Monday, March 23, 2009

Ode to my Belly Band

It clasps me. Not too tightly
In a grip of Velcro and lace. Politely
It provides a Nylon squeeze between my shoulders and my knees.
My once bowed back is now Marine Corps straight.

Morphine, my new-found friend, remains in my pocket much longer than before.
But it's there when needed, when strain is exceeded,
On that shelf just there by the door.


Months ago -- that now seem like years -- I thought a brace... some added support... might keep the pain at bay. Not a cure, you understand, but a crutch. Something to help me stay up-right long enough to do some minor chore at sink or stove since it was understood that anything more useful -- the scrubbing of a floor or simply carrying packages in from the car -- was something I could no longer do; something not to ask of me when I was too ashamed to ask for myself... and too damned scared to simply wade in, grab as many bags as I could hold... and sink into a whining, agonized heap so wracked with pain I soon became too terrified to even try. A demon now lived in my guts and would reside there until I die. My friend Morphine, a cheerful if somewhat drowsy fellow happened along, candy for the demon now eagerly fed.

But it nagged at me; the thought there may be some middle-ground as yet unexplored, a side-canyon of canvas, leather and skillful hands that might allow me to slip past the demon's cave without awaken him, if only for those face-saving minutes when the Terror of the South China Sea could flash a salty grin and shoulder my pitiful share of the familial load.

The one from Harbor Freight was made for a fatter American than me. The other they offered was too small. Instead of Kid Shelleen I was given a character from Dick Francis.

The doctors were polite at best, their expressions making you check the soles of your shoes. Clearly, back supports were right up there with apricot pits and movie stars, damned with praise so faint it was blown away on a whiff of resignation. Asking a physician about back supports was on par with asking to clean the windshield of their Porsche at some busy intersection of life.

On the other hand there are tasks for which a belly band is a requirement. Not as a cure for cancer of course but as a statutory requirement meant to stave off injuries rather than cure them. And the people selling such things take their role seriously enough to support web sites and offices. Just as the military surgeon is no longer required to shave the colonel, the belly band man has come of age.

It costs a ton, compared to the stuff from Harbor Freight. But fair is fair; I am the colonel and the belly band man still smells more of Bay Rum than isopropyl alcohol. He speaks knowledgeably Gold Bond versus Mennen and corn starch versus talc.

The first efforts were hilariously wrong; my pride was trying to do the belly band's chore and I was tiring even more quickly because of it. But there was a moment, just before Kid Shelleen surrenders and the Demon emerges from its cage... just for a moment there, when my own muscles, flayed with radiation and depleted with drugs gave up the struggle and let the belly band do its job, when I enjoyed peace of a kind. I still hurt. When the Demon decides it will live in your spinal column there's really nothing you can do. Pain-wise it's like the joke about nine-hundred pound gorillas deciding where to sleep. If you've got Multiple Myeloma, and if it involves your spine, then pain has become your life-long companion. And yes, that's a play on words.

Fortunately, the belly-band man knows those things, whereas if the physican does, he treats it as something of lesser importance. One of the best examples of this is the way the two manage your time. Sure, it's their time too, but when the physican makes you wait an extra hour for a harried seven minutes of discovering he's got the wrong chart and that treatment of my vagina will probably prove unsuccessful, he puts no importance on the matter. After all, he is a Physician, whereas you are... just a patient.

The belly-band man, equally harried, took a time-out to apologize; to ask if we'd like to re-schedule; the person he was with now had some serious issues and it was going to take more time to sort things out. We chose to wait

Mis-handled appointments lead to time compression. The only fair thing to do is to skip ahead and re-schedule, which we could hear the girl doing, trotting back and forth, calling other belly-band fixer-uppers until the brush fire was contained and the cause of all the trouble is finally escorted out the door walking with a gingerly gait I'd learned to recognize. But walking. And by sitting there we saw that missed appointments were the exception rather than the rule.

My belly band isn't quite right even now. But it's moving in that direction. If this were Hollywood we would probably see Kid Shelleen smiling happily, with forty acres and a mule.

-R.S.Hoover
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