DISPATCHES
In Hell ’Twas I
by Rob Schultheis
Nov 03, 2011 | 1008 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
There is a place on the coast of Sindh, near Karachi, where ships that are outmoded or past their prime, everything from super-tankers to passenger liners and tugs, are beached and dismembered for scrap metal and parts.  

Crews of Pakistanis with blowtorches and metal saws swarm over the hull, cutting it to pieces, while in the ship’s interior other workers salvage engine parts, brasswork, copper wire and the like. The men work at lightning speed; they can make a colossal tanker vanish into thin air in a matter of days.

I felt kind of like one of those doomed ships last summer, when I discovered that in addition to Hepatitis C, I had muscle-invasive bladder cancer. I had nightmares, of Lilliputian laborers climbing all over me on jerry-rigged scaffolding, trading wisecracks. “Anything worth saving over there?”

“Negative, boss. We’ll be lucky if we end up with a few piston rings and a brass klaxon housing.  What’s the name of this tub, anyhow?”

“The U.S.S. Swamp Thing, Series Seven. They used them for hauling toxic waste and sewer sludge and dumping them in international waters.  Stopped makin’ ‘em fifty years ago, after one turned upside down and sank with all hands in the lake in Central Park.”

My cancer was first diagnosed in Phuket, Thailand, at the local branch of Bomengrad Hospital, after I nearly bled to death in the course of a Krakatoa-scale explosion of hemoglobin at 3 a.m. in the bathroom of a guest cottage on an island off the Thai coast.  

I was medivac’d by speedboat at dawn, and half an hour after arriving at the hospital I was shown an MRI of my bladder, with two tiny tumors at the bottom. I’d already been passing blood for ten days; the bleeding had started in Luang Prabang, in Laos, where we were visiting friends, and gotten progressively worse, culminating in the nocturnal Nosferatu-fest. If I had promptly flown back to the U.S. after the first sign of bleeding in Laos and been promptly MRI’d and biopsied, the doctors may well have been able to scrape the cancer out of the bladder lining before it spread into the muscle wall, and I wouldn’t have ended up having half of my gizzard and giblets yanked and tossed into a hazmat bin.  

Message: Don’t Be Like Me! If You Discover Something Going on in the Old Habeas Corpus That Suggests You Might Have Cancer, Drop Everything and Head at Warp Speed to the Nearest Medical Facility!

“If Only I Had a Brain!” has been a recurring theme song throughout my life, from monsoonal miseries on the Trail to Solo Khumbu to the Darra Adam suicide bus route in the NWFP to Route Irish and Haifa Street in Baghdad.

Before I knew it I was back in the States, undergoing ordeals that involved foreign objects being introduced into bodily orifices clearly marked “Exit Only,” along with Chernobyl-esque radioactive scans, after which I underwent chemotherapy, in which two toxins I couldn’t pronounce were pumped into my veins, along with anti-nausea nostrums and other “bubble bubble, toil and trouble”-type potions. 

When I was 8 or 9 years old, I spent hours wondering why, if you ate two pounds of meat and potatoes, you didn’t weigh exactly two pounds more afterwards (I still don’t get it.) Now I watched giant plastic bladders bulging with liquids emptying into my arm, and was mystified when I didn’t swell up like the Hindenburg blimp. Where does all that stuff – the meat and potatoes and liquid poisons – go, anyway? Down the same inexplicable inter-dimensional revolving door utilized by the Transporter system in Star Trek?  I haven’t a clue.

When the chemotherapy was over, I had to face the unpleasant fact that I would need major surgery.  

(to be continued…)  
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