Qualities of Altered Consciousness: Positive Side Effects?

I’ve recently, like most cancer patients, been concerned with the effects & side effects of medication. Side effects, the way we usually use the term, are unwanted, negative. But over the last couple of weeks, being treated for the crack in my pelvis with morphine & steroids & a bone strengthener, I have noticed periods of the day when I feel . . . good. Not high, just good mentally. Sometimes this is just the spacy sort of consciousness good for watching YouTube science videos, but sometimes, as this evening, the state of mind gave rise to a poem. Often, my poems begin with an idea, but this just began with a couple of images from today’s NY Times online Science section, one about the voicebox of a prehistoric bird, the other about a Saturn-like object somewhere 400 light years away. The rest was just a matter of constructing language as it constructed itself around a philosophical question–series of questions–I’d discussed with my friend Chris. It’s not that the insights are out of the ordinary, but, doing what a poet is supposed to do, I may have helped find some language to refract off the ideas in a useful way. I like the notion of refraction becauses it confuses the tendency toward making binary oppositions. I have no idea which drugs might be tweaking which neurons, or whether that matters.


We are taught in Zen that even change changes, but we never really believe it. Even in the midst of change we expect to be able to extract moments of stability. Even in the midst of a disease like cancer, which is always changing, I have become lulled to the idea that I will have a period during which things remain more or less the same. I guess, depending on the scale one applies, this is more or less true; but at bottom there is no standing still.

All this was brought home to me this evening by a new pain in my pelvic bones, this time on the right center rather than the left. That is, I have been confronted by the possibility that my disease is spreading away from its site of origin. Actually, it has already done this, way up into my sternum, but there has been little or no pain associated with that spread. Without the pain, that change has seemed unreal.

But this pain has the potential to make walking even more difficult than it is now, which would amount to a major degradation of my condition. Now, a bit of rest seems to have diminished the problem, but it has caused me an evening of distress. I’m going to take it easy & chart the changers tomorrow & over the weekend then make a decision about whether or not to see the oncologist sooner than my regularly scheduled check-up in two weeks.