Monday, October 27, 2014


This is for my friends. They have listened to me bitch, whine, moan, and make myself otherwise ridiculously pitiable (or perhaps pitiful) over the last three years as my health took a nosedive and my perception of mortality sharpened.   
Thank you.
The truth is I have very few friends and too many acquaintances. The latter have taken me to lunch once and told me about their own health issues, or those of their late Aunt Pearl, a saintly woman who underwent the torments of hell without once complaining.  
I took this to mean benign conversation was far preferable to talk of woes and fears, and so waxed euphoric about the kale salad and baked artichoke hearts on the menu.
My friends, on the other hand, have listened, often with pursed lips and furrowed brows. They have not given me spurious advice (“Have you seen a doctor?” asked one acquaintance), or suggested I travel to Mexico to see the holistic shaman who successfully treated the cousin of their secretary’s mother. They have encouraged me to have two half-pound Big Bites from 7/11 following surgery, if this was my wish, then did not utter a word of counsel after I related that this post-operation meal had not in the least agreed with me.
My friends often don’t say anything at all about my health unless I bring the subject up.  Then they ask intelligent questions and suggest practical solutions. They don’t get annoyed when I tell them at the last minute that I won’t make it to their party, or that I can’t attend the concert they bought me a ticket to, or that the long-planned recording session for a song my band Cash & Carry is putting together will have to be rescheduled..
Personally, I think there’s nothing more boring than listening to someone else’s health-related stories. Yes, there are funny ones (like the surgeon who, after my third bladder cancer operation, called me and said, “Hello Mabel! How’s your ankle?”) and there are horrible ones (like the nurse who accidentally and erroneously sent me a letter suggesting I get my affairs in order as I had just a few weeks to live),  but by and large there is nothing to be gained by recounting the sorry tales of one’s declining years.  Yet when I do, my friends listen.
One has driven me half-a-dozen times to and from surgery, and gently humors me when I come out of it completely loopy and stoned. He talks to the doctor after the operation and endures being thought of as my gay partner. He fills my prescriptions, takes me to my house and then calls later in the evening to make sure all is well.
So this is for my friends. You know who you are and I love you all.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pain, Part 2

So the pain has lessened by more than half over the last ten-or-so days. An intense course of steroids seems to have done the trick, though I still wake up in the middle of the night with an agonizing cramp in my right leg. I stretch twice a day and have given up my sessions at the gym. I’m scheduled for an MRI in a week to see whether the spine is involved and I’m hoping it’s not. With a bit of luck, this will be a case of Piriformis Syndrome which hopefully can be healed over time.
According to, “The piriformis is a muscle that is behind the hip joint in the buttocks. The piriformis muscle is small compared to other muscles around the hip and thigh, and it aids in external rotation (turning out) of the hip joint. The muscle and its tendon have a close relationship to the sciatic nerve--the largest nerve in the body--which supplies the lower extremities with motor and sensory function. The piriformis tendon and sciatic nerve cross each other behind the hip joint, in the deep buttock. Both structures are about one centimeter in diameter.
“When people are diagnosed with piriformis syndrome, it is thought that the piriformis tendon may be tethering the sciatic nerve, and causing an irritation to the nerve. While it has not been proven, the theory supported by many physicians is that when the piriformis muscle and its tendon are too tight, the sciatic nerve is pinched. This may decrease the blood flow to the nerve and irritate the nerve because of pressure.”
Strangely enough, there are no specific tests that can accurately identify piriformis syndrome, and it is often misdiagnosed. Other causes of this type of pain include a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, sciatica and hip bursitis. A piriformis syndrome diagnosis is often given when all other possibilities are eliminated as possible causes of pain.
So now you know about as much as I do. I’ve only known one other person to have suffered from this, and the very word ‘piriformis’ sets off Spellcheck alarms.
  One night when the pain was intolerable, I ended up at the emergency room and was eventually given a shot of Demerol as well as prescriptions for narcotic painkillers. The shot numbed the pain for a couple of hours, and it came back with a vengeance.  The pain meds didn’t work. The next morning I was prescribed something even stronger. I took it and was nauseous for the entire day, then threw up during the night.
Another night I woke up at three in the morning and after ambling around the house for half-an-hour, decided to go for a walk through my neighborhood. About 15 minutes later, a cop car pulled up next to me. Did I need help? Well, yes, but nothing the policeman could offer. I told him what was going on. He nodded, said, “That’s tough! Good luck,” and drove away.
I’m hoping that the nerves and muscles and sinews will return to their right state within a short time. There’s a possibility of getting a cortisone injection if progress is too slow, and I’d welcome that certainly more than surgery, which sometimes must be performed to loosen the piriformis tendon.
Personally, after seven cancer surgeries over the past three years, I’m sort of burned out on anything that involves cutting flesh.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


