August 4, 2010

"I came to consciousness feeling as if I were actually shackled to my own corpse."

Christopher Hitchens writes about crossing the border from well to sick.

It happened the morning after of this appearance on "The Daily Show," when he was still in denial:
I would not cancel these appearances or let down my friends or miss the chance of selling a stack of books. I managed to pull off both gigs without anyone noticing anything amiss, though I did vomit two times, with an extraordinary combination of accuracy, neatness, violence, and profusion, just before each show. This is what citizens of the sick country do while they are still hopelessly clinging to their old domicile.
In "the land of malady," where he now finds himself...
Everybody smiles encouragingly and there appears to be absolutely no racism. A generally egalitarian spirit prevails, and those who run the place have obviously got where they are on merit and hard work.... [T]here seems to be almost no talk of sex, and the cuisine is the worst of any destination I have ever visited.....
He wonders whether the famous Kübler-Ross stages of dying are appropriate for him, given the way he's lived:
... I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read—if not indeed write—the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity. 
To Hitch, "Why me?" is a "dumb question." "Why not?" — he quips.

CORRECTION: The appearance on "The Daily Show" occurred after he woke up feeling as if he were shackled to his own corpse. I read the phrase "The night of the terrible morning...." as meaning the eve of the terrible morning.

47 comments:

rhhardin said...

Writers need material.

MadisonMan said...

I did vomit two times, with an extraordinary combination of accuracy, neatness, violence, and profusion, just before each show.

Does he give lessons on accuracy and neatness? My kid had the violence and profusion parts down pat last week. Eew.

(Just a passing bug, two nights)

Fred4Pres said...

I pray and hope for Christopher Hitchens recovery. I disagree with him on many things, but I respect and like him too. Life is better when you have gadflies like Hitchens around.

Alex said...

There are no atheist in the cancer ward. God is sending you a message Hitch.

deborah said...

Dear Hitch.

traditionalguy said...

God bless Hitch. Yes, at weak moments you can feel the uplift from sincere prayers of Christian believers. Don't leave home without them.

ricpic said...

It's a very spirited article Hitch writes under the circumstances without a hint of self-pity. I wish him well.

GMay said...

I don't think he would have lived long enough to see the WTC rebuilt had he lived another hundred years.

Though I guess it's possible he'll live to see a nearby building razed and a mosque rise in its place.

Fred4Pres said...

I have a feeling God has a soft spot in his heart for athiests like Christopher Hitchens. I truly wish him the best.

Hitchens loves to fight and be the contrarian. This is all part of that.

Kensington said...

I've admired Hitchens, but his desire to write obituaries for people like the Pope are not endearing.

Richard Dolan said...

That column was one of Hitch's best. Clear-eyed detachment is not the usual perspective most people bring to bear when contemplating the likely shortness of life.

It reminded me a bit (not in its style but in its clear-eyed quality) of two other writers who have had to deal with mortality at distressingly short range: the Pittsburgh professor whose 'last lecture' was a huge phenom on YouTube a while ago; and Bill Stuntz at HLS who has chronicled his medical journey through the same "land of malady." Both of them brought a religious perspective to bear, but like Hitch, their focus was in facing honestly the terrible reality of what was happening to them without self-pity.

prairie wind said...

I've always wondered about the Kübler-Ross stages of grief (not dying). They always struck me as a good way to market books. A grief-stricken person might realize he is really angry (or depressed or...) and when someone nods wisely and says, "Yes, one of the five stages," the search begins for the other four stages that must have been there, right?

Triangle Man said...

@Alex

Hitch is proving you wrong.

FloridaSteve said...

I generally agree with Hitch on most things. Even (especially) his views on religion and it is my sincerest hope that I get to read him for another decade.... or much more.

Do us all a favor and get well old man.

The Crack Emcee said...

Hear, hear! Not everyone feels about life, or death, in the manner usually peddled - I know I don't. My life has seen such ups and downs, with many of the worst downs brought on by others and events beyond my control, I can't help but be somewhat ambivalent about it. Like Hitch, there's just the things I want to do, and nothing more. Clinging to life, merely for the sake of living, when I know I'm alone and nobody really gives a shit, is a joke. I just hope it's quick.

