Life Strings

With my usual oncologist on rotation in Kabul, Afghanistan as Army Reserve, I was reassigned to my original oncologist for the duration of his absence. He should be back in March –maybe April from what the rumor mill says. To quote Bobby Troup’s character  in the motion picture M*A*S*H, “God damned Army.” After 90 days of no oncology appointments I was finally called in for a look see. My original doctor, whom I haven’t seen in two years or so looked at me a little funny, and then turned to his computer to bring up my records. “You were in the hospital?” he asked. I spent five minutes explaining that I’d had pneumonia and spent time in the hospital, but I was back home and on the mend. Then he asked: “Home? Are you staying in a veteran home?”

“No,” I said. “I’m staying in my home.” I said.

“You’re not in constant care?”

“No, I live at home. I was only in the hospital because I had pneumonia. I don’t live in the long term care facility here.” I said.

He nodded with a perplexed look on his face and turned back to his computer. He spent literally fifteen minutes going through entry after entry in my record. After a while I tired of the silence and said that while my cancer was progressing –I had more lesions and more spinal compression problems, that I was managing pretty well on the pain meds. He asked how I knew my cancer was progressing and I replied that it could be seen in the multiple xrays that had been taken of me, including a pair of bone surveys in which my entire skeleton was imaged. I added that I had had a couple of CAT scans and an MRI, and all of which pointing to the bone damage creeping along through me steadily –albeit slowly. He then said that the only real way to gauge the cancer was looking at the protein levels and I reminded him that I was a non-secretor. No proteins to look at.

“Right. Right.” he said. “Well, don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m surprised you’re still alive. It seems as though you are doing better at fighting the myeloma than we were. But I’m amazed that you are surviving this long. I see your labs, and your blood numbers are pretty good. You’re a bit low on red and white cells at the moment and your platelets are pretty low, but all in all, well, I’m very surprised.”

“Personally, I don’t think it could have happened to a nicer guy.” I said. You gotta love it when your doctor is perplexed that you’re alive. Of course, after saying something like that to me I guess there wasn’t much more to say. Apparently he agreed.

He smiled and stood, an indication the appointment was over. “Keep doing whatever you’re doing.” he said. He shook my hand and sat back down and went back to reading my case records on his computer. It has been more than two years since I saw him as my primary oncologist, and he looked like he’d aged a lot more than I had. Gray was showing in the roots of his hair, a telltale he was a user of hair color, and his face was more deeply lined and his eyes looked tired. I, of course, have the visage of a studly twenty year old with six pack abs and clear eyes that radiate strength. Okay, that’s a load of crap. I look like a 70 year old cripple who uses hair color, except I don’t. For some reason, my hair refuses to give up its brown color, save for a few odd strands of gray here and there. I’m pudgy and have skin like tallow. But, as the doctor so quaintly put it, I’m still with us (even if I do look rode hard and put up wet).

At the first of the year I was dubious about my mortality. I was sick as a dog and barely had the strength to take the few steps from bed to bathroom. I’m well aware that I’m outside the boundaries of survivability, moving well away from the max amplitude of the bell curve.  So back at the beginning of the month I’d gone through all of the preparations I’d made for my passing, making sure all addresses were up to date and that all accounts were listed and how they were to be dealt with. All of my debts, save my balanceless Visa, are insured so my wife won’t be inundated with loan accelerations and other expenses. I’ve even made arrangements for, and paid off my funeral and cremation. I was feeling pretty low as the pneumonia gripped me like pray in the talons of a raptor, and figured that just maybe my string had run out. But no, in the hospital some unseen angel came and tied a few more feet of line to it and so my string is a bit longer. How much, I have no idea.

I hope it’s a long, long spool.