Monday, August 21, 2006

8.21.06, New Chemo Wk 2 & Think Before You Die

[noonish post] "Think Before You Die"

I was reading again in another one of the many books on Death that are out there, not the Kuhl book this time, but for some continual nagging curiosity and because I had always had book on "my list," it was the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The long and short of which book, according to the commentary I have is that it's the "Tibetan science of death, and the art of dying," something long those lines. All very mystical, to be sure, but the claim is for a scientific approach to death, science as in the Ger. Wissenschaft, a systematic, formalized approach.

My reading last night was rather compelling for a while, got me to thinking "ok, maybe this is what it's like to try and die, in those actual moments, with a highly concscious lucidity rather than in the grip of blind fear..." Then the commentary moved from the descriptions of the "8 stages of death" that claim to describe the dissolution of each physical sense, corresponding "elemental" changes, e.g., fire to wind, wind to consciousness, etc. —one clear problematic aspect is that all of this is described in the particular and mystical idiom of a form of Tibetan Buddhism, in sum, it sounds pretty hokey unless you can read vigilantly through the metaphor.

What's my point? Well, as I said the reading was compelling when it discussed these stages, idiomatically, but then it went on to talk about the "reality of liberation," the What Happens After That. Freedom from ego-attacment, world-attachment, freedom from all the hassles that cause suffering, and nirvana—if one is so lucky—as this kind of blissful oblivion. Problem is, I start realizing, is that this book, too, just like all the new-age and contemporary spiritualist and religious books that attempt to exlpain death, relies on unfulfilled promises, rosey pictures of promised "after-life," and its own version of the narration no one has ever returned to tell and no one has heard. If you allow for revelation, you can argue against me here. If not, I rest my case. Whether centuries old "wisdom" or latter-day "wisdom," it's telling that each tale relies on the same technique, each type of tale fails in the same manner.

Why is it not comforting? If this question needs to be answered, actually, then it's presumptuous in the same sense most every book I've found has been: someone who hasn't gone through an experience is telling everyone else what it's like. It's fiction in the negative sense of that term: not a consciously wrought linguistic deception that admits its own constructedness, admits that "Hey, I'm just a story, man." When that admission is made, fiction, poetry, theater, art, all convey the most accurate truths we have access to, as I see it; when the presumption of truth-assertion is made, it all falls apart. (Here's the short form fatal argument against positivism.) You could also promise me eternal procreation, my own planets to create and rule, a universe where I make all the rules (as in a certain religion popular in Utah), or you can save me a seat in the angelic eternal choir—though I can't sing, or grant me the return to that energy that is Everything, the nirvanic peace of never having to return. But, explanations of the post-mortem are a bit hollow and even offensive, especially for someone who's really up against the wall.

I do like the idea of a systematic understanding of and approach to death. Why? Because the more ignorance I can clear away, the more fear is cleared away at the same time. The Big Mystery of Death, however, keeps its cool in the face of it all. (If I may quote Elvis Costello, "Death wears a big hat, 'cause he's a big bloke.") Nobody comes back with a notebook and ink-stained fingers. Every explanation fails precisely when it crosses the mortality line and starts claiming what can't be verified. If it's all guesswork, then why not ask the people who are closest to the question? Those surrounded with immanence.

Could I stand accused of not having faith? Yes. Precisely, I'm all about immanent critique. Or, I want to hold on to my critical faculties, rather, as long as I can. Whatever I can learn about the here-until-then, the how-to-live-with-terminal-knowledge, etc., that's the kind of thing I want to learn. Which is also why the book by Kuhl is so good. It does three crucial things: first, it basically doesn't presume to tell you what will happen after you die; second, it treats the dying subject, the dying person, with respect and as a legitimate producer of knowledge; and third, it gives an accurate picture of real-life issues the terminally ill confront.

It seems this has become a sort of rant. So be it. If this blog does any good in the World, small world as it is, I hope part of it will be to address some of those issues for those who care. I hope it simply tells what it's like, in my own idiom. The memoir has the same basic purpose. There is a fairly detailed explanation of my "idiom" in there however, so it's accordingly longer and more personal in a sense. The blog is, well, it's like dying in medius res.

