Brain Dead Serious

A Man Who Doesn’t Have Enough Space in His House for All His Existential Shit

DON: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. This is Don Fernandez, your host for yet another edition of The Human Condition, bringing you the most striking interviews of common people you wouldn’t normally think about if you had something better to do. Tonight–Mr. Theodore Gonzalez–a man who doesn’t have enough space in his home for all his existential shit.

Mr. Theodore Gonzalez–can I call you Ted?

TED: Yeah. You can call me Ted.

DON: Ok Ted. You called us for this interview bec–

TED: You can call me whatever you want. I could be Ted or Theodore or Mike or Richard. In the end, who am I?

DON: Uh-huh… Yes, I see that this is part of the personal problem you’d like to discuss with our audiences today?

TED: Audiences? Oh, you mean those presumed subjects watching me through their TV sets? I wish I could be sure there were really existences behind those eyes fixed on the screen because frankly I highly doubt it.

DON: Oh… kay…

TED: Yeah, I mean, I’m not even sure you’re here. Are you here?

DON: Well, I think I’m definitely here. You’re looking at me, Ted.

TED: Am I? Or are you just part of a simulation run by highly advanced beings in the 31st century and I’m nothing but a character in their sick version of a video game?

DON: Ok, ok. Wait a minute. Let’s stop for a second here, Ted. We’re already getting ahead of ourselves. Can you please give our audiences a proper introduction to your issue? You said there’s not enough room in your house for all your existential shit.

TED: Yes, there’s none.

DON: Obviously.

TED: Yesterday, I tried to fit all my existential shit in a box but it wouldn’t fit.

DON: How so?

TED: Well, I was about to put all my existential shit into the box, which I found under my bed, but then while I was doing it, I realized… I couldn’t find the box.

DON: So… so the box disappeared?

TED: That’s the funny thing. When I thought about it… it dawned on me that the box wasn’t even there in the first place.


TED: You see, I placed the box on the floor. And when I did that, the box was clearly on our wooden tiled floor. But when I opened the box and gestured to dump all my existential shit in it… it… “Poof!”

DON: Poof?

TED: Poof!

DON: C-could you please clarify? It’s a little vague what you’re trying to say…

TED: The box melded into the floor. The floor melded into the box. I couldn’t see where the floor ended and the box started. See–what do you call a box, anyway, and what do you call a floor? You’re going to tell me a box has eight corners. It’s a three-dimensional object made up of two-dimensional squares. And the floor is something you step on and it’s sometimes wooden, sometimes ceramic, sometimes plastic. But what if I don’t agree with you? What if I told you the thing you call a floor is a rooster and the thing you call a box is a pig?

DON: What??

TED: They’re a rooster and a pig. I couldn’t fit all my existential shit in a pig.

DON: I am… I am completely lost.

TED: People have agreed on calling a floor a floor and a box a box but what if I don’t agree with them? I mean, there’s no real universal rule that limits me to that strict definition. If I wanted to call your floor a rooster and your box a pig, what would you do?

DON: I-I guess nothing?

TED: You are a really good actor, you know, for a simulation.

DON: I’m sorry? Like I told you, Ted, I am NOT a simulation. I am not fake. I am here. I am interviewing you about your existential shit that you can’t find room for in your home.

TED: Yes… Because my home is overrun with roosters and pigs.

DON: Ok… Let’s run with this… Maybe we could get somewhere here… If you really believe that your floor and your box is a rooster and a pig, then why not just scare them away to make room for all your existential shit?

TED: Because they didn’t share my language.

DON: You don’t need language to scare away a bunch of animals, Ted. Just wave your hands and make scary noises and they’ll go away.

TED: No, these roosters and pigs are speaking a fourth-dimensional language that my three-dimensional ears couldn’t possibly hear. These things-in-themselves are forever out of my grasp, clucking and oinking behind a veil of reality that I couldn’t pierce… There’s a whole farm of there out there, Don. An invisible farm.

DON: Please… please stop.

TED: It’s not for lack of trying on my part, too. This morning I tried to store all my existential shit in a spare room in the basement. It’s pretty expansive. Even my old motorcycle is in there, so…

DON: So that must be enough space for your obviously huge existential shit, right?

TED: Nah.

DON: Dare I ask why?

TED: Because my motorcycle has turned into a blue whale.

DON: Goddammit.

TED: I couldn’t even step into the freakin’ room. This monstrous blue whale was squirming and spewing water all over the floor–I mean this floor made of pigs–and all the boxes–I mean roosters holding all my other junk–were really wet.

So in the end, it wouldn’t fit even there. Nasty business. I actually just sold the house this morning.

DON: Please don’t tell me why.

TED: Because when I tried to just leave all my existential shit there on the living room pig-floor, the walls became a troop of baboons, the carpet turned into Albert Einstein’s poop, and the sofa revealed itself to be none other than Michael Jackson.

DON: *Breathes heavily*

TED: So as much as I loved that property, having spent so many lovely days there with my ex-wife, I just had to sell that shit to the first man I met on the street. For chump change, mind you. I mean, shit, what would he do with all that racket at night? Pigs, roosters, baboons, and Michael Jackson trying to wake up the neighbors. Not to mention he’ll definitely step on Albert Einstein’s poop the next morning, slip, and maybe even injure himself. Hah. Poor guy.


TED: And to your audiences, I say screw you, you pieces of 31st century codes and pixels! You ain’t fooling me! Can you hear me out there in the real world, you 31st century alien bastards?! Screw you and your mothers or wherever the hell Big Bang conspiracy bullshit you came from! I never bought into this spacetime propaganda you’ve been trying to drill in my head! Science ain’t true knowledge! Wormholes and strings and multiverse my ass, you sons of big bang bitches! I think therefore, I am!

DON: I’m afraid we have to cut our program short again for tonight. ‘Til next time. This is Don Fernandez, host of The Human Condition, saying goodnight and good luck.

Free Writing

I Completely Understand Where You’re Coming From, So Therefore, Let’s Kill Each Other

Oh, is that it? Yes, I see your point now. I completely do. Drastically different though we may be in terms of our vantage points in this matter, you’ll be glad to know that I am able to easily step into your shoes and see this state of affairs clearly through your eyes. You may be surprised to know that I even understand the validity of your argument from your perspective, and I wholeheartedly accept that from this angle, it appears that you are definitely in the right and I am in the wrong.

