The River Rat Ranger has many strange experiences. Here is another. Monday I visited the Veteran's Hospital in the Big City for the latest word on treatment of my Hepatitis C. It had at long last become time to meet the new liver specialist. I've been waiting since April. I got off work at 0730 and drove along the river taking all my favorite short cuts and arrived at the VA at 0745 to have my blood drawn. Then with typical Federal efficiency I had to wait until 1300 to see the Dr.
As I'd been fasting for 12 hours for the blood test, I had breakfast at the nearby cafeteria and went out to nap in the Green Hornet till appointment time. It was unseasonably warm so I didn't need to cover up. I just lay the seat back and went into one of those occasional naps I have where my body seems to solidify into an immovable object, become heavy like metal, and my mind drifts into sleep with complete awareness of noises, people walking past, etc. My dreams rolled back to the week before.
I had made myself face the duty awaiting me up at Grandpa Ranger's house on The Farm where I'd grown up. Dad wanted me to come up and go pheasant hunting with him. I have nothing in particular against pheasants except that I am almost totally unable to hit moving objects with a shotgun. So they are safe from me. If I MUST hunt, I would prefer it be things that can hunt me back... bear, wolf, big cat, feral dogs or coyotes should they pack up. But this wasn't about hunting really. Dad, now almost 80 and I took our shotguns and walked down through the fields I'd grown up in. Many things have changed, including farming methods, so it wasn't exactly the same, but close. We walked along the railroad tracks that had fed my wanderlust by tempting me with one slow moving empty box car after another, begging me to hop in and ride West forever. We tramped through the deep grass along the old pasture creek where younger brothers and I had camped and reminisced about that.
Younger brother and I spent more nights outside than in the house during summers in those days. Sometimes youngest brother with us. Good times.
We never saw a single pheasant, not even tracks or droppings. The birds had moved into the neighbor's standing corn. But that wasn't important. A warm fall day and Dad and I together again. We went back to the house, had a great meal made by Step Mom and I went up to the attic to sort through the past.
In the Northwest corner was a pile of my stuff, covered with a sheet of plastic. I didn't want to go there, but it had to be done. First the books. Hundreds of books. Novels, history, reference. Old dusty books. Some old friends, some I'd forgotten. The terrible sorting process. I hate getting rid of books. Most I repacked for the brothers to look through. I made myself be ruthless and determined to only take what would fit in the Green Hornet for one trip. And each layer moved me back further into childhood.
There were the old .45 rpm records I'd collected, mostly children's and novelty songs. Letters from old friends. The correspondence course I never finished. Odd trinkets. A box of clothes. Old army uniforms. Bell bottom jeans from the 60's. And my army records. 3 years of my life compressed into a stack 6 inches tall. Pay slips, travel orders and a few pictures. An 8x10 glossy of an impossibly young RRR standing in front of the battalion commander as he pinned on a medal. And the memories of how that happened. The crying sob of metal as the helicopter hit the ground 50 feet from me, crumpling, breaking apart, sliding. The whistling whipping noise of the tail rotor zipping past me. The hot flash as the little chopper burst into flame. My friend's screams. His melting face looking right into mine as his seatbelt burned through and I tugged him out the door on top of me. My hands on fire as the flaming jet fuel spread to me. Me screaming on the radio for a dust off. (helicopter ambulance) The smell of burnt meat that wouldn't leave my nostrils for days. Kneeling by the ice chest with my burnt hands in the frosty water as the other soldiers dropped pieces of the other passenger in a pile close to me.
Under the records folders, the medal in a box. Small compensation for a tall, laughing red haired Iowa boy who had befriended me. And a certificate printed in Vietnamese. Only my name typed in English, all else incomprehensible. A medal granted by a nation swallowed up. And more memories. The NVA running at us along rice paddy dikes. Our allies dropping a wounded soldier at the bottom of the hill that dark night. The black medic, Candy screaming obscenities and running down the hill to him. Me suddenly finding myself passing him. Tracers sizzling past on the way up and down, ours red, theirs green. Cradling the young South Vietnamese irregular in my arms as he coughed and retched pieces of his lungs onto me. His comrades taking his boots, knowing he wouldn't need them anymore.
A big machine went by in front of the Hornet, sucking up autumn leaves. The paralysis slowly left me. I'd slept two hours. I walked back into the VA. We vets look at each other. Look away. Was he there? Did I know him? Brothers in arms.
Back upstairs I wait to meet the new Doctor. They call my name. And I walk in to the most American office you'll find and stepped instead into India. The man who stood to greet me was so handsome as to make my teeth hurt. I could have been shaking hands with the young Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia. Dazzling smile. Much touchier than most Americans. Shaking my hand with both of his, little pats on the shoulder and on the knee as we talked. About 8" less personal space than Americans tend to like. On his identification badge his first name... Ganesh. The Hindu anthropomorphic elephant deity. Son of Lord Shiva and goddess Parvathi, if I remember correctly.
I absorbed his new information. The lowered virus count was meaningless. My biopsy showed I have progressed almost to cirrhosis. The Great Pumpkin disease looms. Liver cancer risk is increasing steadily. I need to go on another year of chemo-therapy. At an even higher dose. Another year. Imagine having the flu 24/7, with neuropathy, depression, irritability, loss of hair and libido... for a year. No listen carefully, a MINIMUM of a year. I feel as paralyzed as I had been in the car refighting that long lost war.
But good news! (smile, pat on leg) I have type 2 genotype, the easiest to cure. "Dr., my type 2 genotype and I have been on a year of interferon and ribobviran FIVE times in the last decade! It didn't work." Dazzling smile repeated. "But Mr. Ranger, hasn't anyone told you? You are obese. It only works on people who are thin and fit." I know I stared with my mouth open. New information, right? No, right there on the internet when I looked later. Rage at the "professionals" who forgot to mention it. Sick despair at the thought of wasted time and money and physical deteriation.
I need to lose 80lbs. Fast. Walk a minimum of five miles a day the elephant god tells me with a smile. Starve yourself. Here's a referral to the V.A. weight loss program. Call the nurse when you're ready to start.
I drove home on autopilot. Phone call from Youngest Daughter. She fears she may lose her 2 month pregnancy. Sometimes the well seems too deep to climb out of. But... one foot ahead of the other the old soldier marches on. Today was better. Youngest Daughter may be doing OK after all. The blood tests look good. The first 5 miles didn't go TOO badly. Mrs. RRR walked part of them with me. Ganesh smiles.