I had a wonderful and much-needed excursion away from my room. For many many days, the one major recommendation from all the nurses, spiritual guides, and assorted friends (calling them staff would be sad) was: “Get up and out and about!” I wholeheartedly embraced this sentiment with gusto and a reverence for a truth that revealed itself to them through experience.
We found some marvelous places around the NIH: ornate alleyways leading to glass-walled enclosures that reminded me of carefully gardened British properties; a multi-purpose court for Basketball (with hoops!) and Tennis; intriguing Lipsett Amphitheater displays; and many, many opened doors down abandoned pathways. It was as if the sages were right: all that was before us, was ours (not to mention when it’s that time of day when it feels like there is no one around anywhere). In the beginning I was caught by an eerie primordial feeling. I joked with my sister as if to willfully stymie the thought that the herds have disappeared and that there was probably a very good reason. Somewhere out in the fields, danger was looming, but we traipsed along pleasantly amused that there was almost no door that was locked and even though I felt a growing fatigue, I filed the warning away under the folder that I refuse to open until it opens itself: “Chemo.”
In “The Pyramid at the End of the World,” The Doctor puts it quite aptly:
The end of your life is already begun. There is a last place you will ever go, a last door you will ever walk through, a last sight you will ever see. And every step you ever take is moving you closer. The end of the world is a billion, billion tiny moments. And somewhere, unnoticed, in silence or in darkness, it has already begun.
I joked with my sister about the fact that before I knew about the fact that the cardinal directions at the NIH broke down further into sub-cardinal directions, I confidently walked into a door without looking at the signs, and found myself in an ICU. The joke was, save for that one funny experience, I’ve never ever entered an ICU in such a pleasant manner: on my own two feet, listening to my tunes. Somewhere, unnoticed, in the quiet halls and empty glass structures, it had already begun. I had been struggling with the fact that I had overestimated my energy level and perhaps should have considered opening the folder called “Chemo” in my head. At least then I would have considered the warning. The fact that it was hot and heavy outside did not help since both of them (Temperature and Air Pressure) are triggers for a syncope-like state which I fondly call “Ethereal Projection.” As I struggled to find a cool place inside and rest, I was breathing heavy and perspiring a great deal. We tried to hurry back to the unit, but near some abandoned elevator, the air was even more stifling and the lack of oxygen quickly wore me down to the ground. There I lay, gasping for the cool kiss of air close to the surface of the earth as my sister frantically began to panic. She started to look around and saw a wheelchair just a few yards from where I was certainly, quite a sight to behold I’m sure. I returned to the same place I’d always gone when such an event had occurred: the familiar scenery of a world that I simply could not interact with. As my sister tried to converse with me, I remember saying words that I simply did not say: “Just leave me here for a bit. I’ll be okay.” She was worried that people walking by would surely not allow me to stay passed-out on the floor, and I couldn’t awaken to calm her down and alleviate her fears, because, as The Doctor said, a careful sequence of events had already been set into motion and gone completely unnoticed. Somehow, right there in that location where she found a miraculous God-sent wheelchair, along comes a stranger much to my chagrin. I hear footsteps approach and all the pleading while in my highly conversational non-conversation with my environment, does not stop his advance. He calls to me by my name and says: “It’s me. Primary Investigator, Dr. Tisdale.”
I’d like to pause here and give a small shout-out to oracular hallucinations, the red string of fate, the world of the here and the world of the there, the sun that separates the hell in here from the hell out there, and the dementia of the me in conversation with myself. I did promise harmonic oscillation, and I’m astounded just how incredibly well, the sequence of events as outlined in poetry and prose through these entries, managed to keep that promise. It was as if I was foretelling my own story, and as I yelled at people in my head to leave me alone and stop stabbing my sternum endlessly, I was ushered back into the ICU, trapped once again in the familiar scenery of ethereal projection.
The hard work of getting me to an acceptable condition was handled by a mass of nameless voices and Gloria, my ICU nurse. When I awoke later near the end of her shift, I was happy to tell her about CENTRAL. One of Peru’s premier foodie destinations featured on Chef’s Table. That night, before my transplant, I had the pleasure of chillin’ with #bestnurseever. This picture was only taken under the assumption that I address her by this title, so shout out to Marjorie!
So it is indeed true that I had a much-needed and wonderful excursion from my room. I just want to add that it was to the ICU. The restorative power of Marjorie’s (and Gloria’s) intriguing conversations was exactly what I needed to break free from the voice in my head. I found myself on the brink of Day 0, free from shackles that I never even knew I had. Oh how ironically I must’ve laughed at myself from the familiar scenery of ethereal projection! At least, this time, in this ICU, I was not intubated for no reason at all.