Alex,

"There are no atheist in the cancer ward."

People like you give believers a bad name.

Bob From Ohio said...

"To read—if not indeed write—the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger?"

He can't get rid of his white whales, can he?

Tens of thousands of people, including many non-Catholics, shared in the whitewashing of the priest sex scandal. The Pope's role was late in the game, most of the harm had already occurred.

Kissinger isn't responsible for a 1/1000th of the suffering caused by Communists in Cambodia and Vietnam. Yet, it isn't Pol Pot he relishes seeing dead.

He sees so clearly on the War on Terror but so dimly on nearly everything else.

reader_iam said...

Well, he already lived to see Pol Pot die.

LordSomber said...

Interesting to read alongside of this:

"How I found God and peace with my atheist brother" -- Peter Hitchens

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2010/03/how-i-found-god-and-peace-with-my-atheist-brother.html

reader_iam said...

LordSomber: Thanks for providing that link!

MamaM said...

"elderly villians"

If a villian is considered to be a "wicked or evil person; someone who does evil deliberately"; what gain or experience would reading or writing the obituary of an old villian garner?

His experience of human evil was one of the topics he and Hewitt discussed in his recent interview.
Maybe it's all about material, as Rhhardin suggests. I don't think so. I find his use of the word
"shackled" strange too. Its a strong old fashioned word implying the restraint or imprisonment of something I've yet to hear him define.

Christy said...

Loved the column.

One irony is that he looks healthier in that photo than in any I've seen over the last few years.

Can't wait to see how he views all the prayers for him.

Rich B said...

Maybe Joseph Ratzinger will say a prayer for Hitch. But that would piss him off.

Robert Cook said...

I fell seriously ill with leukemia a dozen years ago...in fact, if I had not gone to the doctor the day I did, after having been sick in bed at home for the six preceding days, and if he had not sent me to the emergency room, I would almost certainly have died before the next morning. I was so anemic I had virtually no hemoglobin left in my body.

It was the first time in my life I had ever been sick with anything more than the flu.

I never once thought "Why me?" and in fact I did think, "Why not me?"

After all, mortality is our common fate, and sooner or later, it will get each of us. None of us are exempt, and we can only hope to dodge the ball for just so long.

jimbino said...

Tens of thousands of people, including many non-Catholics, shared in the whitewashing of the priest sex scandal. The Pope's role was late in the game, most of the harm had already occurred.

Kissinger isn't responsible for a 1/1000th of the suffering caused by Communists in Cambodia and Vietnam.


Ratzinger was a Nazi. Whether responsible or not for No Child's Behind Left, Ratzinger can damn well do more to end the cover-up. As far a Peace Nobelist Kissinger is concerned, he is considered a war criminal throughout the Southern Cone, where he actively promoted Operation Condor and assassinations of public figures and tens of thousands of students.

traditionalguy said...

To me the stoics are no help.Please speak faith filled words over me folks. The Psalms David wrote are unmatched in times of imminent death or defeat. Ps 23 is a given, but many more are great picker uppers. I like saying out loud Ps 118:19..."I shall not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord".

traditionalguy said...

That is Ps 118:17.

LarsPorsena said...

"Tens of thousands of people, including many non-Catholics, shared in the whitewashing of the priest sex scandal. The Pope's role was late in the game, most of the harm had already occurred.

Kissinger isn't responsible for a 1/1000th of the suffering caused by Communists in Cambodia and Vietnam.

Ratzinger was a Nazi. Whether responsible or not for No Child's Behind Left, Ratzinger can damn well do more to end the cover-up. As far a Peace Nobelist Kissinger is concerned, he is considered a war criminal throughout the Southern Cone, where he actively promoted Operation Condor and assassinations of public figures and tens of thousands of students."

Thanks, Jimbino. What's the weather like in Pyongyang?

LarsPorsena said...

"...he is considered a war criminal throughout the Southern Cone, where he actively promoted Operation Condor and assassinations of public figures and tens of thousands of students."

