…and round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words ‘DRINK ME’ beautifully printed on it in large letters.
— Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
It was October 26, 157 days after Nate Klein Deters drove me to Sweedish. I was sitting at the VA hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, watching my grandpa recover from a heart attack. This was not Earl T. Carson, the mythical legend who had driven himself to the hospital after an oncoming truck clipped his elbow, this was Alick Dvirnak, the toughest piece of leather the world had ever known. Grandpa Carson had been a wild elephant, as big as he was dangerous; Grandpa Dvirnak was patient and steady; strong like a glacier. Each occupied a polar opposite on the manliness spectrum. Grandpa Carson had been a helluva guy, equal parts piss and vinegar; Grandpa Dvirnak endured life’s offensive with patient calm.
Lunch had just been served, a heaping helping of beef stroganoff and applesauce. That summer I’d watched my grandma wither and fade in a similar setting. She had been the love of my grandpa’s life and people were whispering behind his back about how his heart had broken when she died. I was tired of poetry. I wanted it to stop.
For 167 days, tragedy had hounded me. I’d lost my cousin, health, sanity and grandma. Now my grandpa was on the rocks. Pastor Mark came in and prayed over him, “Father, we thank you that our lives are in your hands and that you are a good God and that you watch over us. And I just ask, Lord, that you would give Alick peace during this time and give him a full recovery and just help him to do all the things that are necessary to be able to have that recovery fully and I ask that the blood pressure stabilize and come into normal patterns, and I ask for your peace to rest on this family, they’ve been through so much this year, and I just ask that you would strengthen each of them and give them all that they need at this time. In Jesus’ name.”
Were his words worth the breath? Was there a God up there, looking down on us, listening to our prayers and altering our fate if only we should ask? If one assumed an omnipotent being who ordered our lives, why was everything so fucked up? Why did we have to watch our grandmas die? I didn’t know but I was certain of one thing: life was rough. Not all the time, just mostly. Each of us had to find a reason to live. Mine was this story. Knowing that people were out there laughing at and learning from my mistakes filled me with joy. Grandmas died, the Arab Spring turned sour, my insides roiled and belched. The world went to shit and there I sat, exchanging sorrow for poetry, sharing my experiences with the world. When I’d started dearpoetry.com and posted my story, I thought it was because I was too sick to work. I thought I was trying to pay for medical bills, but that had changed. This story had become my lifeline, the thing that kept me alive. The bloated demon god of suffering had pummeled me for months, but in the process I’d found a reason to live.
Nathan was a worthless piece of shit, but with each mistake and hilarious stumble, the writer inside shone all the more brightly. I stood on the edge of the storm, screaming my defiance at the roiling clouds of oblivion. Tragedy rose, an impossible wave threatening to engulf. I did not waver, I did not shirk. Fuck life, fuck death, fuck misery and joy. I was a servant of a higher power. My god was art and come what may, it would see me through.
Nate Kleine Deters drove up 14th heading toward Logan. A spring rain fell from the sky. It was rush hour. The pain in my guts rose and fell, sometimes it got so bad I couldn’t speak. Nate navigated the busy streets as best he could, “Man, I can’t believe you’re still sick.”
I couldn’t either. “You’re going to want to take a right up here.”
Nate zigged and zagged from a one way onto a different one way, we passed a park full of beautiful people. They were running and jogging despite the rain. Denver was nuts about health.
“So many beautiful people,” I said, looking out the window. I had almost rear-ended the car in front of me several times while driving past that park. It was almost impossible to keep your eyes on the road with so many gorgeous people running around.
Nate was excited. “I met a girl,” he said.
That was news! I loved love. “Where?” I asked.
“At work.” Nate stopped at a red light. “Her mom brought her in for her birthday. They ate dinner and I waited on their table. We hit it off and I asked for her number. We hung out last night and it was amazing.”
“You asked for her number in front of her mom?” I was impressed.
“Yeah,” Nate laughed. “I didn’t want her to get away.”
“That was ballsy. What’s she like?”
