An inkling of death

AFTER A POINT on the Highway of Life, death ceases to be a concept that has little to do with you, and it becomes considerably more real.

I have passed that point.

My father developed colon cancer when he was about 70, younger than I am now. He previously had dealt with prostate cancer. Both were in remission when a heart attack killed him with no warning when he was 75.

JM15_2_1024x1024In spite of my father and I appearing to be clones, I’ve had no significant health issues at all until relatively recently. I’ll be 74 in a couple of months.

Generally, I avoid the medical community when possible. If my body doesn’t bother me, I don’t bother it. We made a deal.

I keep my head firmly plunged into the sand. I am my own ostrich and worst enemy.

However, one of the many great aspects to healthcare in Mexico is that you can do lots of things on your own, things that would require the permission of a doctor above the Rio Bravo.

Due to this liberty, I give myself an annual checkup, a simple one that hits the high points. I go to an independent lab, and leave some blood. Sometimes I leave other things too, stuff that comes out of other orifices.

Cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides, blood in the stool, etc. That latter is the old test for colon cancer. It’s marginally effective but better than nothing.

Due to my father’s having colon cancer, “they” say my chances are increased. I wonder if they are right. They probably are. Due to that, I got my first colonoscopy in Houston in 1997. No problem was found.

When I moved to Mexico, I read somewhere that colonoscopies are done under full anesthesia. I don’t want to do that, so I opted around 2005 for a barium enema, better than the stool test, not so good as colonoscopy.

You do not get anesthesia for a barium enema. By the way, barium enemas are no fun, but not nearly so bad as you may have heard.

Again, no problem was found. In 2011, I did it again with the same outcome.

Here we are in 2018. For some reason, I had decided not to do those tests anymore. I was sticking to my guns until about two months ago when my usual pattern down south changed noticeably. Every morning.

This is one of the warning signs of colon cancer, so my ears perked up.

Many physical issues clear themselves up if you’re patient. I waited. It did not clear itself up, but it did make a significant move toward normal. But not entirely.

I started checking around, and discovered colonoscopies are available without undergoing full anesthesia. I did it last Saturday and wrote about it in the eloquently titled post Getting a hose up my butt.

But today’s post is not about the procedure. It’s about the dark days before.

* * * *

Again, an inkling of death.

I kinda wigged out.

Sometimes the internet is great. Sometimes you should steer clear. Something I did not know was that colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, and it’s one of the slow growers.

That means by the time you have symptoms, it’s made a bit of progress.

This put me into a funk. It wasn’t too bad in the daytime, but nights were another matter. You know how actual, trivial problems seem, well, trivial in the light of day, but at 3 a.m. they become catastrophic, an odd phenomenon.

Sleeping became a challenge. In the daylight hours, the situation was more manageable in my head, but it was still serious.

I became mostly convinced I was dead meat. This causes apathy, and I grew extremely apathetic and glum.

I was worried mostly about my child bride, less about myself. I am not young, and I have no more goals to reach, as if I ever had many in the first place.

I subscribe to no organized religion, but my experiences with LSD and psilocybin in the 1990s mostly convinced me of an afterlife. That was somewhat encouraging, and I was looking forward to it a bit.

But mostly it was a dark apathy.

The colonoscopy, however, found no polyps, not even precancerous ones. But the doctor did extract a bit of liquid and told me to take it to a lab for biopsy.

Biopsy!

And come back in a week, he said. We’ll have the results.

So there I was again. The cloud had dissipated somewhat, but I viewed the biopsy matter with a very dark eye.

The followup appointment was yesterday. The biopsy found nothing bad. The sun began shining again. I was good to go for a spell longer.

My only aunt, my father’s only sister, also was an ostrich. Her cancer — I do not know what type — appeared quickly and beyond repair when she was about 86. She died shortly after. She, my father and I  have the same surname.

My mother, on the other hand, made it to 90 and simply died of old age, too many things in her body just ran out of steam.

Turns out that what caused my bowel issue in the first place, what led me down this dark lane, was diverticulitis. I am being treated with antibiotics and intestinal flora.

I wish my body had just told me that in the first place.

I thought we had a deal.

 

 

Standing in the sunshine

EARLY IN DECEMBER we had a number of overnight freezes, not typical of the month. But it passed, and since mid-December things have returned to normal, more or less, perhaps even a bit nicer than normal.

