Friday, October 16, 2009


It occurred to me this morning that maybe I should have seen all of this coming. I mentioned in my last post that a few months before it started, I went through a pretty difficult break-up. I was still having a rough time with it when the tumor set in. But shortly after the break, in May, was my best friend's birthday. As a celebration, we went down to Atlantic City for a night to have some fun and to take my mind off of my recent loss.

I have a strong belief that your mindset, or karma, or whatever you want to call it, plays a large role in the kind of luck you carry with you when you enter a casino. My game is Blackjack, and I usually play well, but on this particular occasion I could hardly fake a good mood and I lost. My friend won, however, so it wasn't all bad, especially since we were there for his birthday and that's a damn good reason to win, if you ask me.

We split a cheap room at the Showboat, and for at least one night I was able to separate myself from the grief that had been consuming my every day.

The next day had rain in the forecast, and we had decided on spending just a few more hours into the afternoon before getting in the car to return home. For those who don't know, Atlantic City is right on the water, and a long boardwalk densely populated with little novelty shops, restaurants, kiosks and arcades connects a string of casinos that lasts farther than the eye can see. While it was expected to rain, we walked outside after a late breakfast into unpleasantly bright sunlight.

We began to stroll the boardwalk, taking a few minutes here and there to peruse the shops, though we didn't buy anything, and by all accounts we were having a nice time. But, before long, while walking down the center of the wood-paneled boardwalk, two pigeons conventiently pooped right on my chest. My friend and I each saw them flying towards us from down the strip, but it happened so fast, neither of us could really have done anything to avoid it. It was like they had planned it between the two of them, like a little game they play, and I just happened to be the victim of the moment.

You know, one pigeon turns to the other and says, "Alright, Ed, how about that one there in the yellow t-shirt?"

"I've got him in my crosshairs, Pete. Locked and loaded," says the other.

And, before I know it, they're right overhead and it's "bombs away," and "bang," there's poop all over my chest. They had just about the best aim in the world, too, since the poop landed in perfect symmetry on either side of my chest. I guess they may have been aiming for my face and just barely missed, but when I looked down I found bird poop just about two inches above each nipple.

My friend reminded me that it's generally considered good luck to be the recipient of bird poop on a sunny day, or any day for that matter, but to me it just seemed to go along with the recent theme of the world shitting on me. My hypothesis appears to be closer to the truth, considering that about two short months later, I was diagnosed with cancer.

As I said before, I don't always have bad luck at casinos. In fact, I usually do well and win. One time, this same best friend and I were at Niagara Falls with another of my best friends (I have a few), and the three of us were all sitting together at a Blackjack table. My other best friend, who wasn't in the previous story, wasn't very well versed in the intricacies and betting schemes of the game, so I was doing my best to help him along whenever he asked for advice. I was doing well, making decent conversation with the dealer, who appeared to be about our age, and he seemed to agree with the philosophy I was using to teach my friend how to play.

The dealer was a really nice guy, and as I said earlier, I truly believe that good karma at the table leads to favorable results. The only oddity that stood out about this dealer was that his voice was very weak and high-pitched, almost like that of a girl. I presume he had simply undergone some sort of surgery to make it turn out that way, but it wasn't the first time I'd come across that sort of situation and it made no difference to me what his voice sounded like.

My friend, however, the same one from the first story, must not have been as aware as I that an operation, usually performed out of necessity to remedy some dangerous condition, could leave a man's voice sounding that way.

At some point, my other friend, the Blackjack novice, was dealt a tricky hand, and for some reason he didn't agree with my advice for him. We asked the dealer, who echoed my instructions, but still my friend wasn't convinced. In the end, he decided against both of our opinions, and as luck would have it he lost the hand.

"See, you should have listened to her-- HIM!" said my friend from the first story, and though he tried to cover it up, the slip was undeniable.

I tried pretending like I hadn't heard anything at all, and so did the dealer, who sort of put his head down shamefully for a moment before picking the cards back up to deal. And, after a few awkward moments, we were again playing Blackjack.

You could probably have predicted that after making such a comment, my friend's luck turned immediately downhill. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he lost every hand from there on out. I, on the other hand, continued the good rapport I had created with the dealer, and my good fortune continued until I finally decided to walk away with a few hundred dollars' earnings in my pocket.

That second story clearly has little to do with my cancer, but I like telling it and it reminds me that things haven't always been so bad.

I've come to the point in my treatment where the doctors have ordered an MRI, a PET Scan, and another Biopsy, which will be my ninth. A Biopsy is when they remove a sample of bone from the base of my spine from which to take a sample of the tumor. Yes, they actually break off a piece of my spine and I assume try not to crack the area around it too much. And bone takes a really long time to heal. And yes, I endured eight of these Bone Marrow Biopsies within the first few weeks of hospital experience, as three different hospitals scrambled to find a diagnosis for what was ailing me. One of them was actually done while I was awake, an experience that pained and shocked me to my very core.

I just returned home a little more than an hour ago from the first of the three tests, a routine MRI. Or, at least, it should have been a simple, routine MRI.

The actual MRI takes only somewhere between fifteen minutes and an hour, depending on the body part being scanned and the extent of the imaging needed. This one took about an hour, which I didn't mind, but what did bother me was the other five hours I spent waiting in the hospital to have it done. Just another example of terrible communication between members of the hospital staff, and again I'm the one who has to suffer.

They had me come in at 9:30am today, only to tell me that they couldn't see me until noon. So, I obeyed the orders they gave me and sat around the clinic until I was told to go down to the MRI facility. The secretary there told me that she was all booked up, and since I had been waiting upstairs in a different place, it was no better than just showing up when I walked into the room. After two and a half more hours of arguing and watching people call one another to accomplish nothing on the phone, and taking elevators back and forth between the first and seventh floors just trying to remedy an inexcusable mistake that they had made, I was told that another MRI facility in the same building would be able to squeeze me in after they were done with their current patient.

I was then escorted upstairs to the other facility, where, wouldn't you know, I walked into a dead empty waiting room. That they hadn't brought me to this other place hours sooner is so far beyond me, I really can't think of anything else to say about it. That the doctors insisted I come to their hospital to use their machines despite the fact that there's a perfectly adequate MRI Imaging place in my own town is also beyond me. But after another long day at the hospital, I'm so fed up with their inability to organize a number line (you know, 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on), I'm ready to give up. If I had the option, I'd rather stand outside, walk underneath standing or propped-up ladders, and tie a bird poop magnet to my head than deal with them anymore. Unfortunately, I don't have that choice to make, and I'm at a loss for how to prepare myself for their lack of know-how with regards to their own jobs.

I want to treat people well. It would be foolish of me to expect that good karma at a casino will lead to good results but good karma at the hospital isn't just as important, or probably more important, considering that the results of the things that happen there really do constitute a life-and-death situation for me. It's damn near impossible, but I think that somehow I'm just going to have to try harder.