Having said that, I still vehemently propose war. A war to end all wars. A war that will see me poke your eyeballs with my stiff, clawed fingers and pull your bloody brains out from your eye sockets. A war where I’ll tear the skin off your chest with my bare hands, so I can dig a hole through your heart, which I shall grasp and squeeze like a sponge ’til you’re puking a river of blood mixed with bits of guts onto the battlefield where heaps of dead men pile onto each other high — high up to the burning red sky!

But again, I see your point. It can’t be helped that you hold such an opinion of the matter at hand given your upbringing, your level and type of education, and the general circle of individuals you surround yourself with. Our unique economic situations obviously also factor into this as our financial capacities directly inform our ideas and motivations. I am even aware of how your religion or lack thereof figures into this thinking of yours, and I respectfully welcome how you’ve included that aspect of your being into this viewpoint. We are all victims of our location in society and in space and time, and so we are both looking at this from the inherent limitations and biases of our own lives.

In spite of that, I’d still like to proceed with trying to blow our respective heads off with a bazooka as soon as possible, please. I insist that I would very much like to shoot your legs off with a machine gun, so that splinters of your humerus and femur come flying into the air and chunks of your cartilage fall to the ground for the dogs of hell to make dinner of. You’ll be glad to know that I welcome you attempting to do the same to me for I expect no less barbarity in this coliseum of death as the hungry crowd drooling with froth on their lips cheer us on to battle. Please join me in this murderous endeavor wherein we will aim to paint the ground teeming with maggots and flies with our blood, piss, and diarrhea.

Because I am a man who, not for one second, believes that it is impossible for two minds of major differences to come together and understand each other’s strengths, as well as shortcomings. I am a man who reaches out to you through this thick fog of disagreements and misunderstandings to hold your hand, so that you’d feel that we are both part of the same humanity. We are equally engaged in trying to solve the same problem, so that ourselves and our loved ones could wake up to a brighter morning, a better world. Despite your prejudices and mine, no matter how painful your hatred of the things that I love, I have opened up my heart and mind to firmly picture the world as you witness it, and I am unafraid to nod my head in acknowledgement of your beliefs.

Nevertheless, let us end this futile talk and just kill each other along with our kin. I humbly offer the option of winner takes all, so either of us, depending on who emerges victorious, will get to enjoy the many spoils of war while burning the other’s sacred temples to the ground as their dear friends die at the stake. May I remind you, too, that this cruel conflict wouldn’t be complete without a scorched-earth policy because we wouldn’t want our loved ones to have the means to continue their existence, would we? Of course not. After all, if they were to keep on living, then it is highly likely that they will ultimately develop the same convictions as yours–if they don’t believe them already–and that would necessarily lead to another fruitful discussion and debate between our peoples, wouldn’t it?

So, begging your pardon, please allow me to reiterate my proposition one last time. I completely understand where you’re coming from; so therefore, let’s kill each other.

Brain Dead Serious

This Article Will Try Its Best to Cheer You Up But Will Fail Spectacularly

Oh, do cheer up! You’re lonely? Miserable? Gloomy as a grey, cloud-covered sky just before a thunderstorm? It’s not the end of the world, you know? A lot of people are in the same boat as you are, many of them with way worse problems than yours.

But of course, there are also countless people out there who are incredibly happy at this moment that they’re almost literally glowing when sunshine bounces off their smiling face free of any negative thought or emotion… So, er… that kinda sucks for you, I guess.

But wait–so you were left behind by someone who’s not worth a bag of rocks? Get over them! They obviously can’t appreciate your worth because they have the IQ of an earthworm and are most terribly missing out on the best person they’ve ever been with…

That or they actually found someone kinder, funnier, more intelligent, hella attractive and blazin’ hot, and is an absolute psycho in the sheets! Fuck yeah!


*Clears throat*

Sorry. Got carried away there a bit.

But you know what I mean. You should stop crying in the corner and dwelling on these negative energies because you’d just be wasting your time when there are so many other things to do in the world.

Activities that are very productive and worthwhile like… like…  working nonstop 12 hours a day until your fingers fall off and stale saliva from not talking to a single soul droops down your mouth.

Or… uh… watching some mindless TV shopping channel while wondering if judgement day when the dead will rise to take over the earth and sacrifice newborns to the merciless god of the underworld isn’t such a bad thing all things considered.

Learn to love yourself.

Look up from your dreary desk in that empty office to the canopy of lights above you. Remember that you are made from the same material as the stars. Magnificent, giant balls of hot gasses whose light reaches the farthest corners of the galaxy.

Every creature that has ever lived on the face of this planet has looked up to see these very same stars and… died. They died, of course, like any organic being. Some in a truly horrific fashion like the dinosaurs, which were wiped out by a burning asteroid 10 kilometers wide. Fantastic animals, for sure, but they perished nonetheless and quite nonsensically, too, like all of us. Eventually.

But the worst thing you can think of is that you are unloved. You’re not. Your mother loves you… and… and… well, your mother’s love for you is greater than any other type of love out there; everyone knows that!

Your mother loves you so much she barely texts you. And she’s thrown away all your baby albums because in all honesty you don’t look a lot like others in the family and she has a growing suspicion that the nurse made a huge mistake all those years ago and swapped her real baby with another one who’s a bit ugly. And in truth, she’s forgotten about your birthday and she only remembers it on the day itself because you remind her. So she orders fast food to celebrate this cursed day but in reality, it’s such a fuckin’ drag and she would rather knit a jacket than celebrate the birth of her fake child.

So drop that blade and dump that silly rope you’re carrying into the garbage can. There’s hope. Better days await you. Breathe! Breathe deep! Step out into the world, down the tracks, and face the train coming at you at 100 kilometers per hour.

Free Writing

Getting Old is a Train Station and You Know You’re There Because You’re There

These thoughts on old age

are dedicated to my grandmother, Lola Adoracion Sanchez.

We love you.

. . .

As I’m writing this, my good and brave and loving grandmother of 87 years old is at an intensive care unit of a hospital, battling pneumonia as her sons and daughters and her grandchildren grapple with the thought of a future that while everyone has already imagined at some point, is no less forlorn.

