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Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

June 18 Update

In Uncategorized on June 19, 2009 at 2:23 am

Bloodcounts continue to improve.  I guess my marrow enjoyed a few weeks rest and relaxation.  Chemo resumed this afternoon. 

There was a 3.25 hour gap between blood work/doctor appointment and chemo appointment, part of which Deirdre and I anticipated and dealt with by a trip to Ninth Street – a visit to the Regulator Bookstore (one of the few remaining great independant bookeries left in the state) and lunch at the Blue Corn Cafe.  As for the remainder, well, let’s just say that I am learning patience and becoming adept at meditative techniques (I must be, otherwise I would have been dragged screaming from the facility in a Duke blue straitjacket).  I soon may have to rename this Dharma Beno’s Blog.

 

Keep the faith, whichever one you profess.

Updates and PET Scan Blues

In Uncategorized on June 15, 2009 at 1:12 am

     Okay, blog-reading dudes: here’s the skinny on the Benny. Three weeks ago, as you know from a previous posting, I underwent a PET scan to check my progress half-way through my first round of chemo. The results were better than average. At the point when docs usually hope to have arrested development (hm, could there be a movie or TV show title there?), my black buddy has shrunk 25-30%. Yoicks, huzzahs and hallelujahs!

     However, my blood work prior to the chemo scheduled for two weeks ago revealed lingering problems with hemoglobin, red blood cell and platelet counts. It seems my bone marrow, inundated by all the stuff that’s been done to my bod in the last four months, has decided to stage a work “slowdown” (in other words, my marrow is spending long periods in the breakroom, leaning back in its plastic chair, feet propped up on a round table, snacking on extra Twinkies and coffee when it should be cranking out defensive cells). Consequently, instead of chemo, I got dripped into my body two more bags o’ blood and a bag of platelets (a truly disgusting-looking concoction, like something you’d skim off the top of a pot of boiling missionary-stock).

     Follow-up blood work from last week reveals a spike to nearly normal in most counts, and well into normal in platelet levels, so if all holds steady, I’ll resume chemo next Thursday under the same every-three-weeks schedule as before. Keep the faith!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

      The PET scan at Duke was my second of such procedures in the last four months. The first one, at Wake, lasted for a total of about an hour and a half and was a breeze. It was about as strenuous as a session on the couch with a snoring therapist.

     Number two, at Duke, was a different thing altogether. First, I checked in at a desk in a fancy-schmanzy reception area, with fine art on walls wallpapered with the good stuff, like something you’d expect in a plastic surgeon’s office. Then I was directed down the hall to an elevator, in which I descended into a sub-basement of the Duke clinics building (decorated in early One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest), which the PET scan facilities shared with the cafeteria kitchen, the HVAC systems, the mouldy and bizarre rooms in which the janitorial staff perform their wierd rituals, and certain instruments and devices from Duke’s collection of pre-colonial and colonial American torture devices deemed too frightening to put on display in museums. At least one of these had been put to use in the PET scan section.

     They took vitals, did more blood work, then wedged me in a room the size of your average Thai apartment. A nurse arrived using tongs to carry an iron box wrapped in Old Newgate Prison chains and locked with a huge, rusty Marley’s ghost lock. The box, of course, contained radioactive dye deemed too dangerous for the nurse’s delicate hands (though she had the callouses and bedside demeanor of a field hand), but perfectly safe for my tender veins. After she injected me with the dye, it was lights out. Literally…lights out. They cut off the lights and wouldn’t let me read or listen to my ipod or even think – in short, do anything for an hour that might upset my hyperactive nervous system . So I did what any good soldier would do under such circumstances: I napped and glowed in the dark!

     Finally, they woke me and shoehorned me into a waiting area with four chairs, the usual collection of old, yellowed magazines (two, I swear, had original Thomas Nast cartoons railing against the excesses of Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall), and seventeen other people. I became close friends with an overweight cafeteria worker from Saxapahaw, NC, if only because I sat on her lap for eleven minutes. That’s right, eleven minutes exactly – I counted them off on my Casion Illuminator. The experience should have prepared me for the CAT scan, but it didn’t.

