Monday, February 16, 2009


I got a queasy feeling in my tummy about Monday's radiation session as soon as I stepped into the treatment room called The Ark.

The Ark hadn't been one of the rooms where I expected to be treated for cancer at Kaiser. Maybe I was moved there because of Monday's rainy weather.

As I dropped my belongings on the counter, I heard flamenco music playing.

The radiation oncologist eyed the music magazine that I placed on the counter below my jacket. A mildly cantankerous photo of Nick Cave was on the cover.

"Is that music OK?" the R.O. asked. "We can put on something else, if you like."

Knowing that "something else" could even be worse –on Friday, the selection was Dean Martin's Greatest Hits– I gave the R.O. my reliable thumb's up, and settled into position on the bed with my frog on my belly.

As the R.O. clamped the ThermaSplint mask over my face, she said that there was no need to take X-rays today so the session shouldn't take long.

I heard the door shut and then closed my eyes as the machine started to whir and emit light, same as the previous five treatment sessions.

After about 10 minutes, I realized that the machine had stopped making noises and no lights were flashing.

More time went by, with no activity by the machine. All I could hear was that damn flamenco music.

Then I heard the door open, followed by footsteps advancing toward me.

"Mr. Serchia?" I heard the R.O. say, as she rested a hand on my shoulder. "We're having trouble communicating with the machine. We need you to stay here while we work on the problem."

In an ideal world, words like "trouble" and "problem" would never cross a radiation oncologist's lips when you are in the middle of being exposed to dangerous radioactive rays. Still, I gave her another thumb's up.

More time –another 15 minutes, I'm guessing– passed, with no apparent resolution of the problem.

The R.O. returned and unlocked my ThermaSplint mask. "We're going to wrap up today's treatment next door," she said, helping me up.

We abandoned The Ark for the treatment room next door, named Liberty. I took position on the bed, bent my knees over the cushion and held my frog tightly as the mask was placed on my head.

After about 10 minutes, the radiation machine in Liberty also seemed to not be working.

Again I felt the ThermaSplint mask being removed. "Mr. Serchia?" the R.O. said. "I'm sorry this is taking so long. We're going back to the first room, now."

I gave her the thumb's up, but that gesture was at odds with the expression on my face, and the R.O. noticed.

"If I were you," the she smiled while we moved between the two treatment rooms, "I would definitely not buy any lottery tickets today."

Fortunately the machine in The Ark was working properly so it took just another 10 minutes on the bed to wrap up the treatment.

It was past six o'clock by the time I was released. A radiation session that is already uncomfortable at 15 minutes had expanded to more than an hour, and I could not get out of the Radiation Oncology Department quickly enough.

I remembered the R.O.'s advice about not buying any lottery tickets. And I decided to thumb my nose at it.

On the way home, I pulled into a 7-11 and did something that I had not done in the 25 years since California voters approved Prop. 37.

I bought four lottery tickets: Three for the next three MegaMillions drawings –one for each round on the radiation bed– and one "Find the 9's" scratcher.

The scratcher was a loser, of course. And because I moved up through the California public schools system before lottery skills became part of the curriculum, I struggled with the MegaMillions slips. I needed to complete three slips before the 7-11 clerk told me that I had done it properly.

My numbers are 7, 10, 34, 48, 53 and Mega 38. Maybe one of you reading this blog can keep an eye on the drawings and let me know when I hit the jackpot.

God knows I earned it.

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