Kissinger killed coneheads?

Jonathan Campbell said...

I believe that "The night of the terrible morning, I was supposed to go on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" means that he actually went on the Daily Show after that terrible morning.

Lynne said...

That headline reminds me of a Warren Zevon lyric:

Sometimes I feel as though my shadow's casting me..

I hope he dies in whatever he considers a state of grace- either perfect belief, perfect unbelief, or something in between.

And I'm sorry for his youngest child, a girl just now reaching adulthood, if I recall correctly.

Taking those next big steps in life will be tough without Daddy.

Lynne said...

Robert Cook:

Bless your heart. My father has an extremely rare form of leukemia which is (thankfully!) in remission due to one of those new 'miracle' drugs.

I hope you are still doing well.

{{prayers! hugs!}}

David said...

When diagnosed with fatal leukemia six years ago, I was told that I would probably die within two years.

I did not, principally because my diagnosis was subsequently modified to a form of the disease that is treatable.

The prospect of death before you had thought it likely concentrates your focus quite impressively. The prospect of death is not that unsettling. I was more interested in the process of dying, and in how it would affect me and my family.

For me the prospect of intense suffering was and remains an abstraction. Not for poor Hitch, I'm afraid.

David said...

Lynne--must be CML.

MayBee said...

If anything horrible ever happens to me, it is my goal to avoid saying "why me?".
My friend had strep this winter, and I felt really bad for her-- and then she said "Why me?". I just thought, "would she rather it be me?"

I believe strongly in wallowing in self-pity, but uttering that phrase is frankly embarrassing.

Robert Cook said...

Lynne,

Thank you for your well wishes. Yes, so far, 12 years on and I'm still going strong. The leukemia I had is rare, but reportedly the most treatable (if still sometimes fatal) kind: hairy cell leukemia.

The reason I got so near death is because I didn't know I was sick--or rather, I had ignored signs for months beforehand--and it had progressed to the point of having depleted virtually all of my red blood cells. As I say, I got to the doctor in the very real nick of time.

As may have been true of David, (I'm inferring from his comment), I felt fairly dispassionate about my circumstance: I really didn't feel any fear...it was too late for that. Having never been really ill before, and having never spent time in hospital, I found the whole experience actually quite fascinating.

I was gratified and impressed at the great warmth and care provided by the hospital nurses, one and all. The doctors were fine, too, but less directly involved in the day to day of it all.

Good luck and my best to your father, (and to David, too)!

Windbag said...

He promises to address the prayer groups he's been added to. Can't wait.

kalmia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PatCA said...

He's an amazing writer and thinker. Best of luck to him.

Daniel Fielding said...

I was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiformae, a usually fatal kind of brain cancer in the summer of 1997. Went fro being a very fit college athlete to being sicker than a dog in a matter of a few days. And was initially asked to get ready to the Hospice, because they didnt expect me to survive.
Being that I was a frightened 22 yr old with no family in the US, I didnt think too much, probably couldnt have- I was too focused on staying alive from one day to the next. Denial helped in m ycase, and prevented me from getting depressed and losing the will to live.

William said...

Like Richard Burton, he had an episodic and interesting life. They say that judging the quality of a marriage by its duration is like judging the quality of a wine by the size of the bottle. Perhaps the same can be said of life. It's hard to get your money's worth within sixty one years, but he lived a fine, brave life. I wish him recovery and further dissolution, but if it all arrives at nadaville, he got his million miles in.

Gene said...

Kensington: 've admired Hitchens, but his desire to write obituaries for people like the Pope are not endearing.

I would agree with your disgust at Hitchen's eagerness to write the pope's obituary if Ratzinger hadn't been so astonishingly obtuse about the need to sack priests who molested little boys.

rcocean said...

"Hellava Writer" "Amazing Thinker" "Gadfly" Good grief, are people really this stupid?

He writes for "Vanity Fair", he's a left-wing establishment toady who never wrote a word his New York Publishers disliked. He supported Israel, hated the A-rabs and Pat Robertson, sneered at the Pope and cheered the death of Bob Hope and Mother Teresa. He's as much a "Gadfly" as Billionaire Micheal Bloomberg.

