So, yesterday was “Black Wednesday” – the day I spend twelve hours at the Day Hospital at USC getting seven or eight drugs, fluids and poisons shoved into my body and as you can probably imagine… Boy, what a treat that is.
Since the near death experience of last month, my wife will only leave my side if someone pulls a fire alarm. At which point her natural survival instincts kick in and she runs screaming out of the room, stopping only to wish me a quick “Good Luck” and “Godspeed.” She did seem happy to see me stumble out into the parking lot twenty minutes later, dragging a mangled IV pole and she promptly rewarded my efforts with an enthusiastic “Way to go Tiger” and a spirited pat on the ass.
Needless to say, “Black Wednesday” is not exactly a party in a box. You’re never far from remembering the reason you’re there and the gravity of the situation that lies before you. And should you happen to forget, a quick look at the patient in the bed next to you will bring it all back home.
With twelve hours to kill, I took a couple of magazines and a book by one of my favorite writers – Larry Doyle. He’s a journalist, novelist and screenwriter that I find incredibly smart and funny. I know him a little, in that internet way that makes you feel you know people that you really don’t. We are both on a message board for screenwriters and occasionally comment on each other’s posts or PM each other.
Anyway, his latest book is a collection of essays that he has published in Esquire, The New Yorker, etc. called “Deliriously Happy: And Other Bad Thoughts.” It’s a book culling together his short essays on various topics. I figured it would be easily digestible between IV infusions. Perfect chemo reading.
They are all funny, but somewhere about hour seven into my day, I started reading one called “May We Tell You Our Specials This Evening.” Basically a commentary on the way chefs are totally pushing the boundaries of ingredients and the often elaborate descriptions there of – in a desperate attempt to make their dishes stand out in a crowd.
Anyway, I was doing fine until I hit this paragraph:
Our special soup tonight is Georgian alligator turtle, prepared and presented in its own shell. This soup is served cold and slimy, and, in the traditional manner, with the head and legs attached. We recommend that you not touch the head, as it can snap your finger clean off before you can say, “Hey, this turtle is still alive.”
Well, I lost it. Uncontrollable laughter. My wife and daughter, who had come down to relieve her Mother for lunch, wanted to hear it. So I tried to read it to them. And then I really lost it. My voice got louder and I was sputtering out the words so that no one could understand a thing I was saying, but I kept on until I got to this section:
And, finally, tonight we are offering a very special entrée that has been the subject of much debate in the kitchen. It is roast loin of Oliver, a pig that our chef has raised since infancy. Oliver was the runt in a litter of nine, and was, as you can see in this picture, bottle-fed by the chef as a young boy. Oliver grew strong and proud and was soon beating his siblings in their rutting games. Extremely smart, Oliver has thrice saved our chef from fires caused by careless smoking. However, in his latter years Oliver has grown bitter and incontinent, and just yesterday he ate the chef’s brand-new cell phone.
I was crying I was laughing so hard. Two Nurses rushed in not sure whether they were coming to revive me, or call Security. I apologized to my wife and daughter and told them I would stop and that’s when my daughter said: “No, Dad, keep reading. We can’t understand a word you’re saying, but it’s so good to hear you laugh like this again.”
And that’s when it hit me. Cancer is a disease that strikes more than one victim. Oh sure, it may reside in “my” body, but the side effects extend much further. They ripple out to family and friends, touching them in ways known and unknown. They see how the disease changes you, and it in turn – changes them in some way. Glimpses of normal, become harder and harder to catch.
I guess my daughter caught a glimpse of normal and wanted to hold on to it for as long as she could.
I hate it that what I am going through is causing the ones I love even a moment of fear or hardship. And living with that knowledge is a pain far greater than anything this disease does to ravage my body.
But for ten minutes yesterday that all went away. My gratitude goes out to Larry for bringing a desperately needed moment of laughter into one of the more desperate places on earth. The Day Hospital at the Norris Cancer Center at USC has seldom heard such a ruckus.
And they are the better for it.
As a public service I recommend you order Larry’s book: “Deliriously Happy: And Other Bad Thoughts”
or his award winning novel “I Love You Beth Cooper.”
And I assure you it’s equally as funny when the reader is not on chemotherapy.