I talk to myself a lot. I say some terrible things. In front of my kids. I don’t often hear the things that I am saying, but sometimes they let me know. Apparently my most often used line is, “Kill them.”
I don’t know why I’m saying it out loud. It is rarely representative of what is going on inside. If I heard someone saying that with no context, I would be pretty sure that there was some connection to ruminating violent thoughts, but that is not what is happening.
Not long ago, Justine and I were doing something with Lucy. Justine probably notices my self-talk more often now than she did when she was desensitized by living with me. I don’t recall all of what was going on at the time, but I was doing something. Lucy wasn’t around for a minute. I looked up and Justine was laughing. I had no idea why.
“Kill them,” Justine said.
I kind of laughed and said, “Kill them. Was I talking to myself?”
“Yes. And then Lucy turned to me and whispered, ‘You see what I have to deal with?’ Then she walked away.”
At work, I will try to cover it up by singing or mumbling something less threatening or try to tie it into something that makes sense. Yes, I said ‘work’. I just started a new job. Can you imagine your new co-worker in the cube right next door? Or even worse, you interviewed this person and they passed the background check.
Believe me, I am just as surprised as anyone else when it comes out of my mouth, and I do hear it. Sometimes.
Now imagine this fat middle aged white guy with an unruly beard, black tennis shoes, blue jeans, a hospital gown with no shirt underneath, and an IV pole walking up and down the hallway all weekend at St. Joseph’s hospital. I can’t tell you how many nurses on the floor interrupted my ruminations with, “Excuse me. Did you say something?”
“I’m sure I did, but I couldn’t for the life of me recall what it is I said. I’m sure it wasn’t important.”
I have learned that the self-talk becomes more pronounced when I am in the middle of processing something, and I had a lot to process that weekend. I often remember a lot of details about particular experiences. If the experience is traumatic or stressful, then I play the scene over and over again. It’s not a choice. It just happens.
I also remember an awful lot of what I read. Even the stuff I have no context to understand. Much later, I might have an experience that provides the context for understanding. The information gets re-indexed. I spent a lot of that weekend re-indexing books and articles that I have read about cancer. While wandering around the hospital muttering, “Kill them.”
It’s a wonder they let me walk around free.
I entered the hospital on Thursday, August 22. It was now Saturday morning and the only sleep I had achieved was from the anesthesia. Every time I started to drift, I’d start talking about something, and that would wake me up. That was also the first morning the crowd of interns made their rounds with a resident from the surgical team. About 10 people at 7:00 in the morning. As the week progressed, a couple of the more ambitious interns would show up at 6:30 to ask me questions ahead of the mob.
“Rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain you have ever felt.”
The worst pain I had ever felt? I had a 10, but that was soon to be replaced.
I know I had a lot of visitors that weekend. I know that I also spent a lot of time by myself. I got on the elevator to the sky bridges and wandered around. I never left the hospital, but I discovered a lot about the hospital. I found the wound unit and the women’s health center. I also found the windowless meditation room which reminded me that I was in a Catholic hospital with its pews. A tiny plastic rosary hung on the wall from a tack behind a lectern that held a single sheet of paper, a copy of the prayer of St. Michael.
|Saint Michael the Archangel,|
defend us in battle,
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil;
may God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God, cast into hell
Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls.
I’ve always been a fan of St. Michael the Archangel with my middle name being Michael. I don’t know why the concepts are connected for me. I’ve always been fascinated by the vast array of Catholic Saints and the mythology. I was raised Catholic. I reflexively cross myself, sit, stand, and kneel during a Catholic mass. I’ve been through the sacraments, with the exception of marriage and of course death. As I’ve said, I am not a believer, but the stories are familiar to me. The image of Saint Michael slaying Satan, as a dragon, is wonderful. I stopped by the meditation room many times that weekend and kept reading that sheet of paper.
A parade of people came to see me. My mother wanted to be there when I came back from surgery. She stayed at home to rest. I know Justine stopped by with the kids at least once a day. Rebecca stopped by at least once a day. Troy came late at night, with Ashley and by himself.
Tamara came on Sunday and gave me a lot of advice about cancer treatment being a cancer survivor herself. Tamara’s husband, Randy, is also a cancer survivor. Some of her advice has become part of my routine with the doctors and hospitals. Someone should be taking notes is a big one. Also, write down your questions before the appointment, and decide whether your questions have been answered before the doctor leaves the room.
My brother John came by a few times. On Sunday, both siblings came by with families: John, Karen, Jennifer, Kelli, Barbara, Shannon. Everyone was very loud. I felt reassured and home. Cared for.
One of the things that I have discovered through this process is that I am important to a lot of people. It’s one of the reasons I began to write this blog (book?). I put the news on Facebook, and my phone went crazy. Texts and phone calls. I can only field so many of these things. I ignored many calls. I apologize.
I have seen the websites made to keep family members up to speed on everything that is happening in a medical crisis, but I already had this blog. I thought I’d just put the information here and update people on Facebook. I also knew that I had a lot to process. A lot to write down about the experience. I wasn’t going to write it once for me and then another time for everyone else. You’re just going to get the whole story.
Doctors, nurses, blood draws, vital signs. There was a man from Guyana. A woman from Mexico. Another woman from the Philippines. There was a very loud woman from the Dominican Republic that cleaned the rooms in the morning. She came in talking loudly on Saturday morning with a Dominican accent to someone on her bluetooth. I responded to the things she was saying.
