Caligula is watching his pregnant sister Drusilla sleep. Drusilla is his constant companion. She soothes him when he has his headaches. She plays the goddess to his god. She is pregnant by him, as it happens. He wonders aloud can the child of Zeus be greater than Zeus? Will his child be greater than he? It’s a question all prospective parents ask themselves at some point, I shouldn’t wonder. But Caligula is no ordinary prospective parents and his question is answered with bloody certainty.

Four weeks ago I received confirmation that I have another brain tumour. Yes, that’s right, another. This is my second in nine years. The first was surgically removed in 2009. There are two medications specifically for the treatment of this kind of tumour. Bromocriptine is one and Cabergoline is the other. When the first tumour was diagnosed I was given Bromocriptine and after an uneventful course the tumour was removed surgically. I say uneventful because, in my case, the medication did not work at all. (This is not unusual. My body does not respond to medical interventions designed to shrink benign masses.) My prolactin did not go down, the tumour did not shrink, and it was too large to risk leaving in place in hope that another medication would work. Both drugs are dopamine agonists, which means they mimic the effects of dopamine without actually being converted into dopamine. Both drugs are also used to treat Parkinson’s, except that the dose is significantly larger. Both drugs are also ergot derivatives. Yes, that ergot; the fungus that grows on rye and other cereal grains that can cause ergotism in humans. What’s ergotism? I’m so glad you asked. Ergotism is ergot poisoning, plain and simple. Symptoms include: convulsions, diarrhea, mania, psychosis, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and hallucinations. In the 1970s Linnda R. Caporael, a professor at Rensselaer,  posited that ergot poisoning was the basis of the bewitchment at Salem that lead to the witch trials.

Three weeks ago I started taking Cabergoline. I take a half pill twice a week. My doctor and I discussed this at length. This is a very effective medication that most patients tolerate very well. Most report minimal to no side effects. In theory, this is such a low dose that my side effects should be minimal, if I have any at all. Well, I am having side effects.

  • Abdominal pain (7% of patients).
  • Nausea (16%-34% of patients) is my constant companion. It sets in about two hours after I eat, regardless of what I eat. The only food that does not make me sick? Peanut butter cups.
  • Dizziness (9%-17% of patients). No fast movements for me for a while.
  • Fatigue (5%-10% of patients). I am a zombie most of the day and there is not enough caffeine in the world.
  • Depression (5% of patients). It’s strange. I can’t tell if the drug is making my existing depression worse or whether dealing with the other side effects is making my depression worse. It’s not like I’m more depressed. It’s like everything is muffled.

I also can’t drink until this is over. Alcohol enhances the effect of the medication, so I must abstain until either this ends or I get the ok from the doctor. Trust me when I say when one gets word that one has a recurrence of a brain tumour one might want to indulge in an adult beverate.

I am also having very vivid dreams, several of them about my ex-husband. In the first time, we were living in a studio apartment across from The Flatiron Building. I kept telling him he had to get a job. In the second dream he was on the periphery, bobbing and weaving like he did, like his father did before him. Last night, I was talking to one of my personal heroes, Lou Reed, in a freight elevator and when I awoke the strains of Busload of Faith were still in my head.

You can’t depend on your family
You can’t depend on your friends
You can’t depend on a beginning
You can’t depend on an end

You can’t depend on intelligence
Ooh, you can’t depend on God
You can only depend on one thing
You need a busload of faith to get by, watch, baby

Busload of faith to get by
Busload of faith to get by
Busload of faith to get by
You need a busload of faith to get by

I’m still processing, I guess. I have a lot to process. I have decided that with this tumour, and especially with these side effects, that I need to be selfish. It’s a matter of survival.

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