Just about four decades ago, when I was invincible and full of curiosity, risking all in the name of experience, I managed to acquire an unwanted rider called Hepatitis C. I was an I.V. drug user and daily drinker for most of that time. The drug using being for the most part a series of binges that would last anywhere from a few months to several years at some point per decade. I’m talking about hard-core intravenous drug use. The actual embarkation of the Hepatitis C freeloader is not actually known. He may have sneaked on board at any time in the years between 1963 and 1986. He may have jumped the freight in the early 1970’s, or maybe in the middle 1980’s. Regardless of the time of his intrusion, he remains tucked in some recess of my body, slowly going about his business of survival. Oh yeah, my name is Michael Davis. I’m a bass player in a rock band. I’ve been hard-core into this lifestyle of rock and roll for 40 years. It’s not unusual for someone in my profession to be a drug user. In fact, it’s almost cliché that musicians tend to get loaded, particularly if they are extraordinarily gifted, and/or black. Alcoholism is also characteristic of “my people.” Hepatitis C, being a blood borne infection is not a concern of an alcoholic/drunkard, but, truth is, substance abuse seems to like the company of many substances. We, who have risked the lifestyle, know the endlessness of our weakness for psychophysical displacement.
When I learned that I tested positive for the Hepatitis C virus, my reaction was somewhat blasé. “I don’t feel anything unusual. So…what of it?” “It could lead to complications,” said my doctor. “Your liver is susceptible to permanent damage, cirrhosis, and ultimately, your death. Are you eager to die? Is there nothing in life that you value? Is there anyone else who may care if you live or die?” “Holy cow, I’m NOT alone. I have a wife and kids and my life is the best it has ever been. This matters! What do you want me to do?”
My doctor told me he was sending me to a lab for ultrasound pictures of my liver, and referring me to a specialist. And so it began: the challenge to rid my being of the alien invader that had taken up residence somewhere in my gastro enterological machinery. The little devil walked right in on a silver spoon, and surged through the tiny hole in a disposable syringe that I willingly, no, eagerly accepted from a previous shooter. It’s kind of a vampire tale; you have to invite him in or he’s just waiting around for his chance. I said yes to infection! Can you believe it? Damn! It’s that easy. It’s not that easy to lose. There’s a treatment. Let’s say a developing research for treatment. Otherwise, the Hepatitis C virus is not well known. It’s only since 1989 that the specific virus called Hepatitis C was isolated. Until then, it did not even exist to medical science. Yet, it existed in me! Ah, well it’s a lucky thing that this devil moves so slowly I couldn’t even tell anything was there. A lucky thing it is that I have a doctor who looked at my numbers from blood work, and wanted to find out why my liver was showing abnormal amounts of antibodies.
My specialist, Dr. Isaac Bartley, a very well known Gastroenterologist in Los Angeles, explained several facts surrounding “The Treatment.” Among them was the fact that the recovery rate is around 70%, a marked improvement from just a few years previous when 50% was the average, and chance of remission was common after stopping the treatment. The new deal was/is a two-fold attack of injections of Interferon Alpha, and oral ingestion of Ribavirin. I haven’t researched the how-it-works aspect of any of these chemicals. So, I have no idea what is going on in the battle itself. This isn’t why I’m writing this journal of my experience. I only wish to report what Interferon has done for me and how it went down in my case.
The second fact is side effects. There is a list of scary, bewildering, torturous, unrelenting side effects. Most devastating on the list is a hideous multi-headed monster called depression. The fact that depression is the sole property of it’s creator means that only the patient can know what it is for him or her, where it originates, and how to get a grip on it, if at all. It is infinite in nature, and it is self perpetuating. It is real and it is imagined all at once. And it is a big problem. Those who know the depths of depression can be terrified by the very thought of it. I am told that it is the main reason many people reject treatment- the fear of depression. I have known depression. I have felt the bottom of the hole from which there seems to be no escape. My depression lasted for several years, but I knew the cause of it, which helped. And I believed that time would eventually heal the wound and one day I would forget my sadness. It came to pass. Those days are well behind me now, and the fact that I was so completely devastated, I regard as quite incredible. Yet it was as overwhelming as anything ever at the time.
Other side effects can be flu-like symptoms, fatigue, drowsiness, joint ache, nausea, apathy, etc., or let’s say, anything could likely be a side effect of Interferon Alpha. The treatment can last from 6 months to 1 year. It may be that a more potent form of Interferon is necessary to effectively deal with the virus. Being that there is more than one strain of the virus, trial and error is how we must take on the enemy. With all of these factors in mind, I decide that I can, and will, undergo the treatment process, for better or for worse, and ultimately me and my doctors will prevail, because we are stronger, smarter, and determined to defeat the bug.
And, by the way, no alcohol at any time, as alcohol will undermine the effectiveness of the treatment, and continue to damage the liver. I haven’t drunk anything alcoholic for 6 months. I have entirely left the craving behind. And along with that I have discovered clarity in my mind, body and soul. I feel like a young person, but with the limitations that come with age and atrophy. My wit, will, and want is alive and well. I don’t fear temptation to drink. It is meaningless and ludicrous to persist with the old behavior. If I’m happy, why should I fuck with it?
