Sick a la Americana

31 08 2012

Sick a la Americana – Drop your Health Insurance, float and sink…

“Ms. S, we both know this will a difficult conversation.“

The doctor’s face is narrow like the blade of a knife; it could easily fit through the slats of a baby-crib.

Huh? Why is my mind on baby-cribs? Anything to escape, hahaha.

 He shakes a tea-tree-oil toothpick from a plastic box – I got a least five of those in my glove compartment.  They always look like a good idea in the checkout line at Nature Mart.

“ I understand why you’ve avoided the calls from my office. But believe it or not, as hard it is for you to hear what I have to tell you, it is also difficult for me to say.”

A black Brillo-Pad sticks out from the top of this long head, the sides shaved close – this man does not have a woman in his life.

“What a handsome husband I got! All that thick hair? Just like a 20 year old. It’s so true, thick hair, it is a sign of, uhm, of, virility, it sure is! But, honey, I know you have your own style, a style like nobody else and in no way am I trying to change anything, but, I made us an appointment with my hair guy, yes, Billy for tomorrow. I can’t wait to take you home after….”

Who talks like that? His wife, would he have one, if. Hmm.

“ This is the part of working in the medical field I could do without. Not the long hours, not the humbling fact that since Penicillin nothing really new has come down the pipeline, so to speak, nope.”

He trails off. His large fingers diddle nervously with a corner of the folder he holds, snap, snap, snap. The way he sucks his toothpick echoes inside the dead silence of the closet-sized examination booth. According to the nurse I’m supposed to sit on the rolled out paper on the table, but I’ve taken the only chair in here instead.

Did you know how uncomfortable your exam-table is to sit on? How it feels to be the patient? No? Well, now you do.


The paper crackles under him.

There’s no spot for your ass. But keep trying.

He puts the folder on top of an overflowing instrument stand, stumbles through a stack of lab-results and finally pulls a shiny page with two rows of vivid photographs of my Esophagus. This thing has caused me to lose 20 pounds, my sanity – a 72-hour Psych-hold at UCLA attests clearly to this, as well as constant crying and a total loss of confidence – put an end to feeling pretty for the first time in my life and wiped out my hard earned ability to have fun.

Fun with boys, fun with men, a few girls and still enough room for serious work, I dumped salon blow-dried, caramel highlights, age-appropriate shirts and a stale march into middle age for a dive into light headed, silly worlds I was way too serious to enjoy the first time around. In short skirts and high heels, bangs and wild black hair, I dancing and laughed from a party to this bar, that dive to a ghetto club, and finished the nights in somebody’s arms.

“I love my work. But this? One would think it gets easier,” the doctor studies my sunken face he’s seen only three times. “ No. It gets worse.”

You should have seen me last year! My cheeks and my skin were plump and full. Not saggy and grey, tight from panic and pain.

His starched striped shirt is totally crooked, two buttonholes wrong, and those ugly tasseled loafers – why any man thinks they are attractive is beyond me – have seen shinier days.

He points to the pictures he took while I was out.

Brown and black blisters interrupt the vivid spectrum of a whole rainbow inside me – witnessed by a camera, not bigger then the top of a match.

“It’s not so bad with old patients, but a young and beautiful woman in the prime of her life? That’s when I always I ask myself: Why did you chose this?”

I’m far from beautiful and any prime, but I still dress as if it mattered and smear my eyelids with black powder, my lips all beige and sometimes I can pull it off.

“I know how hard you work to be so thin.” A woman I hardly know laughed.

“Come on, you can’t fool a vain chick like me!”

Try cancer, bitch.


There was a time just before I discovered how to throw up, after I gained 60 pounds coming off Meth, I investigated parasites and how to get one.


“I removed three of those growth. Yes, I told you they were most likely pre-cancerous cells, papillomas, not very dangerous or aggressive, even if not detected early. But the biopsies show a different story. Now it is a matter of how far it has spread”

He scribbles orders for scans, labs and ultra-sounds, more tests, an all you can eat orgy of medical questions and hopefully, answers.

I always knew I would get this. Since I was eight, since that summer between third and fourth grade and then during every day of the bulimia-years. Every day it was right here, my worst fear and terror of this. It never left. Everything else changed since my last lonely feast more then five years ago, everything but this.