The news of her getting hospitalized reached me while I was on vacation in Baguio, a faraway city in the mountains in the northern part of the Philippines. I was with my girlfriend of over two years and her family–and her extended family: uncles, aunts, cousins, and nephews, some of whom I only got to talk to for the first time. I’m 32 years old; my girlfriend is 27. This was undoubtedly one of those trips that take you one big step toward that next stage in life, a stage for which I’ve honestly been ready for a long time even if my finances aren’t completely there yet.

The truth is I’m completely at peace with the fact that I’m already at that stage of life even though there’s no shortage of reports that say millennials have been putting off marriage more than any other generation before them. I am done with being single. Frick–I am done with a lot of things. I am done with drinking, horrible attempts at flirting, playing the guitar, writing haikus, screaming at authority–you name it. If I win the lottery today, I’d book the nearest church, retire, and start tending a garden.

But the news that my grandmother was in a very delicate medical situation back in Manila hit me like a ten-ton truck. Nobody’s ready for news like that, even if the possibility of losing people has been lurking in your mind for quite some time. I was launched into a pensive mood and one of the first things that popped in my head was that I really wanted my grandmother to be there when I get married, and it was painful realizing how that prospect had begun to grow colder every second, even colder than Baguio’s incredibly cold weather.

Getting Old is a Weird Thing

Getting old is a weird thing. Throughout your life, you think you’re old but you’re not. Perhaps because I’ve been an arrogant schmuck most of my life, I’ve always thought that I was old and wise for my age. In fact, way back in college in the university, I looked at everyone around me as little, fumbling children who did not know half the things I knew. Every laughably tiny academic achievement I got just furthered my belief that I had everything figured out, like life was a test and I was passing my paper before everyone else. And when I started working, I still felt like I was ahead of others in wisdom, versed in some underlying philosophical truths that most of my colleagues’ infantile brains couldn’t possibly comprehend. I basically believed that I was an old man in a young man’s body.

I was a fool. And like I said, an arrogant schmuck.

Looking back at it now, nothing was old about me then. And absolutely nothing was wise. On the contrary, I know now that everything about my way of thinking in those days screamed the rage and insecurity of youth. I wasn’t old. I was just emo as fuck.

Now it’s different and I know it. Because old age is not a thought or a self-declaration. It’s a train station and you know you’re there because… you’re there. The big sign overhead the platform says so.

My grandmother is old. And she didn’t reach that train stop one or two or five years ago like me. She’s been old for decades. I can’t even imagine waking up each morning knowing, feeling that deep-seated certainty in your very being that you’re definitely as old as the sun is hot. That there’s no denying the truth anymore. And you’re just growing older every single breath you take.

She was already around 10 or 11 years old when the Japanese army invaded and occupied the Philippines in 1941, leaving death, destruction, and despair in their wake. When I mentioned this to my mother, she told me that my grandmother actually told many stories about them having to hide from the murdering and raping Japanese soldiers in the rice fields back in those days. I immediately pictured my grandmother as a little girl in a dirty dress hiding with her family behind thick rows of rice crops under a sullen sky somewhere in the province of Bulacan, everything silent and in a stereotypical sepia filter like in the movies.

I don’t know why I never actually heard any of those stories even if we lived with my grandmother in the same compound for many, many years. Now I wish I could listen to her tell those tales herself just so I could get a glimpse of how life was back then, and maybe ask her how it feels to witness the country change so much (and change so little) before her eyes over all those long decades. There was a lot I missed and I regret it.

Getting Old is a Task

I’m writing this in the middle of the holidays, which is why it probably struck me that getting old is a lot like last-minute Christmas shopping. You’ve got a list of things to buy and things to do and you cross them out one by one, mostly because tradition says you have to and you don’t want to be a scrooge to people. Getting old is crossing out items like marriage, buying a car, having kids, moving upward in your career, settling into a nice, cozy, lazy hobby such as gardening, growing your retirement fund, etc. These are basically tasks in a long task list and you have to perform them before you can show your completed form to the one in charge and you’re given the go signal to finally check out.

But it’s not all tradition though I maintain that a lot of it is. A huge part of it is also that ticking sound in your ear that tells you the buzzer is going to ring any second now, so you have to stop horsing around and just haul your ass to your destination as soon as possible.

To illustrate, in the last 2 or 3 years, I’ve been the most active in my art (the little comicbook-style drawings I call “art”) than at any other point in my life. That’s not just something that happened out of the blue or due to a sudden massive inspiration from the magical muses of lore. It’s because–after reading about the old comicbook artists I idolize (like Brian Bolland and George Perez) growing so old that they couldn’t draw interior pages and detailed drawings anymore–I calculated that I only had barely two decades of healthy hand muscles and joints left before my skill started deteriorating physically and I couldn’t progress as an artist anymore.

The thought horrified me. I ordered a massive, unbelievably expensive book of art from abroad and worked harder than ever at trying to master anatomy, shading, lighting, and everything else that I disregarded before because I used to have all the time in the world. I began scratching the paper with my pen furiously–maniacally.

It was simple: I was running out of time. I need to produce as much art now as possible because soon I’ll never be able to do this again.

My girlfriend was laughing as she reminded me somewhat of the same thing a few days ago. Somehow it just dawned on her that I was so old (at 32) that I’d already be around 50 by the time my son or daughter goes to college. It is something quite strange for the generation of our fathers who still enjoyed some span of youth alongside their children because they married and had kids earlier.

That’s even stranger to the generation of our grandparents who made churning out babies something of an economic strategy to achieve some security for the future. In fact, my grandmother and grandfather had a total of 9 children, my dad, who’s now at 63, being the eldest. Grandma started making fine children for the world to get its hands on starting at just 24 years of age. Grandpa was just 22.

It was a different time, and you could say the earth was greener. Maybe they didn’t fuss about having children as much as we do now.

After my girlfriend pointed out how old I was to start being a father, there were a few seconds of panic when I thought maybe we should start making that baby now? Like, right now even though I was sick with flu?

I shook my head and snapped out of it.

Getting Old is Marvelling at How Childhood Went on Forever

All this is almost too much for one to ponder. More and more, it feels like every second not spent crossing out that task list of old age–not adulthood but old age–is wasted time. If something doesn’t get you nearer to marrying, getting a car, having children, getting a promotion, or building your retirement fund then it’s senseless buffoonery. Sitting here is a waste of time. Writing this is a waste of time.