And I'm sure "Hitch" is a millionaire many times over. As for his cancer, his silly shallow "toughness" is expected. I'm sure millions of Nazi's, Communists, and bovines have faced death just as calmly.

That this silly English boozehound is considered a "deep thinker" says it all about 21st century America.

LoafingOaf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LoafingOaf said...

He writes for "Vanity Fair", he's a left-wing establishment toady who never wrote a word his New York Publishers disliked. He supported Israel, hated the A-rabs and Pat Robertson, sneered at the Pope and cheered the death of Bob Hope and Mother Teresa. He's as much a "Gadfly" as Billionaire Micheal Bloomberg.


If you're gonna attack him, try and show you know his work. He's been a strong critic of Israel his entire career, though his position on Israel's enemies has changed. And I don't know why you're trying to claim he's some racist against Arabs. That's a 100% false charge you just pulled out of your ass and cannot back up with a shred of evidence.

You go on to call him a "boozehound". Usually people who resort to attacking Hitchens for liking to drink do so because he wrote something that pissed them off but they lack the ability to counter him on the actual subject.

But then your're so pathetic you even try and attack him for what magazines he's allowed to publish his work, and for the fact he makes money.

So tell us which of Hitchens' pieces got you all upset? Poor baby. What, are you a big fan of how the Pope protected child rapists or something?

rcocean said...

Loafing Oaf,

I'm sorry I criticized your idol. I'm sure you marveled at Hitchen's "genius" and eagerly read his latest "Brave" "iconoclastic" attack on Bob Hope or the Pope while watching Kieth Olbermann.

IOW, you're a typical left-wing idiot. And that Frank Rich sure is smart, isn't he?

LoafingOaf said...

Actually, rcocean, the place I usually hear Hitchens is on the Hugh Hewitt radio program, where he's a very regular guest. And my fave magazine articles by Hitchens are his book reviews in the Atlantic.

I'm not sure why you're obsessing on Bob Hope. I recall Hitchens wrote a piece where he asked people to name their favorite Bob Hope gag. So, what was yours? Do tell, since you seem to feel he was a comedic genius.

And I'm not sure why you seem to think criticizing the Pope is off limits. Who else is on your list of the most powerful people in the world whom we're not allowed to be critical of? And what exactly is your objection to his attacks on the Pope?

I see that you don't give a shit that you were in error on some of Hitchens' positions. He's been a critic of Israel for his entire career, so you got that one about as wrong as could be. And where's your evidence that he hated Arabs?

BTW, I wasn't aware I was a fan of Keith Olberman and Frank Rich. You seem to think you know a lot about a person from one comment on a blog. Amazing. I can't recall the last time I ever even read a Frank Rich column, and I doubt I've read more than two in my entire life.

Lynne said...

David-

Yup, CML.
They found it completely by accident. My father abruptly came down with an infected gall bladder and they were trying to prep him to take it out, but they couldn't get his white count in line no matter what they tried. It was so out of whack they were just sure the gallbladder had become necrotic. Once they decided that, they determined it was better to risk operating than to let the thing stay in place, rotting away.
But the gall bladder turned out to be infected, but not rotten. So the doctors are like: wtf?
So they sent Dad home and assumed "All's well that ends well." He seemed to recover nicely. But my Dad is a retired lab tech, and one day a month or so later he thought: wonder what my white count is now? So he phoned up his doc and asked for a test.
Result: OUTRAGEOUS white count. Back to the hospital and before you know, the Onco's office.
That was 2 years ago, and his onco says he's never seen a patient react to Gleevec like Dad. He was in full remission in 2 weeks! And he has stayed there- thus far.
I notice some differences- he's paler and thinner, in part because Gleevec kinda whacked his sense of taste- but most people wouldn't notice a thing. He's still sharper and more physically active than most 50-year-olds, and he's 80.
Moral of the story for me:

1. An 'unnecessary' blood test that he asked for saved his life.
2. He's as worthy of Gleevec and other fancy meds at 80 as I would be at 47.

Screw Obamacare.