Nate was grinning from ear to ear, “Super smart. She’s getting her master’s in biology. She likes music, too.” Nate was nuts about music. He had a degree in vocal performance and could play a bunch of instruments. He was a talented guy. “She loves the outdoors and wants to go hiking. We’re going to climb a 14er later this month.” A 14er was a mountain with a summit above 14,000 feet. There were a bunch of them in Colorado and the local citizens were always climbing them. I’d never tried. I had chronic diarrhea and the thought of shitting myself above timberline was less than appealing.
“That’s great, man. Is she hot?”
“So hot!” Nate leaned back in his seat and looked at the ceiling. “I can’t believe it. I’ve never gone out with someone so beautiful.”
I looked at his perfect hairline and strong jaw. Nate was a good looking guy, he could have dated any girl he wanted, he just didn’t know it yet, “How old are you?” I asked.
“When do you turn 25?”
“Well that’s it.”
“You’re about to enter the patch.”
Love Potion No. 3
The Law of 25
I had been around for a while. I wasn’t saying I was old or anything, but seven days after I wrote this Level, I would turn 33. In that time I’d learned a thing or two about women. In my early 20s I survived the cataclysm. Christians tended to marry young. This was mostly due to the restrictions their religion placed on sex. Most of my friends weren’t celibate, they fucked around like everyone else, but they felt guilty about it. To redeem themselves and make their parents proud, they’d buy a white dress, put on a tux and promise to stay together forever. When I was 21 or 22 I stood in seven weddings. Christians were nuts about matrimony. In my early 20s, I wasn’t ready to get married – there was still too much I hadn’t accomplished. Still, I was terrified. I thought marriage was something that snuck up on you. You’d be going along, minding your own business, and next thing you knew you were walking some girl down the aisle. Fortunately that wasn’t the case and I passed through the fray relatively unscathed. Most of my friends hadn’t been so lucky. They’d get married and claim nothing had changed, they could still party and roust about with the best of them, but it wasn’t true. Children, bills, careers and adulthood altered things. That was good. There was nothing more depressing than parents with kids who still acted like teenagers. But I was Peter Pan. I didn’t want to grow up.
After 90 percent of my friends tied the knot and settled into adulthood, I found myself gravitating toward a younger crowd. It wasn’t intentional, I still invited my married friends to concerts and on road trips but when they declined, I filled the space with people who were unattached. It wasn’t long until my second batch of buddies found significant others and I once again found myself trading down for people who could stay out past 11 p.m. Then something happened. I turned 25.
My entire life I had been a nerd. I’d always hated being different, but I couldn’t help it. I played with toys until I was 15 and never stopped reading comic books. Girls were a mystery to me. They were beautiful, but I didn’t know what to do about it. After I turned 25 they started showing me. My first amazing girlfriend was Rachel. She was a classic beauty, dark and alluring. Zach and Jamie had gone to high school with her. She was their dream girl.
“How did you land her?” asked Jamie.
“I have no idea.” I was as stunned as anyone. It didn’t make sense. My whole life I’d been invisible, now I was dating one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. Eventually we broke up, I wasn’t ready to settle down, but it kept happening. For the next seven years I couldn’t miss. Gorgeous women threw themselves at me time and time again. What had changed? I was still the same nerd I’d always been. I read comic books, obsessed over Star Wars and played Dungeons and Dragons every Wednesday, but I was dating girls who looked like super models. Then I met Cully.
Cully was a little guy with a heart as big as a lion. We met in college working at the school newspaper. He was my boss and became my friend. One day I was filling him in on the latest girl who had inexplicably fallen for me. “How do you do it?” asked Cully.
“I have no idea. Girls just like me. Maybe because I’m an artist?”
“I don’t think so,” said Cully. “I’ve been thinking about it and I’m pretty sure you’re in the purple patch.”
I was looking at his Motorola Razor. The thing was so small and sexy. Technology was amazing. “What’s the purple patch?”
