Friday, December 14, 2007

Fear, Itself

Two months had passed, all-too-quickly... and already it was time this week to once again confront the New Reality.
Tuesday 7:40 am -- I arrive early at UNM Cancer Center for requisite blood work, ahead of "just a follow-up" CT scan over at OSIS at 10. Surprisingly, the clinic gets me in and out in less than 20 minutes. I make small talk with the cute phlebotomist as she draws my samples... which takes my mind to the cute phlebotomist I recently parted ways with, a little further south of here. Sigh.
8:00 am -- After slamming down the first of two barium "milkshakes" while sitting in the car -- a new experience, and not too pleasant (I usually drink them at home, from a glass, to fool myself into thinking it's a "treat") -- I find myself with about 90 minutes to kill... so I book down to the Sunport to watch planes. It's a slow morning at ABQ, though I do get to see the mass (14-plane!) departure of South Aero Cessna 402s and 414s, flying UPS freight to all corners of New Mexico, southern CO and western AZ.

9:15 am -- As per the instructions, I drink half of second "milkshake;" I must save the rest for immediately before the test. The car finds its way back to the Lomas and University area, and over to OSIS. Due to construction on what will ultimately be the new UNMCC, the clinic offers valet parking. This is the only place so far I've seen valet parking, a staple of Dallas life, in Albuquerque.

9:50 am -- They call me in for my CT. Force down the last of the oddly-flavored shake (imagine a chalky, metallic pina colada... and this is one of the better flavors) and get in the gown to lay back on the plastic moveable platform. Helpfully, the radiology tech describes every detail of this process: "okay, now I'm going to find a vein to hook up the IV for the contrast... are you allergic to shellfish? The contrast is iodine-based... We'll do just a quick set of scans, chest/abdomen/pelvis... You'll feel flush when the iodine begins, I can get you a washcloth for your forehead if you like..."

"I've done this before," I say, as lightheartedly as I can. "No worries, and the last time they went in through the wrist." Which is where the tech ultimately finds a vein. Good thing needles don't make me squeamish (while a needle in your wrist isn't exactly a pleasant sensation, at least it doesn't bruise.)

10:05 am, roughly -- Zap. More radiation than a person should ever be subjected to in one sitting courses through my body. This is my eighth CT since my January 2006 diagnosis. I still find the process horribly fascinating; in short, the machine images thousands of radial "slices" of your body, then presents them in an overlapping, single image for the radiologist to read. Tumors light up.

10:20 am -- Off the machine, out the door, and waiting in the cold for the valet to bring the Mazda around. I occupy my mind with the question "is it appropriate to tip a valet at a medical facility?" When the valet opens the car door, and I hear the radio playing -- I'd left it off -- I decide against giving him money.

Now, the waiting begins...

Wednesday -- A busy day. Too busy, I decide, to email Dr. Rabinowitz for the results of the scan. I'll do it tomorrow, I tell myself. Tomorrow morning.

Thursday -- Another busy day. I defer emailing Rabinowitz until I'm done for the day, ahead of schedule, at 3:30 pm. I send off the email just as I'm heading out the door: "Hi, Dr. Rabinowitz. I was wondering if you've had a chance to review the results from my CT scan Tuesday morning..?" This is by design. If I stay home, I'll be checking email nervously every 15 minutes. Instead I head back down to the Sunport.

5:30 pm -- Sunset, and the ABQ Airport Police chase me out of the viewing area. Wow, times have changed... You used to be able to go to the viewing area at all hours, back when it was off the approach end to runways 8 and 12. One of Eclipse's assembly buildings -- where they paint the aircraft -- is there now.

If he emails you, you know you're fine, I rationalize to myself. If he has bad news, he won't tell you in an email, he'll call you...

6:00 pm -- Arrive home. I head immediately to the computer. No email.

I check Caller ID.

A switchboard number for UNM Hospital is there, called at 5:31 pm. No message.

I begin shitting bricks.

6:15 pm -- I call my parents, who offer all the reassurance they can. "He'd leave a message, at least asking him to call you back," Dad says. No, he wouldn't, I reply, in frightened tears.