But procrastination–which always feels good regardless of your age–gets you during those tiny breaks in the hysteria, and you start daydreaming. And remembering your youth.

Youth is the complete opposite of all this boring rush.

In a weird way, life feels like a minivan–wide at the back and snub-nosed at the front. My childhood days feel like they went on forever, even faint memories like playing tag with my cousins in my grandmother’s front yard felt like they went on and on–as if it took millennia for us to grow up and learn we weren’t into wounding our knees every time we fell down on the ground anymore. A day took years to give way to the night. And every morning opened up another choose-your-own-adventure chapter that you didn’t really know when it’s supposed to end or if it would end at all.

I remember my grandmother as a persistent, smiling figure in the background telling us rowdy runts not to run too fast. An older woman who reminded our mother to check if a cloth has been tucked underneath our shirt at the back to keep us from getting sick. My grandmother even took the role of mother to some of my cousins who spent so much time in her house they more or less lived there, and they were basically her children. She fed them every day and made sure they were fine and healthy. But as a kid, you didn’t appreciate those little things. You couldn’t. You’re selfish and immersed in your own colorful world of swordfights and action figures. I’d be lying if I said those weren’t the best days of my life.

Childhood is a haze of wonderful memories that get more rosy the more details you forget. My fondest memories of my grandmother place her at the center of happy family gatherings where all my many cousins and I had our rare opportunity to get together and play until the sky turned gray. She and the other faceless adults sat at a table talking about something important and we would sprint around it or hide underneath as if their world was a separate, barely recognizable one that didn’t exist for us.

I can’t help but let out a sigh when I think that we are now those faceless adults talking about something important around a table.

It’s totally unfair. Especially after discovering that the topics around that table weren’t that important after all. Jobs? Fuck off with that.

Then at some point in life, time sort of looks down at its own watch and says “Time to go now!” and everything starts moving like, well… clockwork. Days become shorter and shorter until you get numb at their passing. Years start to feel like minutes–and I guess for people at the tail end of this journey–seconds. It’s the snub-nosed part of that minivan and everything is just crushed into a hurried frenzy within that small space of opportunity that’s left.

Getting Old is Slowing Down Enough to Realize That One Thing You Need

One day I was watching basketball and the announcer was talking about how rookies differed from veterans. She said “the game hasn’t slowed enough for them yet.” It stuck with me because I thought it was the perfect description of how it feels to grow old.

Discussing the biological underpinnings of why your legs start feeling like logs and your speech starts to slow down into a tired purr as you age is not at all interesting. Everything has a biological or biochemical underpinning, anyway, even supposedly mysterious forces such as love and spirituality. What is interesting to consider is how it’s so true that–along with yourself–the world slows down as your gray hair proliferates.

Events unfold in slow motion, so much so that you have plenty of time to sip a cup of coffee before another wave hits you. It gets hard to be surprised at anything. Oh, some stupid teen ran away from their home and was found in the middle of nowhere? Ok. Oh, that girl got pregnant by some dude who isn’t worth scrap? Got it. Oh, the government is screwing the masses in a new, creative way that nobody has anticipated? Noted.

99% of it zips past your ear. Ultimately, things don’t matter if they’re not on your getting-old-task-list.

You’re not jumpy anymore. When you get in a bit of trouble, you don’t think “I’m screwed.” You think “I’ll be screwed for a couple of days. After that I’ll be fine.” Everything is now situated in a chronological context. You begin to see that every issue, every object, every concept, maybe even every feeling has an expiration date, and solving problems could simply be a matter of letting it all play out until their energy is exhausted. Sit in a chair and wait. Everything’s going to be ok.

But all that time to think comes at a cost. The long pauses in between situations and decisions act like black holes that drag you into morose philosophizing. What’s happening to my grandmother has pulled me back into futile questions that I haven’t asked since I was in college, sitting in the library, reading a book about metaphysics that I didn’t completely understand. What is the purpose of suffering? Why is their pain? Is there an afterlife?

In another fleeting phase of youth, I was a self-proclaimed atheist. I found no reason to believe that there’s heaven or there’s anything that could happen after people pass away. The arrogant schmuck that I was, I found religion to be a terrible hindrance to the goal of mankind to be a more scientific lot. I thought to myself–how could we make real progress here on earth, help real people living here and now, if most of us continue to believe that the real rewards–the real life–happens only after our last breath anyway?

It’s the kind of fiery conviction a young person who hasn’t yet experienced anything of significance can be so quick to adopt.

Eventually, it was my favorite professor who taught me one of the legitimately grown-up ideas I’ve heard all my life. It was an idea, an argument so solid that years later when I sat and pondered it, it brought me back to believing in heaven. In God. And I haven’t found myself swaying since. My professor lost his mother fairly recently back then and that event shook up his beliefs and flushed out any trace of atheism or agnosticism in his system.

The idea was this: ultimately, it doesn’t matter if there’s an afterlife or not. We can’t really know that, anyway. What matters is we need there to be an afterlife. We need heaven to exist. Because it can’t all end here. Our love for all the people we lost and all the people we’re going to lose demands that this world not be the end of it all. Our love demands that we must see them again–everyone and everything we care about–after all this is over.

Our love demands heaven.

Brain Dead Serious

If the World Were Fair, Evil Men Would Walk Into Posts All the Time

Think about it. Lots of people tell themselves there’s some sort of universal karma going on but if there was an invisible hand of justice moving the world like that, you would expect mean people to walk into posts all the time.

There are only so many combinations of bad things that can happen to bad people without the movements of the invisible hand of justice looking too conspicuous, so at some point those posts are gonna have their fair share of “accidents.”

That wild, feral woman who gnashed her teeth at you while bulldozing you inside the train this morning–boom! Hit a post.

Your officemate who makes her day by throwing shade at you with her evil swarm of grinning trolls–boom! Hit a post.

That taxi driver who took his sweet time handing you your change because he was wishing you would just get the frick out of his vehicle and leave your money–crash! Hit a post.

But these people almost never walk or run into posts, don’t they? Nope. Because the world is unfair and what goes around, doesn’t come around. There’s no cosmic justice.

Do you realize how many posts there are in the world? I read somewhere that there are around 80,000,000 roads in the world. Say there are about 12 posts in each road, you will have close to a billion posts in the world.

But guess what? Evil folks just keep on rockin’ without their heads knockin’ into somethin’.