Cully sat down in his chair. “A long time ago I was fishing with the godfather, Kevin Jones.” Kevin Jones was legendary. I’d never met the guy but Cully had told me so many stories about his wild adventures I felt like I knew him. He was basically the Bill Brasky of our little world. “We were on a boat with these two Australian guys and they started talking about the purple patch.” I closed the Razor and handed it back to him. I had a shitty Nokia, but that was the way I liked it. I’d never been one for trends. “Apparently all men move in and out of a mystical state of being wherein they become irresistible to women. When they’re in the purple patch, they can do no wrong. Women become attracted to their very presence, they don’t have to do anything and they get all the pussy they want!”
“You think I’m in the patch?”
Cully looked at me seriously, “I do.”
Time passed and with it my hilarious string of relationships continued. I’d call Cully up to tell him about my latest exploit. He’d laugh and say, “You’re staining the floor purple, man!” When bad things happened romantically, I’d call him for advice and he’d say in all seriousness, “Don’t worry, man. The patch protects.”
It was nonsense, a silly joke between friends. There was no mystical state of being. The purple patch did not exist. Then one day Cully found his way into those sacred fields of lavender. Cully was like me, an average looking guy with an average job. We lived together in an average-sized town. Cully was short, it was the first thing anyone noticed about him. There was nothing wrong with that but it made the romantic life a little harder for the guy, or so we thought. Then he turned 25. Women started approaching him, pitching him softballs. All he had to do was hit them, so to speak, out of the park. He’d call me excitedly in the morning and fill me in.
“Dude!” I said. “Now you’re in the patch!”
“I know!” Said my dwarven friend. Neither of us could believe it.
What had happened? Was the godfather right? Was there a mystical state of being with a will of its own that chose men, seemingly at random, and made them irresistible to the opposite sex? Eventually I figured out what had happened.
There was no mystical realm. You could not curry the favor of the purple patch with gifts of bourbon or fine cigars. The answer was genetic: Women desired security and men wanted to spread their seed. This was not an absolute truth, but it was correct enough most of the time. In the United States men married women who were, on average, two years younger than them. A similar trend could be seen in almost every country around the world. Older men married younger women. Why? Because younger women tended to be more fertile, and older men were better suited to care for their offspring. I was old. Not in the literal sense, but compared to my friends. Each time a batch of them married off I’d trade down for a younger generation, but every once in a while, a couple of guys would slip through. They’d survive the fray and come out the other side single. If they did, they inevitably entered the patch. I’d seen it happen three times with three groups of friends. What was going on?
The answer was they were maturing and the women around them were genetically programmed to respond. The 60-year-old man with his 20-something trophy wife was ubiquitous, but the opposite was rarely the case. It wasn’t an evil thing, although most people saw it that way, it was simply a matter of mutual attraction. Guys wanted fertility and women desired security. The birthing process was a brutal affair and when it was over the hard part began. Breast feeding was a ferocious task and raising a baby from infancy to adulthood was one of the most important jobs a human could undertake. Older men tended to be better suited for family life and women instinctively knew this.
When I turned 25 I hadn’t entered the purple patch, but I had become more attractive to the opposite sex, not because I was stronger or had a brighter smile, but because I had matured. This was true for every man. You could be a fat bastard with no redeeming qualities and if you made it to 25 without getting hitched you would rise in the ratings of local females. This attractiveness was relative. If you were good looking or had a great job, you still had the upper hand, but all things being equal, in the contest between two hairy dorks, the older nerd would win.
I wasn’t saying it was good or bad, but based upon observation, women preferred older men. I called it the Law of 25. If you managed to survive long enough as a bachelor, magical things started happening. I knew. It had happened to me.
Are you a guy insecure about your place in the world? Wait around, see if things don’t improve.
Back to the story.
My guts were sore. I hadn’t eaten in more than a week. If the doctors couldn’t fix me, I was going to kill myself, and here was my friend, in love with a beautiful girl, floating above the tragic soil of existence like some character in a painting by Chagall. Life was suffering but there were good parts too. Love was one of the best.
“What’s the patch?” asked Nate.
“A mystical state of being that men enter as they approach 25 years of age,” I said. “It makes them irresistible to women.”
Nate laughed, “Whatever, man.”
“OK.” He didn’t believe me.
