With my hand on the wheel and my brain in neutral . . .

Diary of My Death, Post #5

Useful Suggestions if You Know Someone with Cancer:

I do appreciate and am grateful for all the support I’ve been receiving. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many of the people who are not in my closest circle of friends (with mutual awareness of that, I might add) nonetheless actually do give a damn about me. I’ve been enjoying a level of warmth I didn’t know was there for me. I am thankful for it.

That being said, there are a few things bugging me, and they are of the kind that will probably irritate any fatally-ill people in your life, too. Here are a few things you might want to consider not doing.

  • Please quit asking how I’m feeling today. It’s not a big deal when one or two people a day ask me, but when everyone does, it quickly becomes like having 27 people remind me I am sick and actively dying. I think linguist call it subtext. I appreciate their interest, but imagine if your neighbors said to you, as you walk to your car or take out your garbage, “Hey! Just in case you forgot, you’re dying!” Say just, “G’morning!” and leave it at that. Maybe chitchat about the weather or whatever. Once you’ve looked a cancer patient in the eye and quietly offered your help running errands or keeping him company, don’t bring it up or even hint at it. “I’m going to the grocery store. You want me pick something up for you?” conveys your care, whereas looking at me with concerned, sympathetic eyes and asking how I’m feeling makes me feel like a Dead Man Walking. After a few weeks of this, it gets creepy.

    The same subtext concept applies to a daily “I’ve been praying for you!” It’s much stronger, though. Ya, like double, triple, even four-ple times stronger.

  • Please remember that for about half of the chemo treatment cycle (about one week out of EVERY two) I am sick. It feels very much like having a flu (except without the runny nose.) Chances are I am sleeping, snoozing, napping, dozing, staring at the ceiling, or hazily thinking about the upcoming Big Event and the entirety of my life. Please do not try to entertain me or plan activities to cheer me up. If you want to keep me company, great! Just sit nearby and read a book or something. Follow my lead for the level and complexity of conversation. Probably all I’m up to is intermittent chitchat.
    Two little incidents illustrate this:

    • A neighbor who was nice enough – yes, I see that – to bring me homemade chicken soup but knocked on my door like a Nazi stormtrooper and made me jump out of my skin.
    • Just before Thanksgiving, a lady friend of mine woke me (ya, in the middle of the day) just to give me a pumpkin. I DO appreciate her for thinking of me, but the gifted pumpkin wasn’t even in the proper form (pie)! I smashed the pumpkin down over her head like a helmet, spun her around to make her dizzy and disoriented, and pushed her in the general direction of highway traffic. Okay, okay, actually I smiled and said thank you, but the pumpkin-helmet plan did immediately flash through my mind.
    • Pumpkin Helmet Head

  • Please remember that during the other half of the chemo treatment cycle, on my good days preceding the next treatment and resultant week of near uselessness, I have things to do. Beside basic errands like getting groceries and doing laundry, I have new and necessary preparations to cross off my to-do list, and I have long-standing goals and projects that I’d like to advance because . . . because I’m still alive and it’s generally a good idea to keep on living until you die. There’s more to living than merely seeking distraction and entertainment. I have things to do and effectively only about half of each monthly calendar to do them. Thank you, but no, I do not want to go out for a couple of drinks.
  • Please remember that I have lost nearly all of the illusion of controlling my life. Not only is cancer taking years from me but also chemotherapy is stealing as much as half of my time left. Yes, I know in truth the chemo is extending my overall time here, but up to half that time is useless for pretty much any activity and definitely useless for any productivity. Imagine a person who was somehow able, after a lifetime of attempts, finally to be able to herd a few rascally cats in the shadows and then one morning to find himself on the wrong end of a leash in the claw of a damn big and ugly beast. Please allow me to believe that I still know what’s best for me, that I still handle my own helm. Please do not make decisions for me. (These days I am remembering – from nearly 30 years ago – my mother talking about this.)
  • I am not sure if I’m expressing this last thought as articulately as possible, or if it is the wisest, most emotionally healthy thinking, but here goes:

    It is clear that the people closest to me and the most intertwined in my life have genuine concern and the best intentions. I do wonder, though, about some of the people in my outer orbits. I’m pretty sure I am not the kind of person who makes everything about himself, the kind who demands attention and to be the center of focus (usually I’m rather uncomfortable with that, even on my birthday or whatever). My cancer thing, though, uhh, ya, I’m thinking that yes, this IS about me. If we are not very close, it’s completely okay if you don’t want to participate, but if you do, I’m sorry, but helping you feel good about your somewhat clumsy efforts and helping you deal with the issue of death just can’t be my priority. I will continue to try to be polite, but with each nearly useless week after a chemo treatment, I am becoming increasingly aware that I just don’t have the energy or time to fully extend myself for the benefit of others. Whether I live a few more months or a few more years, as always life is not meant to be centered squarely on the self, but, uhh, ya, my cureless cancer IS about me.

