Good evening acolytes! Sorry for the absence; I'm sure all three of you have been checking this blog on a daily basis like the devout little Pellegrinites you are, but alas I had life and work bullshit to contend with. I'm in the final final stages of revisions on Half-Assed and thought I'd post another teaser for y'all. This time it's the whole f@#kin chapter!! For free! In Chapter Six, "The Clink", I have just moved into an apartment in Allston, Mass, six months after being officially diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. I am a 20-year old college student who doesn't know which side of the bed to shit on. Hilarity ensues, as it often does, as well as severe pain, bloating and di
Six The Clink
Carl Jung, in the Cliff’s Notes to Dreams, said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” I thought of this as I stared out the front of window of my new apartment, onto Wadsworth Street, at two splintered halves of a broomstick.
* * * *
December, 1995. I was a full-time student at Umass Boston, living in a two-bedroom apartment in Allston with Eric, my best friend from high school, who went to BU, and Scott Barber, the day bartender at George’s, who went insane after living with us for two months.
Scott and I had bonded at George’s, the previous winter, being the only two males in the dining room. We became drinking buddies: two virile young men, living at home, trapped in a suburban winter, sitting side by side at the bar of the China Garden restaurant, swapping miseries. So when Eric and I found the apartment six months later, I brought Scott in. Partly because I knew he was depressed living at his mother’s house, and partly to help defray the whopping $900/month rent (the stipulation was that, for $250/month, Scott and I would share a room, while, at $400, Eric took the master bedroom). I brokered the deal, I made the introductions, and I watched Scott unravel right before my eyes, going from confidant to estranged lunatic.
The downfall began right from the start, on September 1st, moving day. After the three of us hauled in the heavy furniture, most of which was provided by Eric’s mother, Scott curled up on one of the couches and buried his face under his pale, skinny arms. “Come on, Scott!” Eric said as he walked past, carrying his Hi-Fi stereo. “Let’s hop to it! Still got two boxes of kitchen appliances in the truck!” At hearing this, Scott turned over on his stomach and covered his head with a throw pillow with the Boston Bruins logo crocheted onto it, another hand-me-down from Eric’s mom. Eric kept walking, chipper as ever and totally oblivious. But I knew that this small nuance signaled the beginning of a downward spiral that could only end in bloodletting.
Jung also said, “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” This might have illustrated the dynamic between Scott and Eric, but I was the one that was transformed. My two roommates were like milk and whiskey, and I became the hangover. Eric was twenty-years old, a junior in college, honor’s society at BU, Phi Beta Kappa, double major in philosophy and English, and pre-law. He had nary a morbid bone in his body. While he was razor sharp when it came to the books he was dumb as a rock when it came to interpersonal relationships and therefore couldn’t discern the gestural subtleties of human behavior. Scott, on the other hand, was twenty-three, a highly intelligent college dropout who chain-smoked Marlboro reds and chain-drank Bushmills and Bud Light. He was a malnourished rack of anxiety, skinnier than myself, who would only eat after consuming five beers. The rest of the time he burned through cigarettes while torturing his soul with his global life problems: Why didn’t I finish college? Why can’t I get a girlfriend? Why do I tend bar at a suburban restaurant, earning less than $200 a week? Why, at twenty-three years old, do I share a bedroom with a kid who wears Batman pajamas?
Eric treated our residency like a family vacation, delegating fun-chores, orchestrating TV nights where we’d all gather in the living room for one of his movie presentations (“Tonight: Slapshot!”), or cooking his famous Ragu with hamburger and macaroni dish and forcing us to sit around the plastic kitchen table while he made “mmm” noises as he chewed. And the more Eric played Father-Knows-Best, the more Scott turned inward, retreating into the attic of his troubled mind, disappearing for days at a time, gnawing at his lip, rubbing his hand feverishly through his already-graying hair, sitting on the front steps smoking cigarette after cigarette, chasing each drag with a sip of black coffee, his eyes ricocheting all over their sockets in search of a solution, the answer to what the hell went wrong.