THE JOURNAL; DAY 1
It’s June 20, 2005 - the day of The Summer Solstice. It’s 12:00 noon. A young man whose name is Marc, comes to our house on Claremont Street in Pasadena, CA. Marc is the Director of Nursing, a Registered Nurse, from US Bioservices, www.usbioservices.com, and a heck of a nice guy. Marc has come to deliver my medication, an information pack, and instruct me on the procedures of administering my treatment. As we chat for perhaps an hour, I begin to feel anticipation of the point of no return. Once I commit I’m in. It’s a matter of honor and self-respect to keep my pledge and goal sacred. How bad can it be? I’ve done things to my body that could have brought down whole herds of cattle. I’ve ingested substances that could create tidal pools of dead crustaceans. Press on, it can’t be that bad. Whoa, the shot! Hey, it only goes in the fat. No muscle, no vein, pinch of fat, and that’s that? It’s done. Cool. Didn’t feel a thing…yet.
After Marc leaves, I begin to have mild waves of chill. I sit in the sun until it becomes uncomfortable and then retreat to the house where a fan on the ceiling blows away any warmth I may have absorbed. My body feels achy and stressed. At about the forth hour post shot, I’m sitting once again in the sun on the patio. In what can’t really qualify as a thought, I feel emotionally overwhelmed. I’m looking into a darkness of mind that recognizes itself as a lousy, no good son of a bitch that doesn’t deserve the attention of a hoard of cockroaches. I see a fool and a fake. I rise from the seat, and enter the office where my wife, Angela is busy at her desk, sorting out the slew of emails and phone contacts that make up the tasks of running a business. I seat myself at my desk and click some email boxes open to see if anyone in the world knows me. No. Angela is in her diligent work mode. She is unstoppable, accepting all challenges, and charming the most resistant bushwhackers, none of whom can deny or ignore the radiance of the person they’ve been lucky enough to make contact with. She is asking me a question I think. Oh yes, uh, I’m ok, sort of, and…She looks a bit closer, and tells me; ”your eyes are all watery and…your not feeling well, are you?” Just then a big tear falls down the right side of my face, and I say; “I don’t know”. Another tear falls down the left side of my face. It’s on. I can’t hide. I’m in full tear flow, and Angela is up out of her chair, and caressing my head. I’m sobbing as quietly as I possibly can, not knowing at all what it’s about. The Interferon is jerking me into a pit of self-loathing. For the next two hours I can’t stop crying. I’m beginning to enjoy a headache as a diversion, when a brilliant thought crosses my mind. I’m going to take a couple of Tylenol and try to relax. Within the next hour, things taper off. The headache gone, the trauma of realizing I’m a pathetic loser has passed, the aches, the chills, the hopelessness that is my life floated harmlessly to the heavenly blue sky. And there she is. The one. The woman who gives me the sword to conquer my demon. Amen.
I have come to realize that talking is basically the cure to most mental illnesses. Without speech and communication, we fall like scattered debris into an abyss of fantasy and fear. Even the most freely associated streams of words can lead one to the door that opens onto a place where we can find the heart of the being our mother cradled in her arms and adored. We remember in our lost memories that the eyes that first beheld us in the first minute of the first hour of the first day of our little lives saw us as we REALLY are, and not the mess we became. Those eyes that said it all: APPROVAL. That is what we seek, and strive to be. In all our wandering can we feel the gaze of pure love ever again? Can we be who we REALLY are? Well, why not? How to undo all the wrong that’s been done? Talk about it. Talk about it. After all, a mess is just something that needs attention and cleaning up. If you can put the troublesome things away in places where they don’t keep you stumbling over them, you can use your time and space more efficiently. You can grow, just like starting all over.
We sat there on the bed, Angela and me, and I talked awhile about the disappointments I had handed to people over the years. Particularly to my parents, both now deceased. Of all my shame and regrets, the bombs I laid on my parents are the deepest and most painful. But even that darkness can be brightened when you look at it in focus. So we talked and focused, and talked and hugged. After a while, I knew, I just knew, I could beat this thing, what ever it was. It didn’t frighten me any more. Nor did it hold me down like a pinned wrestler. I was up, off the mat, and ready for phase 2, the Ribavirin doses.
I know nothing about Ribavirin, in part, because virtually nothing was said about it by Dr. Bartley or by Marc Johnson of US Bioservices. Two 250 milligram caps, twice a day is the dosage. Since there was virtually nothing said, I made the assumption that it was much less a hardship than the Interferon. Sensing a modest amount of victory, I ate the caps with no hesitation or foreboding. To be honest, I felt nothing from the Ribavirin. The next morning I took the next 500 milligrams of Ribavirin, and steadied myself for the long haul. I wasn’t thinking the coast is clear just yet. Let’s give it every opportunity to fuck with us. Then we’ll see if it actually is doing what it’s supposed to. I was looking forward to next Monday, and the big second shot of whack-it. My confidence was growing.
The rest of the first week was normal. I had to snap to attention a couple of times when I couldn’t remember if I had taken my dose or not. After a pill count one night, I figured everything was cool, and I hadn’t missed anything. One of those first days I fell asleep for an hour and a half in the afternoon and forgot to take Gabriel to his clarinet lesson. I said the Ribavirin made me do it.