Tuesday, September 30, 2008

dad's home

A day and a month later, looking no worse for wear, save a slight loss of hair.

The world can resume turning now.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

in trust, my ass

I've learned in these last few weeks that, in order to get along with my father -- really get along with him, you have to submit to his political viewpoint, i.e. Grand Ol' Party conservatism, especially during a presidential election year.

In doing so, you've got to understand that "liberal" is a bad word and be accustomed to it being used in conversation as such. For example, when my father remarks that Obama is "just such a liberal" he is, in effect, saying that he is "a clueless, socialist motherfucker."

I have no problem with liberal bashing any more than I do with conservative bashing. For me, it's as easy as taking off one baseball cap and putting on another. I see much to be bashed on either side. I always have, and this is perhaps why I've always been a registered independent.

The motto for the Independent Party of the United States of America is "I Don't Trust A Single One Of You Cocksuckers" or more simply "In Trust, My Ass."

When I visited my dad in the hospital this past weekend, it was easier than usual to pick up the bat and take some swings at the left-wing as I remembered the time a cousin of mine called him while I was there, ostensibly to wish him well.

In less than a minute they were arguing politics, conservative v. liberal.

Here my father was, just being outfitted with the IV for his chemotherapy, and my cousin's on the phone arguing, provoking, causing him to get red and start yelling. He might defend himself (being the jerkass lawyer he is) by saying my father provoked him, and he might be right, but he could have easily excused himself from the conversation, too-- "Hope you feel better, Bob. Gotta run." --instead of egging-on a cancer patient that needs exactly the opposite of irritation and conflict. Inexcusable behavior, imo. What a fucking moron.

I wished I lived in Manhattan again-just then-so I could jump on the 1,2,3 to the Upper East Side and kick the bullshit out of him.

I had intended in this post to discuss how I wish I had spit on Sarah Jessica Parker's head when I had the chance, but that will have to wait until later I suppose. Time for work.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

two more guinness records

To launch the 2009 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, the shortest man in the world, He Pingping, posed in London's Trafalgar Square with Svetlana Pankratova, the woman with the world's longest legs.

In addition to shortest man, He Pingping gets the record for looking like the world's greatest playa in this photo... and wearing what has to be the world's biggest shit-eating grin.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

to all my friends' baby photo slideshows

After reading my last entry, I realize that I've been little better in my current writing than those visitors of my father's who I found cause to criticize. These last few entries have been of a more somber nature, perhaps fittingly so, given the circumstances. Nonetheless, just as I've been encouraging my father's visitors to be more upbeat and mirthful, so will I.

On that note, I wrote a poem a couple of days ago, after getting Jon and Kim's slideshow of their child Frances at 11 months. That was the title of the slideshow, 11 months, and the first thing I thought upon receiving it was "Why not wait until Frances one-year birthday to send a slideshow?" Then I caught myself, realizing that without a child-- without even a wife yet to have a child with-- I simply cannot comprehend a couple's tendency to e-mail photo slideshows of their children whenever the desire to do so overcomes them. I've noticed this not only of Jon and Kim with Frances, but of literally every married couple I know that have recently become parents. I suppose I will not until I, too, am in their shoes.

The following poem is a frivolous attempt at understanding the desire, as well as an overt poking-fun at it. As you'll read, my thoughts regarding my father-- and how my mother poked fun at him by framing the picture of his new truck-- obviously found their way into it.

To All My Friends’ Baby Photo Slideshows

Here is a picture of my truck
just off the lot, only a couple hours old.

Here’s one of the odometer—look
at all those zeros!
                                      She’s my first
brand-new, having never known
the joy before, having always
bought used.
                             Here she is
on the road in front of the house
the day I brought her home.

This is her in the driveway,
just after a waxing. Can you see
my reflection in her door?
                                                       I swear
her paint job sheds dirt naturally,
hardly even needs a washing.

Here’s my brother
behind her wheel,

and this is my sister,
doing a Vanna White.

Here’s all of us together,
taken by my neighbor,

and this is my neighbor and I,
arm-wrestling on her hood.

