Part 17. My Benevolet Poison
I heard an interview on public radio with Ann Partridge, an oncologist at Dana Farber Cancer Center. She wasn’t one of my doctors — she was at the mothership, not my satellite on the South Shore. So I didn’t know Doctor Partridge, but I knew what she said.
Chemotherapy and radiation are well-intended poison.
That’s what the members of Team Asshole had been telling me. Doctor Corwin probably put it best: “First, we’re going to kill you inside, then we’ll bring you back to life.” The idea was to let Doctor Freter, the oncologist, and Doctor Borgelt, the radiation oncologist, double team me with chemotherapy and radiation. For six weeks, I’d be in their care as they bombarded my abandoned reptile carcass and tried to shrink my tumor, to make it more compact, concise and manageable for Doctor Corwin’s surgical hands.
So after six weeks of constant treatment, my now dead-inside body would have six weeks or so to recover, before the knife came down.
That was about as far ahead as I was thinking.
(My noggin contains a well-stocked mental jukebox, and the song playing on heavy rotation was John Lennon’s “Crippled Inside.”)
There were two preliminary acts — the tattooing that would help with the radiation, and the insertion of a catheter in my chest, to help Doctor Freter do his thing. Doctor Corwin would do that catheter-insertion surgery, even though it was an outpatient in-and-out thing, probably not worthy of his talent. Hell, he could probably self-operate with a Ginzu steak knife and a slotted spoon.
The tattooing came first and prepared me for the daily humiliation of radiation to come. I was taken to the Dana Farber basement, the radiation oncology suite. Rainey, the technician took me to a room that looked like the lab out of the original 1931 Frankenstein. There was a large tubular thing pointed down at an examining table kind of thing. I figured that was where I was supposed to be.
When I got the notice about the appointment, the email said to wear loose-fitting clothes, sweatpants preferred. So there I was, big as life and twice as ugly, wearing an ash-colored sweatsuit ensemble.
“Just lay down here and get comfortable,” Rainey said, patting the midsection section of the table, reinforced with a heavy mat. I wonder if they treated a lot of people like me and whether their assholes leaked blood, hence the extra layer of protection.
I laid down on the table and she told me what she was going to do.
“Now, I’m going to have to adjust your sweatpants here,” she said. “We need to tattoo some marks on you to make sure the techs get you in the same place each day.”
For a shy guy like me, this was some kind of torture. For a moment, I gave thought to saying fuck it and getting up off the table. I’d rather die of ass cancer than die of embarrassment.
But my better sense prevailed.
Rainey was working on instructions from Doctor Borgelt. He’d had me X-rayed and then pinpointed where he wanted to shoot me with radiation. Rainey’s job was to find those coordinates with that Frankensteinian thing hovering over me, then tattoo the marks on my side, so my doses would go to the same place every day.
Rainey smiled as she began tugging at my clothing. First, she pulled up the sweatshirt to expose my loathsome belly. That was embarrassing enough, but then she began tugging on my pants. My ass had them pinned to the table, so lifted my butt a little so she could pull down my sweatpants and my tartan boxers. Knowing this lay ahead of me, I’d worn my favorite underwear this morning.
“Just a little more, just a little more,” she kept saying. But, respectful of my feelings and / or my privacy, she made no sudden moves. The pants came down slowly, bit by bit. We were closing in steadily on the money shot.
Fortunately, she didn’t embarrass me by forcing me into the full monty. The waistline of my underwear came down to the top of Mister Happy, where he leaves the body to begin his exposure to the world.
Male genitals are such odd things. I think half the problems of the world stem from the fact that our stuff is on the outside. It therefore must be dealt with. Women’s stuff is inside, neatly tucked away. Face it: male genitals — when not prepared for or in the act of sexual congress — look kind of stupid.
So this was it. There I was on the table, my midsection exposed to the world. And to Rainey and the other techs who came in and out of the room. They were all women.
Oh, excuse me. Here I am, with all my stuff exposed — don’t let me get in the way.
Being thus naked in front of these young women would, under ordinary circumstances, be reason for monumental embarrassment. But they went about their work, polite and unsmirking. Rainey lined up this and lined up that with such professionalism and friendliness that before too long I was, to my surprise, comfortable. It took long enough for me to ponder the possibility of a nap.
But my participation was required. It was a tedious process and she’d ask me to shift my big ass this way or that until she could get all those ray guns aimed at just the right place. When it was time, she gave me a very slight painkiller, then tattooed me.
“Four marks,” she said. “You’ll probably never be able to see them.” I wondered: is that because they’re small or because I’m so fucking fat? But I did not ask for further explanation.
Well, I thought, getting up from the table afterward, I got through that. One hurdle down, nine million to go.
Rainey held on to me to make sure I was steady on my feet.
The tattoos were for radiation. The catheter was for chemotherapy.
They wheeled me into the ready room of the Dolphin Surgical Center at South Shore Hospital. Doctor Corwin came by, his usual upbeat self, and explained what he planned to do: cut a hole in my chest — upper left side — and stick in a doohickey that would connect to my bloodstream. There would be something like a faucet. My chemotherapy pump, he said, would be attached to this.
So he was putting in the delivery system for my benevolent poison. They put me out for the surgery and when I woke up, there was just a square of gauze on my chest. The next week the faucet under there would become the highway over which my poison would travel. They took me to the front door in a wheelchair and loaded me into the front seat of the Volvo.
Nicole made sure I was settled, then got in the driver’s seat and smiled. It had begun to snow.