barney" tee hee...Jeeeezzuusss. Another couple were assigned to directly assist Carol in the opening of my face, cutting of my mandible, and so on. The doctor opening my face described the procedure and told me why they would be taking so much tissue when the tumor is not that large. "You gotta go 3 centimeters away from the tumor itself and get into the good tissue....you gotta be sure". Well it added up to a lot of tissue.
Chapter Two 1/2 ( Dark Dream)
I opened my eyes after hearing the noise. The sound of a sheet of plastic being slit with a knife, a hissing sound with a Doppler effect. Starting with a higher pitch and receding to a lower pitch. I knew almost immediately that I was dreaming but I could not wake myself. I was on a steel table, a prep table from a morgue, and was lying on my right side, shivering. The room was cement, echoing and cold...
Again the sound of rendering plastic and I saw a flash of purple light on chrome. Focusing on the chrome I saw it was a pitch fork and it was coming from my abdomen. I was horrified at the sight of the chrome coming out of me. I knew that there were several people around in the shadows and that the purple light came from above me. I could see the outlines of the others in surgery garb, all were wearing masks. The one stabbing me had on rubber gloves and his sleeves were tucked into the gloves. I can deal with the pain I thought but not the constant numbing cold. The Person with the fork came towards me again and I tried to scream but could not. The terror had choked me...I woke up crawling across my bed.
The next morning I called my Doctor. Hello Carol?....I want to know if I will be cold?...I don't want to be cold. "The room itself is kept quite cool but I promise you that you will be warm...I will make sure of it." she assured me.
Chapter Three ( Room C)
Good Morning Mr. Smith...if you will just take this paperwork with you down the hall and turn right at the red pillars, proceed through the double doors and wait in room 'C'...thanks you soooo much. OK...I muttered.
I had just spent the night in a hotel that is built into U of M and had slept surprisingly well considering the upcoming drama . I awoke at about 6 am and hopped into the shower. I woke my best friend and my girl friend. After showers we walked to Room C and grabbed a chair. CNN was on as a nice background distraction. I picked up a Newsweek and read the major story about how anesthetics can fail and people are awake during surgery..!! Yikes!! From this article I read that people appear to be under but are in fact totally aware of where they are and the physical sensations accompanying surgery. Mr. Ron Smith...Mr. Ron Smith....please come to the counter. I walk to the counter and am told to go through the door and meet up with my Anesthesiologist. I immediately voice my concern about 'surfacing' during surgery...he tells me not to worry he will take good care of me.
I am lead to a bed and strip off my clothes putting them into a plastic bag. I had read and been told the odds of surviving the cancer the surgery and all was not good. Reoccurrence was very high. I hoped my clothes would not be wrinkled when I needed to put them back on. Its odd to notice what you concern yourself with when facing the termination of your life.
A nurse inserted an IV into the back of my right hand and taped it to my arm. " your mouth will go very dry in a few moments" she said. "This is so I won't drool during surgery " I tried to say, but my tongue was already stuck to the roof of my mouth. My friend sat around and talked to me but I find it impossible to recall our conversation. I do remember feeling OK because he was there with me. A nurse came to the bed and said it was time to go, I said goodbye to my buddy and the lights went out.
Chapter Four (The Angel angle / contemporary spirituality)
Ron?...Mr. Smith?... "He should be awake by now" a voice said. I lie still and feel how warm I am and thank Carol for not misleading me. Someone wiggled my toes and said are you with us Mr. Smith?. MMMMM...I feel a thought well up inside me and a realization that I could feel another presence in the O.R. besides the surgical team and myself. Again, the wiggling of my toes and the gentle prodding for me to open my eyes.
I hesitated opening my eyes like a boy who is dared to open his eyes in the bathtub. But, I pushed on through a weariness that came from the relief of having lived, and opened my eyes. I saw 4-5 medical staff standing nearby, some facing me and some busy with cleaning up or something. I also saw 2-3 blue shimmering blobs near the staff. One was near the foot of my bed with Carol and another MD. The others where mixed with the rest of the staff. I motioned for a piece of paper and I wrote that I could see Angels or something beside them. (I still have that piece of paper) My Doctor said she felt the presence of something on occasion so she believed me. I was wheeled out to the hallway and to the elevator, seeing more blue blobs spaced in the passing clusters of people I felt good but remember feeling terribly sad for the rooms that had NO blobs. I remember feeling like I could hear them talking to me it sounded like a sighing wind. Sit with your eyes closed while you sit under white pines on a fall night...something like that.
Chapter 5 (you could hear a pin drop)
Well the world needed a break from my nasal tone and I needed a rest.
Chapter (The scent of pain)
Bleach, Lemons, Ammonia
Chapter (The sound of dripping you hear is NOT Maxwell House! )
(The Crow angle / Native American)