At eight, I know nothing about bulimia.

I am 22 years away from the first purge and its tremendous surge of power.

I know things an eight year old shouldn’t know. Sometimes I eat and eat and eat until my stomach screams, but making myself throw up? No way! I am horrified of barfing, so much so, I’m obsessed with how I would make it to the bathroom in time if I got sick in class, or in the car, or inside a store…wherever, losing control like that, I can’t imagine anything more humiliating. Throwing up is right there on the top of all my fears, even before dogs and the disgusting guy, sleeping in our house at times.

My grandparents reside in one of the plushy elegant apartments provided for doctors and people like my grandfather. He runs the pharmacy, a part of a huge City Of Illness complex, complete with parks and swans, a church, huge trees, a flower-stand, knick-knack shops and countless hospitals.

I’m in one of them, recovering from a one-inch scar – for a whole week! Imagine this. I’ve picked up two of my husbands after a hernia-operation, the same day.

They have labs too, with real animals.

We get to pick one guinea pig each and are crazy about them. But soon enough – they are quite boring – we fight at first over whose turn it is to clean the cage. So, the cage just stinks, another week goes by and even feeding them gets too much.

One of us forgets to shut the door of what is more like an outhouse then a nice place for guinea pigs to live in. They are on their own. Free to roam, shit and gnaw wherever they want – and to multiply.

One morning before school, I try to count them. Eighteen? They all look the same and they run, so who knows?

After school there’s a note on the bathroom mirror, perfectly taped on all four sides.

“Until you learn how to care for your pets you do not deserve to have them. I took them back to the lab. But if for any reason, I missed one or two, I expect you to call immediately. This mess up here is disgusting.”

Care for your pets. Those things aren’t pets, not like the baby-bunnies we get to raise once a year. I never forget to feed them. I love each one, even when they grow big and mean – which is when they switch from pet to dinner.

The size of my scar, “as small as possible and low enough, it will never show! So small she can wear bikinis and not feel embarrassed…” is extremely important to my grandfather. Why? I have no idea. I’m too young to understand that my body is my currency to negotiate a husband, part of the dowry or so.

He was in Siberia for eight years, before PTST was a word. His sudden rages, brightly flagged landmines, are easy enough to avoid. But when he explodes, it’s a tremendously hilarious and pitiful spectacle.

But here in the hospital, my grandfather is a respected and feared “Herr Doctor”. Rooms hush when he enters and people kiss his ass when we walk in the park.

That’s why I am in a room with only two beds. Everybody else is sick in long halls, beds lined up like the in the dorm of the Catholic Boarding School, my sister and me just were kicked out from. I don’t know why. But it’s not good.

My roommate is an ageless nun with nothing to do.

She asks me about my life and hangs on every word, mesmerized, as if there was nobody else in the whole world. Curios and awestruck, she urges me to go into details, no matter what I serve; homemade fantasy tales or more and more about the chaos at home, the man my mother wants to marry but never will because he hates us, things I know I shouldn’t tell and don’t quite understand. But dumping secret after secret, they suddenly start to make sense. I get that the things I don’t want to do are dangerous, that I’m not just a wussy girl, not brave enough like boys would be and that climbing rocks in beach sandals with a rope around my waist tied to my dad’s wrist is just stupid.

On the 5th or 6th day, even I am bored of myself. I turn to the only comic book – Donald Duck and his obnoxious smart-ass nephews – that I still have. I found it somewhere and so far it hasn’t been discovered and replaced with the library-card I always lose.

I’m only on page seven, when the nun asks what’s wrong.

“ Sister Adrian, I don’t have anything more to tell you.”

“ No! You’ve got to remember something! I have nothing else to entertain me, so you better not run out of things to say.”

“Why don’t you read?” I have never seen my mother without a book. We have no TV. But doing nothing? That’s not allowed.

Propped up in a sitting position day and night, she never gets up or moves at all. I’m surprised to see that she has a hand. It is horribly bony and crawls out from under the covers towards a tattered fat book all the way back on the metal nightstand. Getting a grip with those trembling skinny fingers takes forever. I stare at how she goes this way and that way and finally, using her other hand too, lifts it up – only to drop it right away.