Here I am, filling her up
for the first time down
at the Get-Go — $3.79 a gallon
is just insane!

                              The way she guzzles it, too,
costs an arm and a leg, and I know
it ain’t getting any cheaper
as she gets older.
                                     Here she is
in front of the house again,
but later in the day

when her cherry-red is
more a deep-maroon.
                                               Here’s another of her
odometer: 1,000 miles
on the dot.
                         When she started getting close
I started keeping my camera in her glovebox.
(I had to pull over onto the shoulder
to take the picture the day she turned.)

Can you believe how quickly the mileage goes?
Before I know it, I’ll be taking her in
for her first tune-up.
                                            We leave Friday
on our first trip to the lakehouse—look
at the glint in her grillwork there—doesn’t it
look like she’s smiling?
                                                 Like she already knows?
It’s only for the weekend, but the camera’s
still in the glovebox.
                                             I’ll e-mail you another
slideshow, first thing Monday morning.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

vitamin h

My father's longtime business partner, Dr. Phillips, visited my dad shortly after he began taking up residency in the hospital. He brought him a portable DVD player and a collection of DVDs to watch. My father thanked him for the gift, but Phillips informed him that it wasn't a gift. "It's a prescription," he said.

The collection of DVDs were Phillips' favorite comedies, and he instructed my father to watch them as regularly as he would take medication. He wasn't being flippant, either. He was dead serious. He informed my father that he had been reading up on the treatment of cancer patients, and he had come to believe that humor is as important as any of the other myriad treatments he is receiving in order to crush the bug.

Over these last couple of weeks I've seen the wisdom of my father's partner's words. There is nothing that seizes up my chest more than people who visit and speak with my father as if they're never going to have another chance to do so. The soft, doleful tone of their voices. Their uber-expression of concern. People lock into this form of response to serious illness, and like Phillips, I've come to realize it does nothing to make him feel better.

However, humor does.

As sad and concerned as anyone, my mother realized this from the very beginning. She knew to take her worries and concerns with her to church-- not to the hospital to be with my father. This was exhibited in the first items she had me take to decorate his room. Both were framed photographs-- one was a picture of the dog; the other was a photo of the pick-up truck he had recently bought.

She said, "Tell him I thought he'd want reminders of the things that mean most to him."

He got a good laugh out of that.

Of all the the well-meaning cards and gifts he's received, none has done as much good as Phillips' gift, except maybe this one card, given to him by our family friends, the Drogowskis.

The cover is this photo:

The inside reads: "Please, for everyone's sake, get better soon."

Monday, September 8, 2008

tough as steel

It's much easier to write about passing thoughts, or past events, than it is to write about this sort of thing. My father's received his 4th chemotherapy treatment yesterday, and I suppose the reason I'm able to write today is that he looked absolutely fine when I visited him with my brother afterwards. It's not so difficult to write when there is optimism to be expressed, and there is. Really he looked no worse for wear than when he was initially admitted to the hospital, and to see him the same as I've always seen him was encouraging.

The saying goes that doctors make the worst patients. I'm assuming it was a doctor or nurse that was treating another doctor that first came up with this saying, and in my father's case, it's easy to see why. When he was first admitted, my dad had a complaint about the manner with which the medical staff had inserted his IV. He bemoaned the layout of his room and how it shouldn't be such a chore wheeling his drip into the bathroom with him. These smaller complaints, of course, spoke to the larger complaint he has about the corporatization of medicine and how he was happy to have gotten out of the profession while the getting was still good. Recently, he started asking his doctors for copies of his own blood work to review.

Though it may be difficult for a medical professional to treat another doctor, it's even tougher to be a family member of a hospitalized doctor. Just to step out of the elevator into the cancer ward, I have to pump myself up, drawing upon what little internal strength I have in order to float a smiley face down his hall. The matter-of-factness with which my dad talks about his condition, though, pops my positivistic balloon. Yesterday, when I commented upon how good he looked, he smiled and said, "Just wait. It's going to get a lot worse in the next week."

