Tale of Two Cancers VII


Needless to say, sleep didn’t come easily that night, even with the aide of morphine.

Unlike most people, morphine and other heavy narcotics don’t have the effect of drowsiness with me. In fact, that’s part of what I like about morphine. When I was a teenager, I developed a fondness for many illicit forms of fun, which has been handy in recent years as I have been on prescription drugs due to the conditions I’ve been describing. For most people this would mean putting most of their life on hold until the fog of the drugs wears off, but for me it meant operating in a state that was actually quite enjoyable in most respects, save for the cancer and the fact that I was spending my time in hospitals.

As soon as the nurse in Peterborough gave me my first injection of morphine my mind said “Thank you ” and then “I need a cigarette “. I had been cigarettefree for four years at this point, but since I knew I was in for the long haul and high as a kite on my favourite drug in the world I figured fuck it, I’m sick, high and I’ll take comfort and pleasure wherever I can find it. And it got me outside of the walls and their institutional trappings.

It’s an amazing paradox, but going for a smoke was the only way the doctors and nurses would let me go outside. Irony can be found in the most unlikely of places. If I wasn’t smoking I would have had to stay inside all the time. Score one for cigarettes, I guess.

Anyway, on day five in hospital I was bundled into an ambulance, again, for my transfer to Kingston. I was glad to be going to Kingston General hospital because my team of oncologists were there and because I also knew it to be a teaching hospital which means they have really, really good doctors who are also so up to date that they are often the ones who are leading the search for better treatments for not only cancer but for everything from disease research to new surgical procedures for anything you can imagine. And symbolically it meant that my months of wandering through the wasteland of my mind and deteriorating physical state was coming to less a close that a less lonely journey.

It’s amazing just how far removed this sort of experience can make you from the rest of the world around you. For seven months my world had been limited to the geography of my mind and to a physical space that incorporated my body, a bed and the periodic ten foot shuffle/crawl to the bathroom. That kind of isolation makes one an introvert in a hurry. I’m accustomed to a certain degree of introversion. It is a necessary condition in my studio practice in order to obtain the concentration required for me to paint rather than illustrate, so I’m pretty comfortable in the realm of my own consciousness, but I was also accustomed to the opposite in my job as a bartender. Together they acted as a balancing act. A sometimes schizophrenic balancing act, but effective nonetheless. But it’s a different game when there is no choice in the matter, and more so when intense physical pain is your only companion. And pain colours your world in a manner which you, the reader, will have to imagine for yourself because I’m not capable of describing its effect. In fact, I’m still dealing with the leftovers of my second experience with cancer with every step I take. Literally.

So now that I was in the sytem and on my way to Kingston, I was dealing with people, strangers, for the first time in half a year. It was nice to talk about anything–weather, the hockey playoffs, even what had been going on in my life recently. Even more gratifying was the fact that people were listening to the words coming out of my mouth and reacting with the shock and consternation I would have hoped for in the G.P. who had done nothing but scoff at my descriptions of what was going on in my body.

Once I was checked in at the hospital, I was taken to my room (with a lovely view of Lake Ontario and the beginning of sailboat season) and then out for another cigarette. After I was wheeled back to my room, I had dinner and then a visit with my attending physician. At this point I was told that I was scheduled for surgery on Monday ( it was Saturday when I was transferred) and that once they had gone in and seen what was going on inside my back they would be able to properly assess my full cindition and come up with a treatment plan.

You know you’re fucked when you’re looking forward to back surgery, more so when you know that the surgery is going to be the easy part of what’s coming. And that’s where I was, but at least I knew something was happening.

There was only one thing I couldn’t get to stop running through my mind, and it was a line I had read from my radiologists’ report while in transit. Right in the middle of the summary was a line that still runs through my mind :

“…..but as the patient is still alive, we recommend….”.

That’s the kind of thing that I find hard to forget.


~ by Rocky Green on May 8, 2007.

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