“You’ll see,” I said. The orcs in my stomach had decided it was time to destroy things. I leaned the chair back and prayed I’d weather the storm.
We made slow progress. Rush hour traffic and the spring rain had people sitting on their brakes, but eventually we arrived at Sweedish Urgent Care. I hoped cousin Mary was right, that the doctors could heal me. I crawled out of the car and held my pants up with one hand. Nate grabbed an umbrella out of his trunk and spread it over me. He was classy like that. Slowly I hobbled toward the door. Nate kept talking about his new girlfriend. He’d get distracted and walk off without me, and then realize I couldn’t keep up and come back with the umbrella, “Sorry, dude.”
The rain felt nice. My insides did not. Several times I had to stop. I couldn’t even walk. I wanted to lie on the ground and disappear. “You alright, dude?”
It must have taken us 10 minutes to limp from the parking lot to the waiting room. “Welcome to Sweedish,” said the woman at the reception desk. She was Mexican with dark hair and glasses. She wasn’t happy to see me. I was bothering her. “How can I help you?” she asked.
“I’m sick,” I said.
“Alright,” she grabbed a clipboard full of forms and handed them to me with a pen. “Fill out your information and we’ll get you in to see someone.”
I limped to my seat in the waiting area. Nate was watching a cooking program on the television. There were a few other people reading magazines or staring off into space. I began to fill out the forms. It took forever. I was in agony and my hand wouldn’t stop shaking. I wanted to ask Nate to fill it out for me, but if the docs managed to fix me up, I knew I’d hear about it for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t be able to do anything without Nate reminding me of the day I made him fill out my medical forms.
“You sure you don’t need help eating that pizza? I can take her to the club if you’re too old and weak. Wow, you opened the door all by yourself?” Guys were like that.
I managed to fill out most of the forms, stopping every once in a while to black out from the pain. Then I stood, shuffled back to the window and handed the jumbled pile of papers to the receptionist. She paged through them, checking for accuracy. “I’ll need your insurance information,” she handed a few unfinished pages back to me.
“I’m uninsured.” I said.
“Oh,” a look of worry came into her eyes. “There’s a $75 patient care fee. You’ll also have to cover the cost of any tests or medication.” I handed her my debit card. She ran it and handed back the receipt. “Go ahead and sit down. Someone will be right with you.”
That same cooking show was still playing. They were barbecuing ribs. I loved ribs and hadn’t eaten in 10 days, but the images had no effect. I’d been in too much pain for too long to care. “I’m hungry,” said Nate. “I was about to eat some black beans when I got your text.”
The show was one of those programs where a guy with spikey hair travelled around to various restaurants and was amazed by their food. The sound was off but you could still tell that each restaurant was blowing his mind. He couldn’t believe how good the food was!
“Nathan?” The receptionist called my name, “we’re ready to see you.”
I waved at Nate. “Good luck, man,” he said.
I hunch back shuffle walked into the office, holding my pants up with one hand. A nurse in scrubs and crazy shoes invited me back. Nurses were always wearing crazy shoes. She sat me down, took my vitals and recorded the information on a computer. “So, what seems to be the problem?”
“I threw up black stuff for four days and was unable to keep anything down, even water, for three. I haven’t eaten in more than a week. I’m in a lot of pain.”
The nurse recorded my answer. “When did you start throwing up?”
I didn’t know. It seemed like I’d always been throwing up. How long had it been? Let’s see, Derek and I had gone to Boulder to watch Little Ex No. 2 perform, then we’d gone to a bar to catch the end of the Nuggets game.
“May 12, the night the Nuggets lost to the Lakers.”
“And you said you were throwing up black stuff?”
“Was it blood?”
I thought about it. There had been red mixed in with the coffee colored sand. “Maybe?”
She fiddled about and did a few tests, then removed the stethoscope from her ears and draped it around her neck, “Well, we can’t help you here. This is Urgent Care. We’re not equipped for diagnostics.”
“You’ll have to go to the E.R. They have more advanced machines there.”
I sighed. The trip from the car to the waiting room had almost killed me. How far to the emergency room? “What about my $75?” I asked.
