Dressing Dowdy for Death
By Nathaniel Hellerstein
Written August 11, 2015
Old Hollow-Head demanded these dates. Insisted on them; and how do you turn down the Grim Reaper? So I went along with it; I scheduled the dates, I got bling, tattoos and something to wear. But my heart wasn’t into it, and it showed.
Death announced its interest in me by a test result. The doctor said uh-oh, PSAs; hie thee to a urologist! The urologist poked me intimately and said, yup, a tumor in the prostate gland.
Prostate cancer. It killed my uncle, it killed my father. The doctors didn’t catch theirs in time. Mine they caught early. Hey Hollow-Head, you thought we weren’t expecting this?
The doctors gave me a choice; robotic laproscopic surgery or X-radiation. Both very high-tech; I dig it. I chose the X-rays over the robot because the robot’s spiffy, new and advanced, but I didn’t feel like being an experiment. X-rays are boring and routine; good!
Also, when my wife recently went in for surgery, she caught a spiffy, new and advanced strain of hospital-bred pneumonia. So rather than letting them cut me open, I let them irradiate me.
They scheduled 28 sessions; but first the urologist had to implant three ‘gold seeds’. These are tiny spheres, smaller than the ball at the end of a ballpoint pen, which the urologist shot into my prostate-gland tumor, in order to guide the X-ray beams. He did this with a gizmo that made a noise like a spring-loaded stapler. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! I peed orange for a day, and my continence continued to decline.
Ah yes, continence issues. And urgency issues. I sit down, I gotta go. I stand up, I gotta go. And by evening, damp reeking underpants. I gave in and got a supply of adult diapers. At Safeway, I asked a worker where to find Depends. He sent me to the pens. I went back, I spelled it out to him, and I felt no shame.
I don’t take invasive procedures or gross side-effects personally. It’s Death that wants to get real personal with my aging body. I admit that at 57, I’ve outlived Hitler, let alone Jesus and Mozart; but still, Hollow-Head, isn’t this rushing things? Go date someone more your own age! Do you want me, or just another trophy? I feel so objectified.
The first day of the X-ray sessions, they put me in a futuristic-looking CAT scanner; guided by this, they inked three tiny dots on my hips, to help guide the X-rays. These are my tattoos; the gold seeds are my bling. I got bling and tattoos for my 28 dates with Death; both tiny; in keeping with my level of attraction to my suitor.
As for what to wear for being irradiated, there’s the diaper; also I must take off my pants and put on one of those hospital gowns that open to the back. A dowdier dress you cannot imagine. Again, a sign of my feelings about the date.
28 sessions; weekdays at 3 PM, for five weeks and three days. I drive; by now I know the route by heart. I park; I walk in; I show the receptionist my card; she buzzes the door; I go change into the dowdy dress I mentioned above; I sit and wait.
A technician comes, we walk down the hall, around a corner, into a room, past a FOOT THICK radiation-shield door, and into the presence of the Machine. I lie down on the pad, fit my feet to the stirrups, and try to relax. The technicians give me a big rubber ring to hold onto with both hands; something for my hands to do. They pull and tug me until my tiny tattoos are in line with the machine’s laser beams. The technicians tell me to hold still, and they leave the room.
Hold still? Sure, yeah, I’ll hold still, the Grim Reaper likes them quiet. What a creep.
The machine rotates around me. The small emitter beeps; an X-ray scan. The pad shifts a bit this way and that, to put me in exact alignment. The small emitter retracts, the big emitter rotates to directly underneath me. It rests a moment, then starts to rotate and buzz.
“Fry and die, you tiny traitors,” I whisper to my cancer cells. Then I say, “Alas poor prostate, I knew you well.”
This afternoon, when the big emitter came a quarter-turn around, to my left, I said, “Twenty-six and an eighth.” When it swung above me, past my upturned face, I said, “Twenty-six and two eighths.” And so on through twenty-six and three eights and twenty-six and four eights. I count by eighths as a self-comforting ritual, like a scared cat purring.
The machine paused, silent, then started to buzz and to rotate the other direction. Again I whispered fry-and-die and alas-poor-prostate; and I counted out twenty-six and five eights (as the big emitter rose on my right), twenty-six and six eights (as it swung above me), twenty-six and seven eights (as it set, to my left). Finally it reached nadir, it clicked off, and I said, “Twenty-seven.”
One more zap to go. I write this story today as a present to the technicians and doctors. After tomorrow, August 12, I will wait three months for another PSA test, to see if irradiation worked. Meanwhile I will recover from the effects of the therapy itself. Soon, I hope, no more diapers or stool-softening pills. It’ll be nice to have regularity back.
One more zap, one more date with Death. Hey Grim, can’t you take a hint? The micro-bling, the micro-tattoo, the dress so dowdy that you wouldn’t be caught dead in it? ‘Cause that’s the plan, Hollow-Head!
Death, Death, go away! Come again some other day!