I’m midway through my second week.
This morning for the first time I decided to open my eyes and see what I could through the mask. The face of the large machine (I don’t even know what to call it) slowly circled and hovered proximate to my neck and jaw. I felt like I was staring into the mouth right at the pearly teeth of a great white.
What if someone comes up and offers you two million to do six rounds with Mike Tyson? Yeah, sure, I can do that. So first round you hop into the ring, for two minutes you dance around a bit, all is good, fun even, and then he pops you one. And then things change. This suddenly doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore.
My side effects have begun to manifest themselves. Yesterday my morning cup of coffee tasted funny. My saliva is turning sticky. The inside of cheek feels abraded. And if sunlight strikes my neck it instantly feels like a sunburn. No one need remind me to keep it covered.
From the very beginning of this adventure I’ve wondered about the Homer Simpson factor: what happens when you put your average clod in close proximity to a nuclear reactor?
Yesterday in my weekly meeting with Dr. Quivey I asked how they knew if they were succeeding, how did they know they were actually getting the tumor cells?
She looked directly at me with a gentle clear-eyed intensity.
We don’t, she said. And it’s incredibly frustrating. We are in the position of only being able to observe and manage the negative side effects.
But how do you know you’re right? The machines for example – do they ever get out of whack?
The resident quickly piped in. The machines are calibrated every night, he said.
Quivey concurred and added that they check and calibrate the intensity every day. As for the beam vectors they regularly check the alignments.
She once again smiled at me. But they’re machines, she added. And I don’t trust machines. Machines are not to be trusted.
And the 40 variable algorithms?
The same, she said. Sometimes we need to lie in order to get the algorithm to do what we want.
She seems to find great pleasure, glee even, in this. I think of Ahab’s mad glee that drove him to the bottom of the ocean and left Ishmael floating in his coffin. But that glee somehow also tells me that my rad onc is no Homer Simpson. To revel in the risk and the uncertainty, you must first understand deeply what those risks and uncertainties are, perhaps more deeply than all those around you. And therein lies the beauty: those who profess to know are liars.
On my busride home today I spoke with my friend Patrick. He asked about my plans and I explained that I needed to unpack, move into my new place, fix the Internet connection, write a bunch, perhaps do some other stuff.
My god, you’re on fire, he said. Perhaps this radiation is turning you into some kind of super hero. Maybe you should get it on a regular basis, he said.
He’s absolutely one hundred percent right.
Perhaps everyone should, I answered.