Two days ago, I threw away my Percocets.
Beautiful fall weather has come to Northeastern Massachusetts, the kind of calm, golden, balmy day when I would, not too long ago, have gone out joyously to play golf. With my right shoulder gone — no more rotator cuff at all, the joint grinding bone on bone — I can no longer swing a golf club.
My peritoneal dialysis catheter has become infected, and must be removed. I have my fourth (maybe fifth) case of peritonitis. Next week, the catheter will come out on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, the docs will put a permacath in my chest for hemodialysis access. I’ll go on hemodialysis — treatment by kidney machine three times a week — on that day.
This afternoon (Wednesday), I saw a dermatologist to have a big wart removed from the back of my right hand. The doctor said it looked like it could be a skin cancer. He biopsied the lesion. I’ll know in a week. If it is cancerous, it will require a special kind of surgery.
Two days ago, I threw away my Percocets. Once again, I had gotten habituated to painkillers. I pray every day, “God, help me to stay sober today.” I could not pray a lie. The Percs had to go. I spent the next day in a kind of half-sleep, half-coma, useless. I wasn’t taking a lot, by the lights of most medical advice, only two a day. But it’s enough for an addict, and I had to withdraw, at least to that extent. I have to get sober again. I blew more than 20 years of sobriety with prescription drugs.
Bit by bit, two weeks by two weeks, my transplant gets further and further away. I have ceased to believe in physical redemption. I have lost my spiritual connections. My friend Chip will come by tomorrow to talk and pray with me.
ALONGSIDE MY DESK, I have a set of shelves filled with mementoes. Always, my eye falls on the same photo: My son Bud, age two, standing on Green Street in Charlestown in the sunshine, his hand resting on a sign post, watching the Bunker Hill Day parade. He’s still baby blond, has a little smile on his face, he’s still a little chubby. It tears at my heart to know how much I love him.
Just behind it, there is a photo, taken by my self-timer (camera perched on what they call a “bear box”) in Grand Teton National Park: Me, Bud at age 12, and my old college roomie, Mike Murphy. We’re all smiling in the sun. I’m wearing the perfect cowboy hat. That hat sits on the top shelf, gathering dust.
Two pictures show our old dog Cody and our old cat Genie lying together on a cushion. They’re both gone now.
There is also a picture of our younger son Joe grinning on a bicycle in the driveway. Joe just came into my office after school. I helped him with one of his spelling words for this week. Third grade wasn’t as hard for me. Joe’s word: “frightening.”
The shelves hold paper manuscripts of books I’ve written in pride and hope, never published. Up top, alongside my radio, lies a stack of baseball gloves I will probably never use again, because I can’t throw any more.
Is this what life is about, to love so much and then to lose it all, bit by painful bit? My grandfather came into his house after shoveling some snow, probably sneaked a cigarette afterward outside my grandmother’s sight, then slumped suddenly against the doorframe of the pantry and fell to the floor dead of a heart attack.
People used to die like that, not nibbled bit by bit by modern medicine, keeping alive an ever-weakening husk of the self.
My wife is in California on a business trip. I just wrote her the news. I’m crying now. There’s nothing else to do.
Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.
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