“Where is he going?”
“I don’t know. I can’t see him.”
She looked at me, “I told him to stay at home.”
“I can’t stop him. I’m in the hospital.”
She closed her eyes and shook her head, “I can’t deal with this right now. I’m at work.”
Free from her phone call, she said, “This is very weird, and I hope you don’t mind my saying it, but you look exactly like my fiance.”
“It’s because we’re white. We all look the same.”
There was a momentary pause while she puzzled over how to deal with my response. Then she doubled over with laughter leaning on the bed. She looked up and shook a finger at me.
I asked, “Does he have cancer too?”
She stopped laughing for a moment. Then laughed some more.
“What is wrong with you? You don’t talk to people like this.”
“Maybe you don’t, but apparently I do. I mean what else am I going to do?”
She stopped laughing, “Cancer? You look fine. You look strong.”
“Can I go home then?”
More laughing. She really liked to laugh, “Seriously though. You look fine.”
“We don’t know if it’s cancer yet. I’ll have surgery this week. Then they’ll tell me.”
“You don’t know yet? Oh my God! I don’t know if I can deal with you. I could be in here all day.”
“Whoa. Wait a minute now. I don’t even know your name, and what about your fiance?”
“Shut up. I have to clean your room.” She put her hand on her chest, “Camila.”
“Camila. I’m Larry. Where are you from?”
Medical professionals, on meeting for the first time, put on a mask of concern, sincere but intentional. I don’t like the intentional part, but the sincerity makes up for it. Most people in medicine really care about what they are doing. Some aren’t cut out for it, but that’s any profession. Some are called to it, like Dr. Garza.
Dr. Garza came in by herself. She thought a lot about what she was going to say before she said it. I imagine there are a lot of people that want the concerned mask. I want information not bedside manner. Dr. Garza measured how much information I could handle.
First, Dr. Garza retraced the territory. What happened. CT scan results. Colonoscopy. I showed her the packet of pictures the ICU doctor had given me. As we talked, she became more engaged. She started to describe the surgery, hemicolectomy, removal of half the colon. She referred to the cecum. I showed her a picture on my phone as I’d looked it up after hearing it mentioned 50 times.
“I have a better diagram. Let me get a print out. I will come back later to talk about it some more.”
“Sure. I’ll be here.”
As promised, she returned with a diagram to show me how they would remove the upper half of the colon up to the cecum, which is where the connection is made to the small intestine. Then they stretch the lower half of the colon to connect it to the cecum. She hoped that the cecal valve could be salvaged, but she couldn’t be sure. I asked if there would be a colostomy bag. She was unsure since they could not see the cecal valve in the pictures from the colonoscopy.
The idea of a colostomy bag really bothered me. I fought with myself throughout the day to come to terms with that as a possibility. Obviously, living with a colostomy bag was better than not living. Right? I am sure that I am not the only person that has ever struggled with this concept. There are adjustments that come with age, illness, disability. We adjust one way or another.
Late Sunday, Justine brought the kids to see me. They were starting school the next morning, August 26. Dr. Garza had just told me that the surgery, a hemicolectomy, was to be performed that same day. My empathy and concern for my children has always been immediate. Any involved parent can easily place themselves in the shoes of their children – the experience of the moment. As they age and individuate, that experience becomes further and further removed from our own. I had always counted on that removal happening very gradually.
Suddenly, I had no idea what they were going through. I have nothing in my own experience to relate to my children’s experience of me being sick like this. Justine and I had briefly talked about what information they should have. She was concerned that I would scare them with too much information, that maybe I already had. I really didn’t know what I was going to say, but I knew I needed to say something before I went into surgery.
“Why don’t you two go for a walk with your dad. I’ll stay here.”
I took them to the meditation room. We explored what there was to explore. Sat in the pews. Pontificated from the lectern. Read St. Michael’s prayer. Opened drawers. This was really just Lucy and I. Iggy sat in a chair along the wall looking nervous and wanting to look at his phone, which he did not do.
How does one start conversations like this? I really don’t know. I don’t know what small talk got us there. I don’t know how I decided what to say except that I’ve never lied to them.
“I’m going into surgery tomorrow. I’m sorry all of this is happening at once. School starts tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll get to see you afterward. But it’s okay if it’s too much. Also it’s not without risk. I mean, this surgery is done all of the time, but it is a major surgery. I’m younger than many people that have it. I’m strong. I look healthy, but anything can happen. Including death. You should know that beforehand.”
I let that sink in for a while.
“This is going to be a long road. Lots of treatments I think. But one thing at a time. And this is a big one, and I’ve never had surgery like this so I don’t know what to expect. But I love you. I want you to know that. You will both be fine without me if it comes to that.”
Lucy was crying. Iggy was present – shocked and anxious would be my guess. I don’t know how to describe my feelings during this conversation. It was like being in an intentional car wreck. Maybe a word should be coined for this, because I don’t recall having an emotive sensation quite like it. Something protective, grief stricken, lost. There’s nothing like being absolutely honest with your children about mortality. This conversation changed our relationships.
“I don’t plan on dying, but you should know the magnitude of the moment. People have surgery like this every day. I can’t imagine a reason I wouldn’t make it. I’m sorry.”
Lucy hugged me, “I don’t want you to be sick. I don’t like it.”
Iggy hugged me. It’s enough to say that I know I reached him.