DISPATCHES
On the Front in the Cancer Wars
by Rob Schultheis
Nov 17, 2011 | 801 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Editor’s note: After writing in Part I in this three-part series about how “I felt kind of like one of those doomed ships on the coast of Sindh, near Karachi, where ships that are past their time are torched and dismembered for scrap metal and body parts,” Schultheis picks up the story of his surgery for bladder and prostate cancer.

It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to tell me I wasn’t going to like going into the hospital, or surgery, one little bit.

I had already been through chemotherapy, which hadn’t affected me that much, beyond turning me into an amnesia-afflicted numbskull who forgot how to spell or what a can of diet soda looked like; no huge deal, I suppose.  But the whole idea of surgery and hospitalization, well, that was another thing entirely.

I have an innate horror of being boxed in, controlled; the mere idea of having my movements tethered, corralled, fills me with an inexpressible horror. 

I have no idea why, it’s just the way I’m hardwired, for better or for worse. 

Since my birth I had spent only two nights in a hospital; I was five years old, and had surgery for a hernia in Hong Kong.  It was so long ago and far away that I had no memory of it at all.  When I allowed wild horses to drag me into the hospital in Irvine, Calif., I knew intellectually what I was in for – that I might go to sleep and never wake up again, or that I could be stuck in the hospital for as long as three weeks after the operation, as my body got used to its new plumbing system – but I buried the thoughts beneath a midden of distractions, like imagining future river trips in my new Waterwolf. Nothing distracts quite so well as visions of setting up camp on a remote canyon beach, with a driftwood fire and cliff swallows diving through the dusk....

When I checked in before dawn on September 11, I was in a kind of a daze; I had been on a jello and liquids diet for 72 hours, followed by a purgative the night before, rendering me as hollow as a drum; you could probably have duplicated one of Ginger Baker’s marathon solos on my midsection if you’d had a couple of sticks. And my mind was in similar shape.  I don’t remember much: scrawling my signature on a series of forms, changing into one of those humiliating garments hospitals call “gowns” (who designed those things, Robert Mapplethorpe?), and somehow I was lying on a gurney with blinding lights hammering my eyes, a needle in my arm, and then – ten hours of my life were spirited away from me and interred in some strange hell or limb – where are you when your mind is not at home? Until suddenly I was back again from Nowhere, dazed and confused, feeling godawful, my voice a faraway croak, whining, “It hurts. It hurts.” But actually, it didn’t hurt that much, it was more like the feeling of outrage you get when you are being tumbled around in a car wreck or slam-dunked by a huge wave, a feeling of powerlessness and anguish as your sovereign flesh is battered by forces far beyond its control.  The surgery had been done largely by what are called Da Vinci Robots, remote-controlled machine elves who march in some orifice clearly marked “EXIT ONLY,” no doubt singing “hi-ho, hi-ho,” etc., as they snip away at the doomed parts of your body, in my case my bladder, prostate and everything else in the area. Then the surgeon had opened me up, removed all the sliced-up bits, saved enough to be biopsied later, and tossed the rest in the nearest HAZMAT bin.  I had been unconscious through it all, of course, but that didn’t mean I hadn’t experienced it on some dark subconscious level. Somewhere in my addled brain, I realized that part of the core of my being was gone forever, and I felt terribly sad, though I seemed to be viewing the whole tamasha from the vantage point of the Mare Imbrium on the moon, 186,000 miles away.

To be concluded.

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