And as these two chemicals clashed throughout the fall of 1995, I bore the brunt. I dealt with the fallout; I tried to keep the peace. I washed the dishes when—according to the schedule that Eric taped to the fridge door—it was Scott’s night. As the tension between the two materialized into an actual visible element, some highly combustible gas that could blow the roof off at any moment, my Crohn’s gradually got worse.
By August of 1995 I was in relatively good shape. After my diagnosis the previous February Kafauver started me on an entry-level azulfidine drug, along with the antibiotics Cipro and Flagyl. I followed the recommended diet, avoiding saturated fats, raw vegetables, spicy, ethnic fare, nuts, seeds, anything potentially volatile for the digestive system. I lifted weights at the YMCA near my folks’ house. By the time I moved into our Wadsworth St. apartment I weighed 165 pounds, had a summertime tan, full cheeks and some definition to my chest and arms. I still went to the bathroom twice, sometimes three times a day, but at least they didn’t smell like rotting corpses. Most importantly, though, there was no pain, no tenderness in the abdomen.
By November, after ten weeks of living amid Eric and Scott’s tension, my weight was back down to 152. I was pale. The raccoon eyes reemerged. My face became angular, my temples concave. I went to the bathroom after every meal, usually before I finished eating, and usually once in the middle of the night, sometimes waking Scott up with the sound, if he was home. I couldn’t eat unless I was stoned, which actually wasn’t a problem because I did a bong hit every morning and then again as soon as I got home from class. I was slipping, losing a tiny bit of tread every week, a small enough amount to go unnoticed. Especially since I was always looking the other way.
Things came to a head one night in early December when Eric brought some of his BU buddies back to the apartment to play NHL ’93 on the Sega Genesis. I was lying on the couch, nursing a bruised colon, when they all stumbled in, drunk from the bars. They fired up the first game, Chicago vs. Pittsburgh, digging into each other with verbal bitch slapping, thumb-bludgeoned their joysticks and pumping their fists in the air. I stayed on the couch, under a blanket, bong in hand, watching in amusement.
An hour into the tournament Scott showed up. He had been out at the Irish Village in Brighton with some high school friends, and though he was red-faced from booze he seemed surprisingly affable and sociable, sitting down with us, offering Eric’s friends a beer and calling next game. When he first walked through the door and surveyed the scene my heart rate quickened and my bowels started sloshing around; but once it became apparent that all was cool I breathed easy and my stomach felt a little better.
The current game ended and Scott got his turn on the ice. He took the St. Louis Blues who, in spite of Brett Hull, were one of the worst teams in the game. His opponent took the Blackhawks, who were stacked: Jeremy Roenick and Steve Larmer on the line, Chris Chelios on defense and Ed Belfour in the net. Even a hockey novice like myself knew that was a formidable lineup, Sega’s Ark of the Covenant, rendering all opposition powerless. As the opening puck dropped, I swallowed hard. My palms got sweaty and my forehead got warm.
At the end of the second period Scott was down 2-0. Worse, his opponent was getting cocky and talking trash. Two minutes into the third period Scott was down 4-0. The trash talk intensified and Scott was getting visibly upset, growling things like “this is bullshit!” and “fuckin slut shit!” while his opponent flaunted his lead with “ooooh yeahs” and “so sweet, SO fuckin sweet!” I started praying, under my breath, for God to stage a comeback on Scott’s behalf. It worked. Scott scored back-to-back goals and cut the lead in half. With two minutes left the game got intense. Scott scored another goal (hat trick for Hull), bringing him to within one. His opponent continued to talk smack, as though he wasn’t even trying very hard, while Scott glared at the TV screen, hammering away at his joystick, breathing heavily through his nose.
With twenty seconds left Hull got the puck and broke for the net. Chelios skated in from nowhere and laid him flat on the ice. The little pixelated puck drifted off and was picked up by Roenick, who took it in for another goal, capping off a 5-3 victory.