“Debilitating” is a perfect word. The very sound though not quite onomatopoeic, implies tiring, constant, unrelenting, and almost permanent. It is one of those unkind, unforgiving words, an un word, with no saving grace or silver lining.
For the past two weeks I have been in debilitating pain. I have developed Piriformis Syndrome, or maybe a Lumbar Radiculopathy, or perhaps a good old case of sciatica, depending on the physician of the moment. And it is incapacitating.
The pain begins at the top of my right buttock and radiates down the side of my thigh, past my knee, and into my calf. It is there, in some varying degree of intensity, 24 hours a day, and there is not a single position—standing, lying, sitting, squatting, or any combination thereof, that gives even a degree of relief.
It allows me to sleep only intermittently. It has, at times, made me into a babbling idiot, pleading with doctors for some form of release. I have been to five different healers in four days. I have been to the emergency room at 3 a.m., gotten injections, gobbled painkillers and tried without success to push, pull or stretch recalcitrant nerves and muscles back into correct alignment. I am now on a diminishing course of steroid medicine which, after four days, may, may, be doing some good. Or perhaps not. It’s frankly hard to tell. For the past five nights, the pain has roused me from half-sleep to full, agonizing wakefulness. The musculature of my right thigh is as dense as oak. I can press with one some areas with one finger and bring myself to tears.
There are other side-effects as well. I’ve become clumsier, sweeping tea cups off table tops and dropping a full plate of rice pasta on my lap. I can’t focus; my thoughts invariable migrate back to the discomfort I’m feeling; I am totally unable to concentrate on much of anything other than the ache. I’m occasionally nauseous. I have had suicidal thoughts. I can barely type. Every other word on the computer screen is misspelled. I’ve misspelled the word “misspelled” five times.
Almost worse than all of this is the certainty that somehow I will not get better. In fact, I will; I am catastrophizing, a not unusual trait of mine; I know my rationality has taken a serious hit but there’s no relief in that realization. I am in denial.
Incidentally, I have no idea how I put myself in this situation. I haven’t fallen, or strained, or bent my spine one way when it should’ve gone another.
I’ve dealt with pain the past, including a motorcycle accident that left every tendon and sinew overextended and strained, but this is worse. And so I decided to do something I haven’t allowed myself in 23 years—after the failure of massive doses of ibuprofen and other over-the-counter concoctions to diminish muscle and nerve swelling, I asked my doctor to prescribe an opioid painkiller, Vicodin. I had managed to avoid such drugs through seven cancer surgeries, but this agony was too much. The Vicodin has not worked. Neither did a couple of other controlled meds whose street prices are stupidly expensive. Now I’m taking a Percodan derivative, which seems to have limited effectiveness. It is not making me high or having any of the pleasant psychoactive effects associated with such drugs. It merely takes the edge off for an hour or two.
Right now it is close to midnight. I am resisting the urge to quadruple the amount of drugs I’ve been taking. My butt and right leg are in excruciating pain. Think sharp stick, a squeezing pressure on the muscles, a deep throbbing no massage can relieve.
My body, and more specifically my liver, is that of an addict who metabolizes drugs quickly as a survival mechanism. Unfortunately, my liver has doesn’t have the capability to  recognize one drug from another, so be it cocaine and alcohol (bad) or diazepam and medical opioid (good), it reacts in the same way and strives to rid my body of the drug that might relieve the pain.  
It’s hard to think clearly. Pain hurts. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

I'm Outraged (No, I'm Not)

I have nothing to write about. No, that’s obviously not true; there’s a lot to chronicle, I’m simply not interested. There’s not much happening in my life save that I’m getting older and my body is beginning to show it and act it out.
The daily news seems to repeat itself. We’re about to get involved in another conflict with a bunch of barbarians whose concept of freedom of religion comes from the end of a Kalashnikov, but even the atrocities committed by bloodthirsty morons and oh-so-quickly aired to our general outrage fail to elicit more than a flicker of my attention.
The former governor of Virginia and his wife have just been convicted of corruption, but it seems to me they weren’t really smart enough to defraud anyone, so I’d say they should be convicted of utter idiocy and terminal sleaziness. As I followed the story, what struck me was that this guy—this couple—was amazingly stupid. They bought high-priced real-estate when everyone knew the bubble was going to burst. They got into debt. They accepted gifts from a dodgy entrepreneur, and they thought they’d get away with it. Plus, of course, they ran the state of Virginia. The defense used by attorneys was that the governor’s marriage was failing, he and she hardly spoke to each other anymore and he therefore could not know what his wife was doing. Dummies at the helm, with, I might add, presidential aspirations. But hey, dishonest politicians, what a concept!
Professional football players assaulting girlfriends, who shortly thereafter become the wives of said assaulters, and then defend them? Eh… These guys are paid millions to injure each other. Women willing to pay the price to be wives of such men? Well, yes, there are some.
Recently a young girl vanished after drinking too much and trying to find her way home alone at 1 a.m.? Sad. Tragic even, but not exactly unexpected. My gee whizz question is, were where her friends? And why did they allow her to leave by herself?  Oh, wait, maybe they were drinking too?
White cops killing young black men, which leads to riots and destruction. Yeah, that’s unprecedented.
And oh, yes, Ebola (why does it have a capitalized letter? Other diseases don’t unless their named after someone…) has officially landed in the US, in texas, mopre specifically, but we’re told not to worry. It will be contained.  Of course it will. Only a month or so ago, the Center for Disease Control was telling us that the chance of this particular disease coming to this country was nil. Of course it was.
And some delusional African-American is imitating the ISIS executioners and cut off the head of a lady in Texas, I think. The cutter-offer is a black man who recently converted to Islam without knowing, I suppose, that Islamic Arabs were the ones capturing black Africans and selling them to slavers not all that long ago.
I have lost the power to be outraged. It’s pretty disconcerting. Is it age, or the familiarity of repeated events?