“We’ll refund your money,” said the nurse.
“OK.” I stood and hobbled out.
“Take care,” said the nurse.
Back at the reception desk I could barely stand. I leaned on the counter top, my legs were weak and shaky. “The nurse said I should go to the E.R.,” I told the secretary. “She said to refund my money.”
The woman had been cold before. Now she looked worried. “You poor thing.” She refunded my money and told me how to get to the emergency room. “Do you have a ride?” she asked.
I didn’t answer. I didn’t have it in me. I turned and walked into the waiting room. Nate looked up, “That was quick.”
“We have to go to the E.R.”
I limped back to the car in the rain, Nate held the umbrella. Old men shuffled faster than me. Nate kept getting ahead of me, and then coming back. I couldn’t believe how weak I was. We made it to the car and I climbed painfully inside. He drove me to the entrance of the E.R. “Head inside. I’m going to find parking.”
I walked through the double doors and into the emergency room. Two old nurses sat behind a desk. I waddled toward them. They sat me down and took my vitals. In the future, vitals from the Urgent Care would be sent directly to the emergency room, you wouldn’t have to take them again. We would also have flying cars.
The old nurse with the bald head strapped a bunch of plastic bracelets onto my wrist then escorted me into the emergency room. He was in quite a hurry. I couldn’t keep up. It didn’t matter. He’d turn left, and a few hours later I’d turn left. By the time I rounded the corner, he was at the end of the hall. I traced his route, tracking him through the hospital like a decrepit ranger. Eventually I reached my room.
“Sit on this bed and take off your shirt,” said the athletic old codger. He pulled out a one-piece gown with an atrocious floral pattern. I sat down and took off my shirt. He handed me the hideous dress. I put it on and lay back, looking down at my pathetic, pale chest. “My friend is parking the car—”
“I’ll tell him where to find you,” said the round faced old man, then he shot out of the room. He really was in quite a hurry.
My phone beeped triumphantly, telling me I had received a new text. I checked it. It was from Zach.
Z: We gaming tomorrow?
N: No. I’m in the E.R.
Z: Seriously? I thought you were better. You drank two sips of water and everything.
Nate walked through the door, looking sexy as usual. He sat down next to me, “Feeling any better?”
“No. Zach just texted, he wants to know what’s up. Would you mind telling him? I don’t have it in me.”
Nate started texting. “This is crazy, man.” He looked around the tiny room, “Totally crazy.”
A nurse came in. She asked a bunch of questions about a bunch of stuff. I repeated the trauma of the past 10 days. I told her how I hadn’t eaten and about throwing up black blood. She wrote it all down, then left the room. I turned to Nate, “You know what?”
“You know how Instagram makes everything look better?”
“We should find out if that’s true. Take a picture of me in this nasty gown with my scrawny arms after 10 days vomiting and then Instagram it and see if my wretched ass looks good through their lens.”
Nate laughed and pulled out his camera phone. I gave my most pathetic smile and a tepid thumbs up. We were really putting the little app to the test. Nate captured the image just as my nurse returned. “You’re not allowed to take pictures in the E.R.,” she pointed at a sign that read, “No photography allowed.”
“Sorry.” Nate put away his phone. The nurse asked me a few more questions, then left.
“OK, now Instagram the shot and see how it turns out.” I pulled the front of my pathetic hospital gown up in an attempt to cover my white chest. It decided coverage was for suckers and sagged back down.
It took Nate a while to figure out how Instagram worked on account of him not being a girl and all, but eventually he got it. “OK, which filter should I use?” he named off a bunch of presets.
I picked one and he processed the image. Nate showed it to me. I looked great, like Sean Connery if he’d been shitting himself for 10 years. Instagram really did make everything look better. I thought about time travelling back to the Holocaust with an iPhone. Was Instagram powerful enough to erase tragedy? If reality was perception then a few choice images of the most horrifying event in recent history, if run through their filters, could really turn things around.
Across the hall an old man was shouting nonsense at his family. They were trying to get him to move into an assisted living home because he had fallen and broken his hip, but the man was crazy and would have none of it.
