Monday, September 29, 2008 at 7:28 AM
The morning sunlight pried open my eyelids. I pulled a pillow over my eyes and recalled a scene from the film, All That Jazz - the 1979 autobiography of choreographer and director Bob Fosse. Each morning when he woke up, he’d drag himself into the shower to revive after a long night with little sleep. Then, he trudged over to the mirror where he stared at himself, faked a look of enthusiasm, and announced, “It’s… showtime!”
That’s kind of how I felt in the months leading up to my operations. I worked late hours... shuttled home in the early morning through the empty streets of Cleveland... and then caught a few hours of sleep (if that much), before doing my own Fosse performance in the mirror. Of course, the character in the film dies from such behavior (ably abetted by booze and pills). Fosse himself died not many years later. And, earlier this year, the guy who played Fosse in the film, Roy Scheider, also died.
One gets the sense that Fosse made the film partly as a mea culpa for living a life of health abuse. By taking an indifferent attitude towards getting tested for prostate cancer, one might argue that I was abusing my own health. It’s probably more accurate to say I was ignorant about my own health - and willfully so. I rarely got sick, never even had a headache. The inner reaches of my body were mysterious. Yeah, I knew where my heart and lungs and brain were, and I kind of understood how they worked. But, pancreas? Liver? (I don’t even like to eat liver) Prostate (or was it prostrate)? Did I really need to know that stuff? How things change.
A couple years ago, as a joke, my brother Frank got me a little see-through plastic man as a present. Through his transparent, styrene exterior you can see all of this guy’s inner workings, inappropriately color-coded - red brain, green lungs, and a blue…well, I’m not sure what that blue thing is. Since my operations, I’ve been searching this guy for his prostate, but to no avail. Maybe he had the operation before Frank bought him.
Frank’s friend Terry stopped by to give me a different sort of lesson about the human body. Terry lives in suburban Virginia where he is a practitioner of the healing art of reiki - a form of touch therapy, said to reduce anxiety. For years, reiki was shunted into a class of alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, that weren’t taken very seriously by the medical establishment. But, more recently, these practices have been subjected to rigorous testing, and many hospitals have set-up special divisions to investigate what is called “integrative medicine” - an attempt to integrate traditional and alternative treatments.
Terry arrived with his 8-year-old daughter Calathea, whose nose was buried in a hand-held video game. Calathea was totally absorbed with battling Pokemon monsters. She plopped herself onto a couch in the living room - thumbs flying across the keyboard - as her father and I went to an upstairs bedroom for my reiki session.
In many cases, there isn’t even any touching involved in reiki. That was Terry’s technique. I lay down on the bed, breathing deeply, and he began a series of slow hand movements, a foot or so above me. He had cautioned me ahead of time not to expect any sort of miraculous results. This wasn’t one of those Ernest Angley forehead slaps that prompted parishioners to throw away their crutches. “If nothing else,” he said, “it will leave you feeling very calm.”
And it did. Of course, one might argue that lying down and breathing deeply is already a relaxing practice. I’m a born skeptic. But, one thing that my skepticism couldn’t explain was a clear sensation of warmth I started to feel in my abdomen. Terry smiled and said, “that’s your energy; you’re very healthy.” I managed a weak smile in response. “Yeah, healthy,” I thought, dwelling on the little internal aches I still felt when turning over in bed. There are still days when I don’t exactly feel in the best of health. But, as I made my way downstairs, I reflected on how far I’d come in the past few weeks. Less than a month ago, I was in a hospital bed, trying to get comfortable with a half dozen tubes running in and out of me, grateful to grab 45 minutes of sleep at a time. Now, I pretty much slept through the night. So, maybe my warm stomach was more than indigestion.
As Terry and Calathea were getting ready to leave, she paused in her mission to tame monsters, and started talking about… “the fairies.” These weren’t digital creatures on her computer screen, but rather tiny, papier mache dolls, that Robin and Glenn had playfully dispersed throughout the living room. If you looked closely, you could spot them watching you from their secret perches on the wall, ready to dispense some magic for you, if you believed in them. While my reiki session was going on, Robin pointed the fairies out to Calathea who lowered her game for a minute and stared at one, just above her head. Glenn then walked her around the house to search for others. As I watched Terry and his daughter drive off, there was something comforting in the fact that a modern kid could be enchanted with an idea that wasn’t computer generated.
Then, my pants began to buzz. No, it wasn’t a fairy in my pocket, nor was it some sort of involuntary spurting from my still-healing nether regions. It was a cell phone call from my doctor, with the results from the pathology tests on the pieces he had removed from my pancreas. Now, I’d find out just how much energy I really had in my stomach.