On June 11, 1997, Michael Jordan scored 38 points, had seven rebounds, five assists, and three steals in game five of the NBA finals. While that would have been a remarkable achievement on a normal night, that particular game is etched in time because he scored those 38 points, had those seven rebounds, doled out those five assists and nabbed those three steals while he was sick with the flu. I will never forget those images of him with the towel over his head, barely holding himself up, leaning against Scottie Pippen as he walked off the court victorious.
The message I got that night was loud and clear- real men don’t get sick. And if they do, they drop 38 points on the Utah Jazz anyway.
This idea didn’t being that night in June, twenty years ago. Men get this right from the start of our lives. Any guy will tell you what the procedure is for getting hurt in the back yard when you are a kid:
Rub some dirt on it.
Rub. Some. Dirt. On. It.
This is passed down from generation to generation to those of us with the XY chromosome. What I want to know is where the fuck did that idea come from?? If it’s a bruise or you twist your ankle, what is dirt going to do? And if you have cut yourself then you’re rubbing dirt on an open wound! What could possibly go wrong there?? That is the most masculine solution to a problem of all time. I’ve got a cut and what I’m going to do is rub dirt on it thereby letting my pride and ego take a problem that was completely fixable and making it infected.
Tell me why women aren’t president???
These thoughts have stuck with me right through my cancer diagnosis.
When the abdominal cramps started my first thought was that they would go away. You know…like magic.
When I went to the first doctor and she told me it was probably a food allergy I felt like the biggest wimp in the world. I went to a doctor…for a fucking food allergy?? When they didn’t go away and she sent me to get an abdominal ultrasound I was so angry. I’ve got to get an ultrasound??? Like a girl when she’s having a baby???? I’m a man! I don’t have time for this shit!
When the ultrasound didn’t find anything I was convinced I was just being dramatic. That the cramps didn’t hurt that badly. And besides, they came and went. The blinding pain only lasted 45 seconds at a time. Then it was gone. For like ten minutes. I can stand up straight most of the day- what’s my problem? Rub some dirt on it!
Then I ended up in the ER in Charleston because I could barely walk and barely eat. The nurse in triage asked me my pain level and my instinct was to low ball it! Why? I wanted her to think I was fine. I wanted her to think I was a man. Then when they did the X-Ray and said there was nothing surgically wrong with me, I felt like a baby. On top of that since I was out of network they sent me a bill for 3,000. Perfect, I thought. Because I
can’t handle a little pain not only did I waste a Saturday night in Charleston but now I’m on the hook for a 2002 Ford Escort. Then a week later when I was rushed into emergency surgery I was still like, “Emergency? Come on. This is nothing a little dirt can’t handle!”
Even when they gave me the diagnosis I felt I needed to be strong. I didn’t want my family or Jaimie or the surgeon to think I was that upset. “No, it’s cool, I didn’t really like being alive that much anyway.”
Then when I started treatment I thought I would pull a Lance Armstrong. I just needed to ride my bike so much the cancer melted away. I’ll just Tour du France this thing. I started running and doing pushups. “One more lap and everything will be fine!”
And now I’m in my battle against cancer. The most masculine thing of all. When Jaimie walks into the apartment I’m there behind the couch, in camouflage. She’s like:
Jaimie: What are you doing?
Davey: Shhhh. I’m battling cancer.
Jaimie: Why are you wearing camo?
Davey: I don't want it to be able to see me.
Jaimie: You are ridiculous. Could you battle dinner, I’m starving.
Maybe I feel guilty for being sick. Maybe I feel like a burden. Or a drain. The reason we want to rub dirt on it when we are kids is because we don’t want to stop playing. We don’t want the game to end, not on our account. Maybe it's the same reason now.
But cancer ain’t the flu. It ain’t a cut and it ain’t a sprained ankle. And if being a “man” means admitting nothing is ever wrong, then I’d rather be a human and admit when I need help.
Which is what I try to do every other Wednesday at chemotherapy. Just lay back in my recliner and admit that I need help. Let the medicine and Jaimie and the doctors take care of me.
I’m not being dramatic.
I’m not over reacting.
The game will still be there when I’m all better.
But instead of dirt, this time I’ll go for the bandaids and Neosporin instead.