     I was reasonably settled on the table that would slide me into the scanning machine (as reasonably as you can be with a pillow under your knees, your pants pulled down to your thighs, and a blanket as thin as a philanderer’s excuse spread across your legs) when the nurse told be to reach over my head and grab a bar with both hands. Asked if I was comfortable, I replied in the affirmative. Then we were off to the races, with my instructions being not to move any part of my body even so much as a centimeter for the next 25 minutes.

     Friends, let me tell you that there is comfortable, and then there is comfortable. Any possible body position short of lying on a bed of nails or hanging over a cliff by your pinkie fingernails can be comfortable for 30 seconds. However, there ain’t any sort of posture not involving Angelina Jolie and Cool Whip that can be comfortable for 25 nonmoving minutes. And the posture I was in, with my left shoulder about half an inch higher than the other, and my head cocked ever so slightly to the right, was just barely 30 seconds worth of comfortable to begin with. After about a minute, the pain started in, first with needles, then with daggers, finally with antique sabers and a rusty cleaver left over from a defunct ethnic butchers shop in the Bronx.

     Back during registration, I’d been given a sheet of paper listing categories of music and the names of musical artists. I was told to check whom I’d like to listen to during the procedure. Michael Bolton, Celine Dione and Kenny G were the main choices in the list of mainstream pop. More radical selections included “Kenny G Goes Bluegrass” and “Celine, the Polka Queen.” I had thought I was safe in checking Sinatra. I wasn’t.

     The music started playing in the CAT scan room, and it was Sinatra, but it was Sinatra of two distinct varieties only. One was the baby Sinatra, before he joined the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. The other was the Sinatra of the later Reprise years, when he was trying vainly to be trendy, singing Rod McKuen songs and random duets with his daughter Nancy, trying to jumpstart her career that was doomed from the start. In other words, it was Sinatra of the sort you wouldn’t be willing to play for the listening enjoyment of a used colostomy bag. I still haven’t decided whether it was a blessing or a curse that the volume was so low that I couldn’t make out the words. “Sinatra Hums Forgotten Hits” – do I foresee a run on Tower Records?

     So, there I was, laid out on this maleficent device, hurting worse and worse, when a great, booming mechanical voice started counting off the remaining time. My shoulder screams for relief, I’m starting to get a twinge in my left hip, and I’m thirsty as a cracker in a sand box, and the machine bellows, “Eighteen minutes.” Wierdly, my ankles start hurting, I’m willing to sell my house, mortgage my son, do anything for relief from the agony, and the machine says, “Seventeen minutes.” I’m frantic. I am willing to confess to the bombing of the World Trade Center and any embassies you care to name and the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, and the machine opines, “Sixteen minutes.”

     You’d have thought at the end of the procedure that I’d have jumped up and danced singing out of the room, but I couldn’t sit up without assistance. My arms had locked in place above my head, meaning I had the facial expression and posture of one of the poor, doomed souls in a Heironymous Bosch paintings of the eternally damned. Besides, outside the door were black-suited, white-Oxford-shirted, thin-black-tied representatives from the FBI, the CIA, Interpol and Homeland Security, all wanting to know if anything I had confessed to on the PET scan table was actually true. Either I convinced them I was harmless, or they were persuaded by liability issues to give me to the custody of my wife. None of their black Crown Victorias or Hummers had a sun roof, which meant they could not transport me to god knows where in a sitting position: my arms would have snapped off against the roof!

     With the absolute necessity of a reclining passenger seat, Deirdre managed to get me home. I started loosening up near Greensboro (not unlike I used to do during college days, though in this instance, alcohol was not involved), and by the time we passed Thomasville, I had achieved about 70% mobility.