Before the buzzer finished sounding, before Eric’s friend could fully extend his fist in celebration, Scott stood up and whipped the joystick down on the floor, sending plastic shrapnel in every direction. “FUUUUUUUCK!” he screamed, his carotid artery emerging on his neck like a tree root. He stormed out the front door, grabbing the broomstick we kept there for stickball, charged down our front steps into the middle of Wadsworth Street and began systematically pounding the thing onto the pavement as though he were viciously beating some figment of his imagination, which, for all I knew, was probably the case. Every smack was accompanied by a FUCK. Finally we heard a reedy snap and the broomstick splintered in two, both halves rolling to the curb.
By that point everybody stood at the two living room windows, the glass fogging up with our breath, all of us in utter shock. Scott tilted his head back and screamed at the moon, then skulked off and disappeared into the night. It was like watching the Incredible Hulk. Lights went on across the street. A couple people walked out onto their porches. We looked at each other. Eric had his head in his hands. One of his friends turned to me.
“What the fuck just happened?”
Scott returned the next day. The three of us sat in the living room and, in civil, calm tones, agreed it was best if Scott moved out.
* * * *
Until the unconscious becomes conscious, we call it fate. I stood in the living room, staring out the window at two halves of a broomstick, a light snow falling, Scott’s bags packed and in the front hall, when the phone rang.
It was a collect call from the Caribbean.
“Yes I’ll accept the charges.”
Buzzing on the other end, then a beep, and then:
“Who is this?”
“It’s Frank, you retard.”
“What’s up, kid. How’s the tropical—”
“Listen, kid. I don’t have a lot of time. I’m booked on a flight back to Boston in five days.”
“Just listen. I’ll explain later. Listen. I shipped a package UPS, addressed to you, to 5 Wadsworth in Allston. Please tell me that’s the right address.”
“It is, it is.”
“Good. I can’t say anymore. Just hold the package for me until I get back. I’ll see ya soon.”
I knew Frank from George’s. He worked in the kitchen, and we bonded over…weed, basically. He was the first kid to get me stoned, the first kid to get me a bag, the first kid to educate me on the meaning of “pinching” (“Always take a joint for yourself. Service charge. Nothing’s free in this world.”). Myself, Frank and Eric all played summer league baseball together—Frank and Eric on the same team—and we had all become friends. A year after high school graduation Frank impulsively dropped out of culinary school and bought a one-way ticket to St. John’s. That was in September. I hadn’t heard from him since. Until now.
I looked out at the street, the phone still in my hand. A dusting of snow had covered the broken broomstick.
Three days later the doorbell rang. The UPS guy handed me a cardboard box and I signed for it. My address was scrawled on the box in crude Sharpie, my last name grossly misspelled. I brought the box inside and opened it.
Wrapped in brown craft paper was Frank’s baseball glove, a beat-up black Rawlings. I recognized it from all the grounders that used to sneak under it when he played third base. Why did he send me his goddamn baseball glove? I asked myself. I removed it from the box and held it up in front of my face. As I opened it up something slid out from the palm and landed back in the box with a heavy thud.
I looked into the box and saw a glint of onyx buried in the fold of the craft paper. I reached into the box and retrieved the mystery object.
A black and gold Rolex Sub Mariner watch.
I had no idea what this was about, but, knowing Frank, I could only guess this was some kind of booty, most likely procured illegally. And then another thought entered my mind: Frank was coming home, he’d want a place to live, and once he sold this Rolex to one of his local fences, he’d have money.
That was when fate stopped being fate.
Scott was out; Frank was in. He landed in Boston two days later, sold the Rolex for $2200, got his old job as a line cook at the Armani Café on Newbury St. and enrolled full-time at culinary school. He told us the story about the watch: one of the guys with whom he shared an apartment in the Caribbean turned out to be a major drug-trafficker back in the States and was on the lam in St. John’s when the Justice Department finally found him and ransacked his home. Frank was the only one home when it happened—like Brad Pitt in True Romance, probably on the couch with a bong in his hand when they kicked the door in and shoved a warrant in his face. They searched and seized, confiscating anything worth over twenty bucks. Frank was scared and innocent, but not scared or innocent enough to turn over his roommate’s Rolex—which was conveniently on his wrist when the Feds busted in. He wasn’t even brought in for questioning. They simply told him to have a nice day. Following the raid Frank did two things: first he max’d out his credit card on a plane ticket, then he wrapped the Rolex in a baseball glove and shipped it to me. He slept on the beach for the next four nights and then caught a flight home.
