‘The Wonder of you,’ recorded and covered by many,
But made famous by some guy called Elvis Presley,
The Conor O’Brien version is the focus for this entry,
Though the story is anything but rosy,
So read on, my friend, and you will see,
The toughest battle of my 2018.
August 6, 2018
I sat on the queen-sized bed in my parents’ bedroom, trying to make sense of it all without giving in to my emotions. It was easier said than done, as I had felt as though I was kicked hard in the guts and was now trying to resist the urge to regurgitate what little food was inside of me.
I tried the good ol’ ‘take deep breaths’ routine, hoping that it would restore my sanity. It’s a tried and tested method that worked in the past, surely it would bail me out again, right?
Stay strong, kid. Don’t cry!
The room smelled like a typical older person’s room, that mixture of linen sheets, vicks vapor rub, lotions and soaps, the type of atmosphere that invites calm and serenity. The blinds were almost lowered shut, rendering the room rather dark and gloomy in stark contrast to the sunshine outside.
The darkness matched my mood, however. As for that calming atmosphere? Forget it. The cacophony of emotions within had overcome all but the sturdiest chunks of my armor and even those were beginning to disintegrate.
Earlier during the day I had undergone a colonoscopy following months of worsening symptoms, culminating in a short hospital stay during the previous week. Call it insanity or perhaps complete denial, but despite the health dramas I was hopeful that there was nothing seriously wrong with me. Whatever it was, I thought it could be healed quickly and painlessly and I’d be good as new again in a matter of days or weeks at most. I’d never had any serious health issues before and I felt that this would be no different.
Shoot, I even exchanged jokes with the specialist and his team as I was escorted to the large screening room that would seal my fate, populated with hospital beds and viewing monitors and the walls painted an austere white. In such a serious atmosphere I guess I wanted to lighten the mood a little and it kinda worked, I did get a few chuckles out of my lame jokes. Wearing nothing but a hospital gown and plastic covering my head and feet, I was quite a sight yet totally prepared for what lay ahead.
No turning back, it’s go time!
While I felt a sense of excitement at finally knowing what it was that was causing me grief, I was understandably nervous. I’d never needed to undergo any medical procedure that involved me being knocked out before so this was all new to me. Nevertheless, I climbed onto one of the beds in that all-white room and lay on my side as the anesthesiologist began to pump drugs through a tube stuck through a vein in my right hand. Before he pumped the drugs I jokingly asked him if I would feel pain. He smiled and reassured me that I wouldn’t feel a thing and that it would all be over before I knew it. He was right. I drifted off almost immediately once the anesthesia kicked in.
I woke up feeling disoriented and hungry, the result of not having had anything to eat or drink since the previous day. I’d never been hungover before but I assumed that it probably felt something like this minus the throbbing headache, nausea and regret. I was escorted into a recovery room for a light meal, which I proceeded to devour while a large television screen in the front of the room flashed the morning news. Not that any of my fellow patients noticed as they were busy eating and/or still trying to shake off their own drug-induced sleep. I felt relieved and liberated that it was over and I’d finally learn what was wrong with me.
I was halfway through my meal when the specialist approached me to give his diagnosis.
“You have a form of ulcerative colitis known as severe pancolitis,” he said solemnly.
In an instant, the confidence I had prior to the procedure was shattered and I felt my blood turn to ice. I suddenly lost my appetite although I still went on to finish my meal. So much for positive thinking, the doc couldn’t have hurt me more had he taken a sledgehammer and smacked me upside the head with it. Once I had finished my meal I was reunited with my parents, who had taken the day off their respective jobs to drive me to and from the clinic. We bought the drugs prescribed for me at the chemist before the drive home.
I was pretty much numb during the drive home, answering all of my parents’ questions in short sentences and frantically looking up my diagnosis on goggle on my phone, which in hindsight wasn’t the best idea as it only exacerbated the anxiety and disbelief that I was feeling. I read up on pancolitis and the lifestyle adjustments I might need to make and let me tell you, it was both horrifying and depressing.
And to top it off, there was no cure for this and my chances of developing bowel cancer in later life had shot up. Unless some medical breakthrough happens, this shit was a damn life sentence unless I undergo a surgical procedure to remove my bowel.
To quote a certain tennis great, “You CANNOT be serious!!!!”
Which brings us back to where this whole story began. Upon arriving home, I went into my parents’ room (it was the closest bedroom to the front door and I was too sickened and wrecked to wander far in order to find a place to rest) and sat on that bed trying to figure out how to move on from this mess. I had great difficulty accepting that this health condition could be with me for the rest of my life unless I resorted to extremely drastic measures. And like I said, my chances of developing bowel cancer had increased.
