There’s a rest area about fifteen minutes into South Carolina from once you cross the Georgia on I 85 N. It’s between exit 17 and 18. I’ve passed this rest area hundreds of times and never stopped. Mainly because rest areas aren’t really my thing. They combine two of my least favorite activities: Number 1, Using the bathroom. Especially around other people. Especially during the Covid. I’m in this hot, damp place, surrounded by the smell of body fluids and cleaning supplies, tinged by the bouquet of my mask and my breath. Don’t really like it. So despite the having a million dollar view of Lake Hartwell, every time I’ve passed it I’ve just driven on by.
The second reason I hate rest areas, is that I hate stopping on long car trips. When I have a trip, I have one objective—make good time. I don’t know why. I’ve got no place to be. I just like the challenge. I just like the respect women give you. I honestly believe that someone who makes good time, while being a safe driver, is a thing women look me in a partner. I know I’ll never be able to prove it, but I think I’m right. Every now and again, Jaimie and I will make a planned stop. Like back in late March, at the beginning of the shut down, we went down for a scan, and decided to stop and eat a sandwich by this beautiful spot on Lake Jocassee. This, however, was planned on, accounted for. Jaimie and I might be spontaneous people, but not when it comes to driving. Not when it comes to making good time.
I had to take an extra trip to Atlanta this past Thursday. They had to do two of my regularly scheduled tests: an Echocardiogram and a whole body CT. They usually try and schedule them the day before an infusion, but that was impossible this time. Thinking that the drive and tests would be too much in one day, Jaimie and my trial coordinator suggested that I head down the night before and get a hotel. So at 9 p. m. on Thursday I was sitting in my room and the the Marriott Courtyard eating a Sesame Asian Chicken Salad from Panera and watching Ford vs. Ferrari on HBO Go.
I feel asleep about 1 a. m. but tossed and turned. Something about not having my fan blowing and attempting to navigate this massive king sized bed without Jaimie was not conducive to a good night’s sleep. I finally dozed off and woke up around 7 seven. Hit the snooze button and came back to life at ten after eight, a mere twenty minutes before my Echo was to begin. I darted up, threw on my clothes, grabbed a yogurt and a vanilla Boost from my fridge and headed to the elevator. That amount of activity first thing in the morning did not make my stomach happy. I got to the parking lot and closed my eyes as a wave of nausea hit me. I took some deep breaths, spit that pre-vomit spit we all know so well, as the wave finally subsided. The throw up threat level, however, was still midnight as they say, so I slowly walked to my car, which I carefully pulled out of the parking lot, and gingerly made my way to the appointment.
A woman called out my name and I headed to the back. She was going to be the one giving me the Echocardiogram, and she was very chatty.
This, I did not like.
A little back and forth while you’re lying there, chest covered in that hot ultrasound goo, is understandable. That actually would be a weird time to be totally silent—while they’re taking a in-depth look at your heart. But this woman was talking about everything. The traffic, the weather. I wanted to tell her that it was never to late to become a hair stylist.
About fifteen minutes into her bombarding me with words, she mentioned that I had fluid in my lungs and asked if I wanted to see it. This concerned me, and I told her that I did not need to look. It was too late, though, because she was already leaning the screen towards me.
“No one’s ever mentioned fluid in my lungs before,” I said.
“We’re not supposed to. We’re just supposed to take the pictures. That’s more diagnostic. I just think it looks so cool!”
I tried to be glad for this woman. That she was able to find beauty in my failing body.
It reminded me of when I lived in New York and would travel a lot for stand up comedy. If I had a gig in Pennsylvania or New Jersey I would often rent cars at the Newark airport. They were usually the cheapest option and the train fees were often cheaper than the tolls to get back into Manhattan. There’s a tram that takes you from the NJ Transit to the airport. You get to see the massive infrastructure that is the Newark Airport. Underneath one of the parking garages is a pond. Maybe that’s what you’d call it? It was bigger than a puddle and didn’t go anywhere so it couldn’t be a stream. A pond was the only thing you could say it was. Unless you wanted to just say, “That ugly thing under the garage.”
But there was life there. Water foliage was trying to eek out an existence. There were birds sitting on the limbs of trees. Were there fish in this thing? I would have to think so, because almost every time I passed it there was an egret with its long legs scouring this body of water. He wasn’t there just to get his feet wet. He was there for a purpose. That purpose was food, which meant some fish made that pond their home. I challenged myself to start to look at that pond as beautiful. To respect the life that it sustained. The patch of earth it maintained. What is beauty, anyway, except for a human choice to see something that way? And my next few trips to Newark, that’s exactly what I did. While everyone else checked their iPhones and their newspapers, I focused all my energy on seeing that thing, that spot, that pond, as beautiful. I got pretty close. A couple of times if was early and the sun hit just right. Or if the egret glided to its spot. Then to see it walk so gracefully, so high off the ground, so much like nature intended. The more I looked, the more I stared, the more beautiful it became.
