Saturday, December 22, 2007

Case Histories

After close-hand association with the common cold and stage III-A cancer, I am drawn to comparisons between a kind of alpha and omega of the individual health spectrum.

There is to my knowledge no classification, no Richter or Beaufort scale for measuring the intensity of the common cold, and so the best I can do by way of describing my viral invaders of the past few days is to say that on a scale of 1-to-10 of all the common colds I can recall, this is a blow-out monster of at least a 7. Perhaps it is the very nature of the common cold that the present one always seems the worst in head-stuffing intensity.

I have only one experience with cancer from which to draw, the aforementioned III-A, which was not my designation and which came from a source used to rating the presence and relative degree of the invasion. The day before the surgery that removed cancerous tissue from me (plus some extra, just-to-be-sure adjuncts such as an appendix), the surgeon predicted that my recovery time would be six weeks, and indeed, six weeks later, somewhat thinner, I was back at the beginning of a new semester. The first month was not pleasant and at times uncomfortable enough to suggest Zen-like attitudes of coping with the reality of recovery.

One of the major points of this comparison is that while I held some concern for my future, I did not fear the eventual outcome, which is the outcome I experience now. There was no fear of death, no urgency to prepare a last will and testament, no compulsion to bid farewell to friends and loved ones, no concern that Sally be looked after as though I were there to look after her. I was gurneyed into the operating theater with a theatrical farewell to those who'd come to see me off, "It's show time!"

The Zen-like attitudes about the reality of recovery were mixed with an enhanced awareness and appreciation for the smaller miracles of my life in specificity, of life in general, and of the growing appreciation for having attained plateaus best seen as time and motion versus statistics. The first major plateau is the two-year mark, at which point extensive tests are made to determine that indeed all the cancerous cells were gone. Earlier this month, yet another statistical plateau was reached in which the surgeon expressed it rather nicely by observing that from now on, we'd be seeing one another more frequently at Peet's Coffee Shop than his office.

Colds are another matter, especially at this, which I call the Gregor Samsa stage, in which I awaken from troubled, un-Zen-like sleep,curious to see what strange animal I had morphed into, wondering if I will ever recover, wondering indeed if I actually saw or merely nightmared a portion of a movie with a computerized cat named Garfield, and looking for perspective.

At this state of evolution, cancer and the common cold are both aspects of life to be coped with, endured really, until a process is developed to put each into the cultural closet and locked away. Depending on the location and extent of cancer, recovery rates can be encouraging. One regular attendee at my Saturday workshop survived pancreatic cancer, diagnosis of which is usually accompanied by adios, another, just this past week, is working on recovery from losing a portion of each lung, and just a few years back, a student was diagnosed with a tumor in one of her adrenals and is safely back among us. Thus do we ride the idiosyncratic waves of statistics, where there are no individuals, only trends. The recovery rate from the common cold is much less a statistical adventure for the individual, where we surf the drink plenty of liquids, get lots of rest, and say adios to two weeks of normal living. And stay away from Garfield movies.


R.L. Bourges said...

shelly: perhaps because the common cold is (usually) not as life-threatening as the aforementioned big C, we tend to get up close and personal in our grasping and grappling with the horror of it. Whereas cancer and other (usually) more life-threatening events send us scurrying to to highlands of statistics, rationalization and - yes -irony.
Be that as it may, and although I only know you through this strange thing called blogging, I heaved a huge sigh of relief at your surgeon's suggestion that you meet for coffee rather than medical benchmarks.
Now: drink plenty of liquids, get lots of rest...

Lori Witzel said...

My personal remedy for the awfulness of the common cold? Green chiles (preferably slippery canned Ortegas), fresh OJ, and a shot or two of tequila, followed by a soft couch or bed.

But home-made chicken soup with plenty of cilantro, lime and chile also works.

And when in doubt:

Hope you're feeling better soon...

Smiler said...

I haven't been in these parts for the last few days and I was thinking about you today, wondering if you were all right. There is my answer. Sorry you're not feeling well. There's nothing common about the common cold. It feels like death warmed over every single time.

Like Lori says: chicken soup, the Jewish penicillin (I make a good one but it's a bit far), plenty of liquids as Lee says, plenty of vitamin C and rest to some of your favourite music. The oranges are great right now too.

Glad to know the graver dangers are not a concern right now, look forward to you feeling better.

Happy Chrismika.

x said...

Well, I am sorry to read you had cancer, but glad to hear you recovered. As for the cold, the one you have is always the worst one ever. I think cold-memory is like depression-memory and, oh, labor-memory: the misery of each one fades as soon as you're over it.