So, I’d been bellyaching these last few days about the stultifying sameness that’s descended over my life. I called it a jail. I revealed how this whole cancer business not only has played havoc with my physical body but the contents of my coconut as well.
Give me some variety, I pleaded. Help me out of this depression.
Well, I got variety today, that’s for goddamned sure. A trip to the emergency room and a threat to have the police throw me in the meat wagon and cart me off to an insane asylum.
A little background. Saturday I wrote up a thorough and detailed report on my recovery from chemoradiation, both aspects of which had ended two weeks ago today. The two weeks post treatment traditionally are the worst in terms of side effects, I’m told, and lo and behold, that’s precisely what I experienced. The pain and discomfort, the never-ending yucky symptoms sprouting out from head to toe, the inability to eat and to talk. I was becoming a wreck. It reached a head by Saturday.
I wrote up the report because I had my two-week post-treatment appointment with Dr. Wu this morning. I figured if I wasn’t able to talk much, a written report would do the trick. So I counted down everything — the agonies, the triumphs, even how often I was urinating and what color it was. Like I said, thorough.
In the interests of full disclosure, I recounted my episodes of discouragement and depression. Here’s one line:
I was warned that once chemoradiation therapy was complete, my condition would get worse before it got better and that’s 100 percent correct. My discomfort level deteriorated to the point that the Friday after my last therapy sessions, I was feeling bad enough to want to die.
And another, a couple of paragraphs later:
My psychological state deteriorated concurrently. I struggled to remain upbeat and argued with myself over the theoretical merits of suicide.
Did you catch that? “… [T]he theoretical merits of suicide.”
Note, I didn’t say I wanted to commit suicide nor did I confess to laying out any plans to do so. Like any sentient being in my situ., I mused to myself, Wouldn’t it be better if I just ended it all? This said, natch, in a more theatrical sense than as any real threat.
Only I’d committed that musing to paper (or, more accurately, my flash drive which I gave to Dr. Wu so he could read the report).
Well, read it he did and the result was he was fixin’ to break my head when he came into the examination room at the radiation center this AM.
It turns out the mere mention of the S-word compels medical professionals to order an immediate suicide evaluation for the mentioner. That would be me.
“This is a lot of trouble,” Dr. Wu said, after grilling me about my plans for self-disposal. “This is very serious.”
The poor guy was beside himself. He’s busy, of course, trying to save a life or two here and there among the dozens of people who stream into his radiation center every day. Now he’d have to notify the IU Health Bloomington Hospital emergency room that I’d be coming in to see the psychiatrist on call — stat. He’d have to follow through to make sure I didn’t shove my head in the oven and, for all I know, there’d be reams of paperwork for him to fill out. Oh, he was steamed.
“And if you don’t show up at the emergency room,” Wu added, “the police will come to your house and ask you questions and take you to the hospital for evaluation.”
Serious stuff indeed. When institutions — either for-profit or charitable — find themselves at risk of a liability lawsuit, they get serious. Should I have drunk a quart of Drano and the police later found out I’d breathed the word suicide, Wu and company would be hauled up in court and pilloried in the worst way possible.
Off I went to the emergency room. I walked up to the registration window and said, “I’m here for a suicide evaluation.” I glanced sideways to see if anyone in the waiting room had heard me confess to being the nut who was gonna blow his brains out.
I never got medical service so fast in my life. The registrar slapped the hospital ID wristband on me and bade me come in to the intake room.
A stroke of luck — it turned out the receiving nurse had spent years practicing in oncology before she switched over to emergency. I told her exactly what happened and why I wrote what I did. Then I said, “I want to make an official statement: I do not wish to commit suicide. I have not planned nor am I now planning to take my own life. I merely mentioned the word to illustrate how low my spirits had sunk. I wanted the doctor to know my psychological state.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” she said. “We can’t keep you here against your will so I’ll ask you, Do you want to be admitted to the hospital?”
“And you say you have no plans to hurt yourself or commit suicide?”
“None! For chrissakes, do you think I’d go through all this misery if I didn’t want to live anymore?”
“No,” she said. “What you’re feeling is perfectly normal.”
And with that, she pressed a computer key and deleted my admission report to the emergency room. “Good luck,” she said. “And know it’s going to get better from here on out.”
Well. That was one of the most satisfying encounters I’ve ever had with a medical professional. Only a little more drama awaited me. I had an appointment at the infusion center for blood labs, another bag of sodium chloride and maybe some added potassium and magnesium immediately after my Wu appointment. I walked into the infusion center late and was directed immediately to one of the private rooms with a bed, the first time I’d ever gotten that accommodation there. In the room were my medical oncologist, Dr. Allerton, and his nurse Mike. Allerton was holding a copy of my report in his hand.
I shook my head as I entered. “What a load of fucking bullshit,” I groused. The two of them heaved sighs of relief. Allerton peppered me with Q’s about my plans for the future, most specifically whether I saw a future for myself or not and, satisfied, launched into a scold.
“Here are the rules,” he said. “You don’t commit putting the word suicide to paper unless you want to start a whole lot of trouble.”
I stood on my head to convince him suicide wasn’t in my immediate plans and within moments the three of us were making suicide jokes. “I know who you are and how you act and talk,” he said. “I wouldn’t have reacted so strongly to this. But any other medical person would. Dr. Wu did what he had to do. I’m not saying you’re wrong for writing this. You wanted him to know how you felt. That’s good. Believe me, it’s how anyone would feel going through this.”
So, crisis averted. The dogs were called off. The all-points bulletin was rescinded. The nurses pumped me full of a 1000 mL bag of NaCl solution. My electrolyte levels are getting near normal, my kidney functions approaching swell.
The only thing wrong with me, apparently, is I’m a writer and writing can get a guy in deep trouble.
Mikey, I try to imagine what you are going through and maybe I can get a glimpse, but not the whole picture. And not minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day without a break. Even if we don’t communicate regularly, know that you are in our thoughts and discussions all the time. We try to “beam” good energy your way (sorry for the inapropriate pun). We’d love to see you and Karen soon when you are ready.
You’re a tough guy. Keep your chin up.