So just give up. You will never get your cold vengeance by waiting for that person who did you wrong to make the wrong turn and slam their face into a nice, smooth, slender post. It’s not gonna happen, dude.

Brain Dead Serious

The Growths On Just One Side of My Sinus Were Nasal Polyps, Not Cancer — But I Didn’t Know That For Weeks

NOTE: The author was diagnosed with nasal polyps on one side of his nose. The growths had a different look than usual grape-like polyps and surgery and biopsy were ordered by his doctor to rule out malignancy. It turned out the growths were indeed just rotted nasal polyps. This article is about his discovery of his illness, the arduous waiting game for the biopsy results, and his thoughts throughout the entire ordeal. The author apologizes if some sections sound like they make light of cancer and other serious diseases when the intent is the exact opposite. Nothing has made the author empathize more with patients of severe illnesses than what he experienced with the diagnosis and treatment of his nasal polyps. And it his hope that anybody going through the same issues finds some solace and reassurance in this story.

“Your polyp looks different. It’s a different color, black in some areas. It looks like it has veins and solid tissue. We really need to get it biopsied.” Those were the words I heard my ENT doctor say before life left me where I stood… or sat… It’s hard to remember because my mind swiftly drifted out of that room and floated up in the sky.

Mucus That Smelled Like a Stray Dog’s Butt

I’ve always been prone to colds, cough and other respiratory diseases. Sticky, green mucus–the kind that looks like the ooze that made the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who they are, and which healthy people would consider extremely gross–is more like a pet peeve to me. I’ve been living with it my whole life, usually a minor inconvenience but a constant reminder that my immune system unfortunately isn’t as good as others’. But some 5 weeks ago, my normally green mucus turned to brown, or more like the color of rust, obviously due to significant amounts of blood mixed with it.

My girlfriend, Erika, was horrified the first time I showed the specimen to her on a piece of tissue paper (I guess it’s a measure of intimacy when a couple can pull off disgusting stunts like this). She kept yelling at me to go to a hospital and have it checked but I tried to calm her down, saying I probably just had a wound in my sinus because of my sinusitis. No worries–it should go away soon like all other literally sticky situations before it.

A few days passed. One morning, I woke up, blew my nose, and what came out smelled like the maggoty carcass of a dead rat. Or maybe the butt of a stray dog. It had already been smelling off  and showing streaks of blood for a few days, but that morning the smell was so revoltingly strong I wanted to burn the shirt I used to wipe my nose.

I finally agreed to go to the hospital.

The Discovery

I entered the ENT’s clinic confident I would leave with a prescription for antibiotics and some advice to exercise (which I would most likely ignore because I’m a stubborn idiot). The ENT was a tall man with a calm voice but who was way less spunky than my pulmonologist (whom I loved because he’s spunky and always brought good news that my lungs are clear every year during the annual physical examination which the company I work for required). After describing my symptoms, telling him my mucus was smelly–although not honest enough to describe it as smelling like the maggoty carcass of a dead rat or a stray dog’s butt–he made me sit in a tall chair so that he could peek into my nose.

He sprayed something in my nostrils before sticking an endoscope down each opening. I told him the brown mucus and foul odor only came from the right side, so he started viewing from there.

“Oh. You’ve got a polyp.”

Immediately, my heart sank. Polyp? Did he say polyp? Where did I hear that before? It was such an unexpected development that he actually found something in my nose that shouldn’t be there in the first place that I found myself already panicking.

He definitely said “polyp” and I didn’t know what the heck a polyp was but even then, all I could hear was the “C” word.

“Uh,” I grunted because the long, thin steel instrument was still up my nose as the doctor watched the live feed on a screen.

“It’s big. We need to remove it by surgery. Don’t worry, everything will be done through your nostril. Nothing would be opened.”

There was a rush of images in my head of me lying on a cold table, wearing a hospital gown, and a group of unaffected medical people silently talking among themselves as they poke my nose with long instruments, longer than the one my doctor had already jammed up inside my nose. This was very bad, I thought. Erika would be worried sick and she’d kill me because my hardheadedness to see a doctor was already proving to be a seriously big mistake.

“Hm. It’s really just on this side. Your left side is clear,” said the ENT as he explored the left side.

“There’s mucus. We need to suck that out.” He told me when he went back to the right side. He proceeded to get another instrument from his drawer and switched it on, letting out a buzzing sound, which I assumed was a motor.

In spurts that were slightly satisfying, the instrument sucked out the mucus covering that side of my sinus cavity. All these procedures were new to me and I actually marveled at the fact that my nose wasn’t hurting even as the doctor kept poking it with the endoscope. Again, he expressed his alarm at the size of the thing he discovered.

“It’s huge. That’s why your mucus is smelly. It gets stuck in here and rots.”

Ok. That explanation clarified things. In fact, I had already read about that explanation before I went to the doctor because I did some online research about sinus infections to prepare myself for what I was going to find out. Sometimes, when sinus cavities get extremely inflamed, mucus gets stuck there, serving as plentiful grazing grounds for bacteria, resulting in smelly mucus and sometimes foul breath (which scared the hell out of me for obvious reasons).

“It’s really just the right side. We really need to remove it and have a biopsy done.”

My heart further sank into the floor.

Wait–biopsy? It’s THAT bad?

All of this already felt unreal to me. I could sense my brain trying to block the truth of these quick, unforeseen developments because that’s the only way it could protect itself from the deluge of dark thoughts and emotions trying to burst through.

Immediately after he slid the endoscope out my nostril, I asked him whether polyps are dangerous… Of course what I really meant was did it have any connection with the “C” word.

“Not really… usually. But it is abnormal tissue growth, so we need to do a biopsy.”

Right around this time, I realized how the mind tends to focus on certain words and phrases when it tries to cling on to hopes that everything is fine and nothing terrible is happening. The words “abnormal” and “tissue growth” echoed down the chambers of my being moments after the doctor uttered them, so did the words “biopsy,” “huge,” “surgery.”

“You also need to do a CT scan,” he continued.

All the words the ENT were saying were raising alarm bells in my very soul; he never said the “C” word but that was all I could think of. And I couldn’t believe I was thinking it, given that I arrived at the hospital thinking all I was going to get was an advice to exercise.