With Frank as our third roommate, order was restored. No more walking on eggshells, tiptoeing around the shifting tectonic plates known as Scott. Wadsworth Street became a weigh station for good times and old high school friends who happened to be in town for a weekend. We faithfully executed our fun-chores; we took turns washing the sink full of dishes; we passed the pipe around, played John Madden Football and sat down as a family for Eric’s hamburger surprise Tuesday night meals.
In mid-December I was accepted to Emerson College. I thought it was a long shot. Emerson was a good school—a private school. My portfolio of film reviews from The Collegian was the tipping point, and my father called Freddie Mac and made the money work, but not without a regular dose of ballbreaking every time I saw him. (“Twenty grand a year to study movies. What’s next, my boy? Graduate school for cowboys? How about the University of Barnum and Bailey’s…Christ Almighty...”)
Yet in spite of the prospect of film school and the recent harmony at Wadsworth, my health continued to deteriorate. My weight was down around 150 and my bowel movements were fierce and frequent. I was always tired, watery-eyed, and my stomach hurt after every meal.
I don’t know if it was the residual effects of the Scott Barber affair or if the Gods of Crohn’s simply decided to rise from the deepest, darkest part of my intestinal seas. Logic pointed toward the former. As the tension between Scott and Eric mounted, coupled with my chaotic daily commute to Umass Boston (three separate trains to this Alcatraz-like rock in the Boston Harbor with a view of oil tanks and planes coming in and out of Logan) my health responded commesurately. It didn’t help that I wasn’t getting laid, either. I couldn’t meet anybody—I was either on the train or on the shitter.
I made a New Year’s Resolution to turn things around. I would quit smoking, maintain a healthy, high-calorie diet and hit the weights again. I didn’t need to alert the doctor yet; frankly, it was a pain in the ass. All they did was give me these stupid orange pills and some antibiotics. Diet and my attitude made the difference. Positivity, optimism, hope, happiness…these were the prescriptions for good health. If the stress brought on by a mere mortal like Scott Barber could derail my Crohn’s, surely there was an accessible antidote.
I bought a Soloflex from the Want Ads (the pre-internet Craig’s List, only you couldn’t kill prostitutes on there, I think) and put in the dining room, next to Eric’s Hi-Fi stereo and the industrial-sized waste bin Frank stole from a construction site. Our dining room had the elegance of a kids’ treehouse; it was so ugly it could have been modern art. Most of the time the Soloflex doubled as a coat rack, but I did use it a few times a week.
I became obsessed with gaining weight, trying different types of whey protein shakes from GNC, as well as this grape-flavored formula I got through my health insurance that I mixed with tap water. Neither yielded much. I envied kids who slept late and didn’t take a dump until noon. Eric and Frank would eat large chicken parm subs for lunch or a heaping roast beef sandwich from Riley’s with not so much as a burp or a stir afterward. Then they’d eat dinner, then maybe a few beers that night. All without moving their bowels once. Where did it go? All that food, topped off with cups of bowel-rousing coffee and pints of caustic alcohol? Into some kind of digestive cache? My colon exemplified Newton’s Law of Motion: with every bite there was an equal and opposite crap. If something went in my mouth, it came out the other end within 20 minutes.
I would quit smoking every week, sometimes making it a full day, but as soon as it became clear that my appetite was not miraculously coming back or I wasn’t going to wake up the next morning ten pounds heavier, I’d throw in the towel, hopelessly defeated, and buy another pack of Marlboro Lights.
