With cure on threshold, now it’s personal

by Ogi Overman

Sometimes that vein Mike Royko referred to bleeds a little too profusely even for the most hard-bitten, turtle-skinned columnist.

If you never read Royko, you missed one of the best general-interest columnists in the history of newspapers. About the time I was having my mid-life career meltdown and taking my first tentative steps toward becoming a writer of columns and such, Royko was leaving the Chicago Sun-Times after its purchase by robber baron Rupert Murdoch. This was 1984 and Royko finished his illustrious career at the rival Chicago Tribune, cranking out pearls until his death in 1997.

Probably his most famous line came one evening in his favorite haunt, The Billy Goat Tavern, when a patron asked him how he continued to churn out columns, week after week, year after year. Royko’s terse reply was: ‘“Just cut another vein.’”

Hackneyed though it has become, at times it seems to be the only metaphor that works when describing something that’s too painful to describe. Sometimes ‘— like now ‘— depicting the process of cutting the vein must be used to ease into the actual story of the bleeding that takes place after the vein is sliced. When revealing a part of yourself that is intensely personal and private, rather than dive in headfirst you need to make sure it’s the right thing to do before committing pen to paper. And that’s the reason I’ve used up five column inches getting to the meat of this story ‘— it hurts.

As I’ve mentioned dozens of times in this space and others like it, my wife Janet has multiple sclerosis. Since her diagnosis in 1991, we’ve tried each new injectible serum that comes down the pike, Beta Serone, Avonex and Copaxone, to no avail. Recently she was approved for a largely experimental chemotherapy treatment involving a diluted form of the drug used to treat breast cancer patients. We were warned that it may cause some nausea but nothing could have prepared us for the three days of hell that ensued. Without going into the gruesome details ‘— again, some things must remain private and only contribute to information overload ‘— by the third evening my nerves and her body had reached the breaking point. Had not a dear friend, Courtney McGowan, come over to help out, my last option was taking her to the emergency room to get her rehydrated intravenously.

By the fourth day the worst was over, her appetite returned, and things got back to as near normal as they get around our house. By the sixth, there actually seemed to be some improvement, as she could lift her legs slightly and almost support her weight with my help.

But by the afternoon it proved, yet again, to be false hope, the excitement of the morning having been supplanted by a sense of resignation that her condition is never going to get any better. In fact, that brief glimmer of hope only made the despair deeper. Try as we might, it’s becoming tougher and tougher for each of us to get up and put on that smiley face each morning and pretend that life is groovy and that the