Searching for Sugar Man on the road to recovery

BC Pires -
BC Pires -


BC Pires

IF YOU have to choose between major surgery and joining the army, you should promptly join the army, even if your country is actively at war. At least your worries will be over with either your tour of duty or your death. With major surgery, they never stop.

Eight full months after the surgery that removed the tumour from my oesophagus, I’m still suffering its consequences daily.

To be fair to my surgery, the most persistent after-effect has its roots in the eight chemotherapy blasts within which my oesophagectomy was sandwiched. My last CT scan showed what my radiologist read as lung damage caused by the chemo.

Thankfully, although I have to do it every day, I can usually bring the coughing under control using yoga breathing techniques. Last week, though, my cough was so bad I vomited four times. It’s not pleasant. My pulmonologist prescribed two antibiotics, steroids and a $1,000-a-pop inhaler, all seemingly equally useless.

It’s dispiriting when you’re coughing and someone kindly asks if you want a drink of water, but you’re coughing too much to tell them you’re coughing because you took a tiny firetrucking sip of water.

Now I’ve been coughing since surgery, when my doctors think I began aspirating small amounts of food and/or liquid – but the cough has got much worse since my last bout of chemotherapy. Of course, it could be worse. I could have rid myself of the cough by dying.

You can never be sure how close you were to croaking on an operating table, because it’s just not good bedside manners for your surgeons to tell you, but I do know that my surgery, scheduled for five hours, ran to nine; and that four of the five blood vessels serving my stomach were lost forever in theatre.

I could have died, too, from the cancer itself, which my surgeons reached just in time (ie, with one blood vessel to go).

Ergo, the lung damage that severely worsens the coughing is itself proof of life! The most debilitating side effect is just one more mileage marker on the long, arduous road to recovery. Better to be infuriated every day by a hacking cough than to rest in peace forever through losing the battle for life itself.

Like Sugar Man.

The musician Sixto Diaz Rodriguez died this week, aged 81. Born in 1942 in Detroit to Mexican-American parents, Rodriguez, as he was professionally known, recorded just two studio albums, Cold Fact (1971) and Coming From Reality (1972), together constituting just over one hour’s worth of songs, which sank without a trace in the US but made a big splash in South Africa. Rodriguez’s music inspired white liberals dedicated to the overthrow of the racist apartheid system.

If you’re lucky enough never to have seen it before, find the documentary Searching for Sugar Man. It is by far and away my favourite documentary and a much more life-affirming film than the doc it replaced as my No 1, The Fog of War (which frees from its torture chamber of avoidable error the soul of Robert McNamara, architect of the Vietnam war, the most unjust American conflict since the genocide of Native Americans).

For almost all of his life, Rodriguez’s income peaked at minimum wage. After essentially failing as a pop star, he worked for decades as a labourer. Yet his music reached and inspired people who helped dismantle the evil of apartheid.

Who knows the power of a song? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.

Eight months after the surgery that saved my life, I often have more bad days than good ones in any given week. Away from my doctors, I have to replace clinical examination with WhatsApp selfies of weird bruises appearing on my skin and long voice notes detailing the worst coughing fits, often ironically interrupted by fits of coughing.

It’s a long, long road to recovery from where I started in May, 55 lbs lighter than I was in December, more than one-third of my original body weight lost forever, tentatively eating such small servings as to transform every meal into finger-food. It’s dispiriting.

But it beats the only other option.

Better to miss Sugar Man on the road to recovery than to find him on the Road to Perdition.

BC Pires is Only Good for Conversation that will Crucify Your Mind with Inner City Blues but he will Climb Up on Rodriguez’s Music and that’s a Cold Fact, baby


"Searching for Sugar Man on the road to recovery"

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