Friday, February 6, 2009

"It's 3:24, Serchia. You're up!"

When I pulled into the entrance of the parking garage for Kaiser's 4950 building shortly before noon today, I took my place in a line of cars 10-deep.

After a minute, I realized that the line wasn't budging. So I stuck my head outside the window and saw that the motorist in the No. 1 position of the line was pounding the machine that, in theory, spits out parking tickets.

Before anyone pulled up behind me and boxed me in, I put my car in reverse and got out of the queue.

I had a noon appointment in Radiation and Oncology, and I could see that it could be hours before someone arrived to fix the broken machine. Off to the side, in a section of the lot adjacent to the garage, I spotted a sight as welcome to me as the Hudson River appeared to the pilot of Flight 1549.

It was a vacant parking space.

I tried to ignore the bold, blue sign above the space that read "High Profile Vehicles Only."

In my heart, I knew that my 1996 Toyota Tercel does not fit the traditional definition of a "high-profile" vehicle. On the other hand, my car is more battered than most vehicles on the road. I'm always being hounded by strangers to have them do body work for me. That should count for something.

Besides, if there had been a sign on a buoy in the Hudson that read "No Airliners Allowed," I doubt that Captain Sullenberger would have continued scouting for other landing options. I parked my car in the space and headed to check in for my appointment.

Today's visit was a dress rehearsal of sorts for the radiation therapy that begins on Monday.

I was reunited with the ThermaSplint mold of my head that was created a while back –it was barely a week ago but seems much longer– and directed to lay down on a platform, perfectly still, with the mask pressed tight against my face.

It's a good thing I have no voice.

As the two radiologists were locking me into position I thought I must look like Hannibal Lecter to them. If I had the means to hiss like Anthony Hopkins, I probably would have tossed out some wisecrack about eating liver with fava beans and a nice chianti.

Only after I got home and logged on to Google Images did I realize my radiation mask bears no resemblance to the mask that Hannibal Lecter wore in "The Silence of the Lambs."

Then I was led to a counter by a young man who gave me my appointment times for my Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT).

My first treatment takes place at 3:24 p.m. Monday. Tuesday, I'm up to bat at 3:48 p.m. Then on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I'm on at 4:36 p.m.

Then my schedule gets less taxing on my brain. The remaining 28 sessions all take place at 5 p.m.

My job is based near Beverly Boulevard and La Cienega. My daily radiation gig takes place on Sunset Boulevard, a few blocks west of Vermont. The two points are only 6 miles apart, but in the late afternoon, that commute can be brutal.

Finally, I have an opportunity to benefit from the sacred wisdom that Elizabeth Taylor once handed down to actors of tomorrow: "Take Fountain."

As I returned to my car and saw that Kaiser's parking enforcement squad had bought my canard that I drive a high-profile vehicle, I realized the next time I return to the Radiation and Oncology Department, it won't be for another assessment, more X-rays, or a second dress rehearsal for radiation therapy.

I will be going to Radiation and Oncology after spending the morning in Kaiser's chemo ward, and I will be getting zapped with the real deal.

I better lock myself into my ThermaSplint mask. Gonna be a heckuva ride.

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