Updated: Nov 20
Part Four in the Death of Picante Saga
Tuesday, May 8. Kara checks into the ER. Running a 102-degree fever. Somewhat swollen in her face and neck, trouble breathing, five days without sleep. Still, I get her to throw the sign of the horns for a medical photo op. I mean, everyone's doing ER shots since the pandemic became a thing. You're hustling for your health if you post an ER selfie. "Are you doing this for the documentary?" she asks, as I ninja step toward her, panning my iPhone Pro Max 13 from the medical computer work station to the IV bag on the other side of her bed. This latest video is going to be killer. I even remembered to get an establishing shot by the entrance. We're coming on four years of cancer adventures... got to celebrate our story arc just right.
Wednesday, May 10. Hit the car wash. I'm staying on this adulting shit. Train some clients, do some admin, pick up Kara from the cancer tower. Now we're waiting on blood and urine cultures to make sure she's not septic in accordance with the ER doctor's findings. "You have lived for four years with this, don't be stupid and die from something we can fix," her oncologist tells her. Meaning, don't leave town tomorrow until we know you're free of deadly infection. Well, all right then. Go home, edit the video. This thing's gonna be epic. I mean, who puts a Blade Runner scene in a cancer diagnosis anniversary video? Oh yeah, gotta hit legs and biceps, too. Maintain those movement patterns. Hustling for my health, just like everyone else.
Thursday, May 11. Getting my steps in. Including Ruby Sue's daily squirrel-hunting recon. Pelvic floor exercises. Calisthenics. Fire off the Muirs' triannual gift to the county. The whine of metal as I open the mailbox and shove a $3,000 check down its gullet. Hashtag taxation. Hashtag gentrification. Hashtag bullshit. 3 o'clock now. Something off about Cooper. Eyes half-open, barely stirring, like Iggy on his last day. Oh no, not our Last Pug Standing... he's slipping toward the death rattle. After years of hobbling around and staring into space. We lie down with him. Say our goodbyes. You are such a good boy, Coop. He's fading... he's... pulling himself up, stumbling out of the dog bed, walking the usual circles. Only this time his legs drop under him. That's it, we look at each other. We've always said if Cooper's hips give out we've got to let him go. He's not meant to drag himself around like Iggy and Fiona. Call the vet. Our three babies. The end of an epoch.
But hey, at least Kara's been cleared of sepsis. We can go to the beach tomorrow, like we'd planned. Only one doggy down.
And nine days to finish the video.
Friday, May 12. "Hey Kara, look over here." Beach house photo op. She looks over her shoulder at me. No sign of the horns, no Gene Simmons tongue, no enthusiasm whatsoever. Mirror shades and a frown.
Wednesday, May 17. Been hustling. Laundry, garbage (a bit extra with the sword of Colorectal Cancer hanging over your head), daily steps, groceries, work, catching up on the socials (beach photos), video editing, trying on a bunch of fancy new jeans Kara bought me so I don't look like a reject from Singles. I'm cooking up my protein, hitting my calisthenics, working on signage to straighten out these Airbnb renters who knock off a star because they found a single hair on the welcome mat. I'm hatching plans to evict the pigeons who keep shitting on the driveway. I'm stuffing butt wounds. I'm a Renaissance Man. Reading Calvino, Barthes, Whitman, watching Fassbinder, Lang, Cocteau, philosophizing with postmodern YouTubers, practicing on the drum kit, drum pad, doumbek, I'm cursing the Reed College neighbors who smoke up at all hours on their back deck. I'm amped-up, on the edge. I get video of the strange scuba-diving sounds that Kara makes at night in a state that cannot properly be called sleep.
Thursday, May 18. Finally. Kara's second cataract surgery on Tuesday. No more monovision mindfuckery. And today she starts her third clinical trial. Let's get the jump on those liver tumors! But the real news here is... tonight I'm publishing the four-year cancer diagnosis anniversary video. With a cool YouTube thumbnail. Hashtag cancerversary. Big announcements on the socials tomorrow!
Saturday, May 20. Thirty-four years ago on this day I asked Kara out on our first date. Four years ago on this day I learned she had stage 4 colorectal cancer. Every day since then has been a miracle of survival. So how should we celebrate? Well, there's the massive gravel pile I've got to help move for the yard in progress. (Hooray for movement patterns.) The Airbnb signage. The lawn. My Mac backups. My YouTube channel. Oh yeah, that horror short story I've been meaning to revise for three years now. Calisthenics. Pigeon shit. Pelvic floor exercises. My 5,000 steps. Happy anniversary, babe. I'm glad you're off the steroids and getting a little sleep. Sorry you can't pee, though.
Saturday-Sunday, May 27-28. Running and gunning. Trader Joe's for frozen dinners. CVS for maxi-pads and antibiotics. Snaking the bathroom sink. Getting my steps in. Reading about Kickstarter. (Why did it take me so long to turn Kara's blog into a book?) Editing blog entries. Cooking up my protein. Outlining an exercise book. Beefing up my horror short story. Butt wound stuffing. Dog bathing--gotta get those baby skunks off the property. Family and friends coming over to help with the house and yard. That's right. Reinforcements. We gotcha covered, babe. You focus on you. Insomnia, anemia, dyspnea, diarrhea, stoma hernia--I'd like to buy a scary vowel, Pat. Wait: Urinary retention--make that a polysyllable. You are dealing with a lot, babe. You rest. I'll clean up your medical trash. And now that reinforcements have landed, we'll get those baby skunks rescued, the pigeons evicted, the neighbors reported... we'll take back control of this shit show. It's been a rough stretch for us, right? I still hear Cooper's footsteps in the kitchen sometimes. Yeah, rough, just soul-crushingly rough. And frankly, I'm exhausted. I can't help it sometimes that I hate my life. Not because of you, no... you are NOT your mother... but... it's like... what's that? God, seriously? We were just there a few weeks ago!
Monday, May 29. Thanks to the holiday, the ER feels like a karaoke bar with no one wanting to sing. We get our pick of waiting-room chairs and hook up a bed pretty quickly. Next thing we're in a dark, stuffy room hoping the deejay won't sing "Piano Man" or something equally banal. Then the deejay, or rather doctor, breezes in. "Why do you think this happened?" he asks, looming over Kara's bedside ("Sing us the song, you're the piano man..."). The patient staring up at him with one eye completely shut and the other sealing over minute by minute. "I don't know," she fires back. "Maybe... cancer?!" Like, why is the second trial drug still causing this extreme swelling? But the doctor has no explanation for this... only Billy Joel and maybe Neil Diamond. While we wait for test results, I shoot more footage (the video is up to sixty-four views!). "B-roll," she asks, as I ninja step toward her, panning my iPhone Pro Max 13 from the dry erase board to the vital signs monitor flashing and blipping above her bed. A while later the doctor breezes in again with a swag bag of Benadryl, steroids, Ativan, and something else. Dun dun dunnnnn. Good times never seemed so good.
Friday, June 2. The Piano Man still has no idea why the swelling continues. But you know what? I'm going to run my first Kickstarter!
Next: To remember and revisit what is to come.
--Charles Austin Muir
Photo by Whitney Young