In late January classes began at Emerson. The school fit my personality and my disease (before I realized the two were interchangeable). Rather than the isolation of Umass--a campus of 30,000 other idiots, sequestered in farmland--Emerson students were isolated in their own troubled minds. The campus was the Boston Public Garden, the Majestic Theater, and Tremont and Beacon streets, east of Arlington. Classes were held in dilapidated brownstones with students ambling to and fro like beatnik wannabes, Jack Kerouac and Arthur Miller prototypes, dressed in black, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and attending slam poetry readings in “The Vault”, Emerson’s ad-hoc mini theater. Being a loner was rejoiced, not condemned.
Still, nothing could stem the rising tide of my Crohn’s. My health was an unbridled, rabid steed, impervious to reigns. By February my energy level was so low I could only make it to and from class, plus the two days a week I waited tables at George’s to cover my $150/month rent plus living expenses (weed). It didn’t help that February is the asshole of the calendar year, the month with the least amount of daylight, when New Englanders go batshit crazy from the duress of winter. A typical day consisted of me waking up by five am, going to the bathroom, crawling back into bed and falling back asleep. Then waking again around seven, another trip to the bathroom, this time staying up to shower and get ready. If there was enough weed in the coffers I might do a wake-and-bake, then reap the benefits with a halfway decent breakfast (egg and cheese from Dunkin’s). On good days I was able to put down some of a lunch, but for the most part that was a luxury. Most days I’d just wait for dinner, hoping I’d have enough of appetite to down a small bowl of Eric’s “Ragu Casserole”.
Fortunately, Eric and Frank provided a much-needed support system. Unlike most college kids, they barely partied, rarely left the apartment. It was as though they had their own psychological forms of Crohn’s Disease, content to stay in among the creature comforts of our living room, the three of us getting stoned and letting the TV dazzle us with reruns of Cheers. I couldn’t go out for extended periods of time or stray too far from a lavatory. My stomach couldn’t withstand the punishment administered by alcohol. If a cheeseburger gave me the runs, a couple beers and a shot of Jaegermeister would amplify that tenfold. Moreover, my vanity prohibited anything close to a normal college social life. Thanks to my pale, gaunt appearance, my coat hanger shoulders and sunken chest, my confidence plummeted. It was easiest to stay home and wait for the winter storm to pass.
On Oscar night, early March of ’96, I ate a few oranges for dinner. I had been feeling shit-ass miserable for a few days and was in survival mode. Oranges were generally a no-no (acidity and fiber) but during survival mode I ate whatever appealed to my implacable appetite. Plus, Frank brought two nets worth back from his work. I figured I’d smoke some weed, whet my appetite with a couple juicy oranges, watch some of the Oscars, and hopefully get hungry enough to order some wings or a sub. Maybe pastrami, with the triangles of American cheese.
Somewhere in the middle of the broadcast, during the in memorium reel, the monsters rose from the depths of the ocean, the same way they did that night at the South Hadley movie theater during that dreadful Kevin Costner flick. The abdominal pain pierced through my sides and clashed in the lower right region of my belly, twisting and wrenching as though giving my colon an Indian sunburn. I ran to the bathroom and yarked up tendrils of acidic oranges, scorching my throat on the way out. Then I felt the flow on the other end, like an hourglass being tipped over. I promptly dropped trou and planted my butt cheeks on the toilet seat, expelling everything left over from the back half of my plumbing. This lasted about an hour, so assuredly that when I wasn’t sitting on the crapper I was curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor, next to the porcelain, in that pathetic drunken teenager position. Eventually I felt well enough to tredge back to the living room in time to see Mel Gibson accept the Best Director award for Braveheart. It was a brief reprieve, the eye of the storm passing overhead; through the rays of sunlight, however, I could see darker, more sinister clouds on the horizon.
Each day that followed was worst than the last. There was no vomiting—that was exclusively an Oscar night treat—but Newton’s Law of Bowel Disease was in full effect. Take a bite, shit a bite. I missed classes. I missed work. I hid under covers, coming out only for weed and cigarettes, poop breaks, the occasional attempt at a meal or a dose of television. I didn’t have a scale and I didn’t need one; I could tell that I had lost at least 5 pounds in the last two weeks, beyond the skeletal 150-155 to which I had grown accustomed. And perhaps most horrific, I could actually see a mass on my lower right abdomen. When I sucked my non-existent gut inward, as painful as it was, a bulge like the top of a baseball protruded from my stomach.