I had the CT scan done right after I left the ENT’s office. As the platform lifted me up and slowly conveyed me into that dome, I found myself remembering all those movies and shows I watched of people entering this cold, lifeless machine.

The worst thing was knowing none of those movies or shows ended well with regard to those characters. I was so terrified I’m amazed up to now that I didn’t pass out because there were definitely times that I felt myself trying to automatically shut down the swift unacceptable realities happening one after the other by switching off my own consciousness.

The Horrors of Online Research

Obviously, I didn’t wait ’til I got home to Google what polyps were. Searching the terms “polyp” and “nose” returned encouraging results, which nipped my worries for a short while. Multiple websites would tell you that:

“Nasal polyps are common, noncancerous, teardrop-shaped growths that form in the nose or sinuses. They’re usually found around the area where the sinuses open into the nasal cavity. Mature ones look like peeled grapes.”

“Common.” “NON-CANCEROUS.” Good.

That’s from WebMD and many other sites describe nasal polyps almost the exact same way–with that slightly amusing comparison to grapes (it kind of helps calm you down when you imagine these growths look more like fruits than something nefariously uglier).

The WebMD article further explains that:

Often linked to allergies or asthma, they may cause no symptoms, especially if they’re small and don’t need treatment. Larger ones can block normal drainage from the sinuses. When too much mucus builds up in the sinuses, it can become infected.

Unlike polyps that form in the colon or bladder, nasal ones are rarely cancer. Experts think that long-term inflammation causes them or that they run in families. Nasal polyps aren’t painful to the touch. Medications or surgery can treat most. They may come back, though.

“RARELY CANCER” (still good though the word “rarely” was unwelcome). “Aren’t painful to the touch.” Well, that’s exactly like mine. The doctor kept touching it with his instruments and all I felt was a slight tingling sensation. Again–that’s very encouraging that all I had was a simple, non-cancerous, nasal polyp. “They may often come back, though”–not a problem as long as I could get rid of this batch that’s making the air I breathe in and breathe out smell like the worst kind of infection.

I’ve always advised Erika against diagnosing herself using Google whenever she got sick because I’ve had numerous experiences searching mild symptoms and then finding out later that they exactly match a type of cancer or some other frightening disease, but usually cancer. It always happens. But given that nasal polyps were a mystery to me, I gave myself the license to break my own rule and I kept on browsing site after site, looking for more articles that could give me more assurance that I was all right, so I could actually tuck in that night and not have nightmares about chemotherapy, losing my hair, and losing all our money.

And then somewhere along my fervid online research, I stumbled upon something that stabbed my heart like a cold dagger:

However, there are growths in the sinuses and nose that may look like polyps but can be precancerous or very rarely actually contain cancer. These masses are often on one side of the nasal cavity only, while most true benign nasal polyps are present in both sides. Polyps present in one nasal cavity but not on the other, should be biopsied or removed if they are suspicious.

“Precancerous.” “Often on one side of the nasal cavity only.” “Should be biopsied or removed if they are suspicious.”

Immediately, I remembered with horror how my ENT kept on repeating “Yours is really just on this side.” I thought nothing of it before and actually kind of felt it was a positive thing that my polyp was just on the right side. If both my sinus cavities were blocked, surely that was more serious?

Turns out that was completely wrong when it came to these things.

Digging further, I found more and more articles telling me the same chilling fact: growths on just one side of the nose are unusual and may not actually be polyps (those friendly grape-like things I was just reading about minutes ago), but something else. I realized that’s why my doctor wanted mine to be removed and biopsied–he wasn’t sure he was looking at a benign nasal polyp.

Reading more articles as blood started to drain from my head, I also learned that polyps that bled were even more suspicious. Didn’t my mucus have a ton of blood in it? I was alone in the room because my girlfriend works night shift, but if she were there, I would’ve probably collapsed in her arms as I tried to digest all these dreadful bits of medical knowledge I was discovering.

I probably wouldn’t have slept that night if I didn’t stumble upon an old forum thread where a woman described her own diagnosis of nasal polyp. Hers also appeared on just one side of her nose. Like me, she thought she was totally fine until she checked the Internet and found out “unilateral” growths (appearing just on one side) are unusual and suspicious compared to “ipsilateral” growths (appearing on both sides).

The woman was so wrecked with worry that she maybe had cancer that she was begging for people on that message board for stories where unilateral nasal polyps turned out all right for the patient. And the kind users there did share stories of their friends or loved ones getting diagnosed with unilateral and ipsilateral nasal polyps that were completely benign. Some had theirs removed by surgery, others were able to shrink or cure theirs using nasal sprays, one guy said he was so fed up with his that he blew his nose out so intensely one day that his polyp came out. Gory but it worked (though he responsibly advised against doing it). The woman thanked them all for helping her calm down.

But the stories just weren’t enough. As days went by, the woman described how thoughts of cancer were consuming her day and night, and how she couldn’t wait to get her polyp surgically removed and biopsied. In her last message on the board, she shared the good news that her operation was over and her doctor informed her that her unilateral polyp was benign.

The bad news was she was so overwhelmed by anxiety that she lost her baby. She was pregnant.

It was probably the darkest thread I’ve ever read and I felt so sad for the woman, but perhaps unsurprisingly, her story was the only piece of writing that calmed me down enough to sleep that night.

‘Your Polyp Looks Different’

After a week’s worth of using a corticosteroid spray and tablets, while also taking antibiotics and spraying an additional saline spray into my nose, I went back to the doctor to see whether all those things I did had any positive effect on the growth inside my face.

“It’s still there,” said the doctor, again with the camera in my nose.

“It shrunk a tiny bit but it’s still there.”

I had already talked to my family about the surgery and biopsy in the horizon, while watching my mother’s face sink into worry. I was thinking it might be a while before I needed to do that because all those medicines I was taking could help shrink the polyp–maybe even get rid of it all together because based on what I read, in some cases, corticosteroids handily took care of business.

They didn’t. And the doctor (whom by then was already my least favorite doctor in the world, especially compared to my spunky, bringer-of-good-news pulmonologist) had more bad news to say to me:

“Your polyp looks different. It’s a different color, black in some areas…”

The endoscope kept on poking, turning side to side, looking at various angles.

“It looks like it has veins and solid tissue… We really need to get it biopsied.”

Life left me where I stood… or sat… It’s hard to remember because my mind swiftly drifted out of that room and floated up in the sky.

