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Crossing a Line to Not Equal

November 24, 2013

My tongue was temporarily sewed to the floor of my mouth for cancer treatment in 1995. “Help, I can’t breathe,” I wanted to say as I choked on an extra thick blob of mucus. My chest muscles tighten with each attempt to breathe, making me faint with every effort. Help, I can’t breathe! I thought silently, before slipping unconscious. I awoke and saw two pairs of eyes scanning my voiceless shell. Months later I was diagnosed with a painful byproduct of radiation therapy called radiation necrosis.

At my first hyperbaric oxygen treatment for pain relief, a technician greeted me with a Southern drawl. “Howdy. Are you ready?’’ he asked. His voice reminded me of the not-so-good old boys from my 1950s childhood. We were about the same age, and his accent suggested he too grew up in a segregated America.

“Yes, I’m ready,” I replied, but I lied (mentally I wasn’t prepared), and my anxiety soared when he opened what looked like a large tubular glass wall blue-frame iron lung with a submarine hatch-like cover.

“Are you claustrophobic?” he asked, before pulling out a small flat gurney bed from the blue healing chamber.

“No.” I said.

“Here, take this. It’ll relax you,” he said in his gatekeeper’s voice. “You should feel your ears . . . tightening.”

The pressure increased, and the glass walls hugged me tight like slaves packed in the hull of a ship and I relived their fears trapped in the bowels of technology. I was the man in the blue chamber until awaken by his Southern drawl. He helped me stand on weak knees and I meandered across the cold floor. Mentally, I had to separate him from my life’s experiences.

Years later, I’m still torn between his assistance, cancer’s residual physical and mental pain, and the emotional trauma of living through American Jim Crow laws. At sixty-four, I have survived it all, but now it seems like the Tea Party wants to take this country back to the Compromise of 1877.

I wonder if the clutches of separate but not equal will end, before I cross life’s threshold.

With a perspective I’m Gerald Green

Gerald Green is a retired gas engineer and an author who lives in Oakland. His memoir Life Constricted: To Love, Hugs and Laughter chronicles his family’s cancer journeys.

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2 Comments
  1. Joe Brooks permalink

    Gerald– this is powerful. Joe

    Sent from my iPhone

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