A different nurse came in the room and asked the same questions as the lady who had told Nate not to take pictures. While she was talking, a third lady walked in with a supervisor in tow. They were pushing a big old cart with a computer and lots of drawers full of official forms. “Can you handle this?” asked the supervisor.
“We’re about to find out,” replied the lady with the big old cart. The man in charge turned and left. “First day on the job,” she said. “The nurse tells me you’re uninsured.” I nodded. “Well there are a lot of programs to help people like you, but we’re coming up on a deadline, so you’ll have to turn the forms in quickly.”
She went on to tell me a bunch of stuff about papers I needed to fill out and where I should bring the required documents. I didn’t listen. I was in too much pain. Mid way through her spiel a doctor came in
the room. The lady with the cart said she’d be back.
“Hello, Nathan,” said the doctor. He was young. I couldn’t tell if he was younger than me or the same age, but either way, it was embarrassing. This man was a champion, a hero, the dark mirror that revealed my failings. Why hadn’t I been successful? Why wasn’t I a doctor? “I hear you’ve had a rough week,” he said.
“Ten days,” I replied.
“Tell me about them.”
Why couldn’t they record my story? Why did I have to tell it again? I’d told the receptionist at Urgent Care, nurse at Urgent Care, nurses at the door to the E.R., nurse in my room at the E.R., the nice lady with the cart and papers and now some whipper snapper doctor with a better smile and hairline than I’d ever have. In the last hour, I’d relived the past 10 days six times. Couldn’t they just kill me and be done with it?
The doctor went down a diagnosis tree, asking questions and checking boxes. My fate had been categorized and modeled by a team of smart people; they were putting me into a box. When he’d worked his way down the page and arrived at a tentative diagnosis he smiled and left the room.
Nate was reading a book on his Kindle. “Hey man, would you mind if I got something to eat?” he asked. “I’m starving.”
“Leave the Kindle.” I stretched out my hand, he gave me the tiny eReader. Nate left the room. I paged through my options. There was a lot of Vonnegut, but I’d read them all. I decided to reread one of his short stories.
A third nurse came in and stuck me with an IV. She was curvaceous and almost attractive. Kelly would have loved her. She filled my veins with something cozy. My mind got fuzzy. The pain began to lessen. The room was cold, made more so by my tiny floral top, but the drug in my system began singing a different tune. It told me everything was all right and I had no choice but to believe it. Across the hall the madman continued to yell.
“Knock, knock!” I looked up from the eBook. I’d been reading the same paragraph over and over again, trying to fight through the drug. It was Zach and his super hot girlfriend, Samantha.
“Hey guys!” I set down the Kindle.
“Dude, how you doing?” asked Zach. They both squeezed into the tiny room.
“I’m… fine. For 10 days I’ve been in agony and now I’m fine.” It was a strange experience. Twenty minutes before I had been in agony and now I felt happy and calm.
“So what happened?” asked Zach. “I thought you were better.”
“I did too. I guess not. I feel great now, though.”
I looked pathetic; my frail, white chest, the ridiculous hospital gown, an IV sticking out of my arm. We talked for a bit and then I felt the pain returning. I got scared and pushed a button. The nurse came in, “You rang?”
“The pain is coming back.” There was fear in my eyes.
“No problem. I’ll get you another dose.” She left the room.
“Where’s Nate?” asked Zach.
“Getting food. He’ll be back soon.”
A nurse came in and injected me with delicious syrup. I could feel it hit my veins, icy and relaxing. “Keep them coming,” I said.
She laughed, “We can give you a dose every half an hour. I’ll make sure to stay on top of it. I heard you’ve been in pain for quite some time. Why didn’t you come in earlier?”
“My mom is a holistic nut who hates Western medicine. She said you couldn’t help, but I feel better after 20 minutes here than I did from three days of her treatments.”
The nurse raised her hands in the air like her team had scored a touchdown, “Glad you came to your senses.”
Someone brought me an irradiated beverage. “Drink this. All of it. It will help us look inside you.”
