Looking for dignity in the fight against cancer.
“My hearing is fine,”
“NO, YOUR BREATHING!”
“I am neither senile or deaf,” I say.
“Oh. I thought you were asleep,” she says.
Hospitals hate sleep. After a night in which you’ve been rudely ripped out of your every Temazepam-addled drug dream by some fucker’s IV alarm going off, or some utter bastard wanting to prick your thumb or take your blood pressure or stab you violently in the thigh with a syringe the size of a space rocket—every morning at 7 on the dot, in trot the junior surgeons who turn on the retina-raping top light and start shouting.
I’m going a little stir crazy. My wife and a nurse discuss my case across my still-breathing body.
“For fuck’s sake, I am actually still fucking here!” I roar.
A friend brings in a homemade needlepoint.
“Wait, does that say what I think it says?” gasps a nurse.
It says “FUCK CANCER,” a slogan popularized on T-shirts and baseball hats by Hodgkins lymphoma survivor Steve Saltman, a dude who knows that subtlety is found in the dictionary between shit and syphilis.
The “FUCK CANCER” phemon has its critics, but you know what? Fuck them, too, especially when so much of the rest of the cancer-culture crap is mumbo-jumbaloid spiritual sewage, like the book Chicken Soup for the Cancer Survivor’s Soul. It seems every touchy-feely Christian fruitcake and magic crystal-clutching New Age ning-nang-nonger who’s ever survived cancer has written a book about it. It almost makes you sorry for the poor little cancers, having to share body space with such total flaming idiots.
The oncologist gets the biopsy report. There’s still a ton of cancer left inside. So we’ll probably have to do chemo. And maybe even a bone marrow transplant.
The good news is I’m healing well. I’ve even had a small rabbit-sized bowel movements and a coupla lady farts. They’re sending me home.
I wash. I get dressed. I’m just about to put my shoes on. And suddenly I’m pinned to the bed with brutal shivering. Oh, for fuck’s sake. This is very like what happened last time: me shivering like a shaved parrot on an ice floe; me telling my wife and assorted doctors and nurses to fuck off and let me sleep. Them rushing me down to Intensive Care where they carve holes in my flesh and pump in fluids to try and boost my flatlining blood pressure.
Smelling death in the air with a nose as sensitive as that of any hyena, a chaplain turns up. For months now I’ve been telling the hospital I’m an atheist, specifically to keep these vampires at bay. And for months now—for some bizarre reason—the hospital computer has insisted I’m Orthodox Jewish.
“Can I help?” says the chaplain.
“He’s an atheist,” says my wife.
“Oh, really? I’m a Buddhist,” says the chaplain.
“His blood pressure is dropping,” says my wife.
“Oh, really? I had low blood pressure. I found breathing helped. Tell him to breathe.”
A man gets lost in the Philadelphia health system "What is this, fucking Kafka?" and lives to tell about it. By Steven Wells firstname.lastname@example.org Illustrations by Jim Campbell --> I'm writing...
Our friend and colleague Steven Wells died two years ago today of the cancer he had documented so well in two cover stories for Philadelphia Weekly. On June 14, he submitted this column.