At that point, it was impossible not to say it out loud in my brain: “cancer.”

We maybe talking about cancer here.

In my nose.



Of course, me. Nobody else was in that room after all, sitting in that chair, with a camera up his sinus.

Using the term “C word” in my head was already ridiculous even though that’s what I called it the week before as I tried to push that possibility out of my mind. After the doctor said those words, I could only call it by its proper name, like a devil finally breaking you down so that you can yell out his monstrous name: “cancer.”

Everything turned grey. The ENT’s office with all the books and instruments melted into a haze and nothing was real anymore aside from that dreaded word and the reality it defined.

“Doc,” I asked him after he sucked the mucus out again. “Is this dangerous?”

For about two seconds, his face clearly worked up the best expression to tell me the facts without causing me to have a panic attack. He then said in his calm, almost vacant voice: “Well, we’ll have it biopsied. That could take 3 to 4 business days. Then we’ll know if it’s benign… or malignant.”

That last word squeezed the remaining life out of me.

Nothing Matters–Not Even Game of Thrones

Every single day leading up to the biopsy–not the operation, the biopsy–was torture of an inhumane kind. I still went about my day-to-day tasks, including working my day job, but I couldn’t muster any smile that was genuine. I held everything back from my friends because the thought of dragging them down into the depths of my worries with me was intolerable. My only source of comfort was Erika and my family who showered me with the best food when I came home. But even that food I could barely taste because the prospect of cancer only made you think of cancer. Nothing else.

Not even Game of Thrones.

This might seem like an insignificant detail but I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan and the fact that its most epic episodes were not having any positive effect on my mood was a great indication of just how deep depression and anxiety had sunk in. While waiting for my turn to do some tests for the surgery clearance, I remember watching the episode where Daenerys rode her dragon for the first time to burn a massive opposing army, but none of the epicness rubbed in. On the contrary, I found myself wincing inside as I watched fictional characters getting burned alive.

That’s when I realized that any thought of death bothered me, made-up and real. I just wasn’t comfortable thinking about death and I certainly didn’t enjoy seeing it onscreen.

Which wasn’t the case when I was healthy… or part of the fully living crowd. It was then I understood that fully living meant having the freedom to laugh at death while it played its themes safely away, usually behind a screen. Watching death on TV or in the cinema thrilled me, whether it’s characters whose lives are in danger or characters who were actually dying–sometimes the more horrible the method, the better.

All of that stopped the moment it was me whose very life was in peril.

There was a strange, eerie transition from being the audience to the object, feeling like your life–your tragedy–is playing out onscreen for someone to marvel at or cry over. And the worst thing was you couldn’t get out of the situation, like you’re trapped in your own story.

The title of the story would either be “Nasal Polyps” or “Sinus Cancer” but you just didn’t know because you’re inside that story and you couldn’t see the script or the credits.

I had read somewhere that sinus cancers were very rare, and many patients actually had real reason to develop them, such as mining workers whose sinuses were exposed to various harmful elements like nickel. I’ve also been inhaling pollution in the streets my whole life as I travelled to and from school and then later, to and from work; and since two years ago, living in condos had exposed me to more dust, triggering a seasonal allergic rhinitis, which prevents me from breathing normally for months. Living in a third world country was bad–but I was damn sure I wasn’t inhaling anything like nickel.

Despite that, death by sinus cancer still felt like a genuine possibility to me. One horrifying article actually described that your eyes could pop out when sinus cancer spreads, and I kept remembering this documentary I watched in my youth featuring a man whose face was operated on because doctors discovered he had a rare sickness that manifested itself through recurring colds.

Half of that man’s face was removed and replaced with a horrendous prosthetic.

I couldn’t imagine having to go through anything like that.

I couldn’t imagine death or the process by which one gets there.

The Longest Month of My Life

From the moment I heard a biopsy was needed to determine whether my growth was benign or malignant, the results were all I could look forward to. I marked the date on my calendar. I repeated it in my head like a mantra. Thursday, Thursday, Thursday. Then it changed. Friday, Friday, Friday. My life revolved around it, and there was nothing beyond it–no plans, no future, no nothing. It’s like a curtain of static has been pulled over my life and I couldn’t see beyond that day regardless how much Erika told me that it’s going to be all right and that we should plan a trip for our anniversary. I imagined myself reaching a fork in the road and one led to long suffering for me, my family, and friends, while the other led back to life where I left myself waiting a long, long time ago.

I’m not a religious man but it was God whom I talked to throughout this period. I implored him to spare my life and others in the same boat as I was (I kept remembering the woman who lost her baby in the forum thread I read), to give me the strength to face people every day even while I was on the verge of buckling underneath the pressure of it all. Pretending to live was mighty difficult when there was a real chance I already had one foot inside my grave, and I just didn’t know it.

There were times I actually wanted to drop everything all together. What if I just stopped all these checkups and tests? What if I just cancelled the scheduled operation? I mean–I could just live my life not knowing whether I had cancer or not. After all, the smell in my nose had been gradually subsiding since using the saline and corticosteroid sprays.

Perhaps I could just give up and continue my life?

Isn’t this like Schrödinger’s cat–I’m both alive and dead until I actually read the results?

Both alive and dead kind of sounded better than definitely dead.

These were the thoughts that occupied my mind throughout my waking moments but a lot of them were fantasies and an excuse to pass the time.

The day of the surgery (which is by the way called FESS for Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery), I almost didn’t even care what was going to happen, which was probably irresponsible of me. I didn’t think there could be any complications or that I could bleed severely or that I might feel excruciating pain. Somehow, I just knew that my ENT was going to pull it off without a hitch. I kept wishing I could jump forward in time to when I’m already reading my biopsy results–learning about my ultimate fate.

The operation took around 4 hours–or at least that’s the span of time from when my mind totally shut down because of the general anaesthetic to the time I opened my eyes in the recovery room of the hospital’s surgery suite. There wasn’t any pain at all although I was extremely thirsty when I regained consciousness. My doctor repeatedly warned me beforehand that I wouldn’t be able to breathe through my right nostril after the surgery because of the packing inside, but I could breathe in and out just fine when I woke up. There was some relief–but not because the operation was over, but because I knew I was one step closer to Friday.