The bottle was ergonomically shaped and hermetically sealed. The sides were decorated with fruit slices splashing through streams of crystal water. The design and font choices were subpar but beggars couldn’t be choosers. I opened the container and took a sip. It was fruity, with a hideous tail. The artificial sweeteners masked something violent below but, like the bottle itself, I gave them credit for trying. I sipped and talked to Zach and Samantha. I kept hitting the button for medicine. When I was a kid I refused to take Tylenol, it didn’t matter how sore I was, now I couldn’t get enough. “Hit me!” I’d say.
“It’s only been 20 minutes.”
“I don’t care. More, more I say!”
The almost cute nurse shook her head and left the room. Had I known her better, I would have hit the button again, just to be funny. I was giddy. I hadn’t felt this good in years. What was this magical fluid and how could I get more?
Time passed and I sat there high as fuck, smiling at everything. I could feel the pain, buried somewhere beneath the drugs, but it didn’t matter. I no longer cared. A young technician came in the room. He had all sorts of gadgets hanging from his scrubs. He introduced himself, “I’m going to take you to the CT machine.”
“Can I bring Candy Land?” I pointed at the IV full of happiness.
“Of course.” He wheeled me out of the room and down the hall. We went through all sorts of official looking doors with high tech looking devices. We passed a girl being wheeled around in a similar contraption. She was about my age. I raised one fist in the air to show solidarity. She smiled the halfhearted grin of the infirm. Eventually we found our way into a room with a massive doughnut made out of science. Another tech was behind glass preparing the machine for take off. They asked me to climb out of the gurney and onto a bed suspended through the middle of the space age ring.
The female tech approached with syringes full of exciting new drugs. “I’m going to inject you with some blah, blah, blah, futuristic technology nano-bot stuff,” she said. “These drugs are weird. It’ll feel like you’re peeing your pants, but don’t worry, you’re not. It’s important that you stay relaxed.”
I didn’t care. These people had taken me from the slums to Bel Air in less than an hour. They could shove puppets down my mouth and then dunk me in salsa for all I cared. I trusted them completely. The nurse went into the sealed room and spoke to me through a speaker. “OK, I’m going to feed you into the CT scanner. I’ll need you to take deep breaths.”
The machine turned on, moving me into the doughnut. I imagined I was Play Dough being extruded by a squiggle maker. Someone had attached a poster of kittens to the ceiling, it told me to hang in there. “OK Nathan, inhale deeply, then hold your breath.” I inhaled deeply, then held my breath. Machinery clicked, robots whirred, a warm sensation spread across my groin. It felt exactly like I was peeing my pants. I lay there and enjoyed it, wondering why I hadn’t come to the hospital earlier.
The process continued. She’d move me in and out of the doughnut, telling me to breathe, injecting me with chemicals. I loved every second. When she was done, the male tech wheeled me back to my room where Nate had returned.
“Hey man, how you doing?”
“More drugs!” I exclaimed to no one in particular. Drugs were awesome. Drugs were the best.
The CT had taken quite a long time. Zach and Samantha were watching the basketball game on the T.V. I forgot who was playing. After the Nuggets got knocked out I’d lost all interest. Zach had not. We sat and talked and watched the game for a while and then Zach and Samantha needed to go. They said their goodbyes and left.
“How was dinner?” I asked Nate.
He shrugged, “Jimmy John’s.”
The lady with the mobile desk full of important papers returned and finished telling me a bunch of stuff I’d worry about later. She handed me a stack of papers and made me promise to fill them out. She told me again how important they were. I thought about a swimming pool full of painkillers hooked up to an IV shoved into my arm.
Doctors and nurses came and went. I told my story a million times more. It was fun. Everything had become amazing. Life felt distant and vague. The dark days were over. The stud doctor who was younger than me returned. He had more papers, the results of my test, “Well, it looks like you have Crohn’s.”
