Cell Out

Looking for dignity in the fight against cancer.

By Steven Wells
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 44 | Posted Mar. 31, 2009

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The waiting rooms are well supplied with God propaganda full of lies like: “Prayer sometimes produces miraculous cures.”

How to strip a human of their dignity: Wait until they’re at their very lowest ebb and then suggest that they beg a psychotic sky-god for mercy.

Diarrhea of a Madman

Around 11 a.m. the next day they finally stabilize me.

The superpoo starts at noon. Having not had a proper crap for a week, I now turn into a one-man shit volcano, pumping out great boiling geysers of liquid dung every 20 minutes. After having crapped the bed a couple of times, I try to use the commode. This is a total disaster. Wired up to a half-dozen drips, I get shit all down my legs just hobbling over to sit on the damn thing. It takes me a full 20 minutes to wipe my unbelievably shitty arse. By which time of course the chocolate Krakatoa is ready for its next eruption.

Eventually I work out a routine. At the first stirring of a bowel movement I politely request any visitors to get the fuck out.

Then I maneuver the at-hand rubberized bedpan under my aching arse. Then I call for the nurse, who sorts me out with some damp towels and a dab of moisturizer. I have a deal with the nurses: They pretend I haven’t just shat the bed like a giant emaciated idiot baby, and I pretend they don’t have to wipe my arse for a living.

“You have beautiful eyes,” says one nurse, having just wiped my bottom for the eighth time that afternoon. She also says I’m the least sick person in the surgical ICU. There’s a 16-year-old kid down the corridor—my wife tells me—with a probably near fatal gunshot wound to the face. His family—some Christian, some Muslim—have filled the waiting room with their grief.

Turns out my special combination of the shakes, the shits, the ripped out and repackaged guts, the exotic cancer, the mystery infection (they never find out what it is) and the celiac disease don’t mean dick around here. One nurse tells me that when the Pentagon scrambled emergency MASH units together in Iraq during the insurgency, they recruited straight out of Philadelphia’s hospitals. These people are hardcore.

Planning An Exit

My definition of dignity is undergoing a severe readjustment. I have a dead male relative of the late Victorian vintage who, toward the end of his life, could no longer bathe himself. So he closed his eyes and held his arms out and sang whatever song came into his head—“Rock of Ages” or “Yes, We Have No Bananas”—the volume noticeably increasing every time the nurse with the soap got anywhere near his nadgers.

We are a culture that has been running screaming from our own spurting sphincters for generations, as summed up by that ridiculous euphemism “bathroom tissue.” Shit and death are to us what sex was to the Victorians. And talking of death:

“One in five patients who have this procedure don’t leave the hospital,” says a doctor, talking about a type of bone marrow transplant.

I stare at her, horrified. I have been here nearly two weeks now. I am depressed to hell and back and desperate to go home.

“They never leave the hospital?” I gasp, horrified, imagining secret, hidden, underground wards where patients stay for decades, never escaping the bedpans, the catheters, the drips and the fucking awful food. “You keep them here forever?”

“No, she means they die,” says my wife.

I have already planned my own funeral. I will sit up in the coffin, sporting a huge embalmed grin, my right hand waving with animatronic enthusiasm as my left hand furiously pumps an embalmed and cosmetically enlarged erection.

And as the conveyor belt drags me into the crematorium flames, Glen Miller’s “In the Mood” will blare out of hidden speakers (as actually happened at the funeral of Peter Sellers).

On hearing this plan my wife calls me a melodramatic twat.

“You’re out of here tomorrow,” says a nurse. “Or maybe today if someone gets shot. But hey, Saturday night in Philadelphia, what are the odds?”

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Comments 1 - 44 of 44
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1. andrew said... on Apr 1, 2009 at 01:10AM

“Sorry about your relapse, but you already wrote about this. Write about something besides yourself.”

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2. grm1 said... on Apr 1, 2009 at 06:05AM

“Its an on going story that can't be told in one issue, it also is a no BS piece that let's us all know exactly what its like to be treated for cancer. Hang in there man I'm pulling for you!”

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3. Terry Brown said... on Apr 1, 2009 at 08:06AM

“Keep on writing!! (about the truth)”

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4. One of those Ameritards said... on Apr 1, 2009 at 08:22AM

“So, let's sum up. You've spent the last 4 years of your life taking a job from an American while relentlessly shitting on the country that welcomed you in. And now you want sympathy?”

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5. joeldermole said... on Apr 1, 2009 at 10:21AM

“Ameritard: I think you just proved Steven quite right about a lot of things. You don't like his politics, so you mock his cancer? Awesome.”

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6. One of those Ameritards said... on Apr 1, 2009 at 10:45AM

“I wasn't mocking his cancer. I was mocking his pitiful and groveling bid for sympathy. I thought the English were above that sort of thing. Guess not.”

