The Poison I.V. Papers: III. LIFE IS DAMAGE CONTROL
[This is a further journalistic entry concerning my fortuitous discovery in January, 2004, of cancer cells in my abdomen, and my struggle with this shocking, new condition. Due to the twin exigencies of accuracy and recuperation, there is an editorial delay of several weeks. Phillip
The next week, I received my first five Poison I.V. potions designed to kill new, fast-growing cells, such as cancer, blood cells and hair. Despite my apprehensions regarding what I had heard of chemotherapy, my first over-night went easily enough. Nor did my discovery that my room-mate in my semi-private room, in the well-appointed "Five East" suite, was a man named Mort disturb me. We chatted, he soon left and then I went home, feeling pleased. I returned the
following week to test out the condition of my white and red blood cells. These were low, so I received two injections [Neupogen and Arnaesp] and was told to return again the next day. My main perceived symptom was hiccuping.
The next day, after a skimpy breakfast, I took the hour-long subway trip and slowly mounted the steps and crossed the subway mezzanine. Suddenly faint, I stepped over to a large green trash
basket and reached out to steady myself. At that point, my knees turned to rubber and I found myself collapsing towards the floor. I never lost consciousness but remained seated in the middle of the mezzanine, just another elderly man in an overcoat, the object of "rubber-necking" by the curious commuters, pretending to contemplate my navel, philosophically. It was 8:58 AM.
The Station Agent called 911, and soon I was taken to the Emergency Room of the Lutheran Medical Center. Fully conscious, I pointed out that I did not belong there, but should be taken to the Oncology suite, on the Fifth Floor, where I was expected. But now I was no longer the
"Cancer Patient," but, rather, "The man who took a fall in the subway." I knew immediately that the ER staff would soon begin to inspect every organ, tissue, fluid and bone of my body. This could take six hours, when all I needed were more white and red blood cells: badly.
I checked out the activity in the ER, and tried to phone "Five East," upstairs. No such luck. Watching the parade of out-patients in the ER, and feeling them sneeze and cough, and hearing their "sneezles and wheezles," I became alarmed. I called out to a Doctor, "Look, I'm a cancer patient and I belong upstairs. I have a compromised immunity system. I have to get out of here !" To his credit, he immediately placed me into a "Reverse Isolation" room, where I remained for the next 12 hours.
Seems they had misplaced my emergency admission records.
I finally did make it to my "Home Away from Home," in the "Five East" Suite, and remained there for the next nine  days. My immune system was virtually non-existent [White = 0.1; Red =] 1.2] and I received one unit of blood and massive doses of anti-bacterial medication, to prevent opportunistic infections from arising. These drugs induce "Drowsiness" and warn against operating heavy farm machinery. But I was able to flick the TV remote, make telephone calls and manipulate the contortions of my hospital bed.
Much of this period remains a blur. The days passed into hours and the hours evaporated. I got to meet a slew of Nurses, Nurse's Aids, the Concierge, Dietitians, Cleaning Personnel, House-keepers, Hematologists and at least one Psychiatrist. Intravenous fluids continuously dripped
into my veins. I exhibited strange symptoms, such as an increase of hiccuping, total loss of appetite, incredible weakness, and what appeared to be elephantiasis [edema]. I made burgundy-colored, cloudy water and contracted fungus in my mouth and nether regions. I had always thought that fungus grew on rocks and trees?
I stopped shaving and stopped combing out my hair. [Taking chemotherapy means you never have to visit your barber ever again.] Several friends kindly took the long trip from Manhattan to visit, offering gifts: but all I wanted was a set of three new men's briefs, medium. [I had gone there as an out-patient.] Fortunately, I had brought my Sidur. And I telephoned friends, relatives and acquaintances in Manhattan, New Jersey, Florida, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, England and South Africa , and, of course, Israel. Rabbi Meir Fund visited, with his wife.
I made some interesting realizations: When you shut your eyes, you do not really stop "seeing;" you can still "see" but there just is nothing to look at. Amd, I could stare happily at a spot on the ceiling for several hours, not moving, wondering, "What's the point?" I saw many National
Geographic documentaries, noting that the bigger animals eat the smaller ones and the very smallest were often quite photogenic.
I was shocked at a program depicting two men and a woman in a boat trying to rescue two feral dogs in a lake. I complained to the Housekeeper who asked, "You don't like dogs ?"
"Sure I do," I told her, "but there are 4 million Aids orphans in South Africa. How much did this dog rescue program cost ? Imagine what my medical bills will be; and they can't even find $375 for AZT to save each child in Africa."
"You don't have good medical insurance ?" she asked me.
"Sure I do," responding. "Social Security and Blue Cross-Blue Shield."
"Well," she laconically rejoined, "I don't have good Medical Insurance. I belong to Union 1199."
So I found a caste system in the Hospital, not unlike the rest of the world. The foreign-trained work in the middle, speaking Jamaican, Colombian, Filipino, Indian, Sla vic and Russian. Then Spanish and many African-Americans labor at the bottom; with Caucasion Doctors and Physician's Assistants, characteristically wearing white coats, floating past like Alto Cumulus clouds.
And I discovered that my body was going through some bizarre, incomprehensible, temporary changes, only loosely and tentatively attached to my soul.
LIFE IS DAMAGE CONTROL