“It’s the only book we are allowed to have. It’s not even mine. But it wouldn’t matter because,” her lips curl into a tiny smile. “Can you keep a secret?”


“I never learned how to read.”

“No.” I sit up way too fast. The pain shoots stings and darts from under the fat bandage.

“Everybody can read.”

“No. Not everybody can read. Many other sisters can’t read”

“Not fair, Sister Adrian!” I drink some apple-juice from my sippy-cup. “I always say ‘Warning’ when I make something up. You just forgot the rules.”

“I swear it’s true. Our school was far away and difficult to get to. Most days my parents needed me on the farm, so it was just as well.”

She leans back and closes her eyes.

“What? Wow. Now it’s your turn to tell! You know everything and I know nothing about you. Where do you live? How old are you? Where are your parents?”

The only visitors, a black clad nun without a face and the hospital priest have come twice, but they just there, not saying a word. My grandmother brought flowers and chocolate. The next day, the box was still sitting there, untouched. I ate all of them before dinner.

“There is nothing much to tell.  The Order took us in when mom got sick. I’ve been there all my life.”

She looks tired. I should leave her alone. But I’ve read that comic book so many times; I know what’s inside every bubble.

“What’s an Order? What do you do there?”

She sighs and takes a really long breath. Finally, she talks, but why so slow?

“ It’s like the school you went to. I work in the kitchen and clean. The other sisters teach. I really wanted to be a teacher.”

“You would be such a good teacher. I wish I had you and not Sister Hildegard.”

“I wish I could teach too.”

Wow! I see her at the black board and suddenly, school is fun.

“When can you?”

She grabs a napkin and starts to cough into it.


“ I was learning letters and numbers and then I got too sick to eat. That’s all”.

The napkin does not help. Tightly pressed to her face, she hacks out a hard cough that comes on faster and faster. Wait, there’s no time to breathe in between! She’s got to breathe, everyone knows that.

“Sister Adrian?”

With one hand up, she shakes her head, no.

That’s when I see the blood. It seeps out from under the napkin.

“Evi gets this all the time, this girl in my class, she gets really bad nosebleeds.  I was so scared the first time, but I’m not anymore. Just hold your head backwards, it will stop, I promise you. ”

But Evi never coughs like this. Oh shit. It’s everywhere! On her sleeves and on the covers, it spills and gurgles and sounds like when they come with the huge grey hoses and suck our sewage into that filthy truck.

I jump off the hospital bed – the first time since the surgery.

“ I’ll get somebody to come. Don’t worry”

Hitting every red button in the room on my way out, I bite my cheek to keep from freaking out. I make my eyes go lazy and the blood disappears, I know I would be stuck there, glued to the floor if I looked at it again.

The vast hall outside is silent and creepy like the church I had to go to in school or when there’s not enough snow to ski.

“Help! Sister Adrian is bleeding!”

The cold tiles under my naked feet feel so good.

I hop from door to door, banging on each one and scream, “Help, Blood, Help”

“What are you doing out here?” a nurse-voice from behind echoes off the walls.

“Come here! Quick!”

A white coat flies into our room, followed by another man, a few blue nurses and the priest.

It’s all so far away. I can’t run anymore. It hurts like nothing ever before. I want to lie down on the cool floor. It smells fresh and clean, just washed.

But I am the only one Sister Adrian knows in here. With one shoulder against the wall, I set one foot in front of the other, trying not to move anything else, and suddenly I remember the thing I can do when he beats me.

Hurt is a dark red square. I can force the red back into the corners. Inside the white space in the middle, I feel nothing. Until now, I wasn’t perfect at it. The right upper corner wouldn’t budge. Ugly red, like old blood sticks to it, but now I concentrate so hard, I squeeze it out, all of it. My square space is now all white.

The curtains around Sister Adrian’s bed are tightly drawn. Urgent commands, clipped and sharp mix with clangs of metal against glass over a monotonous whispered carpet of I don’t know what.

