At the beginning of 1975 I was 13, a chubby kid and already a tormented Minnesota Vikings fan. I didn't have a Bar Mitzvah, but I was a member of a boy scout troop that met at a local temple. Our meetings were in the evening and at one particular meeting, our troop leader had us run races around the block which included a short cut through and alley. We had two races. For the first race, half the kids ran, while the other half ensured there was no cheating. For race 1, I was posted at a spot in the alley, behind the temple playground. As one kid ran past me, I took a small step back and right onto nail sticking out of a board that went through my shoe and into a bone of my right foot. Fortunately I was/am left footed, so the injury didn't mess with my kicking capabilities. Curiously, I am right handed, but have the absolute worst handwriting and I dribble a basketball with my left hand. I can barely bounce a ball with my right. I'm thinking someone early on, perhaps noticed I might have been left handed and changed me to right.
That nail into the bone caused a nasty infection that laid me up for the entire summer that year and generally impacted me for the remainder of 1975. Doctors opted against surgery to clean it out, but instead had me wearing a cast to immobilize the foot and had me keeping it elevated. When the cast came off, I alternated soaking it in hot and cold water. Eventually the foot mostly healed.
Later in 1975 the Vikings started the season 10-0. They were one of the best teams, if not the best, in the league. Fran Tarkenton was MVP. Chuck Foreman was awesome and the defense was dominating. They lost in the playoffs to the cowboys on a last second hail mary pass. To this day, I hate, no, loathe the cowboys. Their receiver clearly committed a penalty and pushed off a Vikings defender to make that last second catch. The penalty went uncalled by the officials, because, you know, the cowboy "mystique". It was some real bullshit, I'll tell you that. That was one of the moments where I know exactly where I was one when that play happened. I was at my aunt's house, sitting in a restored barber chair. Also note that my aunt's husband let me smoke cigars. Curious in hindsight. But times were different and as they say, one doesn't inhale cigar smoke, so they're not as bad as cigarettes. So they said. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that is probably not true. I'm also going to say it's surprising I didn't get addicted to nicotine.
Back to the summer of 75, my infected foot summer. Jaws the movie came out. I watched it at the Century Plaza theaters in Century City. They were state of the art and oh so plush in 1975. Across the street from these theaters was the Century Plaza Hotel, a favorite spot of Ronald Reagan. And two escalators rides down from the theaters was the Playboy Club. Several years later, as I approached my 21st birthday in 1982, I was hoping to go there. But it closed before I reached that milestone birthday.
Before Jaws was released, I read the book. It was one of several books that I read while stuck in bed with my elevated foot. It was my favorite read of that summer. I also read a few Agatha Christie mysteries.
A smell or taste can bring back very specific memories from the past. The catalyst for these 1975 memories (putting aside my memories of the Vikings cowboys playoff game which I probably think about 100 times every year) is Coated Tylenol. I took it for pain and to fight the infection back in 75. It had a distinct texture and taste that plain tylenol doesn't have. This morning I took two Coated Tyenol for perhaps the first time since 1975, and wow, it took me right back to the summer of 75, lying in bed and reading Jaws.
In late 2009, 34 years after the nail incident, my mostly healed right foot swelled up massively and I couldn't put any weight on it. It hurt like heck. X-rays showed a bone spur that had developed, probably to encapsulate the infection from back in 75. I had surgery in 2010 to remove the spur and I've been generally pain free in that foot since then. It still does flare up occasionally. Enough so that two years ago I went back to my foot doctor for a reevaluation. Custom shoe inserts took care of things. I hadn't seen that doctor since before myeloma, so he certainly was surprised to hear what I was up to. Leslie dissuaded me from telling the doctor about my theory that the 2010 foot surgery led to the release of dormant toxins that just a year later caused myeloma. There is zero science behind my theory. But can we rule it out completely? Also, coincidentally, in 2009 the Vikings again came painfully close to a magical, Super Bowl winning season. All Bret Favre had to do was fall down late in a playoff game against the saints.
Asking the same question, can we rule out my massive intake of diet soda and equal and aspartame as the cause of my myeloma? Actually, I hang my hat on that theory. But who knows. Also note that since the foot surgery in 2010, it's been non stop doctor's appointments and medical crap. Oh and also note, that since 2011, I haven't had a single diet soda nor equal. Equal I don't miss, but, wow, I really really miss having an occasional Big Gulp Diet Coke.
When I was first diagnosed with myeloma, we had challenges finding a treatment that worked, so I continued to get fevers, my kidneys teetered on failure and I was in and out of the hospital. Because of the kidneys, I had to be careful with what I took for my fevers. I couldn't take ibuprofen. So I had to take tylenol. I took a lot of tylenol in 2011. If I felt a fever coming on, I'd pop two tylenol. I could feel a fever on its way first with my ears and on the inside of my lips. They'd be burning up and that happened before a fever registered on the thermometer or before Leslie noticed I was burning up. I'll admit now that I'd try to take tylenol before Leslie noticed a fever was brewing, because I knew that if I had a fever of 101 or above, that she'd rush me to the hospital, which was the proper thing to do. But I hated, no, loathed the hospital. I'd do anything to avoid going, including downplaying how hot I was feeling. Was that smart? Um, absolutely not. Was I a good patient? Perhaps not always. More then a few days in the hospital was horrible for my mental state.
And during that time in 2011, while taking tylenol to mask my fever, I never took Coated Tylenol. Today might have been my first Coated Tylenol since the summer of 1975. I took it because I woke up super achy. It's not the myeloma, which is well under control. Almost four years on Darzalex. But since about March, one day a week, I wake up feeling particularly achy in the bones, joints and muscles, and lacking energy (Two naps today). Today was that day. Tomorrow I'll be perfectly fine. I have an appointment with a rheumatologist in a couple of weeks to see if it's something autoimmune related.
A small part of me thinks that it's nothing physical and that the aches, pains and lack of energy are mental, brought on by the lockdown and a feeling of total loss of control. Cancer took away some of my independence and freedom. But the virus has added a whole other level of feeling I have minimal control of what I can do. With myeloma, I have always felt like I could power through it and play a large role in the outcome. Conversely with the virus, like so many of us, it feels very out of our hands. Sure we can all wear masks and socially distance from each other. But with my crap ass immune system, I'm going the extra mile. Leslie is working hard to keep me safe and healthy. And while I know it's important, it's really hard to give up control and independence. Shades of the summer of 1975.
And as I write this, it's hit me that the Coated Tylenol this morning didn't suddenly take me back to the elevated foot summer. The past few months have been a real reminder, and without realizing it, I'm recreating some of the same coping mechanisms. Books, puzzles, trying to be creative, mentally checking out. I've been thinking about a painting of Kareem Abdul Jabbar skyhook that I did back then. It was based on a jigsaw puzzle. I've been looking on line for that specific puzzle, with no luck. But I have a perfect mental image of it. Maybe I should try to recreate it, to really bring things full circle.
A final note: We watched the movie Towering Inferno the other day. Cheesy disaster movies were huge in the 70s. And watching it was definitely a trip down memory lane. Turns out the Coated Tylenol was really just a tipping point for my 1975 memories.
I hope you all are staying safe and healthy, and wearing a damn mask!!