I was gone over the past few days, and yet I left the apartment exactly once, only to return an hour later. I’d undergone a medical procedure that was best performed without an IV, and so I was placed in what the doctor somewhat romantically referred to as “twilight.”
“I’ll be awake?” I said, with a great deal of alarm, for I’d done the stupidest thing possible and looked up reviews of the procedure online and now fully expected to come out of it with two infected arms, a brain cloud, malaria, and an extra face.
“No,” he said. “But not asleep. Well, maybe asleep. It depends.”
This is exactly the kind of medical precision I was hoping for, and he handed me a sheaf of prescriptions, one of which could flatten all attendant residents of the Hippo Cove, and the sum of which would have zeroed out the student loans of my whole entire graduating class, had I chosen to sell them on the street.
“It’s better if you don’t drive,” he said, and I avoided pointing out that it’s always better if I don’t drive, even when not under the influence of the complete drug catalog of Keith Richards during the Nixon Administration. But then I learned what he really meant. As I picked up the stamped and stickered bundle at the pharmacy, I had to prove my identification more robustly than at my actual birth.
There were so many drugs, and they were so Hollywood, that I had to start the prescriptions two days before the procedure to acclimate myself to the dosage. One was Valium, and I was told not to take this until I was at the clinic and the fun was about to really begin.
I remember the distinctly unfunny irony of the necessity of providing a urine sample and, for the first time in my entire life, being completely unable to pee. I recall stepping on a scale and not liking that in the least, and taking the Valium, which I liked a great deal.
The population of the tiny room in the clinic consisted of the doctor, a nurse, a medical student, me, Josh the PIlot, and the Valium, and as the medical student introduced herself, I said, “Well, now it’s a party. I should have brought beers.” Then Josh sat next my head, chair twisted determinedly away at what was going on elsewhere, and petted my hair. There’s a flash of him asking if I wanted to change into a nightgown. It was Monday.
Then it was Wednesday.
I had four pain pills left and took one just in case the Google people were right and I now had every single disease once requiring leeches.
And I started caring about anything at all on maybe Sunday.
These were controlled substances, all right, and there are three pills still in the bottle. They will stay there. A week of my life has vanished, either by necessary design or aftereffect, and the instances I do remember were a living Radiohead song. Josh was somewhat of interest, because he paid for the pills, but I could have lost every single one of my clients, each student, and every single prospect of anything I’d ever cared about and watched it drift away with only mild curiosity. I had zero energy to expend on zero people, places, or things.
In other words, I was on drugs.
Intellectually I’d always understood why people like me, who battled OCD and depression, often took to such measures; to forget, to feel nothing rather than the terror or the darkness. Now I get it. With those substances inside of me, I was numb to everything. Everything. The entirety of Cincinnati could have burst into flames outside my bedroom window and the most extreme reaction this could have possibly generated was indifferent consideration as to whether or not there was still cheesecake in the fridge.
I am of a certain age. I saw crack, steroids, uppers, downers, diet pills, creatine, and now opioids. If there was an After School Special to be made about it, I was told not to inject, smoke, or swallow it. Until it came in an amber bottle from SuperX, I complied.
So, now that I’m out of being out of it, I am pondering the cleaving of my mind from the rest of me and what this means for athletes, for people who are really, truly in synch with what is going on with the rest of them outside of “I’d like some Twix now, please.” I’m lucky if I can complete a set of crunches without hating the world; I’m not in that category. But for those attuned to every molecule of their muscle-percentaged, perfectly macroed bodies, how do they integrate body-altering substances into the rest of their existence?
I suppose a significant amount of compartmentalization is involved. From what I can glean from Lance Armstrong story, for example, in order for cyclists to even compete at a world-class level, it was the needle or retirement. They re-evened the playing field. And now– now that we know more– one of my favorite non-Reds memories, the summer of Sosa and McGwire, has become a tarnished debate of hypotheticals.
I know why they did it— but…. I mean, how? Are athletes who inject these foreign substances right into their bloodstream floating about a ColorForm landscape like I was, or do they accept and adjust? And what do medals and records and placements even mean, knowing that cheating was necessary to get there?
Is the numbness, then, a feature rather than a bug?
If that’s the case, I can see how professional athletes wouldn’t care even if they did feel disconnected from their muscles and skin. I guess they manage the extra adrenaline and super-strength from a place of cold mechanics: “I need to adjust for the spin of the ball this way now.” Or maybe they feel it all, every cell displaced to every sinew: “This is me, just higher better faster.”
I understand the decision. But now, I’m even more confused about the reality.