     Even now, when I wave to the hundreds of friendly people in Lexington who yell greetings as I drive by, I feel a dull ache in my shoulder and a pain in my neck. Which is why I dread the threat of additional PET scans in the future. Who’d have ever thought that it would hurt to wave, “Hi”?

Ask Mr Funky

In Ask Mr Funky on June 15, 2009 at 1:08 am

     I got a mention in Dr Jessup’s alleged column in the Dispatch last week. Listening to someone extoll all features available on an iphone, including a link to Wikpedia to find answers to any questions that might arise during a day, der Lebo told the guy his regular cell phone already had such an attachment, which was called “Ben Philpott.” According to Jessup, he told the guy that if he needed to know someting, all he needed to do was call me up, reasoning “if Beno doesn’t have the answer, it’s nothing you need to know.”

     On reading this, I got to thinking. Since my last suggestion for possible blogging fun has been about as big a bust as any band David Lee Roth has joined since leaving Van Halen the first time (and that includes his second short stint with Van Halen), I thought I might start up “Ask Mr Funky” as a continuing feature on the blog. If so lofty an eminence as Dr Jessup thinks I know it all, why not share my unusual and nearly miraculous gift with the grubby and the sweaty mass of humanity? So gang, post your questions to me on the blog in the appropriate section. I can handle anything: movies, television, quadratic equations, literature, life-style choices, trivia, quantum physics, advice for the lovelorn, even the right choice of shirt or dress for that special occasion. I guarantee an answer. And, if you ever post a question and don’t get ananswer, I can assure you that the world as we know it has come to an end before I could post a reply.

     Here is some sample Q & A to help kick things off:

Q: What is John Wayne’s real name?

      A. Marion Morrison.

Q: Who sang “There’s Something In The Air”?

      A. Thunderclap Newman.

Q: I’m 23, a former Miss California, and have a filler figure. At the moment, I have two boyfriends. One is 25, great-looking, funny, but earns not much of a living as a park bench tester. The other is 76, shrivelled and unhealthy, but is childless and has a potential estate worth over 20 million dollars, which he promises to leave me if I marry him. Mr Funky, what should I do?

      A. Scratch on a bedroom screen in southern Lexington, NC, sometime after 4:00 AM any night there are cars in the driveway.  There you’ll find your answer, my child.

 

Quilting Time

In Uncategorized on June 15, 2009 at 1:04 am

     Just after my brain surgery, a buddy, Lynn Smith gave me a prayer shawl knitted by her and several ladies in her church. It warmed my shoulders and my heart and undoubtedly contributed to my fairly quick recovery from the knife.

     Two weeks ago, Bonnie Duckworth, Deacon at Grace Episcopal, delivered a quilt, made by a group of angels who happen also to be members of the congregation. Heaven knows how many hours went into the creation of this gift, which as our rector, Tom King said, is a “handsome, handsome piece of work.” Much of the congregation participated at least in a small, but meaningful way in the creation, first by participating in the blessing of the quilt in a service, then by waiting in line to tie knots in threads that had been left untied for specifically this purpose. Stitched onto the back is a swatch of cloth bearing the words, “Almighty God, we entrust Ben who is dear to us to yor never-failing care and love.” I cannot remember being so touched bya gift. For Bonnie, Staley, Belvie, Sandy, Suzy, Kathie and Kathy, and to all the family of Grace Church, I express my gratitude. I am lucky to be held so tightly and so lovingly in so many hearts.

Summer Blockbusters

In Fun Stuff on June 3, 2009 at 12:33 am

     It’s summer blockbuster time again. I have been reading studio press releases and the Hollywood trades in hope of finding a movie or two worth attending, but have struck out. Summer flicks are all the same old same old, except bigger and louder and busier and bloodier and at least ten IQ points dumber than ever before. The one flick possibly worth seeing, coming out this Friday, is “Land of the Lost,” and that’s only because Will Farrell’s co-star in this art flick is Danny McBride. Frankly, I’d be willing to sit through a French mime convention (or undergo gamma knife surgery again) for a chance to see Danny McBride. 