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7. Tim said... on Apr 1, 2009 at 10:54AM

“Keep your head up buddy!
And thanks for all your help and advice (no matter how surly) a few years back.

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8. ritabootoo said... on Apr 1, 2009 at 12:39PM

“I suppose "andrew" and "Ameritard" graduated from the same sensitivity training course...
Steven, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. C'mon - Kick that fucked-up little mutant's ass!”

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9. jesselun said... on Apr 1, 2009 at 01:16PM

“Keep the chin up, man. You can beat it.
Fuck that guy Andrew”

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10. jonathan vital said... on Apr 1, 2009 at 10:05PM

“I admire your brave and ballsy writing. My partner went through 2 years of hell with leukemia. Keep saying fuck you!!!!!!!

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11. sally said... on Apr 2, 2009 at 04:39AM

“shut up andrew go read something else if you are not interested.....fool.”

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12. sally said... on Apr 2, 2009 at 05:23AM

“hi one of those ameritards! anglo american special relationships alive and well then? glad you are not representative of the comments, i might think all Americans were fools......keep writing and keep fighting steven......sally IN ENGLAND!”

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13. One of those Ameritards said... on Apr 2, 2009 at 06:59AM

“Well, Sally has demonstrated why the English are the most hated people around the planet.”

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14. ...also sick said... on Apr 2, 2009 at 01:42PM

“This piece is fabulous, and honestly the most accurate depiction of what it's like to really be sick and in the hospital for an extended amount of time.

I don't have cancer but I was recently diagnosed with and treated for a chronic disease of the digestive system that took two years of tests, months of torturous hospital "treatment," scary drugs and their scarier side effects, and ineffective pain management, all of which left me a shell of a person. After several operations, I've been left with only parts of my digestive system and mere shreds of my dignity intact. It will take me years to recover, physically and emotionally.

I don't think Steven Wells is looking for sympathy here, and neither am I. It was just damn refreshing to read about someone's experience similar to my own who isn't into the "spiritual sewage" that tends to get dumped on the sick.

When things are bad, people say "well, at least you have your health." When you don't even have that, the world can seem a pretty unforgiving place, and we all deserve to complain now and then, don't we?

Thank you for writing this - I wish you good health in the future.”

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15. Julie said... on Apr 2, 2009 at 03:06PM

“Brilliant writing Steven. Such honest writing about what sounds like hell on earth at tmes. I dont get the negative comments! I will however join others in wishing you all the best in your fight back to good health. American, English............ who cares, from one human being to another; Get Well Soon.”

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16. exiled from glasgow said... on Apr 2, 2009 at 04:19PM

“Andrew; what kind of a fucked up sick individual are you that gets offended by someone who has the courage to open up his heart and soul to you more than once. Feel honored and show some respect .
Keep fightin Steven”

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17. dd said... on Apr 2, 2009 at 07:07PM

“andrew: you're a dick.”

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18. gillian said... on Apr 2, 2009 at 07:36PM

“I have to say....good for you man! You keep fighting and trust me, you have more dignity and more insight to life than most! And even though you are a non-save me Jesus...blah blah blah.... and all that bullshit believing person you have someone one special looking over you......your Wife...!

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19. Margaret said... on Apr 2, 2009 at 08:02PM

“I love you, Steve!”

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20. Adrienne said... on Apr 2, 2009 at 08:04PM

“I truely sympathize with your situation, but do we really need to see your hairy ass on the cover page?”

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21. Javier said... on Apr 2, 2009 at 08:32PM

You probably don't remember me but we met briefly when you were doing your article about the Philadelphia area atheist groups. Get well and keep writing!

ps--And don't worry too much about the "chocolate Krakatoas". That's how you know you're still alive. ;-)”

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22. phillygrrl said... on Apr 3, 2009 at 08:47AM

“Ignore Andrew.

Great writing. Thanks for sharing your story.”

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23. Tsee Yuan Lee said... on Apr 3, 2009 at 09:07AM

“I'll pray for you.

Just kidding!”

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24. rachel said... on Apr 3, 2009 at 03:12PM

“yeah! keep on writing and best wishes with everything. and andrew - you went out of your way to be a dick. way to go!”

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25. Felicia said... on Apr 3, 2009 at 05:35PM

“Dear Steven, I hope you win over your mutant cells and continue to write such honest and funny stuff about something so terrifying. Fuck Cancer.”

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26. Joe said... on Apr 3, 2009 at 11:10PM

“I love your writing! Makes me laugh out loud. I miss your soccer writing (90:00 magazine?). Hang in there and get better!”

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27. The Wild West Connection said... on Apr 4, 2009 at 02:52AM


Your Spokane family is rooting for you and thinking good thoughts for your support team, too. Keep writing, man.

J, A, S, and I”

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28. Johners said... on Apr 4, 2009 at 02:59AM

“"Andrew" and "One of those Ameritards said" must be afraid to even go outside, they are so interminably fragile. I read their posts here and just sigh. What is it like to be so small, so inconsequential, so desperate for attention?

