“Minor horrors and humiliations”
If I were you, I wouldn’t read this post. A friend has asked me to describe any pain I feel in my current condition. He wants to know the symptoms I’m experiencing. These are things I normally only tell my doctors, nurses and Ginny—not because they’re secret but because they aren’t things I’m normally interested in. (I am, of course, more interested when I’m experiencing the symptoms—but as soon as they quiet down, I’m on to something else.) I use Christopher Hitchens’ description of his symptoms as a basis for comparison. (I love his “materialist proposition that I don’t have a body, I am a body.”)
I generally agree with Hitchens that “nobody wants to know” about the daily humiliations of the body. I’m undoubtedly telling most of you more here than you care to know, so feel free to skip this one. I know I would.
(Besides, when I re-read it, I can’t tell if it makes things sound worse or better than they are.)
I actually feel very little pain—at least not in the sense of sharp, stinging or biting pain. I’m more likely to feel discomfort and, sometimes, anxiety.
Christopher Hitchens wrote this about his symptoms and I’ve added my notes in bold:
“It’s normally agreed that the question ‘How are you?’ doesn’t put you on your path to give a full or honest answer. So when asked these days, I tend to say something cryptic like, ‘A bit early to say.’ (If it’s the wonderful staff at my oncology clinic who inquire, I sometimes go so far as to respond, ‘I seem to have cancer today.’) Nobody wants to be told about the countless minor horrors and humiliations that become facts of ‘life’ when your body turns from being a friend to being a foe: the boring switch from chronic constipation to its sudden dramatic opposite (I’ll only say I know what he’s talking about.); the equally nasty double cross of feeling acute hunger while fearing even the scent of food (I don’t fear the scent of food, but it’s very frustrating to know that some things I want to eat will immediately complicate my breathing and cause congestion in my chest. When that happens, I immediately get teary-eyed. I’m not crying, it’s just that my eyes feel like they’re squirting water. It’s a miserable feeling.) ; the absolute misery of gut-wringing nausea on an utterly empty stomach (I’ve had some of that, but it’s rarely “gut-wrenching”) ; or the pathetic discovery that hair loss extends to the disappearance of the follicles in your nostrils, and thus to the childish and irritating phenomenon of a permanently runny nose. (The runny nose thing is especially bothersome because I’ve usually got oxygen being pumped directly into my nose.) Sorry, but you did ask… It’s no fun to appreciate to the full the truth of the materialist proposition that I don’t have a body, I am a body.”
Back to me, a little less bold:
On my bad days, I feel uncomfortable all over and just sickly. At different times, I’ve had horrible bouts of hiccups (I never knew hiccups could be horrible), headaches, and shaky hands. Going up steps leads inevitably to major breathing difficulties. Sometimes just bending over or standing up will knock all the wind out of me. It usually takes a very long couple of minutes to recover. I give myself shots twice a day—and even though I move around the placement of those shots, I’ve started getting little bruises. My ankles were swelling for a while. We think cancer’s invaded my liver now; there are some weird little side effects from that. Sometimes I feel just plain worn out.
The sickest time was January in NYC. I haven’t vomited except during one 36-hour period in May, when I vomited a lot. I was mainly throwing up liquids that had accumulated in my lungs. (I was hospitalized for a couple of days.)
The morphine helps in two ways: it reduces pain and anxiety (discomfort) and it clears passageways. I have no idea how it does that: probably just by relaxing the muscles. (That’s a guess.)
Most of the time, I don’t look sick or sickly at all. My vital signs have generally remained fine.
For some reason, I’m feeling better today than I have any day in 10 months. Not sure why. In fact, the past few weeks have been really good overall.