The exhaustion caused by the chemo and radiation is also unimaginable. I have one memory of lying on our couch, staring at a glass of water. I really wanted that glass of water. Really wanted that glass of water. I was on the couch, it was on our coffee table, maybe a foot away. I could've reached it easily, all I had to do was extend my arm and I probably wouldn't even have had to extend it all the way. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't even lift my arm. I was too tired.
I'd been warned that chemo and radiation would also cause me to lose my appetite.
I write "chemo and radiation" because as each symptom developed my oncologist would assure me it was caused by the radiation and Dr. Minsky would assure me it was the chemo.
But I didn't just lose my appetite, food became demonized. Another scene out of a movie and, this time, not a very good movie, I was living on rice pudding, supermarket rice pudding, bland, sweet, comfort food everybody I ever knew who had AIDS lived on. And the kernels of rice became like maggots in my mouth. When I spit them out I could see them writhe. Eating dry toast was like biting into a two-by-four. Like chewing sand. They had given me pills for nausea — $40 a pill. I had pills for diarrhea. I'd put my colostomy bags in baggies, put the baggies in a garbage bag. One morning I weighed the previous day's output. 10 pounds. When the pills didn't stop it they prescribed tincture of opium.
"If you'd given me this thirty years ago," I told Dr. Tepler, "I could've paid for my entire college education. And bought a car."
When rice pudding turns to maggots in your mouth, the last thing you want to do is experiment with opium. I followed the prescription to a T. It didn't work. I knew what would.
I called my friend Jerry della Femina.
"Jerry, is there any reason for you to think your phone might be tapped?" "No," I think he thought this was the set-up to a joke like "Do you have Prince Albert in the can? Well let him out, Queen Victoria's horny!"
"I don't think my phone is tapped either," I said. "I need some marijuana."
"I'll be right over."
Jerry della Femina is, of course, the advertising genius. Part of his tummling has always been how the kids in his agency get stoned in the bathroom. I called him on it. An hour or so after the call Jerry showed up with three very tightly rolled joints and a word of advice: "This s--t is a lot stronger than the stuff from the 60's."
I waited until the nausea hit and tried some. Two hits, the nausea was gone. I had some toast and tea and a bowl of cereal, put on my Grateful Dead albums, turned the stereo up to a Spinal Tap-11, ordered a pizza, baked a batch of brownies, tie-dyed my T-shirt and spray-painted "Free Huey Newton" on the side of my apartment building.
No, I didn't. But the nausea was gone, and I could down the toast and tea and the cereal. It's also an anti-depressant and that helped, too. But the stuff was an awful lot stronger than stuff from the 60's. Like so much of everything else, innocence has disappeared, even from dope-smoking. In the 60's everybody was an amateur. Even Owsley who may have invented LSD and who permeated Berkeley with five-dollar drops on blotter-paper called "Owsley blue" wasn't in it for the money. Today's dope farmers hybridize seeds and titrate percentages of THC and the stuff is dangerously strong and, because of that, not so much fun. But it worked.