Had my April Fool’s PetScan (results next week) and a revelation in the course of it.
I am finally beginning to understand something that has puzzled me since the beginning: To wit, what the devil do the Cancerland powers-that-be want with the motley ragtag lot of us they whisk away?
I mean, good Lord. I look around and see a motionless Lubavitcher rebbe in a wheelchair, a tiny Asian woman who looks to be 106, a gangly Russian teenage hoodlum covered in prison-blue tattoos, a grande dame in a mink coat, a black guy in a stained hoodie, a Latina whose face is like a smudged thumbprint, with tearful, vacant eyes. We are the strangest assemblage imaginable. Why pluck these particular apples off the tree? Shrivelled, some of us, worm-eaten, not yet ripe, over-ripe, bruised, big, juicy and red, or split down the middle and rotting already? What is the driving force behind these choices, if choices they are, and the whole thing’s not just a big trawl net catching up whatever it happens to catch up — fish, tires, trash, bits of styrofoam, relics of old wrecks?
It was the PetScan that put me onto the secret.
I have already called the PetScan a boring ride, and that it is. But this second one made something else clear as well. When prolonged, it is as close to torture as anything I have ever endured. No, it does not have the drama or the panic of waterboarding. But give this a try: Stretch out on your back on the floor, legs straight and feet apart, with arms raised up above your head as close to your ears as possible. Do not clasp your hands together. Now, remain in this posture — do not twitch, do not move a muscle, do not shift — for, oh, an hour.
All feeling begins to drain from your arms, to which blood does not flow. They go cold, then numb, then feel fat and limp. Eventually, your hands insist they are swelling, growing grotesquely large, as if you were wearing boxing gloves made of flesh. What you want, more than anything, is to move, to shake your hands, to flex your legs, but you know you musn’t.
And there is no keeping track of the time. You have been made to take off your watch (with the excuse that metal will throw the scan off) and even if you were wearing it, you could not lower it into your field of vision. There is no clock on any wall. Minutes have gone by, or days, there’s no telling. And the only sign that time is passing at all is the slow, irregular motion, forward or backward, of the plastic table on which you are stretched out. An inch or two north, an inch or two south, and after every tiny movement, a long, long, long pause.
Eventually, you are this close to flipping out, to screaming That’s it, that’s it, I can’t stand anymore. You want to flail and kick and jump out of the machine. Just then comes an amplified voice from inside the adjacent room where an unseen technician controls the machine’s tiny movements: Just one minute more. Without this encouragement, you would certainly have gone nuts. As it is, you nearly do anyway, the so-called minute seeming to last forever.
All right. It does end. Thinking you will need someone’s help to lift your dead arms off the table, you find you can move them after all, and can move your legs too. Shaky, pulsing, prickling and tingling, you are off the table, out of the machine, standing up.
It was then I began to understand.
The PetScan does not seem but is torture, as is the hours-long dripping of the chemotherapy agents into your veins, and the stabbing here and there with needles to draw blood, and the way you are tricked into taking anti-nausea medications, anti-diarrhea medications and anti-constipation medications all at the same time, as if you could possibly have those conditions at the same time.
The great secret is this: We are scooped up into Cancerland in our insane wild variety because, for some reason, the powers-that-be believe we each of us knows something — and the entire crazy program is aimed at making us talk.
It is waterboarding, after a fashion, but waterboarding covered by insurance, and tricked out as treatment.
I for one am entirely ready to spill my guts. But there has been no indication — no indication at all — of what it is the authorities want to know. They turn the screw, but ask no questions.
As for where it ends…I think the motionless Lubavitcher rebbe in the wheelchair has already told them everything, but look: They are still at him.