“Oh…shitballs. That cannot be good.”
Finally, on a cold day in late March, after three weeks of rapidly deteriating health, I did what any self-reliant 20-year old college student would do.
I called my mommy.
An hour later her white Hyundai was in front of my apartment. I threw a change of clothes into a duffle bag and we drove to Newton Wellesley.
Registration was quick. I filled out a form, was given the plastic bracelet and then followed a nurse into an exam room where she took my vitals. This is easy, I thought. Then I joined my mother back in the waiting room, where we sat for two and a half hours before a triage nurse called my name. Some goddamn emergency. I had called Kafauver’s office earlier and explained my condition, described the bulge on my stomach. He asked if I had a fever. I told him I didn’t have a thermometer but felt warm to the touch. He told me to go the ER immediately. I figured he could have done me a solid and maybe called ahead, like making a reservation at a restaurant on Saturday night. Apparently it doesn’t work that way. The ER is first come, first serve. Barring a gunshot wound or a missing limb, you get in line behind the toothaches and sprained wrists and wait your turn.
By the time the nurse called my name the pain had reached a fever pitch. I couldn’t even stand up straight. I was brought to a bed where I promptly curled up on my left side—the least painful position. To distract myself I studied the fibers of the crisp, starched linen of the bedsheet, examining the cross-weave thatch, imagining entire colonies of alien life residing there. For two hours doctors and nurses stopped by, checked my wristband, asked me questions, wrote things on a clipboard and assured me that someone would “be right with me”. I wanted to sleep but couldn’t. I hadn’t slept well in weeks. The bustle and brightness of the ER bore into my skull and ricocheted inside my head. I felt like I was in a Las Vegas casino after a heavy night of partying, waiting in line for the buffet while a million old people played slot machines.
Finally a nurse pulled away the curtain and stepped inside. She asked me the same group of questions they all had: name, date of birth, did I have Crohn’s, who was my doctor, how bad was the pain. She hooked me up to an IV and pumped some Demerol through the line. Wow. In a matter of seconds my pain dropped from a 9 to a 4. It took the edge off; hell, turned it to clay. Enough that I was able to relax my abdominal muscles. The racket of the slot machines eased.
Eventually the ER doctor arrived, fully briefed, equipped with a plan of attack. He was young and friendly and calming. As he clearly and carefully outlined the situation I wondered if medical students were forced to take an etiquette course. It would make sense. No one could be so calm and friendly on his own, especially after being up for the last 72 hours straight.
The prognosis was that my Crohn’s was flaring up and an abscess had likely formed around my intestine. That was the protrusion I saw in my belly. In order to be sure, and to more comprehensively assess the situation, I would need a CT scan. And in order for that to happen I had to drink two gallons of barium sulfite, so that my digestive system could glow in the dark when they zapped it with radiation.
The nurse dropped off two bottles of barium along with a Styrofoam cup filled with ice. The idea of drinking anything, much less a mixture of skim milk and plutonium, made my mouth fill up with warm spit.
“It’s not so bad,” the nurse said, tilting her head at me, smiling. “It’s vanilla-flavored.”
You evil whore.
It was so bad, and I puked up half of it. I got enough down over the course of an hour to proceed with the CT scan, and—bingo—the experts were right. There was a big ol’ nasty abscess right between my appendix and my ileum. There was talk of surgery, but me being a rookie, the doctors felt they could starve it and shrink it with antibiotics. I would have to be admitted, probably for a week or so.
