I was living in an apartment the size of a walk-in freezer. The drinking had been wearing a hole in my stomach. There had been warnings: knifing pains after lunch and dinner, and sometimes a swirl of pink in the bowl when I vomited. My doctor was an old guy who smoked. I liked him. He told me to lay off the alcohol until I could get scoped. "The endoscopy's in two weeks," he said,"try to be good till then."
He gave me some Librium to make the wait easier. Quitting cold turkey was never easy, tho I had done it for brief periods before. Usually, however, I tapered off first to make the transition less jarring. This time, I didn't have that luxury, but I devised a system using nonalcoholic beer and Librium. I didn't have a TV so I spent my evenings reading or writing. The first three nights were the worst. I made myself pretend I had the flu, had my Coor's Cutter and Librium, and went to bed at nine. After that it was easier. A little.
On the day of the procedure the nurse had me strip to my shorts and put on a gown. Then a tech came in, told me to lie on the table, and sprayed my throat with a numbing agent. "We're going to give you some i.v. Valium," he said. The shot went into me like a half dozen Saturday nights. "You might fall asleep," said the tech. "I doubt it," I said.
When the scope entered my throat, I gagged a moment, then the tube went down. It was a strange feeling, a bit how I imagined drowning might be, minus the fear. I kept my eyes on the monitor. Now I knew why people referred to their innards as "plumbing." I couldn't make any sense of it. When it was done, they pulled the tube out. "So?" I croaked, "whadya see?" The tech wouldn't say. "There's a cot in the room where you changed clothes," he said, "try to take a nap."
I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep. The cross-tolerance between alcohol and Valium meant I was barely buzzed. After the door closed I got dressed and started wandering around, trying to find my chart. I found some folders, but not mine. Then the nurse came in. "What're you doing?" she asked. "Not sleeping," I said. "Have you arranged for a ride home?" she asked. "I don't need one," I said, "I walk around much worse off than this every night." She paused a moment. "Well," she said, "WE can't let you walk home like this." My apartment was only three blocks away, but the nurse stood firmly by policy.
At the time, my wife and I were separated, but I didn't know whom else to call. When she arrived, she wasn't happy. "I had to take off WORK," she said. "It wasn't my idea," I told her, "I wanted to walk home." "What did they say, I mean, about your stomach?" "Nothing yet, the doc will call." Outside, we hailed a cab. It was the shortest cab ride ever. I got out. My wife stayed in the cab and went back to work.
That night, I had my usual Cutter and Librium and went to bed. The next day the doctor called. "Good news, no ulcer, just an erosion." I exhaled. "You probably did have an ulcer last month, so don't think you're off the hook. If you need a refill on the Librium, call my office." I thanked him and hung up. Then I went out and bought 4 rolls of Tums and walked to the nudie bar. "Bud," I said. I took a sip, then a Tums. The pills were fruit flavored and didn't mix well with the beer. But the knives had stopped. Frankie Goes to Hollywood came on the jukebox, a new girl took the stage, and I ordered another beer. I took a sip and had another Tums. I was on the mend.