After the my morning’s echo I went back to the hotel. I tried to write, but mainly I looked at my phone. My fear and apprehension at the fluid in my lung comment started to fade. My plan was to nap, get some lunch, go get a good scan, and be back in Greenville by four o’clock in the afternoon. That was the plan, that would mean good time, and I was sticking to it.
I grabbed another Panera and ate it in the parking lot. That has become one of our traditions—having a Panera on the way out of Atlanta. It’s a perfect compromise, Jaimie loves it and I can’t get mad about how expensive it is because the Clinical Trial is paying for it. It was just me, however, due to this being the middle of the week. I just ate Panera to feel close to her, I guess. Boy am I lame!!!
After my soup I headed to Buford. This might be my favorite place to get a treatment. I swear no one who goes to Emory knows that it’s even there. I walk in and before I finish my paper work they are coming out to get me. I’ve also had nothing but good scans here, so this place is Emory Buford is my jam.
As before with every other time at Buford—they called me back just as I was crossing off my final T. I made a joke that this being the most efficient place in the entire Emory Universe, They wanted me to sing a comment card and send it to the big wigs, but I didn’t want my secret out of the bag.
The scans were off to a very good start. Things were going quickly, I was breathing well. Then the woman who brought me back came into the room and started peppering me with questions.
“Have you had a surgery recently?”
“Have you been sick or tested for Covid?”
There were three or four more but I stopped paying attention and cut to the chase.
“Why are you asking me all this? Is everything ok?
"Not really. You've got fluid your lungs."
That’s when she proceeded to tell me that she, too, had seen the fluid in my lungs, and instead of framing it and hanging in on the wall like the woman giving me the Echo wanted to do, this person wanted me to know how serious this was and that I needed to do something about it.
This led to calls to my main doctor, and me FREAKING OUT in one of the changing rooms.
This was not what I was expecting on my little trip to Atlanta. These routine scans were becoming less routine by the minute. I called Jaimie, I called my parents. I called Winship Cancer Institute and left my own message.
Just one more thing. This is what I kept thinking. Just one more thing on this mountain of one more things and shouldn’t all this stuff I’m doing and getting, shouldn’t it be making the mountain smaller not larger?
My nurse called. She had talked to my doctor. She asked if I was short of breath. I explained that that was a very relative term. Back in October I couldn’t climb up stairs with out crumpling in a chair. Am I that bad, no. Can I run or walk fast, no?
Since I wasn’t obviously short of breath, and since I was all alone, they decided that it would be ok to drain my lungs on Wednesday. Which apparently isn’t quite as bad as it sounds, and since this was a fairly common out patient procedure, the best thing was to send me home and do it when I come back for treatment next week. So next Wednesday I have the pleasure of getting my lungs drained, meeting with my doctor, getting treatment for my cancer, and then, to top it alllllll off, drive the two and a half hours home from Atlanta.
Once the plan was in place, I sat in my car and ate the rest of my salad. It was just me and my thoughts, thinking about the next few days ahead. I know I’m supposed to be where my feet are, but, I don’t know, sometimes I get trapped in the future anyway.
I started driving back to Greenville. I played that podcast, Another Name for Everything, I
like a lot. I drove across Lake Hartwell, and as I put my hands back in the steering wheel, I remembered that rest area fifteen miles up the road. I set the cruise control to eighty and headed straight there.
I pulled into a spot, and yep, there was Lake Hartwell. I walked down the walking path surrounded by pine trees and picnic tables. I stood there a good half hour. I guess, I didn’t look at my phone a single time. I didn’t care about how much time I was losing, because the truth is, time is what I was gaining. Who cares about a shirt you don’t take off? Or feet that aren’t dirty for putting them in the mud? No one gives a shit about how white my Converse are. But they do care how far I went off the beaten path.
They’ll drain these lungs on Wednesday. I won’t let that ruin these two days that come before it.
Since so much our time right now is spent trapped where we are, that means, it's time to notice the things near by. The Pond Under the Garage. The Rest Area Lake Hartwell. This tiny patio outside my side door. This is what I feel called to see as beautiful.