Friday, April 13, 2012

Testimony from a Brother in Arms

I saw this over on BoingBoing, a beautifully written account about the latest in a line of surgeries to cure a talented man of an abdominal cancer that threatened a "radical penectomy," one of the most horrifying procedures known to science.  He was treated at the same facility and I, by a man whose name I recognize, and spent some time in a hospital I remember on my darkest, coldest nights.  I'd recommend it to anyone who has found my own account at all interesting for whatever reason.

I've thought, from time to time, about how brain cancer stacks up to other cancers.  Mainly whether it would be better to have a more embarrassing, more survivable cancer.  Brain cancer is, relatively speaking, pretty dignified.  Despite its high fatality rate, it's more akin to growing old before one's time.  Rectal cancer or urethral cancer tend to be more survivable (though are still extremely serious, of course), but I shudder to picture the trials patients of those terrible diseases must endure.  A "radical penectomy" is a real thing, and a man can live without a penis much more easily than he can without a brain.  At least, physically. 

Anyway, it's good to hear that Mr. Dery appears to have dodged that bullet with his member intact. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

My World, My Mirror

I have always felt a sort of connection to the natural world.  Over the past year, our state has been lashed by storms of unprecedented strength, shattering our characteristic forests and coaxing our citizens to further trim back what growth survived the wind and rain.  Derelict buildings, once masked by foliage, have started to emerge from the thinning woodlands along our streets.  I cannot help but think of my hair when I see familiar patches of forest, cut back so drastically I no longer recognize them, save for the many stumps. 

But I also have always felt a strange attraction to derelict structures.  They resonate with such stark, unashamed truth: this is what we were, and what we shall be.  Decaying, skeletal, a monument to our accomplishments and comfort but victim to the natural forces that were here before us and will remain after us.  I have always wanted to go exploring in one but know that that's both illegal and dangerous.  The former doesn't bother me much any longer, boyscout though I've been.  The latter makes me want to bring someone, so as not to go alone.  I do not know if I know anyone I could recruit for such an undertaking, but that is the only way to really know a derelict.  I pass an old house every day, on my way to and from work.  Its windows are open, some broken, some missing entirely as if gutted from the structure.  Dead vines lace across its bone-white facade, like black arteries through adipocere.  I want to go in.  I want to see how it was left, and wonder to myself, what story played out here?  Who was the last person to touch this discarded object, or that?  Did they know they would never return?  Did they regret not bringing it with them?  What were the last words spoken here? 

Above all, I am most connected with water, and perhaps that is why I cannot tolerate the intersection of derelict and water.  When I was very young, I couldn't stand the sight of something artificial obscured by the murk of a lake.  I remember seeing the ladder to a dock within the pea green water, light streaming around it, shadows reaching down into the darkness below.  I always imagined there was something down there, something metal and jagged and wrong, waiting to reach up and grab me.  I had to steel my nerves to swim over that dark water.  Even after I dove off that dock, and swam all the way down to feel the slime and mud at the bottom, 20 feet below, I still avoided the chains that moored the dock in place.  Then one year, I was nearly a teenager at the time, I went to the lake for a swim.  The other swimmers looked like there was something wrong with their skin.  Tiny, thin black lines, like hairs, all over.  They were all lined up in front of a hose, which was used to cleanse their bodies of this strange phenomenon, of the sludge that clung to their body hair.

Toxic sludge.  The lake had been poisoned by runoff. 

Another place miles away, the only natural spring I've ever seen.  I remember the natural stone pool into which it flowed, crystal clear.  The water was so pure, and so delicious.  It isn't, any longer.  It, too, has been poisoned.  

Fitting, then, that I too have become poisoned.  I wonder if I will ever be pure again. 

I know what it's like to drown.  I don't mean that metaphorically.  I mean that I have struggled for breath with all my strength, and found my strength lacking.  I have felt my lungs fill with water, and my body go limp.  I remember the incredibly clarity of realizing that I am about to die, and the peace of acceptance.  Then the weight on me lifted, I pushed to the surface with my last ounce of strength, and I coughed up two lungs' worth of pool water. 

Can't say I'm disappointed with how that turned out, but that calmness still haunts me.  If there's a moral to this story, I need some more time before I can see it.  Unless it's just that "Let's Drown Knightly" isn't a great pool game.

MRI tomorrow.  Wish me luck, boys and girls.