Friday, October 31, 2014

What To Do When The Light At The End Of The Tunnel Is A Train.

 Nurse: 'Doctor, Doctor the man you just treated collapsed on the front step. What should I do?'

Doctor: 'Turn him around so it looks like he was just arriving!'


Thursday, Oct. 23 – 5:42 p.m.

Word of advice: That falling down thing? Best place to do it is in the hospital. Especially if you are planning to smack your head on the floor and raise a welt over your eye the size of a hamster.

As I write this lead jokes like, “You should see the other guy,” come to mind. Or, “Went one on one with Mike Tyson – but at least he left me my ears.” But even in my weakened state I resist adding such groaners.

Besides, after spending the early part of the day getting poison pumped into my system, and the rest in the Emergency Room being treated for my falling down injuries, I am just too whacked out to put one word after the other in any kind of sensible order.

So, after typing TO BE CONTINUED, I’m off to my bed of pain until I’m semi-well enough to continue.

Friday, Oct. 24 3:33 p.m.

Did my second day of chemo. My left eye is swollen shut and beginning to rotate through the usual rainbow of painful colors. I worried that I’ll scare little children on the way to my appointment. So Kathryn got me a black pirate’s eyepatch suitable for several choruses of “Yo, ho, ho, and a bottle of rum.”

I’ve got just enough juice left to tell you about Thursday’s disaster. But if I run out of steam, I promise to pick up the tale on the morrow.


It happened like this:

Just finished the first part of the chemo. The nurse strapped the CADD Pump full of 22-hours-worth of Adriatic Carpet cleaner about my waist and called Kathryn to come pick me up – telling her that I’d be waiting outside.

I always take a cane with me on Chemo days – extreme dizziness is one of the side effects, after all. So I gathered up my stuff, clutched my cane and hobbled out of the clinic.

On the way, I thought I’d best stop at the restroom – colon surgery gives you a heightened sensitivity about using the facilities whenever you can.

As I approached the commode I suddenly realized that Vertigo was settling in big time. And, WOW! was I dizzy. No way was I capable of answering Nature’s Call in the usual guy fashion.

Tugging at my pants, I turned around to sit – bending my head forward because I suddenly felt that I was going to fall backward and bang my head against the wall.

And then my ears were ringing and my head kept going down and down and down, and then gravity grabbed me by the hair and I completely lost it - lurching across the room and crashing to the tiled floor.

Next thing I knew, somebody was hammering on the locked door, asking “Is everything alright in there?”

Now, here I was… sprawled out face first on the floor. Pants around my ankles. My Irish ass hanging out for all to see.

And so I replied: “No, I’m fine.”

Well, I thought I was. Nothing hurt very much. Small cuts on my arms and hands were bleeding – but no biggie. So I thought myself quite capable of making everything fine. I’ll get up, brush myself off, pat the blood with a few paper towels and no one will be the wiser.

Remember, I’m lying there flat as a buckwheat pancake, left side of my face pressed against the cold tile.

There’s more knocking, so I hurried things along. Pushing myself up onto my right elbow. Legs scrabbling around trying to get some purchase on the slippery tile and then my right arm gave way and my head slammed against the floor.

It was only a few inches, I’m sure, but I felt like I had been punched by a heavyweight. Or, more accurately – that’s I’d attacked a heavyweight’s fist with my head.

Tried to raise my head again – and once again smashed forward.

Finally, I shouted, “No, I’m not alright!” But the door was already coming open and a crowd of professional medical personnel rushed in to rescue me.

I tried to get up again, but my chemo nurse pushed me down and ordered me to stay. Blood was running down my face now and people were pressing cotton pads against the cuts, while someone else was speaking hurriedly – but calmly – into a cell phone.

Then the guys from ER – which is just down the hall – showed up and they were lifting me onto a gurney, checking my vitals and asking questions in that quick, precise manner they have.

Cranial Cat-scans were ordered up. The rest of my body checked for injuries. Thankfully, nothing was broken, but the bruises on my legs and head were already ballooning to scary proportions because of all the blood thinners I have to take.

Ice was applied. Doctors were called. First results of the blood tests came in and there was a little bit of a panic when they saw that my white blood count was through the roof.

Of course this was on purpose. Chemo doesn’t discriminate. It attacks and tries to kill all cells – not just the cancerous ones. Dr. Tomeski keeps me primed with white blood cells so my immune system can hold the line – a sort of Nano “Horatio At The Bridge.”

Naturally, Kathryn had been notified the moment she arrived to pick me up, so here’s my poor wife sitting next to me in ER, worried as hell but trying to maintain good cheer.

And then it suddenly comes to me:

“The good news,” I tell Kathryn, “is that now I have a lead for the next episode of Chemo Brain. I was worried about that.”

Kathryn, who hails from a family of writers and journalists, wasn’t phased one bit.

She just nodded, and replied, “I knew you’d say something like that.”

And so, hours later, when I came home I staggered over to my computer and fired it up and typed the opening sentences that begin this little chemo side adventure:

“Word of advice: That falling down thing? Best place to do it is in the hospital. Especially if you are planning to smack your head on the floor and raise a welt over your eye the size of a hamster.”