He then proceeded to tell my brother and I what a healthy person's white blood cell count, red blood cell count, and platelet count is-- then, he told us what his counts were. He gave us an overview (in layman's terms) of what was being done to his body-- how the chemotherapy treatments were "the hammer" that were meant to smash "the bug" in his bone marrow, leaving his immune system paper-thin in the process.

He did say his doctors had been encouraged by his response to his treatment, and that they were optimistic that his immune system would rebound, but my father undercut this optimism by pointing out there's a chance the hammer might not succeed in smashing the bug. And even if it does, either way, he said, "I'll be getting a lot worse before I get better."

My brother sat against the wall, looking into his lap. He was not accustomed to my father's frankness regarding his condition like I was.

Fortunately, my brother and I had decided to visit the afternoon of the Steelers' first game against the Texans. Soon, father, son & son were busy watching and commenting upon the game, and we fell into a conversational groove that moved us past my father and his condition. It was as if his hospital room scenery were a backdrop that was removed by unseen stage hands. We talked about the ceremony before the game, honoring Dwight White, Ernie Holmes and Myron Cope. I criticized my brother's love for Tom Brady, the quarterback for New England, and tangentially for A-Rod, the third-baseman for the Yankees, and I used both criticisms to call my brother's Pittsburgh fandom "deeply flawed." My father laughed as I ribbed my brother; he even got in on the act by saying Tibor had been living too long now in New Jersey. The only thing missing was the beer and pizza.

The Steelers crushed the Texans in their home opener, much like I hope the chemo "hammer" is crushing the "bug" in my father's bone marrow. Here's one of the five Steelers sacks in the win.

I did not discuss it with my bro, but I felt a deeper connection to the team and the city after our visit with dad. The Steelers' success on the football field lightened the mood in his hospital room, and I like to think the optimism we all felt about the team this season was infectious. My brother and I left the hospital at halftime happy and confident about my father's condition when we both were feeling tentative and a bit scared before.

No wonder this city embraced the success of the Steelers so tightly in the '70s when the steel industry collapsed here. They needed something to cheer for, to be positive about. I now understand that better than I ever thought I could.

Friday, September 5, 2008

change in direction

Just as my writing here shifted from concerning my waking thoughts to relating memoir-ish stories of my past, it is shifting once again. It is shifting back to my waking thoughts, which are no longer of the whimsical, musing variety. Rather, my thoughts have turned to my father, who was hospitalized a week ago after having been diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia.

I didn't know what this meant. I had heard of leukemia before, but for whatever reason I thought it was a children's disease. The diagnosis confused me, and the medical name scared me. The medical name for everything sounds scary. If you were told you had acute viral nasopharyngitis, you'd think you were fucked and didn't, in fact, have a common cold.

Dumb shit that I am, I didn't realize leukemia was a form of cancer-- a non-medical name I did understand that brought me the polar opposite of comfort.

The mention of the c-word and a loved one's name is simply devastating, especially to someone like myself who's lost several loved ones to cancer. No member of my family that had cancer survived it, and this only made the devastation worse. Only after a great deal of heartaching and tears and frustration and anger and several sleepless nights did I come to understand a few things that brought me to a level of comfort that I can now sit and write about this episode of my life.

First of all, the c-word is no longer unspeakable. There are plenty of cancer survivors, and once I was able to get over my initial hysteria I could find examples of cancer survivors everywhere I looked. Lance Armstrong. Mario Lemieux. My girlfriend's mother. My neighbor's husband across the street.

Secondly, though the medical name initially terrified, I researched it and came to understand that this particular form of leukemia is extremely treatable and, when caught early on, has a high (better than 90%) total remission rate.

Thirdly, they caught it very early. Fortuitously, my father was having his blood monitored every month for a high-blood pressure medication that he had been taking so, when his white blood cell count began to drop, his doctor noticed it immediately. After a few blood tests, the leukemia was identified, and he was in the hospital before any symptoms appeared other than a touch of fatigue.

Today was his third chemotherapy treatment, and he looks as fine as he did the day he was admitted, albeit a bit more subdued.

As he undergoes his therapy, I will continue to write here in sympathy. This blog will remain my cancer log until he pulls through.