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Diary of My Death, Post #4

I’m going to borrow a line from the brother of a friend as he approached his own death. Dax told my friend and other loved ones, “I’m going to miss you!” His sentiment has taken hold and has repeatedly resurfaced in my thoughts.

Weeks ago, shortly after the doctor gave me my official diagnosis (I’m thinking maybe just hours), the “miss you” sentiment began popping into my mind now and then at the slightest of prompts. The first might have been as I was driving over a bridge and glanced out over the water. I saw the small waves being driven by the easy wind, the sunlight’s dappled reflection, the still-somewhat-green autumn trees on the shore, and a few boats moored here and there. It was just a glance, but I saw the wonder of it all, the joy of just being out on the bay, and I thought, “Hey! No more of that for me!” Well, a little more, as long as I last, but yes, there are plenty of things in life I’m going to wish I could enjoy endlessly.

In addition to the people in my life, of course, here are just a few things I’m going to miss. Some are small, some are more complicated, but all are downright amazing and wonderful.

  • The way the tops of trees move when a slight breeze sighs through them, especially in bright sunlight.
  • The way a better-than-average cup of coffee (great beans) makes you feel you’ve rediscovered coffee.
  • The way natural bodies of water move in wavelets, waves, and swells. I have spent time at sea, and I’ve often been hypnotized by the incredibly complex, intricate movement of water. Watching it is like having your vision restricted by a small window but still being able to see part of the machinations of the entire natural universe. (By the way, there’s a scene in the animated movie Happy Feet where the digital artists captured the poetry well enough to grab my focus and say, “Whoa! That’s a fantastic piece of work!”)
  • Music. Of course, everyone has their own taste and preference, but there’s no denying it: some music is just a shade shy of miraculous. Here, listen to the live rendition of Brian Culbertson’s On My Mind, and maybe play it two or three times with your eyes closed. How can something like this be created by mere mortals, by the exact same kind of creature that starts wars, subjugates and even enslaves each other, and carelessly cuts its own collective throat by polluting the planet? The same creatures that still wear mullet hairdo’s? It’s mind-boggling.
    And look at the high-quality piano in the video. Imagine – I mean it; take a few moments to imagine – how much societal cooperation is needed to produce such a fine instrument. Imagine not only the instrument itself but also all the unknown people who built houses, baked bread, made shoes, bound wounds, kissed and cried, and delivered pizza for the people who actually put together the piano. Then, imagine the societal cooperation that enables YOU to enjoy this music with just a click on your internet browser. There are millions of unknown people who have earnestly lived the drama of their “little” lives, and a whole lot of history, that have coalesced into YOUR ability to click your laptop and enjoy sublime music that billions – yes, billions – of humans have never or will never hear. For you and me, it’s just a case of being in the right place at the right time: we are lucky son-of-a-bitches.
  • Those soft sunsets in the winter, the kind where the air is motionless and crisply clear, and resilient bare trees are silhouetted by a band of fluid reds and oranges below a deep, deep blue sky . . .
  • The feeling at the end of a physically active day, for work or play, when your body is full of endorphins the way it can be only from being in motion the way our bodies are meant to be. It isn’t necessary at all to have done anything especially athletic or grand, just to have been in motion for the better part of a day. You’re out of your mind, out of your internal reality, and in the natural, real world, engaged in being.

The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
—Bertrand Russell

Don’t let the distractions of daily life blind you to the poetry that envelopes us.

Diary of My Death, Post #3

Chemo #2

Every other Monday I have a treatment, and every other treatment I see my oncologist. Before any treatment, the staff draws blood from me to monitor my status. My numbers are pretty good, the doctor tells me.

From texts I sent to family and friends:

Doctor said that my significant reduction in pain was a very good sign. Then he threw me into a chair with thick leather straps like in the old Frankenstein movies, cranked a corkscrew needle into my navel, and slowly injected various poisons into me all damn day. He’s a bit of a twisted fucker.

