Friday, January 11, 2013

Researching the Hangover

A good hangover deserves a name. I call this one Glenn 'Stinger' Fiddich.



I posted Sunday that the chemotherapy induced headache and nausea of last week was probably the worst I'd ever felt. After a little reflection, I realized that is not true. The worst I ever felt was the day after an office Christmas party in 1991.
Nearly everyone who drinks with any frequency has been occasionally persuaded by circumstances and convivial friends to abandon reason in order to hold on to the fleeting sense of belonging that accompanies a range of intoxication. It is unfortunate, perhaps, that the same range of intoxication often serves to undo many of its own perceived benefits. Amnesia is just part of the equation.
In their cups, for example, many people are unable to distinguish the lethal among their various verbal armaments, so they might, in haste, launch a photon torpedo when the occasion would have been better served by activating a tractor beam. Conversely, these same people, thinking they are safely under the tender protection of mother alcohol, also have a habit of dropping their shields. Then every stray volley, no matter how well intentioned it may have been when it was fired, has the potential to breach their hulls and send them tumbling into deep space. The implications are clear. Fans of the science fiction genre should not drink at office parties.
Unintended verbal skirmishes are tales for another time, however. I'm a reticent soul, and thick skinned, so verbal assaults and their aftermath are not usually a problem for me. My problem is forgetting what I did, what I said, and the order and proportions in which things may have happened. This particular party is a case in point.
I may have been that drunk before—and possibly since—but I have never been that hungover. The throbbing in my head was as relentless and compelling as the piston slap of a giant coal-fired steam engine in a tramp freighter. The nausea as debilitating as could be attributed to the roll and pitch of the self-same freighter in a quartering sea and gale force winds.
I only remember bits and pieces of the manner in which I arrived at this pitiful state, but I remember every excruciating second of the hangover. I remember the individual atoms crashing into my forehead. I remember each balmy zephyr that bestirred my aching hair follicles until I had to take a seat from the exhaustion of it. I remember every chirruping bird and buzzing insect who had the temerity to disturb an otherwise peaceful day in the tropics with their callous, raucous indifference to my suffering.
At one point we set out in the car from Tampa to Deland to celebrate Boxing Day with my wife's sister. My wife drove. I was incapable of either navigation or remembering to keep the accelerator pedal depressed between stops. I rode in the back seat on a pile of ad hoc padding with my eyes shut against the admission of any stray rays of sunlight and prayed for a deliverance that was not forthcoming. I knew it wasn't forthcoming principally because I also knew that I didn't deserve it. I lasted twelve minutes until I begged my wife to turn the car around and take me home where the bed was at least proceeding at something less than the speed limit.
Sometimes, when I am busy pondering life's imponderables, I consider that I might actually have expired that day, and that my current iteration exists in an alternate parallel universe where I do not have to pay for the sins I toted up prior to that fateful party. If that's the case, my wife saved a bundle on my cremation as I'm sure I was not only combustible but volatile for several days thereafter.
The party itself was no more or less memorable than I would have expected. We started off in a lovely community room attached to a well-heeled golf course community. I had a few scotch whiskeys with a splash of water. I danced with my wife. I danced with my boss's wife since he was holding court and couldn't be bothered. I visited with co-workers, trading shop tales and office hijinks. I tied with the boss's son by correctly guessing the number of Hershey's candy kisses in a big jar. The prize was the jar and the candy. I thought the boss's kid ought to step aside in favor of the hired help. He didn't see it that way. We both loved milk chocolate more than justice.
When the party finally wound down we found ourselves trooping to a local country bar in a gaggle comprised of the company inner circle and assorted hangers on. The boss, now well into the holiday spirit, opened a tab. We got the band to join us at our table. He bought their drinks as well. It was shaping up to be the best party I had ever attended.
I danced a bunch of country waltzes with my wife. Neither of us had ever done that before, nor have we since. We don't know how. I did that night though. I was the Baryshnikov of boot scootin', the Fred Astaire of country hoofing. In short, I was a marvel in an area where accountants rarely excel...certainly not I.
