The Closest Hospital

Zine from the CancerGram 4 of 18, recounting a horrible night in April, 2016..

I stopped in Datil at a restaurant to use the bathroom. I was in some mild distress, but I thought I could shit it out. It was a kind of country restaurant, a local place that had once been a large ranch house. The bathroom was single use and its door was right off the dining room. I remember this because I was embarrassed. I took a long time and a few people knocked. I stunk the place up and left hurriedly with a grimace.

About 30 minutes northwest of Datil I pulled off the road to crap near a tree. I couldn’t do it. Something needed to come out, but I wasn’t able to poop in the open. The pain was building, and it was familiar to me. I was drinking water, but essentially I knew that I already had gotten the infection that would send me to a hospital. My health insurance was based in Arizona, and I was afraid of what stopping for help out-of-state would cost. All I could do was keep driving west.

By Pie Town I was in serious distress. I was afraid. I found an outhouse next to a closed post office. It was locked, padlocked from the outside. I grabbed a roll of toilet paper from the car and went to stoop behind the outhouse in the sand. It was dark out by then and a cool, windy night. I squatted in the sand and gave birth to a meteor. I envisioned literally crapping out my prostate and wondered if that were possible.

The smell of human shit in the fresh air of the New Mexico high plains was hideous. It smelled like homelessness and desperation. It reminded me of other moments when I had smelled human shit outdoors and I was connected to the misery and suffering of all those who have to shit outside under duress. I rolled the gelatinous mass in the sand and wadded it with toilet paper to get most of it into a plastic bag. I cleaned myself the best I could, and with some mild relief, got back in the car to continue west.

When I got to Quemado I was losing my mind. I pulled up to a convenience store and asked to use the bathroom. I was desperate and sweating and begged. I bought something to drink and took it to the toilet. It was near closing time and the store owner seemed to think I was using drugs in the stall. I was trying to shit my guts out, but no more relief came my way. I apologized profusely and asked if he could recommend a motel. There was one down the road.

I was dreaming of a warm bathtub. Their remaining rooms only had showers. I took it and scrambled directly into the steaming hot water. Some relief was found when the hot water was on the small of my back. I was exhausted. I feel asleep standing up and felt myself fall. I tried to comfort myself on the bottom of the shower but it was too small. I sat there and wept and moaned. I crawled soaking to the bed and slept.

Every 15 to 20 minutes, from about 10pm to 6am I repeated this trip. From the bed, in pain, back to the shower. Brief relief until fatigue caught me and I stumbled back to bed. Awakened by pain and back to the shower. Over and over again. It was a torture.

In Quemado, NM, they had cell service, so I was able to google the nearest hospital across the border in Springerville, AZ. It was about an hour away from the motel. I was in a lot of pain. I kept thinking that if I could just get a little bit of relief, I could make the drive. At dawn, exhausted and desperate, I left the hotel and sped to the emergency room in Springerville.

They gave me the antibiotic and some mild pain killer and recommended that I stay in town for a couple of days. They catheterized me so that I could eliminate safely. I walked to a nearby motel where they happened to have a suite with a jacuzzi. I stayed in it for most of two days. I shuffled around like a zombie, grateful to be increasingly pain free.

I drove from Springerville to Phoenix with the catheter in, which made the drive easy. I could drink all the fluids I wanted and never stop to pee. I hadn’t felt this free since the troubles started.