The chemo I.V. bags have Latin names, of course, but also brand names to make them easier to identify, just like Prozac or Zantac or whatever. Today my chemo bag names were Family of Origin (toxic), Ex-Spouse (toxic and cruel), and Current Political Climate (nauseating and poisonous.)
I pushed my I.V. stand around so I could sneak peeks at the med bags of other patients. I spied Liquid Lawyer (subtle but with a bite like a snake); Mother-In-Law (tough to take); H, F & TT – Hangover, Flu, and Throbbing Toothache; Insidious Ignorance; Acid Wash; and for kids . . . Scratchy Nanobots and Space Alien Cooties.

Overall, this treatment was noticeably easier to take than the first. It was the same regimen of meds, but my body responded with less surprise and indignation. Also, I managed the side effect constipation better. Thirdly, and no less important, the non-related supplementary drugs with the side effect of constipation had been metabolized or expelled or whatever. I wondered about their apparently major effect on the way my entire intestinal cavity felt. The pancreas pain was much less prominent. I believe the incidental use of the supplementary meds serendipitously helped bring attention to the lurking problem.

In retrospect, over the preceding few months there were signs of illness, but they were all easily overlooked or attributed to much more simple causes. On a daily and increasing basis, I hadn’t been as productive or energetic. Well, it was summertime, and the weather seemed to be either punishingly hot or depressingly rainy. Mix in the vagaries of life’s day to day frustrations and setbacks – some by chance and some by the popping bubbles of slow psychological stewing – and it is easy to overlook subtle signs. Then, surprise, you’re on the floor wondering what the hell is happening in your gut.

My treatments are on a 14-day cycle, and the first two chemo’s can be summarized like this:
#1 – first 8 days pretty much useless, next 3 days half-ass, last 3 days at 90% clear head but with less than normal energy – I’d start each day with an ambitious to-do list but quickly poop out and end up napping before lunch.
#2 – first 4 days pretty much useless, next 3 days half-ass, last 6 days at 90%.

That was an improvement, for sure. During the first round I had wondered whether in the not-too-distant future if the treatments would be worth it, especially as the cancer grew. Why be alive and uncomfortable if you’re not up to even watching a full movie on Netflix? During the second round I began to envision a better arc of treatment: before it gets worse, it’ll get better, for a while, at least. Regardless of longevity, I’ll still be able to accomplish a few things.

The thing is, it is only during the days at the end of the treatment cycle that I can get anything done. When physically you’re feeling like steaming dog crap disintegrating in the cold rain, and emotionally you’re mostly in a somber mood because you can’t ignore the writing on the wall, you just don’t have the energy to do much of anything. That includes small, daily responsibilities along with big, important ones. Do the dishes? Eh, tomorrow. Liquidate assets and update the will? Eh, tomorrow. Maybe. Take a shower? Eh, after another nap, or another day. The first few days after a chemo remind me very much of the long summer I was tricked into that Zombie vaccination.

Oh, and add to chemo the toll of sleeping usually only two hours at a time. During the first week after a treatment, the clock becomes totally irrelevant. Cook a meal at 3 a.m.? Why not?

Another text to family and friends:

Y’know how living on a boat I wear a knit beanie on my head 24/7 from November to March to keep warm? Yesterday I noticed the inside of my beanie had a lot of loose hairs in it. It pisses me off because it can mean only ONE thing – one of my asshole “friends” is sneaking onto my boat while I’m asleep and putting brushed dog hair in my hat!

(My nephew told me I missed my career calling as an ace police detective.)

Diary of My Death, Post #2

Chemo #1

I did not dare try to lie horizontally again. I slept sitting up for several nights, and then inclined lower and lower on a combination of foam wedges and folded blankets. Meanwhile I had my first chemo treatment, and the oncologist and the infusion nurse warned that a common side effect was gas and constipation. They gave me meds to help with that, and they did help, but after about a week my ponderous brain recalled the tidbit on the supplementary anti-depressant’s info sheet that a sometimes side effect was gas and constipation. I didn’t need any additional cause for that, so I took myself off supplementary meds (yes, I weaned off, because that’s important with brain biochemistry.) The discomfort dissipated greatly. At my next visit the doc told me that probably the extra content of my whole gut had been pushing the cancer growth against a nerve. I was able to lie horizontally again.