To kick a man while he is down, and to do it from the Internet? Is that really the best you can do with your time? Can't you please go crawl back into your ass holes? Please? Thank you, sweeties.

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29. scotty fun knee said... on Apr 5, 2009 at 12:59PM

“Be strong my friend! Make the climb! Be your own GOD! God damn It! God Damn It! Treat God as an open position! Put in your application today, for the Great God of the living heartsss! And, watch "The Climb" video by Miley Cyrus! video, the link follows ---> http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNkrzRLJeU8&feature=related . Make that climb!!!!!!!!!!and put in your application now! Before it is tooo late! Best wishes and efforts! Scottyyy!

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30. Robbie said... on Apr 7, 2009 at 09:55AM

“I actually know a lot of people who crapped in their pants and kept their dignity. Keep fighting the fight you old coot.”

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31. Attila the Stockbroker said... on Apr 10, 2009 at 09:20AM

“Keep battling, mate, and keep writing about it, it's very good stuff. Your old punk rock ranting poet buddy is rooting for you!!!


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32. Aaron said... on Apr 10, 2009 at 01:57PM

“Great writers are those who write what they know, and this article, it must be said, falls into that category. Anything else is just not worth the effort!

.......you've served yourself up on a platter to give us all an insight into your world and you truly deserve praise indeed. Keep fighting, keep writing....we are all with you!”

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33. Joel McIver said... on Apr 18, 2009 at 04:47AM

“We could all learn from you, Steven. Hang in there1”

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34. Joel McIver said... on Apr 18, 2009 at 04:47AM

“We could all learn from you, Steven. Hang in there1”

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35. Keith Cameron said... on Apr 18, 2009 at 05:10AM

“Hey Swells, your attitude is incredible. Keep on keeping on! (By the way, you still owe me money... ;)”

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36. Johnny Cigs said... on Apr 19, 2009 at 07:09AM

“I've got a bit of a hangover this morning and I just told someone 'I feel like death cooled down'. This puts that into perspective. Too much fucking perspective, in fact.
You are an example to us all Swells. Keep on shitting in the free world.”

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37. Philthegeordie said... on Apr 20, 2009 at 04:03PM

“I'm hoping that this is some sort of scam by you to avoid becoming poet-laueate. If not ,good luck and my prayers are with you and Mrs Swells.”

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38. Philthegeordie said... on Apr 20, 2009 at 04:03PM

“I'm hoping that this is some sort of scam by you to avoid becoming poet-laueate. If not ,good luck and my prayers are with you and Mrs Swells.”

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39. Simon Smith said... on May 3, 2009 at 05:24PM

“Hey there Mister Swells, I used to go straight for your articles in the NME years ago and have come across the present acount of your struggle quite by chance - hang on in there mate and keep winding as many people up as you can!”

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40. GobTV said... on May 8, 2009 at 02:27PM

“Are you still alive? I hope so, our young American intern (from Pig), Walker, just got in touch. He'll be well pissed off if he's too late.
I have a 20cm gash where my vagina should be, and I'm having to get it packed with Sorbsol everyday, and my bollocks have been sewn into the shape of a pyramid tea bag....but having read this, it no longer pisses me off.
Me, Candice and the kids are rooting for you. Nickx”

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41. Walker - the not-so-young-anymore American intern said... on May 9, 2009 at 03:02AM

“Steve - man, reading this I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Sorry to hear you are in such bad shape. Was blissfully happy to stumble across a contact to Nick yesterday and hear back from him and then got to read about your recent experiences. I sincerely hope everything return to "punk rock, puppy dogs, ice cream and sunshine" for you again soon. Drop me a line if you are able - hope you can see the hidden e-mail otherwise Nick has it.

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42. Gillian said... on Jun 26, 2009 at 03:46PM

“I'm so sorry Swells.. Exactly the same agonising illness my boyfriend's Dad recently died from. Both part of "a small percentage of the small percentage of those that develop celiac disease" that go on to get T-cell lymphoma. I met Steven in the early 90's whilst at Digital Hardcore Recordings and I was terrified - I'd read his rants avidly in the NME for years and was a massive fan then as I remain now.. he was actually just really lovely to me that day. Much, much respect for Steven and great sympathy to his family.”

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43. mick p said... on Oct 8, 2009 at 07:21AM

“oh dear swells...
still winding as many people up as you can!.. even from the grave !

mick pledge...”

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44. Jason Burke Murphy said... on Apr 22, 2015 at 12:47PM

“I just wanted to thank Philadelphia Weekly for keeping this piece and "The English Patient" on their site.

I have assigned both texts in a class I teach on end-of-life ethical issues. It has proven very helpful. I also ended up reading everything else I could find by Wells on sport and music. I benefited greatly from it.

He was truly great.”


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