By Jim Creighton
Today we visit the Empire of Hell, to eavesdrop on two officials while they discuss an addition to their regimen.
MR. HEKYL: Things are getting pretty boring down here, don’t you think? I mean there’s only so many ways we can torture these idiots. How long can we stick to the same old, same old?
MR. JEKYL: Well, they do say that Hell is eternal.
MR. HEKYL: How true, but I’ve got an idea that might give you and I some new pleasure. I suggest we organize a contest.
MR. JEKYL: Oh! Excellent!
MR. HEKYL: I’m thinking of a quiz show. Like on TV.
MR. JEKYL: Wonderful! Nothing could be more Hellish. The boss will be so proud of us!
MR. HEKYL: I can see it now. We could have contestants fighting each other for the lucky spin of a wheel. They could win fabulous prizes such as ‘Two Weeks in Sunny Sudan’, or ‘Dinner With Jeffery Dahmer’.
MR. JEKYL: Yes! Yes! The possibilities are endless! But don’t forget the laughs. We could use a few, just to maintain a zany momentum.
MR. HEKYL: Good idea. So, perhaps a professional might help? There’s a humourist available up in Campbell River. Have you heard of Campbell River?
MR. JEKYL: Of course. There’s a wicked little casino up there.
MR. HEKYL: That’s the place. Anyway, this fellow is overdue to come down. Here’s a sample of his work …
‘Sunshine, Lollipops and Cancer’
I was recently blessed with cancer.
Well, it’s about time, I thought! Since everyone knows at least one person who has it, I was beginning to feel left out. At first, the doctor advised patience, since I had a lot of preliminary tests to pass before I could embrace my windfall.
X-rays, CT-scans, and of course the biopsies, those rude little interventions that reach up into your innards to scrape out tissue samples. When I’d aced all of the tests I was, at long last, officially allowed to join the legions of happy cancerous folk.
In a nutshell then, let me describe my journey. My particular blessing was to involve surgery, so I was regrettably denied the thrills of hormone therapy and radiation, or the seemingly endless favours of chemotherapy. So be it, I thought, at least I’ve been invited to the party.
Surgery, such a cheerful way to welcome the spring of another year. Jolly surgery, snip snip, perhaps lose a few unwanted pounds, get some needed rest, and then I’m on my way. Could anything be easier than that?
During the months and weeks of waiting for an operating room appointment, my mind was full of excitement. Just like most other cancer patients, I imagined wonderful things, and the inexorable tick-tock of the clock underlined my own questions, such as ‘are my cancer cells continuing to multiply?’, and ‘exactly what will the doctor’s find when they finally zip me open?’. They say that anticipation is the best part of any event.
When the big day finally arrived, of course I was made asleep for the grittiest bit, but after that, after the vapours of anaesthesia had slowly cleared, I was allowed the full enjoyment of my blessing. I’d entered the magical kingdom of ‘surgical recovery’, which could be a long visit or a short one, depending on my resilience to the previous stage. Luckily, I was allowed a longer visit, some nine days and nights in the bosom of the Comox Valley Regional Hospital. So much hustle and bustle, so many other patients being wheeled in and out while I reclined on my mechanical bed and accepted all of those curiously named medications. What exactly is ‘fragmin’, anyway? And who knew just how many pointed injections of it that my body could withstand? It was all quite amazing.
Among a few other complications, it was the rigidity of my bowels that contributed to my longer stay. Those bowels, those ‘I’ll tell you when I’m ready’ organs that we take so very much for granted. Let them have their little holiday, I thought, for I was certainly enjoying mine. So many times each day and night I sat on the toilet, reflecting, reflecting and hoping that my own little logging train would eventually find the right track and dump its overdue load into the chuck. The pressure in it’s engine was building daily, and I longed for the toot of its whistle. But what a great opportunity to think, I thought, and of course I did, exploring the joyous vacancy of my mind. Make a game of it, I told myself. On the night of the sixth day, the score stood: Hemorrhoids 2, Jim 0.
I’ve heard that some cancer patients can’t wait to view their entire experience in a rear-view mirror, much akin to the post-season Toronto Maple Leafs, but I was fortunately able to enjoy every slow and lingering moment. Hey, I never leave a movie in the middle.