I’m sure that every person’s experience with their chemo treatments varies greatly with the type and stage of their cancer, the different kinds of chemo drugs used, other health conditions, and their overall strength. Also, without a doubt attitude plays a central role, as does emotional support from loved ones and friends. I am sure that other people have had a rougher time than I’ve had so far. At best, chemo is clearly unpleasant, but – for me, at least – it hasn’t been terrible.

First, the actual infusion: for several hours it was no more bothersome than getting several IV bags of saline. The reclining chair was comfortable; the nurses brought me pre-warmed blankets, drinks, and crackers; I read a book and dozed; and with my eyes closed listened to the calm chitchat of the staff and other patients. It wasn’t a bad day, and I was about to get bored with it all when they gave me the last IV bag of chemo . . . of chemo drugs? . . . of chemo medicine? . . . no, I have to say it: of chemo CRAP.

Almost immediately my body reacted. Without words my body told me, “Hey, uh, what is this shit? I can take it, ya, I can take it, but I don’t like it, nope, not at all.” I got hot, especially in my chest and face. I became hyper-aware of my skin and whatever it was touching. I started to get a dull, general headache. My stomach slowly churned and tightened. I got cramps in my feet, which as soon as I’d shake off would return. Oh, hell no, whatever was in the last IV bag, it wasn’t saline, uh-uh. The nurses noticed – every time I made a more than small shift in my body position, two or three nearby nurses would stop mid-sentence to look at me and ask me if I was okay. They slowed the rate of infusion to make it easier for my body to take. The slower rate was significantly more comfortable, but saying that in no way means it was comfortable at all.

I went home. I was pretty much useless for the next few days. I was told to expect to feel like I had a flu without the congestion and runny nose, and that’s a pretty accurate description. Sleep, snack, stare at the wall, snooze, snack, stare at the wall, sleep . . . hey, I can do this! Hell, I was born to do this! (I am not only a documented Nap Master, I am Napism’s Dalai Napa!)

For a week, the only thing I did quickly was urinate. Normally my body would whisper something like, “Hey, uh, just a thought: maybe you might want to consider taking a break to relieve yourself. No rush, just ya, you might want to start looking for an appropriate place for coming events.” With chemo, my body did not whisper. “HEY! Urinate! NOW! What? Okay, 8 . . . 7 . . . 6 – You feel that dribble? MOVE! 4 . . . 3 . . .” Even asleep, my body would wake me with a shouted NOW! The first couple nights I slept no more than two hours at a time. (By the way, sometimes why, yes, it IS damn handy to be a man: I found it quite convenient to keep a close-able container on the floor bedside.)

The expected and dreaded nausea wasn’t much of a problem. I vomited only once (well, okay, a few times real close together, at 5 a.m.) However, my whole digestion process was disturbed. It wasn’t broken, but it was . . . different. I was often aware of a slow churning, usually just more annoying than bothersome. There was also a fairly frequent low-grade heartburn, which I’ll describe later when I discovered its cause.

I had been warned about another side effect of chemo, a greatly increased sensitivity to cold. It didn’t start so bad at all, just a tingling in my fingers and toes although the October weather was only cool, not cold. I was to learn that this side effect is cumulative with further treatments, and unfortunate timing with the progression of autumn into winter. I happen to live on a boat in a marina, which is wonderful in many ways but just not as comfortable as a house with central heating. Oh, well, it’s not a big deal. I can truly say I have bigger problems!

Speaking of timing, this first treatment brought home the understanding that I had not just a diagnosis and prognosis but also hard days ahead. As in many other areas of life, there’s always a line to cross from mental understanding to daily emotional integration. As I began to realize on a gut level how much my life was changing, and that the end of it was no longer just conceptual but approaching within imaginable sight, I did have a few small bouts of resentment.

In the big picture, I am fine with it. If I were 20 years old I would feel cheated, but at 59 . . . hey, that’s not a short run. The thing is, timing-wise, for me, a few important things were coming together. I’d done a lot of work on my little sailboat and she was about ready for a trip down the coast and then with my nephews to the Bahamas. I’d done a lot of work on the barge / houseboat I live on, and it was almost as comfortable as it would ever be. I was expecting, six months from now, to be beginning the Summer of Gin and Tonic and Quiet Adventure. Also, my second book on Amazon was getting a few good reviews and selling, and I had begun writing the third, and I have a dozen more swirling around in my head. I was hitting my stride. This fucking cancer shit is tripping me up just as I’m finding my best pace in my personal one-man race. So, ya, there have been a few bouts of resentment, not so much at the cancer itself but at its timing. If it had shown up just one year from now . . .

