The summer months moved along awfully slow. In fact, every hour of every day seemed to have no end. My sleep was little and my pain was great. The tears rolled down my face each night as I searched for a moment of comfort and relief; they were far and few between. The pain I felt was one of which I would not wish upon my worst enemy, in this case myself.
I first felt the pain on Sunday, May 29, 2005. I sat in the front seat of my father’s forest green Jetta and stared at across the Columbia River. The River stared back but said nothing. The Bridge of the Gods sent a whisper through the wind that entered the car and shook me cold. I felt a bite to my lower back and right hip; I shook it off by demonstrating minor discomfort. This had to be a result of sleeping in a field the night prior.
The Sasquatch Music Festival was an event I tried to be part of as often as possible. Usually held around Memorial Day weekend, the industry’s latest greatest indie rock bands arrived to George, WA to play what has become one of America’s most treasured venues, the Gorge Amphitheater. Settled above the banks of the Columbia, thousand of people came each year to indulge, imbibe, and get away from the little boxes.
The years I attended, a trip to Seattle was always in store pre-festivities. My old childhood friend and I would collect some liquor, bags of drugs, pack up the car, and anticipate a memorable weekend that we would talk of for years to come.
In 2003, my friend was still at the University of Washington. A quick trip up the corridor put me in Seattle with just enough time to stockpile a weekend of fun. After a nap of a few hours, we woke in the dorm room, packed our bags, and thought for good measure, we might as well two a couple bumps of cocaine since we had a long drive ahead of us and no coffee; a sound justification at the time.
This year we had moved the party up a few hours by splitting a double stack ecstasy pill the night before. We danced on the rooftops of Seattle and shot the moon with our thoughts. We owned the night. It was what we did.
The festival was no different. We set up camp in the heat of the early afternoon sun. Some cocktails and victuals were in store; God forbid you drink and drug yourself on an empty stomach. We had no reason to split a pill this time, we were about to party with rock stars for ten hours; party we did. Falling asleep in a tent that rest on an uneven field of long grass was surely why my back gave me so much discomfort.
The rest of the year passed. My daily run turned into a daily bike ride. The pain from running was unbearable. Every now and then I would feel cured and kick a soccer ball around with friends, but that only lasted moments of every month that came. My justification and blame for back pain soon left central Washington and became much more immediate. I was without a car and thought I would better myself by riding my bike to and from. I had a decent road bike that always showed me a great time. I dedicated myself to riding, rain or shine. Occasionally I would negotiate a ride, but for the most part I was riding a few miles to school and then an additional nine miles to work across the river. My back was becoming incredibly sore; it must certainly be all the riding.
X-rays and physical therapy all blamed my lack of flexibility for back problems.
“You have to do these stretches for an hour each day,” the therapist would bark. “The pain in your lower back is caused by the tightness in your hamstrings and gloots.”
I continued the stretching, the riding, and the pain. I was losing weight and satisfied with my results. The bike riding, though painful, was paying off.
“If I am losing all this weight and becoming much more flexible, why does this pain in my back keep getting worse?”
2006 finally came. I was working as editor-in-chief for the Clark College student newspaper to keep fresh on my practice of journalism. This was merely a hobby and a social experiment. I attended Hofstra University in Long Island, New York University in Manhattan, lived in Costa Rica, traveled the world, and had a number of memories to make this time redeemable. I did not have control of my pain and therefore had no control of my life. This newspaper gig gave me a bit of much needed control that was so desperately needed. I could no longer earn any transferrable college credit, but the job paid and allowed me to write, design, and edit, but most importantly, take my mind off the pain that was worsening with each passing day.
It soon turned to be that the only comfort I found was on my bike. Being outstretched and hovering over the white frame of my bike gave me a feeling I only used to know so well; what I would do to have that feeling come back for good. The winter and spring quarters passed and I lost of all of what little control I had. I continued to visit the doctor and continued to hear the same fucking bullshit. What was happening to me? Nothing could help the pain. Neither whiskey nor pills could alleviate me from the vise that was on my spinal cord. Sleep was now unknown.
When I did sleep I would shiver and sweat as if possessed by an internal demon. I would be too cold to grab another blanket and so tense I feared breathing. I would wake up soaking wet and confused with what was fiction and what was reality. Did I just feel those demons or was it all a dream? Was I sweating from nightmares or did I have a fever? I spent many nights in the bathroom, sitting on porcelain, lost in auburn squares of tile trying to find answers. I would not be able to pass a bowel movement and urination felt like rain trying to make its way through a leaf filled gutter. There was no pain, just no satisfaction.