     If this summer is pretty much a Prez W of a movie season, it sounds like new releases in production or pre-production for 2010 and 2011 have been planned by studio goons who’ve ingested a whole passel of mushrooms, Red Bull, nicotine gum and Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips. One thing these flicks do reflect are the more tender sensibilities of the new, touchier-feelier America that elected Barak Obama and hang on his every words. Herewith is a sampler:

     “Life Wish” – After terrorist members of a Muslim extremist group murder his wife and a distant cousin he didn’t really know very well, Dr. Mercadio Huggins, best-selling author of I’m Okay, You’re Even Better and host of video, self-help seminars shown annually during annual PBS pledge drives, finds his belief system challenged. Instead of going Bronson on us, Dr. Huggins (played by Sean Penn), recruits a rag-tag band of sensitivity vigilantes to help him plot revenge. Among the group are Angel Teitlebaum, a former nun become Buddhist monk and activist in gender politics (played by Susan Sarandon, with a remarkable make-up job by Ben Nye XXIV) and Hockney Flemm (Robert Downey, who else?), a retired Army Colonel, now vegan eco-warrior, who specializes in napalming big agro-business fields which are not organically fertilized. Rather than hunt down and gruesomely dispatch the killers, Dr. Huggins kidnaps them and forces them to undergo heart-wrenching group therapy sessions, during which the terrorists learn that their anger is rooted in unhappy childhoods and that all they need to do to change their lives is to “think happy.” Finally convinced, the terrorists repent and go on to lead useful and productive lives as florists, dog-groomers and New York City taxi drivers.

     “Robotransforminator” – Hinton Forbish (Shia LaBeouf), your average American teen, has his life tragically altered when a bizarre accident involving a back-yard trampoline and an antique washing machine wringer leaves him only a living brain. The brain is then stolen form the hospital by Dr. Reuben Goldberg (Robin Williams), a scientist terminated under dark and suspicious circumstances from the secret government program that produced the six million dollar man and woman, robocop, and every other machine/man amalgam ever to star in motion pictures. Hinton wakes up from a major coma to find his brain and, by extension, himself in a body cobbled together with cast-off parts from all those other movies. Despite rather enjoying the six million dollar woman’s naughty bits, Hinton gradually starts losing control of his parts. Mayhem ensues as Hinton’s inner conflict erupts into a fight with himself that spills across four continents and flattens Paris, Rome and Biloxi, Mississippi. Only the love of Star Magnate (Drew Barrymore), a podiatrist’s assistant, stands between Hinton and the collective force of the world’s armies under command of the UN Security Council.

     “Riverdale Dance” – Enjoy Archie, Veronica, Jughead and Betty as they become the latest comic book characters to make the transition from the printed page into fleshy heroes in a live-action film. But not only do they liven up the hallways of Riverdale High with the nifty, adolescent hi-jinks you have come to know and expect, they also dance, and they sing just as good as they walk. It’s the perfect combination of “Spiderman” and “High School Musical.” The names of cast members are not available at this time, since the leads will be chosen by audience vote in the FOX network’s newest reality show, “You Oughta Be In Pictures.” Unconfirmed rumors from the studio say the selection of host for the new show has disintegrated into a dogfight between Alan Thicke and Ryan Seacrest. During a chance encounter at Juno’s, a popular Hollywood eatery, Seacrest allegedly attempted to slap Thicke across the cheek with a fist full of limp chow mein noodles. At last report, Seacrest was still standing there sadly and ineffectively waving his hand.

     If any of you have some great ideas for summer blockbuster movies, please send them to me by posting on the blog, and I promise I will forward them to someone who will put them to good use.

     Keep the faith, Beno

P.S.

My good friend Frank Bell goes under the knife tomorrow at Wake for removal of a kidney stone the size of the Hope Diamond.  Keep him and his family in you thoughts and prayers for a few days at least.