Tiny things would spark thoughts of this. In my sailboat’s cockpit locker I spied the nearly unused, good quality garden hose I bought for washing her, and through some fast associations it made me think of all the resources and energy and time I’ve invested into a boat that most probably will not take me to the Bahamas. From the stupid garden hose to the energy I’ve put into the boat, to the effort I’ve put into 59 years of life, just to have it all taken from me just as it was about to bring me the rewards I’ve worked for, for so long . . . ya, the timing of it does piss me off. As Maxwell Smart so often said as he held his fingertips close together, “Missed it by thaaat much!”

My personal aspirations are the small part of the heartbreak, though. The hardest part of accepting the reality of my impending death – yes, the reality of it, because we all know we’re going to die but we never think about it, never incorporate it into our daily time management – is that I won’t be around for the kids (well, they’re not kids; they’re all college graduates.) They’re not mine, really (they’re my sister’s), but I’ve always thought of them as more than a niece and nephews. It’s fair to say that we’re closer than most niece, nephews, and uncle are. I’ll be merely losing my life, which everyone does, of course, but they’ll be losing a loved one. I’ll be in a hole, but there will be a hole in their lives for many years to come. I know that is the way it works, the way it has to be, but I was expecting to be around for another decade or two to offer guidance, comfort, or help as they begin their adult lives. I was looking forward to someday playing with their babies on the floor the way I did with them.

Oh, ya, being in their lives is way more important than any sailboat trip or personal goal of mine. So what if I don’t get to go back to the tropics? I lived there for two years, long ago. So what if I don’t get to write all the books in my head? Those books might change my little world, but they won’t change the whole world. So what if I’m resentful about running out of time before I get to do all the things I want to do? Boohoo. It’s not as if that’s hasn’t happened to . . . uh, billions of other people also, maybe even to nearly all of us. Everyone has a list of disappointments in their lives, experiences they didn’t get, but for all of us the coldest disappointment has got to be not being able to give all the love you want to give.

Diary of My Death, Post #1

Do not worry: what follows is not a depressing lament of woe. I prefer to think of it as a chronicle of the knowable part of The Biggest Adventure. I am 59 years old and recently have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that’s begun to invade my liver. For some reason – and not because I am a Zen Master – I accepted it immediately. I seem to be having an easier time with it (emotionally) than are the people in my life.

The purpose of these posts is two-fold:
1 – to give others a kind of inoculation of thoughts and feelings about what we all must face, sooner or later
2 – to describe the physical and emotional experience so you all may better understand what no doubt at least one of your loved ones will go through. Already, in the few weeks since my cancer diagnosis, I’ve gained much empathy for what my mother went through 30 years ago, even though I was there with her. I don’t know if she kept some of her feelings and thoughts to herself to spare her children’s vicarious suffering, but I do know she didn’t describe her experience with much anchoring detail.

The Discovery
I’m a pretty healthy guy. Of course, I’ve had the flu a couple of times and medical problems here and there, but for the most part, I’ve had no serious issues or problems. At age 59 I’m physically active enough to have much better muscle tone than a large percentage of the men I see walking around in public, including too damn many of the men twenty and even thirty years younger than me. All of a sudden, I am sick. In retrospect there were some signs that things weren’t right, but they were easy to overlook as normal variations in energy levels and minor aches. Then, I got two strange pains.

The first pain was in my upper calf, just below my left knee. It would show up now and then over the past year or two, usually after sitting down after being active. When I would stand again, I would feel an odd twinge, but it would disappear in a few steps. I wrote it off as some kind of strained muscle, tendon, or ligament. I considered it to be a mere annoyance, a little quirk of accumulated decades of leg use. Then, about two months ago, the twinge didn’t disappear. My calf swelled and stiffened. When I borrowed a heating pad for it, my friend told me about Baker’s Cysts, which prompted Google searches, which revealed info about DVT’s – Deep Vein Thrombosis, known in layman’s terms as blood clots. Many articles cautioned to take these seriously because if the blood clot broke free and traveled, it could be fatal. I sought medical attention, and one test led to another, and soon my doctor asked me to come in to discuss results. That’s never a good sign.

