Friday, April 11, 2008

A Shout from Copenhagen: The Envelope, Please? National Magazine Awards 2008.

One of my old professors was fond of saying that when the gods elevate you it is just to get better leverage to kick you in the gonads.

Not quite three years ago, my GP sounded the alarm because a blood test indicated I might have prostate cancer, even though I had no symptoms and no pain. Consequently, I spent two years undergoing about 20 blood tests and 34 biopsies, the last three of which were surgical. And I learned the ugly word “catheter.” The doctors were convinced I had cancer because the indicative number in my blood (PSA) kept rising. But finally they decided that in my case the indication was wrong. I just had a high PSA, that’s all. It shouldn’t be higher than 4 but mine was up to 20. They let me go, pronounced my prostate healthy in January 2007.

I had kept a journal of all this and wrote an essay about it which New Letters magazine published last summer. Apparently I had succeeded in striking a humorous note in the essay because despite the gory details, a number of people wrote to say how funny it was. It even won a prize and was nominated for another, and a couple of weeks ago, I was startled to learn that it was also a finalist for a National Magazine Award.

Ignorant as I am, living in this distant kingdom, I didn’t even know what a National Magazine Award was until I started receiving emails congratulating me. Apparently the National Magazine Awards are the Oscars of the magazine world in the U.S., the highest honor in the field. You even get a statuette if you win, an “Ellie.” Along with five other writers I was a finalist in the essay genre, up against writers who had published in the New Yorker, Atlantic, Harper’s, Entertainment Weekly, and Elle. I was, I learned, up against Stephen King’s essay about Harry Potter. There would be a black tie award ceremony at Lincoln Center in New York City on May 1st.

Nervously, I got my tuxedo out of mothballs (unnecessary – it is a semi-synthetic fabric, of no interest to moths -- I bought it for like 95 bucks about 20 years ago). Thank god it still fit! I must have been fat back then, too. Lady Alice suggested that I wear it with my white suspenders over a high-quality black T-shirt, that I don my Sheela na Gig pendant and leopard-skin pillbox hat for the ceremony. And that I polish and wear my Giglio running shoes. Lady Alice always knows the right thing to do.

I bought a plane ticket, reserved a room in a 1½-star hotel on West 43rd Street ($116 a night including tax – the very same hotel where Joe Buck stayed in Midnight Cowboy), began fantasizing headlines: Kennedy Dethrones King! even as the butterflies in my stomach whispered, Don’t worry, asshole – you ain’t gonna win!

Meanwhile (and here’s where the gonad kick of the gods comes in), I had been invited to take a routine follow-up blood test which showed my PSA had shot up even higher, to 25, so high that the cancer which had proven not to be there would now have begun to spread to my bones. So I was called in to the hospital for more tests.

Up the arse with the ultrasound wand again for 11 zaps with the needle, fiery micturitions and bloody gism. There is no polite way to describe these things. Into the bone scanner (scintograph, if we want to be Latinate about it) where you lie on a narrow table and the nutsy nurse tries to be cute by hovering over me like a vampire and saying, “Now I am going to tie you up!” as she binds my arms in Velcro bondage.

I consider chortling and flirting back, but I really don’t feel like doing that. So I lie there and contemplate my itchy nose, making anagrams out of the name of the company that manufactured the machine, printed in block letters on its side – PHILLIPS. HILL LIPS ILL LIPS PILLS HI LILI PLIP SHILL SIP SILL SHIP SLIP for half an hour, with radioactive serum running through my veins – drink plenty of water, please! – while the narrow table to which I am strapped moves infinitesimally slowly through a big metal doughnut.

When I am out the other side, the nurse returns to tell me I will have to change my underpants. “There is a spot we don’t like on the picture. It might only be a spot of urine. The machine is so sensitive. We put a pair of hospital panties over there for you to change into.”

That’s what she said. “Panties.” I consider saying, “You just want to see me naked, admit it.” But I really don’t feel like saying that so I just go and change from my black Calvin Klein’s into a pair of sexy white hospital drawers. I wonder how they knew my size. The nurse must have checked out my butt, I think to amuse myself, but I am not actually amused. In fact, I am thinking about that spot they didn’t like on the picture and wondering how a freaking radar machine or whatever it is can see through my jeans, zipper, and Calvin Klein’s but not through a spot of urine? Whatever.

To my relief, I learned today, the bone scans proved normal as did every one of the 11 new biopsies as well. (I am now a fully biopsied man, with 45 of the buggers – not to put too fine a point on it – to my credit!) So the gods didn’t want to position me for a kick in the gonads after all. Sometimes they only kid around with you, and they have a creepy sense of humor. But one of these times – comes to all of us! – they will come for real and cut me down. This time they let me off with a warning and a wink.

Oh I forgot! There’s also the bladder probe – don’t forget the bladder probe, another coming attraction in two weeks time. The picture showed something they didn’t like there in the bladder, too, so they want to do a probe. That’s real fun.

I began to think, Damn, couldn’t it be a different organ this time? I already wrote an essay about my prostate gland. Pick another, non-urological one – but not the heart, please. And not another kidney stone. Not even the hope of an Ellie would make me want to endure another kidney stone.

A friend enquired whether I have some Faustian pact with the devil in which one by one I sacrifice my organs for essays that might win prizes.

Hhhmmm….Before I answer that : May I have the envelope, please?

(Tune in after May 1st for the final installment of this cliff-hanging serial! Orchestra: Accelerando con moto! Organ sound-track, please… Penguins in a line now!)

Greetings from this ancient capital!
Thomas E. Kennedy

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