6:20 pm -- Try Dr. Rabinowitz's office number. It's the common line for his clinic. I try in vain to negotiate the phone tree. Everyone's gone home.

6:25 pm -- "There's something wrong, there's something wrong." I repeat this mantra for several minutes, frightened out of my mind. I've been through this before, last year, the month-and-a-half before a surgical biopsy determined actually, hey, the spot on your lung isn't cancer after all. All the nervousness and I fear I experienced then... and have since managed to more-or-less put out of my mind... have come back in full force, within a half-hour. I've gone past my breaking point.

6:45 pm -- With my heart racing and tears still coming from the corners of my eyes, I force myself to lay down on the couch and read the latest EAA "Sport Pilot" magazine. "The Office" plays on the TV in the background. 

7:25 pm -- No email. The phone hasn't rang since I've been home.

8:15 pm -- I turn off the TV, walk back into my office and sit blankly at the computer. I absentmindedly write up a quick update on the shuttle launch for ANN -- they're waiting until January 10th now, that'll really screw up NASA's schedule -- and then turn on Flight Simulator X. The "Janet" mission to Area 51 occupies the next 25 minutes of my life.

8:50 pm -- With the simulated Groom Lake employees safely at their simulated jobs for the simulated day, I close FSX and once again check email.

There's a message from Dr. Rabinowitz. I open it without any pause for nervousness.

"It looks good!........normal! Ian"

I cry for the next two minutes. To hell with anyone who would think less of me for that.

9:05 pm -- With the "you were right, thank God" call to the parents complete, I sit back in my desk chair, utterly drained. My eyes are still moist.

What cancer has done to my body isn't the worst part of it; in fact, that's been relatively minor in comparison to what this horrible scourge has done to my mind. The lack of news, lack of a definite prognosis. For most of the time between follow-up appointments, I manage to live my life -- and I've accomplished a great deal over the past two years.
But for three or four days surrounding my follow-ups... I die a little until the doctor tells me it's OK to resume living.

10:30 pm -- I lay back down on the couch, television turned to a "Seinfeld" repeat, and soon fall into a nervously-relieved sleep. The TV is still on when I wake up again, at 2:30 in the morning.
Still sleepy, I walk outside to unplug the Christmas lights on my balcony before heading to the bedroom... and pause.
It's snowing. It's a beautiful sight. I stand outside for several minutes, watching, oblivious to the cold.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Recovering The Satellites

So here I am at 9:55 on a Monday night, at my traditional spot in the parking lot of a nondescript office complex at the southeast corner of Sojourn & Midway...

Nearly three years have passed since I originally posted those words... and once again, I'm sitting in the dark near Addison Airport. Except this time I'm in a different location, off Airport Parkway, to watch as planes come in on runway 33. Different circumstances, different car, and a different address to call home.

A different Counting Crows song is playing on the radio, too.
Gonna get back to basics
Guess I'll start it up again
I'm fallin' from the ceiling
You're falling from the sky now and then
So here I am, at 8:55 on a Sunday night, having just come from a wonderful dinner with my friends Monk and Quinn. It's been over five months since we last had dinner at a favorite joint, De Tapas. I've missed their conversation, their insight, their humor. Just as I've missed those things from all my friends I left behind in Dallas, since I moved back to Albuquerque in July.

It's not a move I regret... but since I came back into town the Friday before, I've been struck by an odd melancholy. And now, as I watch a Citation jet land long on 33, I can't shake the repercussions of a comment I made over earlier this evening over our dinner of gambas, cheese croquetas, and wine.
Maybe you were shot down in pieces
Maybe I slipped in between
But we were gonna be the wildest people they ever hoped to see
Just you and me
It's a feeling not easily put into words. Dallas still feels too familiar for me to feel any sense of nostalgia; after all, it hasn't been very long since I left. From the moment I passed 35E, though, driving down highway 380 en route to my friends' house in McKinney, an odd calm came over me. It's a calm I haven't felt in my time back in New Mexico.
So why'd you come home to this sleepless town
It's a lifetime commitment
Recovering the satellites
All anybody really wants to know is...
When you gonna come down
Five months back home in Albuquerque, I'm still grasping with the waves of memories and emotions that still come back to haunt me at the most inopportune times.