Catheter, sir? Did someone give me an option? Not on my menu, it seemed, but there it was, this other companion who’d appeared when I awoke from surgery. My very own catheter, with its lengthy brown hose and its very fashionable attaching bag. ‘Fill me,’ it said. ‘Empty me,’ it said. And I did my very best, while sucking all the time at at the bendable straw which I’m sure had already drained the entire Puntledge River. The catheter too, much like my bowels, had its own personality, a personality that was equally as demanding. All it really wanted was attention, and if I was too occupied with other recuperative details, such as my day and night regimen of pushing my walker up and down the maze of hospital corridors to motivate my bowels, it would remind me with a playful tug, or an un-scratchable itch, or sometimes its very presence would spur an overwhelming series of playful spasms. Just like owning a pet, I thought, perhaps a little puppy, always tugging at your leg.
To all of you male readers, you should understand that my type of cancer is bestowed upon us men only, a condition that some glib soul has nicknamed ‘mancer’. Sounds so modern and easy to get along with, doesn’t it? Getting rid of it requires a ‘radical prostatectomy’, the words so simple to pronounce but I’m sure a tad more difficult for a surgeon to achieve. ‘Mancer’ is something special; it’s awarded to the prostrate, the accessory gland of our reproductive system. Hey cowboy, you want to shoot real bullets? Then you need a prostate. ‘Impotency’, my surgeon had warned, and I really must google that word. In the days that followed my operation, I often pondered just what kind of man I had become. I looked down to my surgical wound, and further downward to whom I used to call ‘Big Bobby’, and I saw that any regal personage he once possessed had been drastically reduced, poor thing. Poor deflated thing, poor forgotten soldier from such a victorious past! All you need now, as someone suggested to me, was some professional counselling, or perhaps Bobby, you and I might join one of those men’s self-help groups, to search for our misplaced masculinity by drumming and chanting around a primeval fire. Don’t worry BB, you’re still my BFF.
MR. JEKYL: This doesn’t sound too humorous to me.
MR. HEKYL: Well, he did write a funny book once. Campbell Riverites loved it.
Within the rapturous realm of post-surgery, I didn’t need to worry about the outside world, a place that had become so irrelevantly distant. I did wonder, however, if that world would be the same when I returned. As a keen observer of the human condition, my memory visited me with many familiar scenarios: young women wearing Blundstone boots, young men wearing their ball caps while they dined in public, women not so young in Blundstone boots, and of course the networks of television, plus the world of podcasts, live streaming, and the miracle of iPhones. Our cultural sources they are, so vital, so algorithmically ‘us’. And look, there goes a few more delivery trucks, buzzing their way through our streets like bees from the major hives of Amazon and Wayfair. So, have all of these precious things remained intact? Do people, I wondered, still fall in love? Is City Hall, I wondered, still capable of making all those nutty decisions?
But of course my vacation in hospital couldn’t last forever, and eventually I was convinced to make room for another patient far more worthy than I. With a tear in my eye, I bade a fond farewell to the land of early morning blood sampling and the place where I provided buck naked tableaux for the room cleaner, the food delivery person, and even the folks visiting the patient next door. Hey, I was in show business!
As we speak, I’ve been released into the ‘at home’ portion of my recuperation. Boy, I’m still tuckered out from all of that fun.Thank goodness that my friendly catheter will remain with me for another three weeks, and after that I can enjoy the luxury of wearing adult diapers. No need to get up for a pee. And say, if your catheter leaks and you have to wad your diaper with a half-roll of paper towels, you’ve got yourself a codpiece that even King Henry VIII would envy!
In conclusion, dear reader, I know that vacation stories can become boring very quickly, so rest assured that I’ll spare my friends that discomfort. Thankfully for them I don’t have a phone full of photographs. I somehow couldn’t see anything that I wanted to immortalize, I mean who wants to view my abdominal scar, complete with its row of gleaming metal staples? Not me!
Now that I’m on the road to better health, and the fog of my cancer experience is beginning to lift, certain things remain constant. I thank heaven for the love of my wife and family, and for the team of surgeons and support staff that waited on me hand and foot. I owe my life to the kindness of these people.
MR. JEKYL: It still doesn’t sound humourous. Am I missing something?
MR. HEKYL: Maybe not. Maybe it’s that intellectual style of humour, you know, where there’s no real punch lines.
MR. JEKYL: Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
MR. HEKYL: You bet! This guy just ain’t funny at all. He’s the very man we need. The idiots down here will hate him.
MR. JEKYL: Bring him down, then. Bring him down!
Jim Creighton is a local author. His first publication ‘eLkFaLLsBc’, a collection of comic imaginings, is sold out, but his historical novel ‘Mrs. Johnson and the Rabbit’ is available at local bookstores. Mr. Creighton continues to work on his latest novel.