Updated: Feb 3
Franz Kafka hasn’t much to fear from whomever has been in charge of the content of my dreams over the last week or so, but it’s not for lack of trying.
First there was the one about my long-dead grandfather. He was bald and old and sitting at our dinner table as in days of yore, slowly gumming something chewy. He didn’t respond to my attempts to engage him in conversation. I caught a glimpse of myself in a hallway mirror and was startled by an image just as decrepit as the solitary diner.
The next night with Little Nemo in Slumberland, I found myself in charge of making funeral arrangements. Deceased parents of friends were phoning and even FaceTiming to confirm their plans to attend the obsequies, without my having the slightest idea as to the identity of the guest of honour.
Two nights later, I was driving in my car with the body of an unknown man in the back. I was desperately in search of a police station. Wound up atop a hill so icy that I couldn’t move forward or backward. Never can find a cop when you need one.
Now, I’m no Carl Jung, but I’ll go out on a snow-covered limb here and speculate that these dreams — what the legendary psychoanalyst called “impartial, spontaneous products of the unconscious psyche, outside the control of the will” — were products of my own hyper-conscious fear of dying. The funeral arrangements were for me. The body in the back of the car was mine. I’m my own grandpa.
The fear of death is an anxiety most of us share. But staring at a hangman’s noose, as Dr. Johnson once observed, concentrates the mind wonderfully. And that’s precisely where my concentration has been hanging out since mid-November.
My wife had been suffering from a spate of headaches, so we decided to meet our new GP. The physician ordered routine blood tests for both of us. Rekha’s results were fine. Mine were, too, except for a prostate-specific antigen level 10 times beyond what it should be.
“I’ve got good news and bad news,” the doctor said. A surreal sitcom was suddenly upon us.
After scoring just as poorly in a second blood test, I consulted Dr. Google and read that a PSA reading in the 40s means not only that you have prostate cancer, but that by the time it’s that high, it will have spread to the bones and the lymph nodes.
Rekha and I stared at the screen.
“I’m dead,” I said.
I was referred to an affable, top-drawer (so to speak) urologist and have since undergone a funky MRI (imagine attending a Frank Zappa-John Cage-Victor Frankenstein collaboration while wrapped in a hospital gown, inside a body-length tube surrounded by a gigantic circular magnet), chest X-rays, a CT scan of my abdomen, a full-body bone scan and a prostate biopsy.
The biopsy (the removal of suspicious tissue from the troublesome gland via a transrectal procedure that I’ll leave to your imagination) was accompanied by an endoscopy of the urinary bladder (and while the view from inside the bladder is eerie and fascinating, it’s the en route penis probe that tends to stay with one).
For a few days after the biopsy, I didn’t know whether I was coming or going. And in case you’re keeping score at home, I still pee a cloud of blood from time to time. But I’m also back to hiking in the woods.
I have never felt the least bit ill through any of this. Just a little love-me-tender.
After the MRI, on which I scored a perfect 5 out of 5 on the cancer-probability scale, I asked the urologist how long I might have remaining here in Fun City if the disease had metastasized to my skeleton.
Absent the other test results at that point, he was reluctant to get into it. But he allowed that castration in those circumstances might extend one’s life to about three years. So … still good buying green bananas or long-playing records. Maybe hold off on those plans for a Paul Robeson/Barry White tribute tour.
Some folks seem certain there’s an afterlife. Some folks seem certain that’s nonsense. I haven’t a clue, but I am quite sure I don’t want to find out for at least 20 years.
Which brings us back to the bad old dreams. Kafka might be otherwise occupied, but the Phantom of the Opera is there inside my mind. The lunatic is on the grass. Nightmare on Earl Street.
I was doing a crossword puzzle yesterday morning (what’s a six-letter adjective describing someone destined for the discard pile?) when the urologist called. He made sure I wasn’t driving my car.
“Doomed,” I'm thinking. The adjective is “doomed.”
The bad news: There is what he called a “significant” cancer on the left side of the prostate, including in the fraying thin layer of connective tissue called the capsule that covers the overzealous busybody. The good news, without which I wouldn’t have the will or the strength to write this, is that the capsule wall appears to have held so far and there is no sign that the disease has spread to the rest of the body.
I’ve spent 10 weeks mostly lying awake at night and imagining that every sharp pain in my shins, every stress-related ache in my back, signified the end. Torture, but more productive than the nightmares. More entertaining than the trips to the bathroom every half hour to urinate a pinkish thimbleful.
Now I’ll be scheduled for radiation therapy at the local cancer agency — no walk in the park, but certainly preferable to being parked in a plot. The urologist said this type of tumour tends to double in size every 18 months, so if Rekha hadn’t had that cluster of headaches …
Which, by the way, seem to have gone away just as mysteriously as they began. She has been wonderfully supportive and understanding through all of this, despite the dreadful toll it has taken on her own sleep patterns.
Score a point for the spiritual faction.