Before even having a complete diagnosis, I have accumulated a small pharmacopeia, mostly analgesic.
- Ibuprofen: When I first developed pain in my back, I took a fair amount of ibuprofen, which worked pretty well. Sometimes I would switch to acetaminophen for a few days to give my stomach lining a rest.
- Cyclobenzaprine: A muscle relaxant. Worked fairly well for a couple of weeks in combination with a shot of
- Prednisone: The most common steroid. Can be taken by injection or orally. I was given an injection.
- Percocet: When my back pain threatened to become disabling my doctor prescribed percocet, a combination of 5 mg of oxycodone & 325 mg of acetaminophen. He ordered an MRI and by the time the fracture in my vertebrae was found–caused by “something” pushing on it–the prescription had run out. Because oxycodone is highly addictive, I was switched to
- Gabapentin: Nobody know how this works, but it is used primarily as an anticonvulsant, but also for pain that originates in nerve tissue. It didn’t work for me & it made me nauseated. I’m no longer taking it, having gone back to percocet, which can also make me want to throw up, which is why I’m also now taking
- Ondansetron: An anti-nausea drug I haven’t looked up on the Mayo Clinic website, my usual practice. At least two of the drugs above can cause constipation, so I’m also taking
- Docusate Sodium: A stool softener.
That’s my autobiography as of the beginning of May, or the physical strand of it anyway.
- Pain does not ennoble. When the writer Jenny Diski was told she had inoperable lung cancer, she told her husband, “Under no circumstances is anyone to say that I lost a battle with cancer,” she told him. “Or that I bore it bravely. I am not fighting, losing, winning or bearing.” So, begin by denying power to the conventional narratives attached to sickness. Pain will teach you about pain. Pain hollows you out to make room for itself. In this way it is like anxiety–anxiety of the body.
- Wheelchair: It’s not when you first get in a wheelchair at the hospital because the insist on it, but when you tell the person by the door, “I’m going to need a wheelchair.”
- Happiness: I am not unhappy. A couple of years ago my Zen teacher, on the day after a particularly tough teisho, came into the zendo & announced, “I really would like everyone to be happy!” Okay, Sensei, I am. Even now, with cancer.
- Hospitals are filled with working-class people working. The patients come & go, but the staff gets up every day and goes to work. It astonishes me that they can do what they do because patients are so fucking depressing. The even depress other patients.
- Waiting for test results: I have been given a general diagnosis & had one MRI scan, two CT scans & a biopsy, the later just yesterday. A friend emails, “I imagine that the waiting must be among the most painful parts of this . . . .” No, I don’t think so. The days between right now & my appointment next week with my oncologist1 occupy a liminal space. Next week could be (relatively) good, or terrible. Once I know, I will know. And then I will have to act & be acted upon.
- Night Thoughts: Items one to five above are all very well, but after a pleasant day, I am awake at a quarter past midnight, when every small ache feels like a new blossoming of rebellious cells at a new location in my body. I’m not sweating, or anxious: I’m just thinking.
- It’s not the bending over, it’s the straightening up.
- Buying a walking stick. (Probably won’t need the little compass embedded in the top, but it’s nice to be oriented. (See No. 3. below.)
- Percodan creates a kind of mild fogginess that is not unpleasant, but it’s a fog you want to get to the other side of before you forget how to spell your name.
- It’s good to be in the room with the widescreen TV, but I actually like audiobooks of classic genre novels better. Graham Greene, George Simenon, Wilkie Collins (the two great novels1, not the hack work.)
- Having a moderately good excuse to be behind schedule grading my students’ essays.