It’s not my fault. I can’t help it. This summer’s events aged me 3,000 years and morphed me into a silly old man.
The back story: I landed on an operating table on August 24th amid my second round of tongue cancer in 27 years. Surgeons removed about 60 percent of my tongue, replaced it with skin and blood vessels from my left wrist, and installed a g-tube so I could pour ISOSOURCE 1.5 Cal directly into my stomach while re-learning the arts of eating and speaking. So I was now a preacher with a train wreck of a speech impediment who couldn’t eat a morsel from a pot-luck supper – and my latest interim pastorate was winding up even as events unfolded. My career crashes at the age of 59 with only Monopoly money in the bank.
Wouldn’t you age 3,000 years in such circumstances?
At which point I faced a choice: Frazzle as a worried-infested 3,000-year-old man or mutate into a silly 3,000-year-old man. The choice, of course, was no choice. I’ve remained certifiably silly as I’ve run the gauntlet of my second infancy: The speech impediment is now less obvious (depending on the time of day) and I’ve graduated from no food to honey-thick liquids to baby food to pureed food. Soon, my g-tube feedings will play second fiddle and, if all goes well, leave the orchestra.
What’s more, as the following entry reveals, I’m even entertaining the possibility of repairing my totaled career.
I play this game under the watchful gaze of my speech-swallowing therapist. She’s my coach. She makes sure I cough with every bite and drink down thick liquids (people like me easily aspirate: food can fall into the lungs and induce pneumonia). She’s instructed me to maintain an eating log, which she reads at our weekly sessions.
I decided to have some fun. I weave my log into a silly story each week just to brighten her day. She invariably laughs and declares: “You’ve got to write this on a blog!”
I’m nothing if not obedient. My second submission reads thusly:
I emerged from the coal mine – in which I had been trapped for eighty days, keeping myself alive by gulping water in dark streams and feeding on those blind, pigment-free fish that swim in underwater ponds – only to discover that world-wide calamity had struck. It seemed I was the last person alive on Planet Earth. The sun shone but did not smile by day; the moon glowered like an uncle who missed his football game by night. The wind howled like a coyote with bronchitis and no tumble weed tumbled in the streets – because, after all, there is no tumble weed in Eastern Pennsylvania.
Were there any fellow survivors of the Great Cataclysm? I wanted to know. I had to know. Strangely, my life now had purpose amid the worthless emptiness. Nihilism, futility, dystopia, and insignificance were not as bad as I thought. I mean, I could handle this.
The following is my food-intake log as I prowled America’s empty highways and byways.
November 6, 2015:
I blessed myself with my first cup of home-made Dunkin’ Donuts coffee (with half and half) in two months, pledging that I would not re-addict myself. It felt strange at first – half my tongue could neither feel nor taste it – but it became pleasurable once more. Unlike in my previous life, before the great cave-in, I did not wolf it down. The cup lasted for four hours. I vowed that I would not touch it again until Sunday – and, I’m happy to report, I fulfilled the vow that I vowed. I also heaved several coughs during and after the coffee. I felt no aspiration. I also had a kit-kat (which melted in my mouth), a half jar of banana-orange baby food (the kids have been hogging something good there: I say we steal this away from the little stinkers), and some tomato soup. Everything was easy except for the soup. I had usually thickened the soup with sour cream before; this time, I did so with mayonnaise. Scientists and other scholars categorize that kind of move as a “bone-headed, idiotic mistake” usually performed by a special kind of human known as a “dolt.” That stuff was harsh and I had difficulty getting it down. There was much coughing and I threw most of it out.
November 7, 2015
I drove north on an empty Jersey Turnpike, eating a full bowl of yogurt and apple sauce on the way. I also drank a tropical smoothie at an empty Dunkin’ Donuts. I think I also ate a jar of baby food, but I can’t read my writing of what it was. I think I was somewhat distraught over the destruction of the world. I admit it: I’m sentimental.
November 8, 2015
I paused in my journey through the de-populated wasteland to give my farewell sermon to the good people of Quaker Hill Baptist Church, who had finally hired their settled pastor after two and half years. No one seemed bothered by a preacher with a speech impediment – perhaps because they saw their now-former pastor laughing at his own mistakes, which gave them permission to laugh. I also listened to a recording of the sermon afterwards. The first few lines sounded like a space alien speaking before the universal translator had barely warmed up; but, afterwards, even ever-so-self-critical me had to agree: “That guy ain’t that bad.” It was clear that my tongue was looser once I got into the sermon and I was speaking a lot better.
So maybe I shouldn’t write off my pastoral career. Maybe I can take it back off the shelf. Maybe there’s a congregation posting a want-ad declaring: “We desperately need a 59-year-old cancer patient with a g-tube and speech impediment. We’re even willing to allow him to gag while he chews on potluck suppers.”
I ate pumpkin soup and some spaghetti squash at their good-bye dinner (the pumpkin soup was fine; the spaghetti squash was a little hard to get down and I abandoned my efforts after a few bites). I ate a jar of banana baby food once I left those good people and entered the depopulated world – dutifully coughing at the specific times designated by my speech therapist, from whom I haven’t heard since I entered the coal mine. She never calls.
November 9, 2015:
I forgot to eat my quota of baby food while traveling on the empty Merritt Parkway, remembering only to eat a strawberry banana smoothie I made at a vacated Dunkin’ Donuts. Delicious. No one minded my obligatory coughing, perhaps because no one was there. That often happens when the world is void of human life.
I felt guilty. My speech therapist – if she survived the catastrophe – would be mad.
November 10, 2015
I decided to make up for lost time. I ate an entire jar of Beechnut peas, green beans, and asparagus baby food; drank a quarter cup of V-8 Juice; and made and avocado-banana smoothie all by self. Wow. I’m good. I even coughed when I was supposed to. I also did something absolutely disgusting: My doctor had told me that I’d be drinking my Isosource unflavored 1.5 cal for two weeks before they remove my g-tube, so I decided to rehearse for that dreaded day and drank one those things. Actually, the taste wasn’t that bad – if you like something with a flavor resembling the smell of old rag mats.
November 11, 2015
An entire glass of V-8 Juice (I felt no aspiration); an entire jar of baby food with the vegie stuff [I eat the whole jar now]; had a cup of coffee that lasted deep into the afternoon (no coffee for a full week at least – I even gave permission to my wife to nag me about it [silly me: I forgot to mention that she survived the calamity as well; I forget little details]) – cream of chicken soup (coughed after every slurp; it was hard), and an entire glass of V-8 juice. I’m full.
I’m in Northern Maine now. Still no sign of human life. Just moose. Lotsa moose.