THE POISON I.V. PAPERS: Five
[This concerns my Doctor's 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 June 6, 2004, I am alive and resting at home. If you have missed any of this series, please request them. Phillip Danzig]
PERFORM NO HARM
This is the first "commandment" of the ancient Hippocratic Oath. "Who was the Doctor," I wondered, "who initially fed poison to his patient on the risky theory that this might cure him?" The patient must have been desperate; the doctor must have been desperate.
It turns out that general Radiation has been used on cancer before Chemotherapy, and that this followed other
desperate remedies, such as using arsenic to treat syphilis. Sometimes the "cure is worse than the disease;" other times, there is no choice.
Although my ten-day sojourn in the "Five East" Suite of the Lutheran Medical Center, Brooklyn, was totally unexpected, it was not an entire misery. I held long, satisfying talks with some nurses and my new roommate late at night. "John" summed up one discussion of ethics by mentioning Philo of Alexander: 'Be kind to all you meet, they are fighting a great battle,' he quoted.
I found many things to laugh and kid about, such as the time a Nurse Technician, taking my vital signs at mid-night, asked me for my hand, and I told her, "Look, I"ve been married and divorced, and am not about to try that again." This, she found amusing.
Sitting in a chair one day, I watched as the Housekeeper made up my bed. Finished, she told me, 'Now, go and lie down." Exhausted, I replied, "If I had enough strength to go and lie down, do you think I would be sitting here in this hospital?"
I was anemic and my heart was racing, even as I lay flat in bed, often, for hours. So I wondered: At the end of life, each of our hearts would have beaten a finite number of times. Shouldn't they low mine down somehow, to live the longer?
I noted that my wrists and arms were so full of stabs and holes, that I might as well have been undergoing acupuncture.
Once, late at night, feeling particularly vulnerable, I saw an intense, pulsating black-and-white flashing light. Was this not my life passing before my eyes? I tried to pick out details and familiar faces among the flickering sparkles. As I strained to see, the whirring stream of images slowed down, until I finally realized that I was watching an old Charlie Chaplin movie...
Another time, a Nightmare: I was transported back, back to the Emergency Room, fully conscious, sans immune system, again watching the parade of out-patients, hearing them sneeze and cough. I grab a phone and call for my doctor, to beg admittance to my home upstairs in Five East. Ten minutes passed, then twenty and then, miraculously, we are connected ! "Transfer me upstairs," I cry, hiccuping fiercely, "I"ve been calling you -- almost half an hour !"
'Well, I"ve been dialing you for fifteen minutes," she replys, "So, I guess we"re even !"
"But what will they do for me in the ER?" I ask. "I don't know what they do in the ER," says the voice, " but you must remain there." Next, my fantasy physician is interrogating me, bending over my bed while wearing a surgical mask, to protect me from possible infection. But the mask keeps slipping below her nose. I now have a clear view up both her nostrils and watch fearfully as a myriad of tiny little green and blue gnats and May flies are snorted out into my face, mouth and lungs.
"Can't you at least stop my hiccups?" I finally blurt out, exhausted. "Well," comes the reply, "my patients never hiccup." And then to awaken, drenched with perspiration, at 3 AM, the overhead lights suddeny going on as a Hemotologist asks, "Which wrist do you want me to draw blood from?"
After a week in hospital, my weight climbed from 117 Lb. to 128 Lb., my blood counts were good and they decided to send me home. I felt weak, and was not ready to go. But next day, the discharge papers were ready. I pointed to my bloated ankles and said, "My mother said she had the best ankles in Boro Park, and here I can't even see my ankle bone. I came in with ankle bones! Where are they?"
A doctor said, 'You came in undernourished and now we have put some weight on you.' So I insisted on being weighed again. I was back down to 122 Lb. The nurse Technician said, "Nobody loses six pounds in one day," and weighed me a third time. 122 Lb. I was still retaining water and remained another two days. Finally, I was ready to leave.
So after ten days recuperating from the very low blood counts induced by the Poison I.V. medications, they unhooked my body from the intravenous feed, and I could walk about, finally unencumbered ! I practically danced out of the hospital, humming the freedom song from Pinocchio:
I've got no strings
To hold me down
To make me fret
Or make me frown
I had strings
But now I"m free
There are no strings on me
Hi O the merio, that's
the only way to be!
I want the world to know
notin' ever worries me !