“Sister Adrian is a very, very ill lady. She got her last rites and will die soon, so don’t you bug her, you hear me!” My grandmother sits on the side of my bed. The curtain is still shut.

During my last day in the hospital, she nods a few times, twinkling her eyes to say,

“A story please!”

She is right; I still have more to tell.

The morning I go home, the artist surgeon checks his work and smiles.

“Nobody will ever know that your appendix is gone. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, but you never know, it could have been irritated when you had that bad belly-ache.”

I had that because he hit me so hard and kicked me in the stomach. But what can the doctor do? Nothing. I lied about where it really hurt. I picked that up when a girl in the dorm had her appendix taken out. She was gone for a long time and this is all I wanted, to be away from him. Maybe this time he will not come back from Lebanon or somewhere, like he said.

“It’s good to have it out, it has no purpose to be there and you don’t want to be on a cruise or in a strange country when it goes bad. You’ll be fine now.”

Maybe. I hope so. I hope they have a war and need him there. He’s so stupid anyway, he’ll step on a mine and blow himself to pieces, or maybe, his parachute doesn’t open, or they catch him and torture him! He always brags about it, how they cry and beg for mercy. This asshole laughs about it. I hate it when he makes me listen to how exactly what he does to make them “sing”, I hope they do all this to him and cut his ugly thing off and feed it to the hungry dogs…..

By the time I’m back, he is not only castrated, but has no tongue, no hands – each finger sliced off slowly, just one last toe that’s just about to go.

This makes me happy and with a big smile, I bound through our door to say good-bye.

Her bed is stripped. Empty tubes hang from the post and only one big upside- down bottle is still up there.

Knotted at both ends, rolled up into a fresh white sheet, Sister Adrian resembles a sad Caramel. I have no idea why I always roll them in my hands until they get long and skinny just like her, before I unwrap and eat them.

“If the tumors have not eaten through the 3rd wall of the Esophagus, you are out of the danger-zone. But this cancer is aggressive, very aggressive. It loves to spread.  I’m very concerned about two elevated tumor markers.”

I pick the heavy photography paper from the folder and stare.

Life is so bright. Perfectly arranged in Kodak-Chrome True Rainbow hues. The purest intricate interior designs I’ve ever seen are right here, right there inside my mortal body.

Without the cancer, I would have never known this.

But for what is all this beauty and wasted colors that will never attract a mate nor delight a bank-lobby, hell, not even generate cash? How very uneconomical. I mean, for functionality, wouldn’t grey do, no?

Wait. Is this Abundance?


I’ve shoved truckloads of money, time and hope into every piggy-bank slit of well-oiled knowers; pontificating on abundance, effortless wealth, and smug happiness.

“ It is all so simple and easy to get to, but for one little snag:  You have to be ready! Ready to receive.”

Well, fuck me. I’ve been ready all my life. I still am.


Hicks, Hayes, Tolles, Secrets, Bleeps, Steps, Keyes, Yoga this, TM that, mindfulness, wise-sages-in-the-woods, Primal Screams, Gestalt, vision- boards, hello? I’m ready.

“It’s all right here in the flow, in front of you, all around you! Here! Here, not there, Stupid!”

Every endeavor makes clear I’m that dumb frog they always use as example:

Starving to death, surrounded by abundance it can’t see, it waits in vain for the one shape and color of the fly it is programmed to recognize as food.

Because that poor fuck frog is not enlightened!

Like me.

But I’m not only dumb but also irritated as hell and so over all this crap.

“It looks smooth. But if it has spread to the liver and the pancreas?” the doctor says with his eyes in my charts, “You have a family and there are things to sort out and consider. That’s why you need to know ”,

He looks up and for a second our eyes meet.

“ It goes without saying that I hope I am wrong. But you need to be prepared. You might not celebrate another birthday, Miss S. “

I looked it all up when Christopher Hitchens died from it. Less then 15 % of patients with this kind of cancer are alive for another year.

Whatever the tests will show, one thing is clear: this is my new demarcation line.  Until now I had May first, 2007-When-I-Got-Free-From-Bulimia and before that, it was When-I-had-My-Daughter.

For the rest of my life – a few months or 30 years – I’ll have   EverythingBefore-Cancer.


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