Like any utopian society, and make no mistake Mayo is its own society designed to improve people’s lives, there is a darkside. This side of life in clinic town (or Mayoville as some like to call it in back alleys only whispered, if referred to at all in polite society), is not really black it is more of a beige. I sat behind the driver on my shuttle ride to get fried. No hometown Rochester boy, his normal run was to the airport in the Twin cities, and today he was just filling in on the in-town run. I figured that is what loosened his tongue about the crime surrounding “Mayo and the Clinics.” I think he was using this phrase in a Tommy James and the Shondells way, you know, like the song, “I Think We’re Alone Now” (look it up on youtube), but there was kind of a Jesse and James Gang tone in his voice. It seems there had been a rash of bike thefts and petty robbery lately that some were blaming on druggies. In my opinion, they are wasting their time on bikes; in this health conscious place, cigs run around $8.75 a pack, if you can find a multi-pack deal. I think smuggling might be the next crime wave. He said Mayo and Clinics made sure this type of activity stayed away from the downtown area and did a pretty good job of keeping it out the news. These small-time crimes mean nothing and not even this brave conveyor of truth would mention the true villain that haunts the dreams of many that wander these streets or more likely huddle inside their rooms.
The bus slowly came to a stop among the many other patients waiting for their day’s treatments. Everyone with their own particular burden to bear, each having their own demons. But perhaps none so brave as I because, yes, I have dared to utter the name of that which should not be spoken, the Mask Monster. Now the Mask Monster is not a monster in a mask, unless you consider yourself a monster, and that is why you are bound, defenseless, with fiberglass straps digging into your face, and that omnipresence, unidentifiable screaming voice in your head repeating, you are mine, you thought smoking was fun, you will pay now my little deary. This type of cancer can also be caused by a virus. I wonder about the poor souls afflicted by this curse, one that they had no control over. I wonder if their voice screams sorry, just the luck of the draw. I wonder in the end, if it is not the affliction, the battle, that really matters. The rain falls on the righteous and the sinner alike.
It was this mask that caused my first ripple in this rather remarkable society. By now it should be clear that there are certain monsters you don’t play with. You have a plan, practice it if you can and work it. It had been our plan, mine plan for sure, to place the mask on my face and then take it off, this gives me a chance to adjust and gain confidence that the mask is not permanent because I can feel it come off. Yesterday I walked into the frying room and explained that this was our normal procedure. What I failed to realize was somehow Nurse Ratchet had infiltrated this otherwise patient friendly facility. When she smiled and patted my arm, my apprehension began to grow. People who have never fought the foe that is the Mask Monster, do not know his or her daunting grip of terror (I am not sure of its sex, it may be androgynous). This is no remnant of medusa, this was a modern monster whose ancestors are more likely related to Dr. Moreau. I have met this formidable foe on five formal occasions and many times in the halls and bathroom floors. It does not die and it is never really defeated; the most you can do is hope to contain the monster. The key is to be vigilant, that is why even a small change in procedure could be dangerous. So when nurse Ratchet started strapping me down real tight, I said remember to take it off. She carried on like she didn’t hear. I asked in a slightly louder voice, “Are you going to take it off?” She smiled and said, “It looks fine, why would I do that.” Using my somewhat angry voice I said, “Because in an effort to save 30 seconds you are willing to risk additional discomfort and also cause me to stop treatment. The great DR. FOOTE who is my radiation oncologist and considered to be one of the best period spins the dials and overlooks everything from his perch in the sky will stop treatment if I freak, but that doesn’t make him happy.” The mask was taken off and put back rather abruptly, but the system had been maintained. It went off like normal, I closed my eyes and floated away on a prayer cloud to find my happy place, sometimes a scene from the past, sometimes the old time rock music they play takes me away, the medical people talk in garble I seldom understand, and when I come back from my wanders the mask is always there. The trick is to stick and move on. Don’t let it get a firm hold on you and always remember this too shall pass.
I would like to leave you on an even more positive note. I have been informed by my radiation coach that my bodily fluids are toxic. She claims I am now a dangerous man, and she said, “If any young guy gives you trouble, just spit on him and he will get a blister.” The Lord taketh away and he giveth. Glory be to God.