I had heard of Crohn’s before. Back in college there had been this professor, Charles. We hated each other. He was high minded and serious. I thought Calvin and Hobbes was as valid as anything in any museum. We didn’t get along. He was a skinny guy and one year, he missed an entire semester of classes because his Crohn’s flared. A brilliant painter named Roger McCoy took his place. Roger was one of those rare talents who could paint and teach. He changed my life. I became his disciple. After Charles got his disease under control, he returned to the job. He taught for a year or two more. We continued our cold war. One Saturday morning I came to the school to work on a canvass. Charles was there, packing up his things. After 30 years spent teaching, he was retiring. We said an awkward goodbye and went our separate ways. That was all I knew about Crohn’s.
The doctor continued to look over my results, “The flare up is localized in your lower right abdomen, but before we start the steroid treatment, I’d like you to see a specialist. In the meantime, I’ve written you a prescription for Percocet.”
I’d never heard of the stuff, but if it was anything like what they were pumping through my veins, I was all for it.
“You’re going to need to start on a special diet.”
I braced myself. The holistic voodoo magic diets my mom prescribed were brutal and went something like this: “OK, you’re going to be off meat, carbs and sugar for three months. For the last three weeks you’ll eat nothing but beet juice and then you’ll chug a glass of apple cider vinegar. After that, we’ll slowly work things back into your diet. In a year or so, you should be back to normal.”
I was terrified that the physicians at Sweedish were about to prescribe something similar. The doctor looked up from his clipboard, “I’ll need you to eat a high protein, high carb diet. No fiber. Try to avoid fruits and vegetables.”
My heart leapt! Was he serious? Meat and cereal, with no vegetables allowed? Exalted medicine was brilliant! They pumped you full of liquids that made you feel great and then told you to eat whatever the fuck you wanted. I was in heaven.
The doctor gave me my prescription and told me where I could fill it, then his nurse scheduled me an appointment with a gastroenterologist for the next day. “The drugs you’ve been prescribed are very powerful,” she said. “You’ll need to have someone drive you to the appointment.” I promised her that I would. I took off the ridiculous gown and slipped back into my T-shirt. Nate and I walked out of the hospital at a normal pace.
“Dude, that was incredible!” We were back in Nate’s car headed for the pharmacy. It was dark and the streets were covered in rain. “They gave me vitamins that destroyed the pain and then filled my guts with a fruity beverage that let them see inside of me. I love living in the future!”
“I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
“Better? I’m the king of the world!” I couldn’t believe how good I felt. I talked and babbled on, praising the doctors and releasing a flood of conversation that had been pent up for more than a week. We picked up my prescription and I immediately popped a pill in my mouth. No use waiting around. Nate drove me to the grocery store, the same one I had limped through in a desperate quest to buy some Pepto. This time I skipped about, filling my basket with all sorts of stuff.
“What’s that?” asked Nate.
“No, not that, that,” he pointed to a bag of split peas.
“Split peas, bro. The recipe on the back is the best of all time.”
Nate picked up the package, “My grandma used to make the best split pea soup. It was amazing.”
“You should try this stuff. It’s really good.” It was. The flavors were complex and rich. Savory top notes played with your palette, slowly unveiling a deeper, buttery texture. The ingredients were simple — peas, onion, carrot, salt, pepper, butter — but if you left out even one of them, or added too much of one and not enough of another, the flavor was ruined. If you followed the rules exactly, you ended up with a pot full of masterpiece. Nate bought a bag. We finished shopping and headed home. Nate pulled into the parking lot across from my building and we sat there talking for a while. I felt so good it was unreal. Then my stomach lurched. I opened the car door and vomited pink shit all over the ground. I vaguely wondered why the substance I’d thrown up had been pink, but really, I didn’t care. I was loopy. Out of my mind on pain meds. You could have launched me off a tower and I’d of bounced right up. Nate and I said goodbye, “Thanks man.”
We activated our super complicated secret handshake. It was a slick move that few people could pull off. You had to practice for years. I closed his car door and skipped to my apartment. I careened wildly into my kitchen.
“Howdy, partner!” said MP. He was grinning from ear to ear. “You look like you’re feeling better.”
“I’m feeling great!”
I pulled out a steak and cooked it up with onions and a few peppers. It was the best meal I had ever eaten.
to be continued