A place where everybody knows your name: Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. Of course, most of us would rather that place wasn’t a pharmacy, but that’s the stage I seem to have reached. At least that’s the conclusion I arrived at after walking into my local drugstore and hearing the pharmacist call out, “Hi, Dave,” which prompted me to say, “Oh, Jesus, not here too,” or something equally perceptive.
That familiarity, naturally, comes from my frequent purchases of prescriptions, which must total several hundred dollars monthly between the 10 or so prescriptions I regularly cash in. Fortunately, the government covers those costs, and, best of all, I still receive all the Shoppers Drug Mart points on my account. That’s free money. Kind of like those lovely parting gifts that TV game shows used to give out to the losers.
Pain management 2 I’ve already mentioned how the pain of cancer can be overwhelmingly strong, especially when it shows up in the bones. As an example, while visiting a friend in Vancouver recently, I decided to crawl on my hands and knees down their hallway to the bedroom from the bathroom because standing and walking were too tough to attempt.
Sometimes I try to treat it as psychological pain, because nothing is actually broken, even though the pain may block standing or the application of significant weight. Then it’ll begin to take some pressure; I’ll even be able to take a couple of steps. The pain will nearly vanish. And then, a step or two later, it’ll stab itself right back into my consciousness. And stab is the correct verb to use. Or maybe gouge.
Bone pain is odd because although it may originate in one place, it could show up elsewhere. The best example I have is the near-crippling pain in my left shin. I’m told it radiates from my lower back. Not that there’s anything I can do to help that situation. A heat-and-massage pad applied to that leg, or to the back, have no real effect, except as a slight distraction for the appropriate nerve endings. So radiation treatments are in my future.
Oh, of course, there are the painkillers, the taking of which is like a sport. You have to ride the balance between a bearable level of pain and enduring hallucinations. Sadly, these aren’t the good kind of hallucinations, with happy sunbeams, rockin’ tunes, and laser light shows. Damn. That would be so cool.
Instead, I get aural hallucinations. Because hydromorphone makes you a bit dizzy and drowsy anyway, it’s easy to space out as if you’re falling asleep. In fact, the experience that it most reminds me of is something that used to happen occasionally as I was falling asleep. I’d be in that warm and half-conscious pre-sleep stage when a mental image would appear of me slipping while walking on an icy sidewalk. Naturally, the dream version of me would react by flailing its limbs. Unfortunately, so does the real-world me that’s lying in bed, trying to sleep.
I try to watch out for hallucinations, but it’s tough to reject part of what your brain tells you while believing the rest. And these are crafty semi–dream states. Mine tend to take the form of conversations, where a dialogue will run past, sometimes with Ramses II, other times with another neighbour (I live in a pretty good neighbourhood in my hallucinations. Zeus is my postman).
Firstly, I’ll often feel the presence of another person in the room. Nobody specific or threatening, just a third or fourth occupant. Or I’ll think I’ve had a conversation with someone I’m with, and I’ll have to ask them if it happened. The worst thing, though—the way the silent, internal conversations manifest themselves and become hard to hide—is when I do the equivalent of slipping on the ice and respond to something verbally. There’s no justification for randomly blurting out, “The stack of oak twigs is over there.”
Am I brave? Some people have accused me of bravery in the face of cancer, what with having it and writing about it and all, but I prefer to refute any such claims. Bravery would involve a conscious act to take on cancer—if that were possible—say, to save someone else’s life. I’d rather think of myself as someone who’s developed cancer somewhat earlier than is statistically common. Bad luck, that’s what I’ve got.
Some other people ask me if I’m scared of the disease or of dying from it. I’d have to say I’m not. I don’t want it to happen—dying, that is—but it’s not like I have any choice in the matter. I think that’s what inevitable is supposed to mean. No, scared isn’t the right word. I think that sad is more appropriate. I’m sad that, barring miracles, I’m going to die from this. It may turn out that my mood swings might bring scared back onto the emotional menu at some point, but not yet.
Anger And I’m not going to be angry, either. There are so many ways to get cancer that I wouldn’t know where to put the blame. There’s the big corporations, the personal bad decisions. Not to mention that hair gel in the 1980s.