I would return to bed in agony, tears of frustration rolling down my face. Piling a mountain of pillows and blankets onto my bed may look odd to the outsider. I would lay face down on top of this mountain, ass in air, and find some rest in this awkward position. It was the only way I could have some piece of mind. It was mid-July and I hadn’t slept more than two hours without interruption since early spring. I had no motivation and no thoughts on life. I wanted no more of what I was feeling. Suicide was never a realistic idea, but the thought of being better off dead certainly crossed my mind. I would just sit on the recliner and watch endless episodes of sportscenter. Eventually I would doze off only to find myself in this angered state of sadness and bemoaning. Life was passing me by and I did not care.
August was approaching and I had had it. I approached my boss and asked for two weeks off to see if I could heel my back from any pain. Kaiser finally schedule me for an MRI since I filed a workman’s compensation claim, again thinking the pain was coming from an event at work. I primarily did this to earn some benefits of seeing doctor’s without having to pay out of pocket, seeing as it may truly have occurred at work. My boss gladly gave me the two weeks and immediately I felt the pain ease.
This is what I needed; a much-needed break to relax, enjoy the hot August sun, and hopefully get some rest. The MRI was scheduled for Friday, August 4, 2006. My father was going to drive me; that was how bad the pain had become. I had trouble getting in out of the car, up and down the stairs, and certainly into a fucking tube for an hour at 7:30 in the God damn morning.
I did not really wake up early that morning, rather just waited for the sun to come up so I could start a new day. Sleep had long since disappeared. I slipped on some baby blue scrubs that my step-mom had brought home from work. She was a nurse at Kaiser and just happened to have picked up a shift at the Salmon Creek location where my MRI was scheduled. I through on a t-shirt, pulled a black hooded sweatshirt over my head, slipped on a black pair of Crocs, grabbed my Dodger’s cap, and wobbled to the car. All I could think of was the French toast and sausage I was going to eat after the MRI. My father and I did not speak of much on the way to the hospital. We discussed the potential results and the worst-case scenarios. At this point, the worst-case scenario would have been the best possible outcome compared to the news I was to hear in a matter of hours.
Arriving at the hospital, I checked in and followed the doctor back to the MRI screening room. I made my way to the table and rested on my back. Trying to find a position of comfort was damn near impossible. Trying to find a position of comfort for an hour was a fucking impossibility. I had to put a pillow behind my knees and out stretch my arms over my head. I knew the pain was coming and just had to fucking deal with it.
The tube seemed to get smaller as I inched my way in. My saving grace was the window just beyond the end of the tunnel. If I pushed my eyes to the top of my skull I could see the sky blue sky and the branches of a tree waving in the wind. The sunlight would break through the branches and smile at me, telling me everything would be ok.
The MRI finally ended and I made my way out to the lobby where my father patiently awaited. The gentleman who conducted the scan smiled, shook my hand, and told me he would be back in a matter of moments with a scheduled follow-up doctor’s appointment. I wanted some mutherfucking French toast! A short while passed and the gentleman returned. He told me that there was a doctor waiting to see me upstairs. This was great. I had a scan and would be seen that same day to figure out what was causing me this grand discomfort.
I walked up the stairs and checked into module A. Here I waited amongst noise. Although I was nervous to find out the results of my suffering, I was anxious to get this problem resolved. The nurse called my name. I made my way down the hall and passed my step mom along the way. She offered a smile and told me everything was going to be ok; she had the same tone the sun had.
I sat on the table and waited for the doctor. I never could stand that fucking paper they laid across the examining table. It always made me angry. A five-foot nothing man from Vietnam walked into the room. His coke bottle glasses and side part suited his white coat. He looked like he came from a family that had nothing. He looked like he made his way through medical school and residency on the thoughts of his parents back home. He knew they wanted nothing more than for him to have a better life than they could give him; he would never forget that.
His name was Doctor Vu V. Ngo. He had broken English and wore a smile. He brought up my results on the computer and asked me a few questions. He typed away without ever looking at me. When he finished questioning me he continued to fill out some notes and casually proceeded to tell me I had cancer. What I felt at that moment is something I hope to never feel again. I died.
There wasn’t going to be any French toast today.
I sat there and looked at this guy as if he were a heartless, soulless, piece of shit immigrant that I wanted to fucking choke and slam on the ground. That lasted for about 3 seconds. He then looked at me and asked if I was ok. Oddly I was. I was reborn.