THE POISON I.V. PAPERS: IV
[This is a further journalistic entry concerning my fortuitous discovery in January, 2004, of cancer cells 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. As of May 20, 2004, I am resting at home. Phillip Danzig]
MY G-D, THE SOUL YOU PLACED WITHIN ME IS PURE
This is a prayer which Jews recite each morning, indicating, among other things, that the transcendental soul somehow differs from, but resides within, the body. A difficult concept to articulate. After all, have any of us ever experienced a split, or discontinuity, between "body" and
"soul" ? An "out of body" experience ? Did we notice as we grew bigger or grew older ? Do we feel ourselves age ? Common sense seems to tell us, "My body is Me."
But as my body reacted to the five solutions of toxic chemotherapy I had received, and then to the powerful drugs I was given to keep me from succumbing to an opportunistic infection, my body became less recognizable. I received so much saline solution [to flush out toxins] that my legs
and arms resembled Eddie Murphy's in "The Nutty Professor." My water changed color from yellow, to red, to cloudy yellow; settling on orange. I was tested by cysoscopy and told a fistula had opened up between my ileum and bladder. I would decide to move, drink water or, turn over, but nothing would happen; until I would FORCE myself to obey. I slept during the day and was startlingly awake at night.
I continued to hiccup frequently, which was particularly unsettling since my father had spent the last three days of his life thus, some thirty years before. Eventually I received thorazine and finally got some very sound, deep, drugged sleep. I grew gaunt and weak. Unshaven, I looked into a mirror and saw the scary, hollow eyed look of a very late Picasso self-portrait staring back. I was not trusted to shower myself, so, eventually, a nurse gave my body a sponge-bath, in bed. A humbling experience.
Yet my thoughts remained rational and energetic. During the early evening, I would telephone friends in the Southwest and then, in the dawn hours, speak to my children in Israel, or a friend in England or South Africa. But if I lay, half-comatose, during the afternoon and the phone rang, my mind would energize and I could easily hold a long conversation. The lower half of my body, plugged into the drip-drip of the intravenous feed, was responding to unknown, mysterious
forces; but my head, disengaged, above the neck, was sharp.
I thought to myself, "My Mind is Me."
Nausea, fortunately, was not a problem, but the sense that my body was subject to novel and unexpected changes was disturbing. My hair disappeared and my nails were growing at a furious rate: what might happen next ? The hospital sent a psychiatrist and we agreed that while I held
the usual, serious concerns about leaving my children and friends, I was less concerned about dying, as such, but much more troubled experiencing this loss of control. Of not knowing how my disease would "progress." Of how long, or, whether, it could be "cured." Of what strange symptom might appear next. Unlike the schedule of repairing a fractured knee or hip, nobody knew.
I am no stranger to hospitals. I had had two childhood surgeries: appendicitis and tonsillectomy. As an adult I had an ileitis resection, surgical removal of an abscess and placement of a stint near my kidneys [utera]. I am familiar with hospitals, and even enjoy the opportunity of breaking the routine of schooling or work. But a voyage through a hospital without a reliable chart or compass is another matter. Oncologists do not like to make promises.
Yet, if I couldn't get a handle on my body, I could and did direct my mind. I asked questions and learned much more about cancer and different treatments. I read "The anatomy of Hope," by Dr. Jerome Groopman. I began to read the Psalms. And I paid special attention to the prayer:
Blessed are you, Hashem, our G-d, King of the Universe,
Who fashioned man with wisdom and created within him
many openings and many cavities.
It is obvious and known that if but one of them were to be ruptured or but one of them were to be blocked,
it would be impossible to survive
and to stand before your Throne of Glory.
Blessed are you, Hashem, who heals all flesh and acts wondrously.
In this, I found comfort.