Tuesday, March 25, 2003

I forgot to mention that Bob Dole was on the plane with me last night. He traveled alone, coming back, I guess, from his guest appearance on the Letterman show. He's very tall, and has a lumbering gait, and his hair is a strange copper color, and his skin is weirdly dun-colored, like clay. He has remarkably large, flat ears plastered against his skull. He looks both old and not old, if you know what I mean -- if you don't I'll try to explain: he seems very alert and has the air of someone who's got things to do (something a lot of old people lose, of course), and is so used to dealing with the public that he cannot degenerate into Sansa-belt social torpor, but looks upon everyone he meets (ticket agents and Reagan Airport lobby personnel, in this case) as someone toward whom he should make at least an effort. (I know some codgers who don't even respond to 'hello.' Some younger people, too.) But of course no one's hair is really the color his seems to be; either it's a dye job, or the side-effect of special mineral compounds his D.C. Doctor Feelgood prescribes to keep him youthful. Also he has a rumpled face, like he's been working it so strenuously for so long that when he's not in front of the camera or the teleprompter or the Ladies' Home Auxiliary, the skin that fronts his skull settles into something like a horizontal pile of laundry. Dun-colored laundry.

Building 10 at the National Institutes of Health is just like I left it -- but with even more through security precautions. Metal detectors, wands, etc. at the very few access doors. Flyers posted reminding us that we are on ORANGE alert. The clinics are the same as I remember, though -- non-threatening fabrics and colors, friendly if slightly rushed staff, and folks of all sorts from all over America waiting for their piece of the Federal health-care pie. Even though most of them, like me, are getting treatment they most likely couldn't begin to afford anywhere else, they still behave like they're in a waiting room -- albeit a little more cheerful about delays -- slouching, lolling, thumbing through ancient magazines. The desk attendants play old soul tunes out of their iMacs and talk about home renovations.

I slept poorly last night. This respiratory infection has a vicious grip on me. I asked the clinic personnel if I could perhaps get treatment for this -- it's not sexy or clinically significant, but it is illness and this is a medical facility. They said I could "try" to get the ENT guy to treat me when I see him for my study protocol Wednesday.

My poor fever-clouded mind turned in on itself. Immediately I thought of Bukowski's Life and Death in the Charity Ward. "'We can't let you have any blood, Mr. Bukowski.' The nurse was smiling. She was telling me that they were going to let me die..." I get very blue and paranoid about (relatively) minor illnesses. I guess that's because all I ask of life is an even chance, and when I'm running a mild fever and blowing green party-balloons out my nostrils, I feel trammelled -- and for an all-or-nothing sort of fellow like me, trammelled is almost worse than totally wiped out. Because I still feel compelled to compete on the unsick level. It's just a cold, I tell myself, brace up. I try to have robust, friendly conversations, but no one can make out what I'm saying because my nose is so clogged, and every time I laugh I have a 20-second coughing fit, and the cough sounds like a dog barking underwater. I take a little stroll downtown, and after a few blocks I'm gleaming with sweat and my legs are all rubbery. At least when I have a tumor, I get to lie down.

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