I hope this letter finds you doing well. My apologies for not writing to you for a while; I hope you didn’t think I grew tired of the blogging world and abandoned you. Nothing could be further from the truth, but I must admit that I’m currently having trouble keeping up with everyone. I have been thinking of you often, but I’ve been at a loss to think of what to say, even though some events have transpired in my life that cry out for expression.
I have now been caffeine free for thirty-seven days. I couldn’t have accomplished this without reaching out for help. I have joined Caffeine Addicts Anonymous, and I have committed myself to the twelve steps of caffeine sobriety. I participated in a meeting over the phone this past Tuesday morning, which was a conference call. The members began by reciting the serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenty to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Then the members identified themselves. “I’m Sandra and I’m a caffeine addict,” said one caller. “I’m Ron and I’m a caffeine addict,” said another. After several people identified themselves, I spoke up. “I’m Tom and I’m a caffeine addict.” We continued the meeting with one of the members giving a reading from the book Confessions of a Caffeine Addict, by Marina Kushner. I ordered the book this past week from Amazon, and upon its cover is the inside of a coffee cup, filled with espresso, with a troubled pair of eyes from within it staring back at you, reflected in the dark brew, as if it you were a Narcissus falling in love with your own disturbing reflection. In the book are fourty confessions, people who describe insomnia, irritability, anxiety, mood swings, broken marriages, auto accidents, along with trips to the hospital as a result of their abuse of caffeine. After the reading, it was time for the members to share their experiences with caffeine addiction, and I spoke up again.
“I’m Tom from North Carolina,” I began, “and I am a caffeine addict. I was drinking coffee like most people drink water — two pots a day — and I entered this program with an aching gut. My addiction to espresso was stripping out the linings of my stomach. Today, I have to go to a doctors office to have a procedure done — an upper endoscopy, where a tube is to be placed down my esophagus with a camera on its end, to take pictures of the inside of the stomach I have been abusing with coffee. This makes the second time I’ve had to undergo this procedure. I haven’t been able to eat or drink anything since midnight, and I just cannot carry on this way anymore. There is a chance coffee has given me an ulcer. I have to commit myself to quitting caffeine forever. Thank you for letting me share.”
The meeting ended with a recitation of the serenity prayer once again, then everyone finally hung up. I never realized that buying coffee out of a vending machine years ago when I was in college would lead to something like this. A visit to Starbucks is filled with hidden dangers for some types of people.
So I rode my bike over to Laura’s house, and she drove me to Greenville, to Vidant Gastrointerology, a large brick building not far from Vidant Medical Center. Once inside, we went up in the elevator to the third floor, and I checked in at the front desk, signing some legal paperwork, then Laura and I were called back into another waiting area. I handed the nurse at the window my paperwork, then Laura and I sat in a couple of chairs in front of the television, as it displayed a soap opera entitled The Young and the Restless, offering its audience tales of corporate intrigue and marital infidelity, followed by The Bold and the Beautiful, which offered much of the same.
A nurse called my name, and I passed through the doorway and was assigned a bed. I pulled the privacy curtain, took off my shirt, and put on a gown which opened and tied in the back. One of the nurses hooked me up to a machine, placing a band which filled with air around my left arm, to check my blood pressure, along with a staple on the forefinger of my right hand, to check my pulse. As I began to hear the rhythmic beaping coming out of the monitor high above my head, another nurse warned me that I would feel a stick, and ran a needle into one of the veins in my right arm. She was handed a bag of clear solution, which she attached high upon a steel pedestal, hooking it into the tube now running out of my arm, and soon I could feel the liquid being forced into my vein.
They let Laura come in after these preparations were made. She was standing beside me holding my hand, as Dr. Ali, wearing blue scrubs and a blue cap to cover his hair, entered my pavilion, along with a medical student wearing a white coat. Dr. Ali gave me the full details of what he was going to do, making sure that I knew exactly what was getting ready to happen. After our discussion, I signed a document, and he said I would be next in line. After the doctor left, Laura sat down in the chair beside me as I lied upon the bed, and I could feel the tranquil effects of the solution being pumped into me. I was still a little nervous, but Laura comforted me. I began to feel a rumbling in my bowels. A man wearing scubs stopped by, who identified himself as the anesthesiologist, and began asking me questions about the condition of my heart and whether or not I was taking blood thinners. After I gave him the information he needed, I asked a pertinent question.
“Is there a chance I will mess up my pants in the middle of the procedure?” I asked.
“Oh, no!” he replied.
As he disconnected my body from the machinery around me, he began pulling out my bed, rolling it down a long corridor which was blocked at the end by a door; he pressed a button, the door slowly opened, then he wheeled me into a room with more machinery and a large television screen. “My name is Frances,” said the kind, gentle nurse assisting the doctor. “I think I’ve seen you in here before,” I replied. Frances remembered me from three years ago. She arranged the pillows behind my head, instructing me to roll over upon my left side. After I did this, she gently placed an oxygen tube around my ears, with the two openings of the tube going up both my nostrils. Frances then proceded to put a large cylinder in my mouth which I could bite down on, strapping it in place with two elastic bands around my head. Dr Ali put on a transparent shield over his face, and the anesthesiologist instructed me to start breathing deeply.
The next thing I remember was that I was back in my same pavilion, with Laura sitting beside me. Dr. Ali peered through the curtain, giving Laura the pictures he took of the inside of my stomach and the surrounding anatomical structures, telling me that all he found was a little inflammation, no bleeding or ulcer, and no cancer. He cut off a tiny piece of tissue in the inflamed area and plans to take a biopsy. I would get a phone call in about three weeks.
I asked where the restroom was after I got dressed, and I went in there and sat on the commode, passing mostly air and burping. “Are you okay in there?” Frances asked after knocking upon the door. “I’m fine,” I replied, washing my hands and coming out. “You didn’t flush yourself down in there, did you?” she joked. She came around with a wheelchair to take me to Laura’s car. “It was nice seeing you,” I told Frances, “but I hope I don’t have to see you in here again.” As Laura was driving me home, I enjoyed the calm euphoria I was feeling; it stuck with me for several hours after Laura took me to her house.
Today was the day Laura and I always pay a visit to the food bank to get our groceries. Laura took my backpack with her to procure my food for me, returning an hour and a half later. We emptied all our bags of food upon her kitchen counter, trading with each other, giving out we didn’t want for what we wanted, then I refilled my backpack and Laura drove me home.
I told myself that, even though I got away a second time without any permanent damage to my stomach, it is no license to go back to drinking coffee, for I might not be quite so lucky a third time.