So, if anyone should ever ask what writers will endure to get a good lead, you can now reply with some authority:

“They’ll bleed for you, baby. Bleed.”

Thursday, Oct. 30 – 1:18 p.m.

Frankly, this has not been a stellar chemo week. I feel as lousy today as I did last Thursday. Not from the fall. Those are just the ordinary bumps and bruises of life that we routinely ignore after popping a couple of Ibuprofen.

New side effects are making themselves known – like mouth sores. Dr. Tomeski has already warned me about this and says she has suitable medication to ease the condition. I’m also having difficulty swallowing – even plain room temperature water is painful– so it takes a long time to get down any kind of food. And I’m having trouble sleeping – one reason why I was so wiped out they day of the fall.

As for the dizziness thing, at Kathryn’s insistence – backed by the doctor – I jumped on and two days later they delivered a fancy 4-wheel walker with brakes, a seat, and a messenger bag thingie for my Kindle, audiobooks and cellphone. The walker is now my boon companion. I resisted such devices in the past, but the latest fall has finally convinced me to put male pride aside. I might be hobbling around like a frizzly old fart, but at least I’ll be a safer frizzly old fart.

I was feeling a little down yesterday morning, but then it suddenly came to me that I was half way through the chemo ordeal. Six of the bi-monthly treatments have been completed. And only six more to go. Or, in Short Timer’s Calendar speak – five and a wakeup.

And I started wondering about when we might be able to go back to California to see our families – it’s been a long, long time. The treatments will end in late January, early February. Naturally, there will be more tests and further screwing with the body.

We’re both thinking that I ought to be strong enough to travel by next Spring. Around Kathryn’s April 15 birthday would be perfect.

Then new worries crept in. You know how it is. Even after getting a reprieve from the Grim Reaper, it is only human nature that we then hunt down new things to trouble our sleep.

You see, when they cut out the cancerous tumors they also took most of my colon. Stuff goes through me like bacon through a Canadian goose.

In other words, with a drastically foreshortened gut, I’m kind of limited on how many hours I can fly and how much time I can spend in lines at the various airports.


Then Kathryn stepped in.

“No problem,” she said, “we’ll take the train.”

Am I married to a brilliant woman or am I not?

After some research she has it all worked out. We’ll take the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Los Angeles. Kathryn pointed out that to make sure I’m rested on each leg of the trip we can stop over in New Orleans for a couple of days each way. A major bonus. 

But the train! Ah, the train with the exotic name, Sunset Limited running round my brain.

Think about it.

No long lines. No baggage hassles. No snarly transportation employees who have your fellow travelers so pissed off they are on the edge of Major Freak Out.

I mean, you even get to keep your shoes on, baby.

Plus – and this is huge - you get a private room WITH a toilet. Room service. No stressed Stews. Settling back in wide seats watching our fabulous country go by as we follow the sun home to California.

And the nights – ah, I love nights aboard a train – curled up in your berth looking out the window as mysterious lights in the distance swoop down upon you, only to be whipped away and then replaced by more twinkling mysteries.

Best of all – for the entire trip you can listen to the hypnotic clackity-clack music of the train rocking along the rails. And all the while there is the gentle rocking motion that will carry your soul far and far away from the dark days chemo. 

And so, if anyone ever asks you: What do you do when the light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be a train?

You can reply without hesitation: If it’s the Sunset Limited the answer is: “All Aboard!”


Here's where to get the paperback & Kindle editions worldwide: 

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After laboring as a Doctors Without Borders physician in the teaming refugee camps and minefields of South Asia, Dr. Ann Donovan thought she'd seen Hell as close up as you can get. And as a fifth generation CIA brat, she thought she knew all there was to know about corruption and betrayal. But then her father - a legendary spymaster - shows up, with a ten-year-old boy in tow. A brother she never knew existed. Then in a few violent hours, her whole world is shattered, her father killed and she and her kid brother are one the run with hell hounds on their heels. They finally corner her in a clinic in Hawaii and then all the lies and treachery are revealed on one terrible, bloody storm ravaged night.

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In the depths of the Sixties and The Days Of Rage, a young newsman, accompanied by his pregnant wife and orphaned teenage brother, creates a Paradise of sorts in a sprawling Venice Beach community of apartments, populated by students, artists, budding scientists and engineers lifeguards, poets, bikers with  a few junkies thrown in for good measure. The inhabitants come to call the place “Pepperland,” after the Beatles movie, “Yellow Submarine.” Threatening this paradise is  "The Blue Meanie,"  a crazy giant of a man so frightening that he eventually even scares himself. 


  1. I have great memories of hanging with you and Chris in New Orleans when we were all there for WorldCon a million years ago. You two convinced me to try alligator sausage (it was great). Your description of your intended train trip makes me want to hop right on a train myself. What a perfect adventure to look forward to.

  2. Yay for fancy-walker gadget. I always envy people who bring their own seat with them to waiting rooms. YAY for train trip idea -- I didn't know we still had cross-country trains!