Except for Aleve and Tylenol, this past week has been living medication-free. However, the deceptive nature of living with Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Arthritis, and tumors percolate inside. If you look at me, you’d be convinced by how I look like the picture of health. However, there have been nights when I cheated on my vow of medication-free. For example, last night, I had to sleep in my recliner for two two-hour periods due to pain by downing a single tablet of Tylenol #3 (300 mg of Acetaminophen and 60 mg of Codeine). I guess medication-free is not medication-free when one has to sneak in 30 mg of Codeine now and then, but when your body gets to this stage of pain, many will do what they have to do.
I often fight the pain to make it through the day. Then on other days, I am up and about, seemingly pain-free. I am sure some readers out there abandoned this blog because they tire of me yapping about for the past few years of medical crap. I get it. There are many days I wonder why I am still here. I remember life before the tumor, the Parkinson’s, Arthritis, and Multiple Sclerosis. Intuitively, like many of us, I knew death would eventually occur but openly wondered when death would occur. Yet, after being diagnosed with all this and knowing that the end of quality living was just around the corner, I still find myself wondering when I might die. Truthfully, there are moments when I look up to the heavens and yell, “Come on, let’s get on with it.”
Some days, I feel like ‘pain‘ places me in a bad relationship, one where life is lived in some contended monogamous state of middle ground, where the scene replays nightly, for the benefit of none. The best way to describe this scenario was when watching my late father get up, go to a recliner, sit all day and watch NCIS or The Ghost Whisperer until bedtime. He’d repeat the process the next day—the day after that, the day after that, and the day after that. During his final year, there was a rhythmic nothingness to the day. I classified it as existence versus living.
After I die, when family and friends learn of my medical issues, they’ll comment how unemotional I was about it. But, of course, my lack of emotion was nurtured by military experience as an emergency rescueman. But that’s only part of it. If one peeled back the onion of my feelings, you’d find I am just mentally exhausted. Technically, I am still very functional, but internally, I am physically and mentally exhausted. Whatever is eating away inside me is insidious and cruel. It’s slow and methodical. It’s patient and determined. and I cannot escape. Instead, I choose work.
Not that I need the cash, but I am determined to continue working as much as possible. Strangely, (for me) work is purposeful. I write this blog post at work while on break. And it might be true there is no evidence of disease, and there hadn’t been for quite some time. I appear well. I am living. I also know that next week, I could be in the hospital dying, but I want to remain more human.
I want to complain about the idiot on the 3rd floor who cannot finish his project. I want to have a beer with friends and complain about why I always have to work a double shift. I wish to complain about why Samsung keeps creating more expensive phones with ‘tech shit’ (my term) that 90% of us will never use. I want to complain about the Chicago Cubs, who ditched all their key players and are now 20 games behind. (Cubs would have to improve to be at the ‘suck level’). I want to complain about the fish that got away, the mountains I hiked on vacation, the rivers I swam, and the woman to whom I just made love. Instead, I live in an egg-timer environment, always on the precipice of ‘time’s up.’ Therefore, most things are neither extremely important nor urgent.
Urgency and importance and are critical. In a blog post, ‘The Voice of Urgency,’ I talked about when President Dwight D. Eisenhower began his administration. He instructed his aides that he wanted only two items to land on his Oval Office desk. The first would be a stack of those things that were extremely urgent. The other would be a stack of the extremely important. Years later, Eisenhower commented of his bewilderment at how many items were extremely urgent but not very important.
In the Autumn of my life, the conflict between ‘urgent’ and ‘important’ remains inescapable for many. But not for me. I know many feel a lack of satisfaction after working so hard. When we substitute the urgent for the important, we return home in that ‘bad relationship, where lives are lived in some contended monogamous state of middle ground, where the scene replays nightly, for the benefit of none.’ So, I have abandoned the debate. If my work is critical for clinicians to perform their work or whether a patient lives or dies, then that’s damn important. Anything else is more of an annoyance.
One of the critical lessons Buddhism has taught (one which I’ve noticed repeatedly) is that everything is intertwined and causally linked. Things are constantly changing and regrouping. The same can be said of the human body: it is constantly changing throughout life (birth to death). And no matter what I do, I am impermanent. However, the thing that worries me the most is that if one looks at incurable disease underneath my skin, will the medical community lose sight of the man underneath? In that vain, I want a peaceful death. I wish not to suffer. And at some point, I wish for my family’s acceptance of my death.
Until then, I will continue to do what I have to do. Deep down, I want to achieve the impossible, namely, to control my body during the death process while living completely in the ‘important‘ moments.