Back at our table I noticed that the band had not touched their drinks. 'No sense letting those go to waste,' I thought. I can drink those and save the boss having to buy me another.
If you are paying close attention, you will recognize this as the moment when I began to take leave of my senses. If you have not been paying close attention, you will still recognize this moment anyway when I tell you that the band had left on the table for my personal enjoyment and gratification some combination of Stingers, Brandy Alexanders, and nameless but colorful concoctions of fruit and unpronounceable liqueurs.
Not only that, they came back to our table and ordered another round after their next set. They left those sitting there as well. I doubt that I have ever been so spiritually edified in a barroom setting, nor so enthralled with the generosity and fellowship of musicians.
To my everlasting credit, I decided sometime during the next stinger that I ought to switch back to my more staid and usual scotch and water before I did something foolish. Of course that ship had already sailed and it had taken me the better part of an hour to realize that the mooring lines were coiled on the wharf and the quay was empty of vessels.
Still I managed, by marshaling my focus and slowing my pace, not to do or say anything that would be historically noteworthy. I was a model of decorum and restraint, but while I was concentrating on escaping the rushing tide of foolish behavior, I failed to realize that I had already done as much damage to my physical self as I could likely tolerate. I was just playing games with my own head until the toxic chickens I had already hatched came home to roost in it.
When the bar closed down for the night, the boss decided that we should all go over to his house to continue the revelry. My wife, designated driver on this as well as most revelry-suffused nights of my life, thought this was ill-advised. I disagreed, demonstrating, in stark hindsight, the effectiveness of the designated driver process. I was very persuasive, so we went.
Things took an odd turn at the boss's house. When we arrived, my wife and me, the rest of the group was already there. They had arranged themselves on the floor in various states of dishevelment and repose, and they were, some of them at least, draped over one another in odd parings that bore little resemblance to those that I had observed at the beginning of the party. I knew, by hearsay and anecdote, that random odd couplings in the aftermath of a party do not lend themselves to continuing good relations among the participants. I won't say this development was particularly sobering, but it was enlightening enough that my wife and I beat a hasty retreat. The rest, as they say, is history.
I don't know what happened after we left. I don't want to know. What I do know is that all those oddly draped souls from the boss's living room floor made it to work the next day, and not one of them seemed the worse for wear...except me. They were all somehow capable of functioning in a work-a-day milieu while I was challenged by the effort of remaining upright and gripping a coffee.
When I was a youngster, and my mother made me take some medicine, she would invariably point out that, if it was disagreeable to swallow or painful on its application to my sundry hurts, that meant it was working. The worse the medicine, the more powerful its restorative effects. My current oncologist told me much the same thing. One of the more unpleasant side-effects of the Erbitux is a painful rash. Getting the rash, she assured me, is a sign the drug is working. Better to get the rash than not, in other words, but I have to say the jury is out on that one as far as I'm concerned.
I never thought to apply this adage to the hangover, but in retrospect, I have to wonder whether a truly formidable one is a sign that one has had a healthy amount to drink, and so done oneself a good turn. To carry this thought a little further, a truly bad hangover and the effects of my first Erbitux infusion have a lot in common. I would say that they feel nearly identical. I could not differentiate one from the other except I know what I did or didn't do to get them.
It follows then, in some perverse bit of logic, that my hangover of 1991 and the more recent one caused by chemotherapy are both good for me. They are curing what ails me—no matter how much I might wish that they were not. The feelings and sensations engendered by that fateful concoction of random adult beverages was identical in every respect to the sensations caused by my initial loading dose of Erbitux.
What I mean to say is that I may easily have invented a cure for cancer all those many years ago, one as effective as the most modern of chemotherapy drugs and certainly cheaper, but, given the transience and ambivalence of an alcohol fueled thought process, I have no earthly idea how to repeat it.  

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