an excuse until an exasperated spouse finally shouted, “You’re curable! You can too put your dirty dishes in the sink!” The radiation treatments weren’t bad – 20 minutes propped on a machine in a humiliating posture. Most of me was exposed and the nurses were embarrassingly pretty. But it’s interesting, the connection that physical modesty has with physical vanity. Once past sixty you can reasonably abandon both. This was one of the life lessons with which having cancer abounds. I hate life lessons. Consider all the I-hope- you’ve-learned-your-lesson experiences: skinned knees, high-school romances, wreckage of Dad’s car, flunked college courses, horrible hangovers, failed marriages. I tell my children, “Avoid life lessons. The more important the lesson, the more you should avoid it.” The chemotherapy was worse than the radiation. The pump in the fanny pack of poisonous chemicals made a whining whirr every minute or so – not frequently enough to get used to and too frequently to let me sleep. A long plastic tube that attached the fanny pack to my mediport allowed me to bury the pump and its noise in a mound of pillows. But then I’d forget that I was connected. As with all attempts to forget one’s troubles, I was courting disaster. I’d get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and be yanked back to the mattress by the tubing. The fanny pack came with a bag of protective clothing and instructions for dealing with chemical spills. According to these instructions I was supposed to do, by myself,
The fanny pack came with a bag of protective clothing and instructions for dealing with chemical spills... I was supposed to do, by myself, what the entire U.S. government had done during the 2002 national anthrax panic.
what the entire U.S. government had done during the 2002 national anthrax panic. The cumulative effects of the treatments were unpleasant. The loss of my previously full, thick, un-grayed head of hair met with no sympathy from my-age cohort of males. I developed fatigue, mouth sores, and a rash around my loins as if I’d been dressed in nothing but hip boots and an Eisenhower jacket and had been turned on a spit in a tanning salon, and I itched. What evolutionary purpose does the itch serve? Maybe we itch not for biological reasons but to give us a moral lesson about surrendering to our strongest passions. I had the strongest passion to scratch certain parts of my body. If, however, I had scratched these parts of my body near a school or play- ground, I would have been sent to jail. Dr. Pipas, Dr. Zaki, and the Dartmouth- Hitchcock staff were attentive to my complaints and gave me generous doses of things to turn complaints into complaisance.
66 September 2018
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