It wasn’t so bad, the clink. Not after the first night, anyway. Since I wasn’t allowed food or water, a central line was inserted into the artery just below my left clavicle, a “big” vein, I was told. So big they could feed me through it intravenously from a TPN (Total Package Nutrition), a bag of milky fluid containing 2,000 calories of vitamins, minerals, lipids, proteins and carbohydrates. A young doctor inserted the line—younger than 30—and what he lacked in experience he made up for in imperfection. He couldn’t get the line in on the first try. Or the second. Or third. Or fourth. Instead of a swift, swordsmanlike puncture, my left shoulder became a mining expedition. My bed sheet was so drenched in blood a nurse had to replace it mid-procedure, because the sight was so ungainly. I screamed, swore, begged for someone else to take over. In retrospect I felt bad for that, humiliating the young doctor in front of his superiors, but can you blame me? I had never experienced anything so painful, or at least so painfully uncomfortable. In the young doctor’s defense, I was severely dehydrated when I was admitted, which makes the vascular system cower and retreat like a frightened kitten under a bed. Finally a supervising doctor took over and finished the job. After 25 minutes of abuse in the name of training I successfully had a drinking straw lodged into my shoulder.
For the following six days I lay in bed and twiddled my thumbs. My condition improved daily. Kafauver would make his rounds in the morning, sit at the foot of my bed, ask how I was doing, then give me the low-down. He was a conservative doctor who advocated cautious recoveries. He even explained things in a slow, drawn out way, as if he were disciplining a puppy that was too cute for real anger.
On the third morning he told me he had ruled out surgery. The abscess appeared to be shrinking according to the plan and my inflamed intestines were likely on the mend as well, but I should remain in the hospital for a couple more days, to be sure. Once out of the hospital the recovery would take another month or so. I would have to continue the NPO order (nothing by mouth, including water) and consequently keep the central line in my shoulder so the TPN could feed me (and the antibiotics could continue to go through the IV as well, a more potent method of delivery). This meant a home nurse to check all my tubing, twice a week. In addition, I began a prednisone regiment. Prednisone is a catabolic steroid, a miracle drug used to heal just about anything. It’s like the turpentine of medicine: it’ll polish your wood floors good as new, but use too much and you’ll burn a hole through your lung. The plan was to start me at 40 mg a day for one month and then quickly taper off, lowering the dose by 5 mg every two weeks until I was off completely. I was warned of the side effects: a swelling of the cheeks (called “moonface”), possible acne breakouts, insomnia, and wild energy rushes, what the doctor called “full moon fever”. Plus the long-term side effects, like cataracts, lymphoma and osteoporosis.
I was warned. And intrigued. Full moon fever? Do tell.
My hospitalization was uneventful. Rest can be very boring after a while. I was ready to go home by the third day. I craved food—all foods, any foods, sometimes the most mundane things that I dreamt about at night or during my million little daytime naps. A roasted chicken leg. Canned cream of corn. A slice of Oscar Meyer bologna. An English muffin with butter. Ice cold ginger ale. A Saltine.
Beyond that I slept and took walks around the floor with my IV. The antibiotics marched into my bloodstream, chipping away at the abscess, eviscerating all my natural intestinal bacteria in the process. I was discharged on the sixth day with the drinking straw still stuck in my shoulder. My sister picked me up from the hospital and dropped me off at my folks’ place, where I was to convalesce for the next month before returning to Wadsworth. I dropped my bag in the bedroom and went to my father’s closet, took his wintertime wool overcoat off its hanger, draped it over my shoulders and walked outside.
It was slow and dicey getting around. I was thin, but I noticed a little color back in my cheeks. My raccoon eyes were gone, too. I caught my reflection in the garage door window. The face that stared back was strangely calm, almost unfamiliar. Even my milkweed hair looked relaxed, somehow wiser. I entered the garage and grabbed the top lawn chair off a stack of four, carried it to the front yard and planted it down, its four support posts piercing the surface of the raw, late-March earth. I wrapped myself in my dad’s overcoat and sat in the chair, watching the occasional car drive down the street.
Daniel Pellegrini is a recovering drug addict with an aggressive form of chronic bowel disease. That means he can't take painkillers after undergoing rectal surgery. He's here to show you just how beautiful life is.
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