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Column: Excuse Me, Pardon Me, Excuse Me…

If it wasn’t a coincidence, it was the next thing to being one. What it was, was the hiccups; occurring after chemotherapy infusion number one and again after chemotherapy number two. The first episode lasted only a few days and annoyed my wife, Dina, way more than it annoyed me. The first hiccuping episode was fairly constant; however it was not exhausting – and I wasn’t having any trouble sleeping because of them. Nor was I making any disturbing sounds or having any difficulty breathing – when caught in mid-hiccup, and/or eating because of the herky-jerky movements/spasms of my diaphragm. In general, it was a fairly benign effect. In the big picture, it didn’t seem particularly important that it was the hiccups I was having, so I never called my oncologist. It was the hiccups after all. It might as well have been a skinned knee. Jeez. And sure enough, within a couple of days, I was “hiccuped out.”

Now when they started again after the next infusion, I gave that coincidence more consideration (two representing a pattern). Perhaps there was a relationship between the infusion (the drug Alimta) and the hiccups. Nonetheless, I stood stubbornly firm yet again in my decision to not call my oncologist, anticipating that the hiccups would subside after a few days as they had done previously, and so I waited. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

This second episode did not stop. In fact, it intensified until blockhead-Kenny gave in to a new reality: multiple days and nights of non-stop burping/hiccuping, no sleep and very little eating made me a shell of my former self. Not only was I burping/hiccuping constantly, my throat/diaphragm was becoming so sore and so swollen from the constant spasming that it began to impact my voice, which became raspy and weak – and my throat, which seemed to narrow, made swallowing food and liquids a scary challenge. Moreover, the burping sounds that were coming from my throat were ones rarely heard from man or beast, and when out in public were disturbing to others in spite of my best efforts to muffle them. After nearly a week of progressing difficulties, I was a beaten man. No rest for the weary, I suppose. No sleep. No food. No nothing. This induced me, shall I say, to finally e-mail my oncologist with a list of my particulars and await medical instructions.

I picked up the prescription the next morning after having e-mailed my doctor the night before. Oddly enough, a side effect of the pills – to help settle my diaphragm/stop the hiccuping/burping, was sleepiness, hardly an effect I was happy about. I was already half asleep – from not sleeping, and unable to sleep because of the burping/hiccuping, so I didn’t want to feel any sleepier. But what could I do? I had to make some progress. I was completely out of patience. For the first 24-36 hours, the medication barely took off the edge, but eventually it took off more than the edge, it stopped the burping/hiccuping altogether so I was once again able to sleep – when I meant to, at bedtime. I had survived the ordeal – yes, ordeal, and lived to fight another day.

Who would have thought? The hiccups, for crying out loud. It was unpleasant. I was unpleasant. However, in the cancer picture, the hiccups were not particularly unpleasant (meaning significant). They were, I suppose, just another hiccup on the road to find out (Cat Stevens reference) and learning to live with a terminal disease.