The pleasant, but slightly acrid mix of smog and pinon smoke in the air on a cool evening -- combined with the orange glow of the security lighting in the parking lot at my apartment complex. The familiar scene hit my senses like a bullet recently, for example, and transported back almost 10 years ago. To another apartment complex -- if you can call a Warren pay-by-the-week building that -- getting out of my Saturn, to spend an evening at my then-girlfriend's place.

Albuquerque is full of these memories for me... and while I've had good times there, certainly, when I think of growing up in and around the city after my teen years it's the depressing memories that come to mind first. Memories of selling cars, and a string of other shaky jobs... failed relationships... struggling to make the car payment, and rent... and battling depression.

Albuquerque feels like failure to me. It's as simple as that. It's not the city's fault... and, as I sometimes have to be reminded, all-in-all it's been pretty good to me. I learned to fly here; the first steps towards the path I'm now on, career-wise, started while I worked at a courier service here. That can't be ignored.

Though try as I might, I can't think of anyone I know who's ever been truly successful there. I know those people are out there, but I don't know them. People make their fortunes elsewhere, then come back to NM. And while it's not a perception firmly grounded in reality, I also feel that for me to finally make something of myself, I had to leave, too.
Your mother recognizes all your desperate displays
And she watches as her baby drifts violently away
'Til he sees himself in telescopes
Do you see yourself in me?
Oh, and we're such crazy babies, little monkey
God, we're so fucked up, you and me
"Dallas feels like success," I told Monk and Quinn at dinner. "Sure it's hollow, it's superficial, and built on a sea of maxed-out credit. But when I used to drive down the DNT, or sit watching planes at Addison... I felt successful, too.
"It's all about perception, I know... but I can't shake the feeling when I'm in Albuquerque, the whole city is just waiting for me to fall on my ass."
So why'd you come home to this faithless town
Where we make a lifetime commitment
To recovering the satellites
And all anybody really wants to know is...
When are you gonna come down
I came back to Albuquerque for my health, and for my family. I don't regret the decision. I love being just 30 minutes away from my parents and Abby, and seeing the mountains outside my living room window. I do feel physically healthier in Albuquerque, too -- thinner and drier air, a lot less smog.

But all my friends -- my closest friends -- are in Dallas. I only have a handful in Albuquerque... and I've avoided seeing them. I know that's wrong. One, I haven't visited in the time since I came back; the other, I talk with often on the phone, but we haven't gotten together for a drink in months.

She sees shooting stars and comet tails
She's got heaven in her eyes
She says I don't need to be an angel
But I'm nothing if I'm not this high
But we only stay in orbit
For a moment of time
And then you're everybody's satellite
I wish that you were mine
And then there's Ana. I know at least some of my animosity towards Albuquerque, and New Mexico as a whole, has to come from there. But it's more than that... a symptom and not the actual illness. I remember asking myself when we were going out, and things started getting serious... Would I be happy living in New Mexico, in Las Cruces even, with her and her kids? Could I ever settle down here?

And I remember my answer, which came quickly and I kept to myself. No.

Which is probably why... although I do miss her, and not having her in my life still stings... I haven't felt truly sad about the relationship with Ana coming to an end. It would have, anyway, so it's probably best it was sooner instead of later. It probably also explains how and why I ended it. I don't feel good admitting that to myself, but there it is.
So why'd you come home to this angel town
It's a lifetime decision
Recovering the satellites
And all everybody really knows for sure...
Is that you're gonna come down
That you're gonna come down
As I write this now, I'm back in Albuquerque... one week after I started writing this missive in Dallas. There's a light brush of snow on the Sandias, and a definite chill in the air. We're supposed to get more snow this week, just in time for an appointment at Eclipse Monday morning and a follow-up CT scan Tuesday.

For the next year, at least, and likely one after that, I've decided to call Albuquerque my home. I made the decision myself, because with everything going on vis a vis the medical situation, it made sense to be home. And so far, it's proven to be a good decision.

But I can't shake the difference in feelings I experience, between here and Dallas. Maybe one day I'll make sense of that.