But what really drove me up the wall was the fact that someone like me, healthy as a horse and with no family history of this shit, could even come down with it in the first place. It’s almost as though I got this shit through sheer bad luck. The thought made me so mad and so sad at the same time! It was, indeed, very difficult to comprehend.
“You have ulcerative colitis,” the specialist’s voice rang in my mind, “the cause is unknown and there is currently no cure other than to place it in remission or to remove your bowel if remission is impossible.”
“This could stay with you for the rest of your life.”
I might as well had been one of those poor bastards standing in the courtroom before a judge and jury of my peers dressed in orange, hands cuffed as the judge slugged me with a life sentence for a crime I didn’t commit.
It all became too overwhelming and I felt tears of frustration and anxiety roll down my face. Even the hardiest of rock formations can be overcome by torrents of raging waters and in this case, my hardened exterior was eventually obliterated by the flood of emotions that I could no longer contain. So there I sat, crying my eyes out like some sort of chump. The taste of defeat was, indeed, extremely bitter.
My moment of torment was interrupted by the presence of my mother, who had entered her room to change into her pyjamas. I’d venture that she was mildly surprised to see her grown up son sitting on her bed blubbering like a baby and likewise it felt rather embarrassing and awkward for me that she had to witness it.
My pride wouldn’t allow me to say it out loud (yet here I am admitting it online, how about that?) but her presence was a Godsend. Yeah yeah, go ahead and call me egotistical but at the state that I was in it was the last shred of dignity and so-called masculinity that I had left to cling onto. I really needed someone beside me right then to pull me out of the hole I had fallen into and who better than my own parent?
And so my mom sat down beside me and we had one of those heart-to-hearts, during which she went on a motherly lecture about how she and the family would always have my back and that I had to fight on and all that. She ended her sermon with the following words;
“Move on from the past and have faith that life can only get better.”
With that, she left the room to give me some time to absorb her words. As clichéd as her talk may have seemed at times, it worked. A fire was suddenly lit within me, the tears dried up and I felt as though I’d seen the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. I immediately stopped weeping and looked out the window at the sunshine outside, suddenly rejuvenated. I recalled the words of one of my favorite film characters, Rocky Balboa;
‘It aint about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!’
And with that I picked myself up off the bed, walked out of the bedroom and into the kitchen for a meal; banana, oatmeal and two boiled eggs, a late breakfast you could say. Don’t forget, I hadn’t had a decent meal since the previous day and the light meal I had after the colonoscopy wasn’t exactly filling.
Unlike my parents’ bedroom the kitchen blinds were open, allowing the sunlight and warm air to put some color and warmth into the room, a reflection of my suddenly-motivated state of mind. The sunlight shone directly into the window and I felt the rays on my skin as I sat by eating, and on this rather cold winter day it was refreshing.
The refrigerator in the kitchen, conspicuous with the collage of fridge magnets plastered onto it, was also in the path of the sunlight and I stared at my mother’s fridge magnet collection, each taken from different parts of the world we had visited, as I ate. Up to now I am still amazed at the number of places that we, as a family, had visited, both at home and abroad.
As I chewed my food I imagined myself inside a boxing ring, my hands encased in red Everlast gloves and wearing bright, still-glossy blue trunks, standing in a neutral corner while the referee hovered over the crumpled form of my opponent, the letters ‘UC’ emblazoned on his once-white trunks, now rendered pink from the blood that leaked freely from his nose and lips. He lay on the canvas barely conscious after having absorbed my final multi-punch salvo that sent him spinning downwards. The referee need not have counted to ten over him, such was the state he was in.
My chest heaved as I stood in my corner. I took a few licks in the heat of battle but escaped relatively unmarked and my heart pounded as I waited for the adrenaline to die down.
“Stay down, dude,” I silently pleaded to my comatose opponent, “stay the fuck down!”
I watched as the referee completed his count and once he waved his arms I leaped triumphantly in the air, my arms aloft, a guttural roar escaping my throat as the audience roared back in appreciation. I then fell to my knees as tears flowed down my face, the adrenaline having given way to emotion. It was of no consequence to me, I had just vanquished some mean monster that was supposed to beat me into submission. I was written off by just about every ‘expert’ out there and believe me, the victory was sweeter than a box of chocolates. I sat there on the canvas, savoring my unexpected victory as the crowd chanted my name.
I snapped back to reality as I followed up my meal with a glass of water accompanied by a couple of those pills prescribed for me to combat my disease. The hopeless, sobbing mess from half an hour ago was long gone, replaced by a determined young man prepared for war. To hell with that whole, doom and gloom bullshit. I was gonna show the lot of them that there was no way in hell this damn disease was going to beat me.
Bring it on!!!!