Wednesday, November 20, 2013

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face."

Mike Tyson

Who knew I would ever empathize with Mike Tyson, at least metaphorically if not physically.

I've been in one fist fight in my adult life. It came when I was working the lights and sound system at a bar, which was little more than barn, with a bar, some tables, lights on the walls and a dance floor, with lights below. Admission was $2.00 (1972) and entitled the entered to drink all the beer and wine they could drink free of charge. I know what you're thinking: “What could possibly go wrong in a situation like that?” If you're thinking “Plenty,” you pretty much nailed it.

We opened at 9 p.m. And one of my big tasks was not to run the strobe lights after 11 p.m. They made too many people throw up. No strobes after 11. Check. Now, it has sort of a “Gremlins” ring to it. Then it was just one of those things I didn't really want to see regardless of the time of day.

Big task number two: Watch for fights. There were huge trouble lights in each corner of the place. When I saw a fight break out, I turned on the appropriate light and the bouncers descended on the scene and beat the crap out of anyone involved, with no concern for collateral damage. The problem with that plan was, at my work console, the trouble lights weren't marked as to which went to which corner This resulted in our eager bouncers, occasionally running from corner to corner in search of an altercation. Since they had been smoking hash, taking amphetamines and washing it all down with peppermint schnapps since before we opened, every night became “Anything Can Happen Night.”

On the night in question, the bouncers were busy inside and some yahoo was kicking and punching some of my bartender friends as we stood around the parking lot. I didn't like that he was doing that; something snapped in my head and I got into with the guy. It didn't last long. I had seen enough fights from my perch that I knew just what to do. I pulled his coat up over his head so he couldn't use his arms, pounded him repeatedly until the bouncers showed up, laughing hysterically, by the way, at the sight of me in a fight, and pulled me off the guy. Not a mark on me baby; one fight, one win. I retired undefeated.

So, there's that.

Growing up in Scotland in the 1950s, I was no stranger to violence. Catholics and Protestants went to separate schools, and there was plenty of fighting over that. Only the fact that I had plenty of Catholic friends saved me from many's an ambush on the way home from school. Each side generally traveled in packs for safety. Good luck if you were trying to go it alone.

Teachers in our Protestant school could pretty much punish you with whatever was at hand, including the back of their hand, usually on the back of our head, usually in a sneak attack. They each had a belt and teacher comparisons were more concerned with how good/bad they were at using it than whether or not you might actually learn something. I once saw my mechanical draw teacher break a one by one board over a boy's back. His crime? Though I did not know it at the time, he was going through puberty and each time his voice cracked, all the other 12-year-old kids would laugh. I never heard that kid speak in class again.

But none of that's what draws me to the Tyson quote.

Each Tuesday when one of my nurses from the Alfond Clinic calls to check on how I'm doing, one of the first questions is invariably, “Have you developed any kind of a rash?” Even I figured it was something to be concerned so I WAS paying attention, and besides, the answer was always “No.”

No became maybe last Thursday. I noticed a few spots on my left arm; could have been anything. But I was on high rash alert, so I called the clinic, they called my doctor, the clinic called me back.

“The doctor doesn't want to do anything right now. Just monitor it and let us know if it worsens.” That made sense to me. I probably wouldn't have called if they hadn't kept asking. My little joke to the nurse about “Wait till it gets worse has always been one of my favorite diagnoses,” fell flat when she felt compelled to explain that that's not what they meant. Oy

So, Friday came and went with no change. Saturday came and the rash now covered my lower left leg. Not one to panic, I waited. Periodic checks saw it cover my left leg completely up to the top of my thigh, saw it move to the right leg and do the same. And when I say rash, you might better picture burns because that's what my skin looked liked. Burned. I could show you a picture, but I don't even like looking at it and you might be in he middle of eating when you looked at it.

Sunday morning, first thing, I was put in touch with the oncologist on-call who immediately told me to stop taking my principal chemo. “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” It felt like my brain just stopped; at least the part that does my thinking and talking stopped; the metaphorical punch in the face.

When it started up again it was like... when we used to have record players with variable speeds and you forgot to change from 33 rpm to 45. You would get this real sludgy sound before the turntable caught up. “What?” the voice that sounded so much slower than mine finally managed.

The doctor repeated herself. “The medicine is almost surely causing your rash and you need to stop taking it immediately.” The rest of the conversation was more of the same, ending with her saying she would make sure my oncologist and his staff saw her notes in my file, “And the best of luck to you.” which at that exact moment sounded like, “Do you want to use a blindfold.” Don't get me wrong. She was wonderful, it was her message that sucked
Here's why it felt like a punch in the face: In the beginning of my treatment, which was only nine weeks ago but feels like nine months, we had been taking punch after punch of bad news and had no real way of fighting back. Then we developed our plan, with this particular medicine at its core. Of all the medicines I had to take that was the chemotherapy. It was the one we would fight back with
When she said I needed to stop taking it... I guess I felt about as defenseless as that kid in my mechanical drawing class 40-some years ago. I didn't do anything and I followed all the rules, and it felt like I was being punished anyway. If you take that away aren't we just letting cancer run free? “C'mon kids, put your chompers on and get to work! Good eatin' today. This is going to be great!!!”

Sunday and Monday were not great days in the Arnold household. Sheri and I are rarely down at the same time and we were definitely down, doobie doo, down down. I joke now, but it was a horrible time to go through. There was a blackness in our home. When we are both suffering, all we can do is really hunker down, try not to hurt each other, and just pray for it to be over. Which is what it was when we arrived Tuesday morning, early, at the clinic. There was more poking and prodding, dozens of questions, a little blood work (which was fine) and a promise to review the notes with the doctor and get back to me, which is what happened.

“The doctor wants you to stay off the chemo till he sees you in two weeks.” Everybody has a plan until they get punched in he face.

“Two weeks?” I got over the sluggishness much quicker this time. “But that means we won't be treating the myeloma for two weeks. That doesn't make me feel very comfortable.”

“The steroids actually do fight the myeloma.”

“Glad to know they do something besides making me feel like a lunatic.”

I was trying hard not to be too snarky. She was just the messenger after all. I'm not sure how successful I was. But the next part was good.

“We've had to go through this with other patients,” she said assuredly. “It doesn't hurt what we're trying to do. It's a way of getting your body ready for whatever the doctor decides to do next. It doesn't do you any harm at all.”

That had the ring of malarkey to it. But when you spread as much of it as I've been known to do, you tend to see malarky in plenty of places it isn't.

“And remember,” she added, “the steroids will still be working on the myeloma.”


In the end, of course, I accepted, even embraced, what she said because it made me feel better. Besides, and I say this with absolutely no disrespect, it reminded me of Officer Obie in “Alice's Restaurant.” The clinic has the 8x10 color glossy photos with the circles and the arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one. I, on the other had, have the support of family and friends and steroids. Which is marvelous, of course, but doesn't really provide substance to an argument over treatment decisions.

Hmm. Maybe it's just because Thanksgiving is so close, but I'm giving this one to Officer Obie and the clinic. So I may be fighting with one hand tied behind my back, but fighting I am. Good for us. Too bad cancer doesn't have a jacket I can pull over its head.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere