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I know I’m in trouble when he pulls on the latex gloves.
I’m a guy.
He’s my urologist.
At the very least, he could provide a paw full of poppers, a poorly-made Tequila Sunrise, some Donna Summer tunes, dimmed lights and a mirrored disco ball.
Instead, the interlude is brief, brutish, lacking in affection.
When he’s done with me, his gloves come off, my pants go up.
I am used to having cancer; I will never get used to “professionalism.”
For heaven’s sake, what happened to the notion of romance? There wasn’t even a follow-up card, flowers, a call with the old, “Was it as good for you as it was for me?” Nothing.
Frank, my doctor and, I like to think, my friend, has just completed an exploration in a dicey anatomical region. He is dressed in his surgical blues having, no doubt, sliced up yet another guy prior to my appointment, and he takes a seat on a stool across from where I sit, ever-so-tenderly.
I have received a lot of what many consider “bad news” over the last couple of years, so I am not prone to shock.
Frank knows this, and he delivers his standard line in perfunctory fashion.
Got prostate cancer.
Check: Know that.
Had your cancerous prostate removed.
Check: Know that. You did it.
Still got the cancer.
Check: Know that.
Indicators show it is advancing.
Check: Know that.
There are the treatment options.
Check: Know them.
Whaddya think? Want some radiation?
There’s a chance it could destroy my urethra, my bladder; I could end up with colon cancer, bagged and stinky, banned to the corner at the office Christmas party.
Check: Thought about that.
Didn’t feel anything “up there,” cancerwise.
Excellent. That’s not a good place to feel things.
Got about seven to ten years before it comes back to bite you, if you do nothing now.
Hmmm. You know, this getting old, on-the-glidepath thing … it’s pretty rocky, don’t you think? Unrelenting and, despite many folks’ delusions, progressively loaded with bad news. That’s the way it goes. Sixty-six isn’t the new forty-six … it’s sixty-six and heading for the cliff.
Seven to ten? Let’s see: I’m sixty-six, so … hold on a minute, I was never too good at math … that pencils out to seventy-three to seventy-six, right?
I’ll get “bit” at seventy-three to seventy-six. Perhaps I’ll experience a pain in the lower back or somewhere else in my bones that painkillers can’t touch; perhaps my liver or kidneys will go on the blink, or I’ll have seizures. The bite is never pleasant.
Average lifespan for an American male? Seventy-six.
Sets one to wondering about health care, about the moves you make when gripped by mortality reality. Panic does not serve you well; after all, you’re going to get “bit” sooner or later. Maybe by a tumor, maybe by an errant vehicle, maybe by a deranged punk indiscriminately firing off rounds in a convenience store, maybe because you get tangled up in your PJ bottoms as you walk down the stairs. Maybe because the lava-like outpourings of self-aggrandizing crap from “sincere and important” people with”“great ideas for the community” cause you to put a large plastic bag over your head and tie it tight at the neck.
Frank dishes out the required advice: Change my diet, think about hormone treatments (they turn a guy into a menopausal wreck, suffering hot flashes, weeping while watching television commercials featuring kids and dogs, and growing a pretty impressive set of breasts), consider radiation therapy within the next year, when it might work.
Frank’s a wonderfully conscientious guy. He also likes good food and wine. We connect; he knows that I recognize the standard palaver; he knows where I’m going with this.
And, then, that’s it. See you next year, when we’ll have the same conversation, beyond the window when a beam of radiation might, or might not, do some good, or some bad.
I write all this not to encourage sympathy or support. Without the grace of an end that comes so swiftly we are not aware of our impending demise, we’ll all pull a bad news wagon one time or another.
I write this because, when contending with mortality, for me the key question has nothing to do with religious ideas (there’s a bunch of them to choose from, so, if you’re inclined, take your pick — it’s like being on a sinking ship with an abundance of lifejackets, but no rescuers on the way), nor does it have much to do with making a dramatic change. Sure, I can quit my job and move to Tanzania to be a big game guide, but I’d take my problem with me. And the gazelles won’t save me.
I could begin a frantic search for “alternative” remedies, inspired by the story of an unidentified guy in Florida whose terminal case went into remission after he drank a fermented beverage made with muskrat tails and wheat grass. As long as I don’t require verifiable results from extensive, long-term studies of the treatment, all I will lose, beside my life, is time, faith in my fellow man and money. Then again, who knows, I might be cured; there might be a “miracle,” i.e. a postponement.
The important question is what the heck am I going to eat and drink? What kind of music am I going to listen to? With whom am I going to have substantial, meaningful conversations — about art, philosophy, things substantial? Whom do I love, and who loves me?
Especially since, today, Frank snuck into the house throiugh the back door and left a distressing note.
Kathy and my daughters are quick to put pressure on me concerning Frank’s comments about a more selective diet. There is no way they will turn me loose; they are like Rottweilers pouncing on a wounded bunny.
So, my idea of what I should eat, today, has to be modified somewhat, lest my indulgences cause me more pain than pleasure.
No, Karl, you cannot eat a pint of béarnaise sauce with a spoon.
The seafood tower is out.
No, Karl, the slab of foie gras on top of a medium rare bacon cheeseburger will not happen.
A half-quart of bourbon is no longer in the picture. At least not in one sitting.
Two pounds of baked ziti with four cheeses? Nope.
But, I refuse (as I have before) to take up residence in a food desert. I am not going to retreat to a vegan universe in which people pretend the fare is great, a world in which the term “demi-glace” is used to describe an ice skating maneuver. I am not going to give up the habit of eating a chunk of dead animal now and then.
Some, perhaps, but not all. There is no life without cheese.
You gotta be kidding.
I will bump up my vegetable intake, cut way back on white stuff (something I have done before, with success), limit my intake of intoxicants (limitation, here, is a flexible concept, no?), keep the cheese and meat down to a mild roar, and prepare relatively simple, comforting and flavorful dishes instead of fat-loaded spectaculars. And, I will do so in a relatively sober state.
First off, today: Lima beans with ham hocks. A down-home delight.
Add hot water to a couple cups of dried Lima beans, bring to a boil, cover, take off heat, soak a couple hours.
Saute chopped white onion and a bit of chopped celery. Throw in a couple cloves of garlic, minced, when the other veggies are soft. Drain and rinse the beans, put them back in the pot and cover with water. Toss the veggie mix in along with a couple of smoked pork hocks or shank pieces, a bay leaf, some red chile flakes and a tablespoon of chicken base. Bring to boil, turn the heat to low, cover and simmer gently for several hours. Check occasionally, add more liquid if necessary. The last hour, maneuver the pot lid in order to reduce the liquid to a thick consistency. Serve with cornbread and hot sauce. Share with a loved one, while listening to her make corrections to my regimen. Love is wonderful, but there is a price.
Fine, simple stuff. Tasty, somewhat healthy and good … for today.
And today is all that matters, whether you’ve heard the snap of latex gloves, or not.