By the way, the sonogram of my left leg was fascinating. On TV I’d seen short clips of sonograms, and mommas have shown me printed photos of their pregnancies, but I’d never witnessed a sonogram in progress. It is amazing. You can watch your veins swell and push blood with every heartbeat. It’s like having magic, or Superman X-ray vision, or God eyes. When the screen was showing the area around the pain in my calf, without the slightest education in interpreting the scan, I pointed at a dark spot and said, “That ain’t right.” It definitely was a blood clot. There’s a setting on the machine that converts the images to sound, and higher in my thigh the technician and I could hear a solid thrush, thrush, thrush with my heartbeat. Over the clot, just below the back of the knee, it was more of a gurgling squeak. Oh ya, that’s gotta be a problem. Sonograms are amazing.

The second strange pain was just under my bottom rib on my right side. It appeared a few mornings as I awakened and rose, and it, too, would quickly fade away as I began moving about. Noting there was something peculiar about it, nonetheless I dismissed it as just gas that when I was horizontal was able to gurgle and burble a tiny bubble at a time to collect into a specific corner of my intestines.

Meanwhile, my other doctor and I had adjusted my psych meds. I’ve been using anti-depressants for about 25 years now, without which I would be either living in cardboard under a bridge or dead, so, to put it plainly, people who say depression isn’t real can kiss my hairy ass. For the last 20 years or so I’ve had a nearly an unchanging prescription. For months I hadn’t been at my usual level of productivity, and, thoroughly aware that there are many variables affecting daily, weekly, and monthly mental health, my shrink and I decided to try a supplemental anti-depressant as a fine-tuning experimental measure. It didn’t seem to have any clear effect, so we slightly increased the dosage. That’s about when I started getting that odd pain in my side on some mornings, and the DVT in my leg, and that’s when my cancer was found. It was two weeks later that I remembered that occasionally a side affect of the supplemental anti-depressant was constipation and gas (and by the way, that is NOT a good combination!)

While waiting for official diagnosis I knew damn well something was wrong. One night, as I crunched my gut to lift my legs into bed, I was slammed with an invisible sucker punch under the right side of my rib cage.

Understand that I am not a total stranger to pain. No one who knows me at all would describe me as macho, but neither would they describe me as a total wuss. In my youth I wrecked motorcycles – on the dirt and on the road – until I lost count of the incidents. I’ve broken bones, had concussions, a twisted knee, lacerations, stepped on spiny sea urchins, etc. Once – surely as many thousands of other people have – I had Novocaine shots into the roof of my mouth, which resulted in my head staying perfectly still in the dentist’s chair while all my limbs and whole body rose two feet in the air and shuddered like in a cartoon (okay, an exaggeration, but you get the idea: it hurt like a somnabitch.) Another time, on my back after flash-burning the skin off my left arm from elbow to fingertip, I turned my face from the doctor to see my upright forearm and hand spookily quivering all on its own (burns are a bitch.) During all of those incidents, I may have shouted, or muttered long, spitting curses, or bit my lip and paced until I didn’t feel like a tea kettle about to explode, but I’ve never felt sorry for myself. It’s always just pain, most probably from something stupid I did to put myself in its way. There is no immediate escape from it, and then sooner or later it fades, and life goes on. More than once I have cried and even sobbed over severe heartache, but more than any other emotion, I’ve gotten only angry at myself over physical pain. So, the point is, though I make no claim to being a super-studly man of steel (who doesn’t get himself hurt doing stupid shit), I am not a wuss, and I do have experience with physical pain.

This sucker punch under the right side of my ribs was a pain like no other I’ve ever known. The “Spinal Tap” dial was turned up past the max of 10 to 11. I could feel distinct bands of gut muscle or whatever over-tightened and vibrating. No, I don’t know about childbirth or kidney stones, but damn, this hurt. It lasted plenty long enough for me to have only one insistent, persistent, slow-motion thought: What the hell is happening?! As it eased, next I had only two thoughts: WHAT THE FUCK???!!! and, looking through my ceiling up into the cosmos, HEY! That was totally unnecessary! You had me at, “Ouch!” WTF?! As the pain subsided, in the dark, in my underwear, on my knees and leaning against the wall, I was sweating and panting in very short, sharp breaths. Ya, no doubt about it, all of a sudden, I had a serious health problem. I didn’t need no stinkin’ medical tests to know that.

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