[metacomment: This, the longer post with somewhat more thought put into it, seems to be the result of successful pain management. When I play catch-up with my pain it's tough to sit and "get it all down," the form of what I write reflects that. I get out a Franky Scale number, a few notes on general condition, and the like; but when I chase down the pain a large space opens up for something creative. Something here about poetry and pain, something of Maslow too I guess. Nothing new.]

[a.m. post] Today is day 5 of the first week, started last Thursday, and I keep checking the effects of the new chemo regimen: nausea, fatigue, energy level (when there's no fatigue), general motivation, overall psych. The past few mornings have been slow for me to re-enter to the Real world, and that, after rather sketchy and shitty sleep to begin with. Two nights ago I switched back to ambien for sleep, and this helped, kept me in bed for about a 6-hour stretch at a time, once. That's good for me these days. Last night was truly twisted, after an ambien again, I woke up between 2 and 3 a.m. slowly but deliberately as if were directly because of the ambien, as if my body said "You only get so many ambien hours each week and yours are up!" So they were, so was I.

My solution was to add to the ambien a temazepam in the middle of the night, which may or may not have helped, at least it clogged up my neurotransmitters and blood vessels and still couldn't keep me in bed past 6-something.

What does all this mean? Hm. I'm going to hold off on the official Franky Scale but unless I'm clobbered with fatigue or nausea later on I'd expect a 7.

For various reasons I'm still out a coffee pot and a blender, which I'm becoming convinced I need to improve my quality of life :-), and will probably be out on the search for these between writing bouts. There's also an entire apartment to be cleaned, laundry to be finished, some other shopping to do, to prepare for my guest this week, my disenchanted friend from NY. So, airport tomorrow, bone scan on Wednesday, chemo on Thursday, day of rest on Friday — a weekly plan.


Slarry said...

Dear brother Spot:
I'm glad the ambian is helping, if only a little. And I wish
one of your sister's would get their butt's up
to Seattle, to assist you with the getting of coffee, coffee
pots and cleaning up.
I'm a fatty, but can do and would be so happy to do
all of those things.
And I have a plethora of paper towels---
and, for darn sure, you know I know how to use them.
If not for their real purpose-- cleaning and wiping,
I'd still make something up for those paper towels do
something productive and creative. : )

Love you so much-- wish there was something I could do about the pain, nausea and fatigue.
I just feel useless.

Glad Ms. K is coming in.

I'll hook up with you later. Until then, I'll be sending
you huge good vibes and working on my plan
to get up to where you are.
Thank you for the text message. It is always so
good to hear from you.

Big Love,


[disenchanted princess] said...

more questions but a shortage of answers. be weary when a religion, any religion, tags the word 'science' onto faith. both have their uses, and it's a personal choice of course what one believes. so long as it's choice and not simple indoctrination.

on the issue of choice though, how about the right to choose to decline treatment, or to seek alternative treatment?

imagine having cancer, and being told that you have to undergo chemotherapy even as the side effects are intolerable. having 'the state' tell you that you cannot choose how to live, or die for that matter. refer to link:

btw, this 'friend' sounds high maintenance . . . laundry, cleaning, shopping, all for a guest?? lets hope she doesn't oversleep her flight or miss her train? =)

Slarry said...

Dear brother Scott:

I was going to try and think of something profound to say
but that would be a stretch on almost any subject
these days-- let alone the possibility of
Life After Death.

What I can say, is that I know I have always known you in some sense. And that I know I will know and love you forever. Just like I know that I will see and be with Chapin
and Dan again.

A fantasy-- I don't think so. There is just so much life out there, too many unanswered questions for me
not to believe.

Knowing that I will see you again, brings me little comfort now, however, given that I want you here,
where I can see and talk to for the rest of my time here.
In addition, to having to know that someone
I love so much is having to endure such pain and suffering. It just pisses me off and makes me sad.
I'm selfish that way. : )

Please take care. And to the Princess, of course he is
going to clean up for you, just as I would, if I were there.

Love to both of you---
Thinking of you always.