I plodded through seven more days before I was finally in that room I imagined millions of times in my head, waiting for a hospital clerk to hand me the documents that would reveal my destiny. I was with Erika whom I missed terribly even though I was with her every day. Minutes from now, I knew I was either going to collapse crying or scream with joy… or maybe I would still collapse crying regardless of the results. Looking around the medical records office, it was haunting knowing that countless people have retrieved their results from that small room, many of them probably breaking down in the arms of their loved ones when they saw their future at last.

I was still putting my signature on some acknowledgement forms when the clerk handed Erika the test results. I didn’t ask her right away but I was watching her in the corner of my eyes, looking for any sign that spelled my doom. For a couple of seconds, I was almost sure that my nightmares had come true because she was reading the papers so silently–no smile or any sign that there was good news at all.

“What does it say?” I finally asked her, my voice cracking, as I took the documents from her hand.

I immediately scanned for familiar words. No mention of “cancer” nor “tumor.” Nothing said “malignant” or “pre-malignant” or “pre-cancerous.” Nothing.

To my surprise, I didn’t fall down bawling nor jumped with joy. Perhaps it was just my severe exhaustion after reaching the end of this long treacherous journey, but I simply smiled, embraced Erika, and said “It looks like I’m ok.”

We immediately went up to my ENT’s office and showed him the results. He confirmed the good news–the great news–that my growths (because there were two of them that were removed) were indeed just nasal polyps. My doctor had shown me pictures of them after my operation and they looked nothing like grapes. They were unevenly shaped shiny masses colored brown and red with some parts yellow. According to my doctor, the reason for that was because the polyps themselves had rotted (not only my mucus) because of the legions of bacteria that had thrived there.

The packing in my nose was removed by my doctor after another week. Once the ordeal was over, I saw my ENT in a different light–somebody who had saved my life by taking away the main culprit for my recurring infections, which I thought could’ve developed into something more serious had no action been taken to correct the situation. Needless to say, I was thankful to him, and to Erika, to my family, and to all my friends who supported me and expressed their concern for me throughout that dark period.

The truth is I was grateful for everyone and everything. Even people who never knew I was sick. People who never knew who I was. People in the streets. Stray dogs and cats. To God.

I was–I am thankful for life.

Free Writing

There’s Probably Not a Lot of Meaning Left in the World Now But at Least I’m Not Single

There’s probably not a lot of meaning left in the world now but at least I’m not single.

Growing older, causes may die, races may be run, and the thirst for high adventure may be quenched, leaving just a musty old room filled with empty space where youthful dreams once thrived–it’s admittedly depressing and picture-perfect suicidal at times–but at least I’ve got a girlfriend.

And not to brag about it but just to illustrate my point: I have a totally magnificently bonkers girlfriend who cures all the existential ailments plaguing my being.

Case in point: I would sometimes find myself looking into the distance, pondering what the point of living is but then out of nowhere, she intentionally steps in my line of sight and ruins every deep, dark feeling of mine with her lovely smile and her awesome legs, and suddenly I forget everything about what I was being sad for in the first place. Works every time and it’s great!

I know that might sound like objectification and there’s a chance it is to a large degree but it’s the plain truth, sir, madame.

We may be victims of this oversexualized society but we are not incapable of speaking the truth in our hearts though it might be dehumanizing at times.

But I digress.

I’d honestly hate to be that guy who looks into the abyss without a girlfriend pestering him for a selfie.

Selfies with the girlfriend plug the massive black hole in one’s chest sucking the joy out of the universe (and if you don’t acknowledge you have such a black hole right between your nipples, you are nothing but a sad, lying, booger-digesting gorilla). These selfies may be distractions from the all-too-important internal conversations you have with yourself when you’re alone in your bed in the darkness but at least they’re honest-to-goodness happy distractions. If you’re happy, it can’t be all that bad.

A lot of people would say being happy is the only point of living, in fact. Precisely why some people could survive on porn, video games, and weed–those tried-and-tested packs of happiness that are more or less accessible for every man and woman. And child.

Needless to say, a real relationship is much harder to get, let alone maintain and grow. And that’s why in the grander scheme of the hedonistic scales, a girlfriend is much more valuable by far.

Because if you think about it, a girlfriend is a handy answer to that question that’s always burning in the back of your mind: that question of why the hell you’re even here? Why are you not your dad’s wasted seminal fluid dripping down the bathroom drain? Well, I guess if you’re able to make someone like your girlfriend happy (provided she’s a completely rational individual who makes choices and not in fact just a code you wrote to laugh at your every ill-delivered pun or otherwise a pot of cactus or a piece of scab you named Janet), you must have earned your stay here to some degree, have you not? You’ve got a purpose. You’re not merely your dad’s seminal fluid dripping down the bathroom drain though you might still feel that way sometimes.

Living is much easier with that question quelled. Tragic accidents, such as getting hit by a speeding car while crossing the road, can easily happen when you succumb to existential questions like that in the middle of existing. And the worst thing about such a horrific turn of events is that the newspapers would never say you were actually being philosophical in a mobile manner in that moment; they would only say you got hit by a speeding car because you’re an idiot. Which of course would be a total shame.

Not to say that a lot of mobile philosophers are not idiots because in all likelihood, they are to a large degree.

So the truth is, I’m really sad for all those people who just couldn’t get a girl or a guy or just a sentient humanoid being to care for them back in a completely non-platonic way. And by “non-platonic” I mean you have unholy sex once in a while and your mothers should be ashamed of ever conceiving you. It truthfully is just a total waste of time and resources to be walking this earth without such terrific company.

I know some people say being happy doesn’t require another person, and some would even post those pretty quotes on Facebook, but I call bullshit on that giant tower of stinkin’ dung heap.

Porn, video games, and weed–as good as they are–can only get you so far. Any decent, self-respecting human being would not be content to snort those basest of modern pleasures for the rest of their lives, though admittedly a lot of lives in the history of mankind have been wasted in a lot of dumber and pointless ways. But that’s no excuse.

Not even the healthy options like climbing mountains or painting in water color pastel hues are that much of a difference. The additional health benefits and skills you develop with such hobbies will definitely be appreciated but they can never guarantee peace of mind. Just between you and me, you might be better off with just the porn, but to each his own, I guess.

But seriously, from a guy who’s been through the withering deserts of singlehood for years, please believe me when I say getting a girlfriend as good as mine is absolutely worth it in every way.

Bonus if she also loves you.