Morphine Days


February 2: An ordinary day

It probably should have more weight and importance, given the circumstances, but there you go. It’s just a day. You’d think that since it’s a day of cancer, a day of Stage Four threat to the mortal coil, it might be interrupted by bolts of existential clarity or a great wash of wisdom. Instead I’m occupied with base and unpleasant tasks, like collecting phlegm in places where I can expel it without making a mess.

Maybe it’s my own fault. I refuse to ponder my mortality. Sometimes people ask me about my prognosis and I have to answer, I have no idea. I know that some of my friends have done the research, but I don’t encourage them to tell me. I don’t see the point in knowing. Whether I have a slim or fat chance of survival, I’d pursue the treatment with the same determination. Or lack thereof. To know the odds would, I think, give my imagination too much rope. Since I was a teenager I’ve been tempted by despair, and I know better than to give into it. It's a bloodsucker.

Still, I wonder if I’m cheating myself out of a bit of nirvana, or enlightenment, or whatever – a bit of beatitude that might come from this battle on the edge of being, if only I’d allow myself to get philosophical.

I won't go there.


February 4: Waiting for the drip

I’m now proficient at estimating the time left in the drip. There’s are about 45 minutes left in this one. Once it’s done, I’ll rinse out the bag and and shake it clean and dry, ready for breakfast tomorrow. Before breakfast I’ll have a morphine appetizer, afterward a laxative dessert. Those I’ll pump directly into the tube, through the syringe.

I have three meals a day, comprising seven cans of Isosource 1.5 Cal. Each can is 250 ml of Formulated Liquid Diet, Ready to Use. The label claims that the flavour is Vanilla. I couldn’t say. I no longer taste or smell any food or drink; my mouth is lined with a fine film that has an electric quality, like the terminal of a battery. Before bedtime I’ll brush my teeth. For a while I’ll have a toothpaste taste, but the electric charge will return quickly.

Eating and drinking now seem like old memories, and it will be a long time before I eat or drink again. I wonder about how easily I’ve adapted to the new regimen. It was imposed on me in a violent, wrenching surgery that had me grunting and gasping in indignity. When it was over, the porter wheeled me back to by hospital bed with a tube appended to my stomach. I haven’t tasted food or drink since.

Looking back on it, it would have been wise to have mourned my meals. It would have been better to have had a last, succulent dinner – even if it was just a puree – and taken a few minutes to reflect on the wonder of taste and texture. To have paused, and thought about sweet, salt, sour, bitter and umami. (I don't understand umami, but that would have been a good time to think about it.) Instead I spent the effort mastering the skills of eating without using my mouth. Now I can manipulate the syringe and tube with no problem, but it will be months before I’ll be able to taste.

The drip is almost finished, right on time. I have this system down.


February 10: A visitor

This afternoon Judy and I walked the cliffside of Crescent Heights, bathed in brilliant sunlight. I walk slowly these days, and it took us about half an hour to complete the circuit. I can’t speak, at least not so I can be heard, so we walked in silence. We held hands, and that was all we needed to fill the void.

The mountains were a watercolour of mercury grey framed by ragged strips of cloud. They lay on the horizon and looked to be alive, breathing slowly, a figment of my morphine. It’s hard to tell what’s real any more. Every morning when I wake, it takes a few minutes to realize that I am not alone, that I am possessed by a visitor. Sometimes it seems real. It has a medical name and a measure in millimetres. Sometimes it is surely fiction. It is the succubus within me.

Judy and I haven’t walked like that since I don’t know when. Holding hands, quiet, peaceful. The last time might have been in the days when we shared the same house and called ourselves married. But as I say that, I know it’s not true. In those days I would never have walked so slowly. In those days I would never have wavered, knees weak in the glare of the sun. In those days I would never have reached for Judy’s hand, hoping for strength, and finding it.


March 15: Reading Week

Finn came home last week. It was Reading Week, and it was just before my Treatment. The sarcoma was crippling me with pickaxe headaches.. I couldn’t speak above a whisper. We had laptop conversations, facing each other across the living room. I texted, he talked. Short, sarcastic banter, as always. He asked about the logistics of my Treatment but we didn’t dwell on the details. We were unsentimental about it, as we are with most things.

From the first day he assigned himself a project: to clean out the storage room downstairs. Every morning he buried himself in the room, packing and loading boxes for garbage and recycling. Mostly clothes and furniture, games, books, relics of his childhood. Once in a while he would surface, load a coffee, open his laptop, text me for a few minutes and descend again.

Finn didn’t see much of his mother that trip. She didn’t mind. She was happy that he was with me. I told her about his project and she said “He’s fixing things. That’s how he deals with problems in life. He finds something that needs doing and he gets it done.”

Summer Stock occupied his nights.. Reading Week is always the start of production. This year it's Guys and Dolls. Last year it was Rent. Every summer he throws himself into the big, sprawling shows, lets them consume him. Once I asked him why. He said, “Because it’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Ever.”

Every night he arrived home at some small hour, and the next day I got a summary of the night’s events. Who’s auditioning, who’s been cast, who’s on the tech crew. On the last night of Reading Week Finn told me that the director had asked everyone in the company to stand and deliver for a minute, relating a crisis in their lives.

Finn said he talked. He talked about me. And when he was done, the company decided to dedicate the production to me.

I balked. I grabbed my laptop and typed a terse line.

“No, Finn, I don’t want your friends feeling sorry for me.”

“That’s not the point,” he said. “It was something I needed to do. I needed to talk about it.”

For a long time I didn’t know what to say.

I typed “Sorry” and he let it go.