Charlie Fitz stood in front of the toilet for 10 minutes in the middle of the night trying to relieve himself before it dawned on him that on the previous Jan. 3 he had his prostate and bladder removed and no matter how long he stood there nothing was coming out. Charlie was now relieving himself through a stubby little red udder on the right side of his abdomen called a stoma into a plastic bag glued to his stomach.
This was not all bad news because Charlie has a really good chance of becoming the first honest-to-goodness cancer survivor ever from this isolated little rock, which boasts absolutely no medical attention whatsoever.
Others have gotten cancer, of course, but the term “early detection” is not one bandied about here very much. The first line of defense against illness is never go near the post office on mail day. Joy riders from the city and a four foot by eight foot building are a sure formula for the flu, or the “epizudic” as they call it around here.
Charlie boasts of five year stretches without so much as a sniffle using this tried and true method of prevention, hangovers notwithstanding. The thought of serious illness in such a clean and beautiful place of refuge from such things is considered counter intuitive, and dismissed out of hand. We believe somewhere in the backs of our minds that all of the world’s ills have consigned us to the “benign neglect” file like the EPA and have long since passed us by. But this isn’t really true. We’ve all inherited, or self-inflicted, some predisposition to something, be it Alzheimer’s, addiction, cancer or just plain laziness, just to touch on a long list of possibilities.
Once one is actually sick there are the alcohol cures like rum toddies or copious amounts of beer. When that doesn’t work the blame falls on that pesky deer tick; Lyme being the root of all evil no matter what time of year it is. Bushels of Amoxicillin are at the ready in all households courtesy of every tick study done in the last 20 years and we pop them like candy for just about anything, including hangnails, hangovers, colds and even the occasional touch of the Lyme, as well as basic grumpiness and the late winter blues.
Charlie Fitz’s problems began when he noticed a few brown specks in his early morning stream which progressively got bigger over the next month to the point of “hard to ignore.” Having not responded to rum toddies or copious quantities of beer or handfuls of Amoxicillin, the next step was long and lonely walks on the beach in November and on into December. It’s a big decision to leave the island. It’s like leaving the womb believing that one will never be allowed back.
Charlie disappeared without a word and then reappeared for a couple of weeks around Christmas explaining that he’d been up to Massachusetts General Hospital having his dignity eviscerated by a 12-year-old nurse snaking a tiny camera up somewhere that nothing should be snaked up for a look see inside his bladder. Charlie said it was quite a horrible sight to see on the TV screen; the inside of his bladder looking like a tropical fish tank complete with fans, ferns, rocks and bushes all in beautiful HD, none of which was supposed to be there at all.
In January, Charlie went back in for an intimate 10-hour experience with a robot named DaVinci, controlled, to Charlie’s horror, by an Iranian man named Sahid sitting in front of a monitor across the room with sensors on the tips of his fingers. Sahid proceeded to ream, roll and pleat old Charlie in HD without a whole lot of fanfare. He took the prostate while he was at it, just in case. But all the way down in the elevator, from the OR to recovery, Charlie could hear Sahid bragging and yelling that he “saved both bundles,” thus assuring Charlie that he would rise again, and changing Charlie’s opinion forever of anyone with skin darker than milk and speech other than a South Boston brogue. The first of many eurekas to come.
This is good. Charlie has always been what you might call a rapscallion, up to his ears in mischief like pulling other fisherman’s pots and selling short lobsters or chasing skirts that weren’t his to chase. Not a problem now, as he has become the most trusted man on the island. He’s been to the edge, looked over and didn’t like what he saw. He’s looked in the mirror and not liked what he saw there, either.
Dropping rumors to get something ugly started has morphed into stopping and listening patiently and then moving on with a well-kept secret. Getting in touch with old friends and family has taken the place of whining about a childhood which may or may not have been painful. All childhoods are painful. Noticing the aromas of fresh tilled soil, ozone before a storm and children at play on the beach are Charlie’s new art and music.
Charlie knows that his future is not a sure thing and that he is being watched and respected for his courage and dignity. He sees himself as an example to others of how it should be done, no matter which way it goes. He taught his kids how to ride bikes and play baseball and to treat people with respect. Now he’ll teach them to deal with pain, and, if necessary, he’ll teach them how to die with dignity and gratitude for the lives they were allowed to live on the island.
Charlie works on the dock in the summer, shirtless and in shorts, and we’re really curious about just how reformed Charlie is. He says that he’s looking forward to tourist season and we’ve all had the honor of examining the new clear plastic bladder hanging from the right side of his tummy and old red eye stoma and can’t help but think that he’s going to be sharing that quite a bit.
This opens up a whole new storyline which may begin with his latest plan for the week in between chemo treatments. He plans to borrow John Hunter’s ‘86 Corolla, pack up 23 sandwiches, two thermoses of coffee, put his 4,000ml night drainage bag on the passenger side floor and head to Mardi Gras without getting out of the car. He’s so fond of his new rig he figures that lifting his T-shirt should get him at least as many beads as those co-eds down there, and may even land him on national TV in HD.
He tried to get Keith and John Hunter to go with him but the thought of holding it for long periods was just out of the question. They knew he’d torture them. Everybody knows that Charlie is lurking inside there somewhere.
Will Monast and his wife Leslei live in West Tisbury. They washed ashore after spending 25 years on Cuttyhunk raising four children, but that’s another story.