I Can’t Un-See The Monkey

I can’t un-see the monkey. The one that sits behind my head playing with what sounds like some sort of heavy game tiles or dice in a felted box. Every once in a while the monkey reaches forward and touches the sheet that covers my shoulder. Or do I imagine this too? Then someone walks by…I think.

They say when one of your senses is lost the others fill in. I haven’t really lost any senses so I can give no explanation for the weird things going on in my brain during therapy. It’s just my head is strapped down, but I can even peak through the mask if I want. I guess my hearing is trying to make sense of the sounds. But a monkey with a felted Parcheesi box?? Really?

Under the cover of night we fly down the turnpike along with about 5 other cars in what could easily be some sort of apocalyptic escape from NJ movie scene. We are nearly tired of talking about it but the dissonance of no traffic in a til-now traffic-filled life compels us to comment on it for the entire 35 minute trip. Off at Exit 9 and onto Route 18. Every toll booth is open yet somehow the only two other cars exiting have spazzed out and had to stop because they were headed into the same one. Odd. Empty Route 18, empty Easton Avenue. Four treatments in, I hobble into the building of my own accord because no one but patients are allowed in due to Corona. Fletcher waits in the car. No falling down so far. I change, then wait, while I hear lots of laughter coming from the techs. It makes me happy that they are happy.

They joyfully welcome me, put me on the skinny table. They congratulate me on today’s news of no bone mets. They sweep my hair out of the way and put my mask on, tethering me tightly to the table. I thanked them again last night for being smart, for coming to work, for helping to save my life. I said this without crying and was quite pleased with myself.

They check my tattoos, line me up by shifting the sheet below me. My instruction is to lay heavy. They check and double check my position and come back and adjust multiple times. Here we go.

The monkey is messing with the game tiles. Then the bed shutters a tiny bit, maybe moves. Someone brushes the sheet at my shoulder. Maybe. Then a beep at my other shoulder. A doorbell sounds. The distant sound of a diesel brake? A hydraulic whoosh.

Now there is a light show for me. Spots of fuchsia dance across my brain for about 10 seconds; the lights culminate at the top of my head in a fading borealis. This would be pleasant and beautiful but unfortunately it is accompanied by the smell of mild ammonia culminating in wet dog smell. Finally the sound and faded light of a single distant firecracker signals completion of the first third of treatment.  The treatment of my spinal column is less entertaining than my brain, with only the sounds of diesel brakes, the whoosh, a sputtering sound and the final distant firecracker.

My techs assure me that these sensations, while experienced by many patients, are mine alone – the techs say they see, hear & smell nothing. My central nervous system’s reaction to the therapy.

Light shows and fireworks seem like an appropriate way to celebrate killing breast cancer cells in my spinal fluid. Thank you brain! And I guess some ammonia for the cleanup crew.

The monkey is gone as they release my head, robe me, fetch my shoes, glasses and face mask, and wish me well until we meet again tomorrow night.

Meantime, I’ll have an MRI today and treatment, then I’ll see my youngsters again tonight. My monkey and I will enjoy the light show and endure the cleanup crew.


*What the heck is with Jethro Tull? Never been a fan but a google search for an image of an actual monkey playing a board game found this so of course I had to use it. This monkey is clearly more sophisticated than the one I’ve conjured.
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