But that’s not to say it’s comfortable in the mornings, far from it. And how do we mountaintop Mexicans deal with the morning chill? We go outside and stand in the sunshine. This is very common. I do it myself.

This morning I went for my usual exercise walk around the neighborhood plaza. A fellow who runs a little store on the corner was standing on the sidewalk, sunning himself. He frequently does that.

New ImageOn the walk up to the plaza I spotted another guy standing in the sunshine. I also saw a hog, which isn’t common. That same fellow had the hog on a rope that was tied around a light post. Pet or future lunch? Who knows?

On returning from the plaza, heading back home, I saw the hog walking alone down the street with the rope trailing behind. His owner was nowhere in sight. The moral to that yarn is that if you’re gonna tie a pig to a post, do it tight.

On getting home, here’s what I saw: Guys in the yard digging up grass and the sole remaining giant maguey. Yes, after years of thinking on it and talking about it, I’ve begun the process of replacing grass with concrete and stone.

I have a four-year plan and with luck I’ll live long enough to complete it. The fourth year would have me older than my father was when he kicked the bucket in Atlanta at age 75. It’s preferable to think positively.

7501022019009The guys say the work will take a week, and that means it likely will be two weeks. I’ll have photos later. Stay tuned. We are also, after 15 years at the Hacienda, in the process of abandoning five-gallon jugs of purified water. Stay tuned about that too. January is a month of much activity at the Hacienda.

Now I’m heading back outside to stand in the sunshine.

Shields and loquats

escudos

AMBLING ALONG the plaza two days ago, I was waiting for my child bride.

She, her sister and a nephew had walked to the mercado with a big bag of loquats, fruit from a tree in the Hacienda yard. The loquats were for the young widow of our nephew who died of cancer last winter.

The widow, about 32 years old, as was our nephew when he died, recently opened a small business in the mercado where she sells women stuff, mostly makeup. A sister of hers shares the space with a hairstyling business.

Alma is the widow’s name. It means soul in English. Why does no one name a baby Soul in English? I guess for the same reason no one names a baby Jesus either, and that’s fairly common in Spanish. We have a nephew named Jesús.

Alma is a very beautiful woman, and we hope that will help her snare another husband before long because she could use some support — financial, emotional and otherwise.

But she comes with two kids, a deal-breaker for some fellows.

Before selling her car to obtain the funds to open her mercado business, she had worked years for a television cable company, signing up new customers. The pay, however, was inadequate for her new role of single mother.

She does get occasional financial help from relatives, including my child bride.

The kids — Candra and Jaime, age 7 and 11, respectively — are very fond of loquats. They are very nice children, too young to lose their father.

After my wife, her sister and the nephew whom I used to call The Little Vaquero (the Little Cowboy), but he’s almost 15 now, returned from the mercado, we connected in the plaza and drove home. That would be my child bride. We left the other two downtown where they live.

You may be wondering, What’s up with Shields in the headline? Shield is escudo in Spanish, and the photo is the entrance to the Hotel Los Escudos. I walked past as I was waiting for the family. It looked nice, so I shot a photo.

Many years ago, we spent a night in the Hotel Los Escudos on a lark. We enjoyed it, and maybe we’ll do it again one day.

Retirement is the cat’s pajamas

gent
No, this ole gent is not me. He’s not reading a Kindle.

I HAVEN’T worked one day for pay since Dec.19, 1999.*

It’s not rare that people, almost always men, drop dead not long after retirement due to having lost their life’s purpose. I did not suffer that issue.

I’ve never known what my life purpose is,** which simplifies things.

catBut it’s been almost 18 years now, the best 18 years of my life. Another world, another life, another wife, another language. I done good.

There’s something strange about living days, weeks, months and years without a job and you still have cash in your wallet. We have money due to Social Security (thanks, Uncle Sam), a small corporate pension (thanks, Hearst Corp.) and investments (thanks to wise me). Let’s hear it for capitalism!

Though I have no paying job, I do have work, almost daily. Why, just this morning, I swept the sidewalk and adjoining strip of street out front. I dumped the dirt, and it was all dirt, into a bucket, and I tossed it into the ravine.

This sort of thing does not provide life with meaning, but it does keep the sidewalk clean. That has societal value, I think.

* * * *

* A date as tattooed on my brain as is my birthday and my Air Force serial number.

** My fallback meaning-giver is Emily Dickinson whose quote elsewhere on this page does the trick for me. Were I a Christian or a Jew, which I am not, that would replace Emily Dickinson, one supposes.