Friday, July 3, 2009


Atmospheric pressure is the force per unit area that is applied perpendicularly to a surface by the surrounding gas.

Yesterday when I was getting dressed to go get Z for her first radiation treatment we had a downpour. It was the kind of thunderstorm with great crashing thunder that pours buckets of cold rain. It rained so hard when I walked to the car my sleeveless top and khaki skirt got soaked and I was wading in ankle deep water. As I went through the gate I realized that the basement was probably flooding just then.

Every intersection on the way to Z's neighborhood was a lake, and oncoming cars didn't slow down enough to keep from creating a wave of spray. I remember once in my distant past going through an intersection in a sports car and then hitting the breaks to slow for a car in front of me and my breaks didn't grab. I know wet roads are slick. Now standing water in an intersection makes me remember that experience and adds a bit of terror to my ride to pick up Z. As if there were not terror enough in this day. Yet oddly when I get a few blocks from her house the rain stops and there is no standing water in the intersections.

I left home early since it was the deluge. So, despite the heavy rain most of the way, I arrive at her house early. She's not thrilled that I'm there before she's dressed. And it is in the couple of moments of watching her slip into her pants and don her long sleeved T shirt that I notice how terribly thin she really is. She has always worn oversized clothes. Part of that is the length of her incredible legs--it's hard to find pants that fit her hips that are long enough. But most of it is body dysmorphia. Oh she knows she's thin, she's just never been quite comfortable with her body.

I'm apologetic about arriving early. It hasn't rained hard at her house, so she cannot fathom what I mean when I speak of the deluge downtown. Her house is just outside Salt Lake County. It's possible to drive through quickly moving storms and have them stay just over head, so as we head back to town and it starts pouring again, it's as if the storm has found its home and is staying put. But now we are on the upper East bench of Salt Lake heading toward the U of Utah where Huntsman Cancer Institute is located on the side of a small mountain. This rain is running in little streams toward my house down below. Again I think about my basement and my ears pop.

Atmospherics: effects intended to create a particular atmosphere or mood.

She wants me to wait in the little circle where patients are dropped off and picked up, but we're fifteen minutes early for her appointment. I'm jonesing for a cigarette and think its a bad idea to sit in my mommy mobile smoking a cigarette while the cancer patient's family members are waiting for their loved ones to come out after radiation or chemo. So I drive down the hill to the University Hospital and pull in the lower level of the parking lot. It's huge so I can find an uninhabited corner to park in for a couple of stolen moments. I stand outside my old Dodge Caravan watching scrub jays shit from the rafters where it splats on the concrete ramp below. I watch like a criminal afraid of getting caught. I hear children's voices and drop my cigarette and stamp it out. Half a cigarette and my nicotine level is now high enough that I can drive back to Huntsman and park in their lot. Once inside radiation is one level up.

Huntsman is a gorgeous facility. No expense has been spared on its marble floors, it's three soaring stories of pale blue glass so every interior space has a stunning view of the Salt Lake Valley. On a clear day you can see Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake and the Ocher Mountains behind the lake. But today, not so much. It's a steady rain up here. And every drop is headed for my basement which has no drain and a furnace with it's essential parts about half an inch above the damp concrete. Even with the furnace turned off for the summer if that control panel gets wet it has to be replaced. Once the washing machine overflowed it's drain and killed the furnace below. It cost several hundred dollars to replace the control panel.

I am the only person in the huge and luxurious waiting room in radiation. I walk to the reception desk and ask the attractive, middle aged brunette with an unidentifiable accent to please let Z know I'm waiting in the waiting room and not in my car out front. She smiles and says "Off Corze" and disappears for a couple of minutes. When she comes back I'm seated across the room in one of the tasteful chairs, thumbing through a Harper's Bazaar. She smiles at me when we make eye contact, so I figure all's well. An hour goes by. Z was scheduled for a half hour of radiation. And then another woman joins the brunette and they start closing the security gate at the reception desk. This alarms me. I put down the Harper's Bazaar and walk across the big open room. When I get to the desk, I say, "Is my friend Z still back there?" She says, "Yez, Zer ah schtill zeveral Pashunz boc dair," with a reassuring smile on her face. Somehow this does not feel right. I turn around to scan the rotunda and see Z leaning against the marble terrarium. I cannot see her face but it is impossible to miss that lean, old dancer's body and long light brown hair. Oh christ! I rush over apologizing. She is scowling ferociously and says, "What happened to you! I thought you were in a car wreck." I begin my explanation, and she waves my words away in a dismissive gesture with her arm. I keep trying to explain and then realize that nothing I can say will change the fact that she's been waiting where she said she'd be and I was not there. I hate myself.

When I start the car in the parking garage my windshield wipers are swiping like crazy on dry glass making an annoying scraping sound. She says in her newly breathy high pitched voice "For god's sake, shut those damn things off!" And I feel just like a stupid and irresponsible teenager. I have a moment's empathy for her youngest son. It only lasts a second. And then the rain is pouring and I have to turn the windshield wiper on again.


Beach Bum said...

My uncle who passed away last year of cancer largely kept me and his other nephews and nieces out of the loop on his battles with the treatments that were suppose to keep him alive. As much as this might sound strange thank you for giving me a look into what he and his wife and son must have endured.

Want to apologize for not visiting more, things have been crazy at home and work with my recent time away more than likely only a short respite from everything starting again.

Utah Savage said...

Beach it always comforts me to know your somewhere in my neighborhood. I have bothers some with my descriptions of Z's take on radiation and chemo therapy. She hates our system of practicing medicine. She hates doctors in general. So this is a real battle for her. And hard as it is on her, it's hard on me too. But only by writing about it can I have a record and a timeline about what's going on and for how long. I'm sure this constant focus on cancer is not the most fun read for my readers. But it's therapeutic and cathartic for me.

Gail said...

Hi Utah-

That was a really tough day for you and for 'Z'. My goodness.

I hope that today, "Independence Day" that you find some freedom to do whatever is calming and serene for you and that the same will be true for 'Z'.
I remember when my sister was going through this with her husband of 45 plus years - each day was so intense for both of them. I would find my way to them and bring a thing of 'bubbles' or a coloring book and thick crayons or funny didn't change anything really it was just some levity.

I am sending you good thoughts.

Love and freedom

PENolan said...

Love and Light to all y'all, girl.

themom said...

I am still thinking about you and all you need to accomplish. Stay strong. Enjoy the 4th if possible.

Comrade Kevin said...

There's a woman who attends my meeting who has a kind of breast cancer that never goes into remission for long and which she can't ever shake.

It won't kill her, but she has to undergo periodic bouts of chemo when the cancer comes back that make her sick and unable to leave the house for days.

And there's no telling how long it'll keep being this way---it's been like this for fifteen years already.