≡ Menu

A portrait of boredom and boredom’s agents

The boredom. It’s the boredom of disease. I stare at the objects of my room to no end, until they hurt my eyes. Like I think my eyes may have grown sores on them and have broken and pussed or have broken and are bleeding. Like even closing my eyes hurts and so, hence, my eyes can find no solace. I find myself trying to inhabit an impossible middle-ground, half-open and half-closed, but what is that? I do not know. The boredom. It’s the boredom of disease.

Here are some things that signify Boredom, are Boredom’s agents if you will (all of which stand directly across from my bed — always in my line of sight, the things of sight, what are, slowly, I’m beginning to think, beginning to signify not only Boredom but, sadly, Me).

Thing One: Right now the IV Pole, the pump machine hooked to it, the thing I’m hooked to (my “dancing partner” my nurse tells me), the “Alaris Medical System, Model 8000 Advanced Programming Module,” makes a noise like a quick whirring, a churning noise so minute and obscure that it sounds like it’s very far away, a noise from some machine many rooms down — a heart monitor maybe, quick to relay information to nurses about some lonely man’s faulty heart. For many days I thought the noise was thus, but then learned, in the boredom, the boredom of disease, that it was not thus. That all of that noise, not so minute and not so obscure after all, was right here, next to me, all day and all night, pumping saline or fluids or antibiotics or chemotherapy or my modified white blood cells or the IL2 treatments into my veins. It was right here, near my left ear. No, not so minute and obscure. A noise right here.

It’s brother, the sound I’ve come to know with it, a sound that comes every six seconds, is like a squeaky bike tire, something long needing lubrication. This sound is much more overbearing and right here. It, too, I’ve come to know because it’s the noise that keeps me up all night. Something akin to Poe’s tell-tale heart. It is not so much a metaphor for my conscience but maybe a metaphor for the cold demonic heart of my disease or, better, it’s rude cousin, Boredom.

Thing Two: The Blue “Dinnamap Pro 300V2” all-in-one machine. It checks my heart and reads my oxygen intake and also takes my blood pressure. The nurse comes in and wraps a white blood pressure cuff around my right arm, the arm without the picc line, and then attaches a small, pac-man like grey, plastic clamp to my left finger, for there would be no accurate reading if she were to attach it to the right arm because, of course, that’s the arm that’s being squeezed off by the arm cuff. The pac-man like grey, plastic clamp when opened emits a soundless red light. It goes no further than the second knuckle of my index finger of my left hand.

After all is attached, she pushes a button and the machine hums to life and begins to do its thing. Strange how archaic the machine looks, the weird red, digitized numbers, like squares almost or, at heart, given the number it spits out, improvisations of squares. There are numbers that are orange; but I have yet to understand the significance of orange versus red. While the machine does its business, she takes another machine, which sits in a (again, grey) little metal basket attached to the “Dinamap,” which takes my temperature. It is blue and white and looks like an older landline telephone, but not quite as big. When the nurse picks up the machine — and remember, the “Dinamap” is doing its jig — and she puts it in whatever ear hasn’t been slept on or is closest (slept on because it might cause a faulty reading). She burrows it deep into my ear and burrows so deep, right until I think it’s going to tear into my ear drum; and then she presses the button, which being that it’s buried deep in my ear, I hear the spring coil and return (“boing”) as the machine reads my temperature (about one second) and then rings out three good chirps. She usually reads out the temperature to me in centigrade, and because I don’t know the metric system, I always ask for the conversion. (Out of impatience (?), they’ve taken to hanging a sign right on the wall across from my bed, a copied piece of paper, that says at the top, in sharpied, thick black scrawl, “Do Not Remove.” Under that it gives me the conversions. It’s also one of the things I stare at; for example, right now it’s telling me that 36.1 C is 97.0 F and 40.3 is 104.6 — last night my temperature for awhile was 39.9 C, which is, just about 104 F — last night I stared hard into the paper wondering if I wasn’t hallucinating this whole thing, this whole weird fetish I have with staring into things and they staring into me).

The “Dinamap’s” done humming and beeps (once again, three short, very cheerful, very high-pitched, beeps. Like birds in a tree, but digitized and made sharp and distinct, without life or value. Whatever that means). My readings come out across the grey screen and a host of meaning is there. And, cooly, it prints out a little white piece of paper on its right side that the nurse rips off and marks up with some other information about my “vitals.” She pockets it and she’s off.

Thing Three: A dull, beige, oddly Orwellian box on the wall across from my bed. It’s about two feet high and a foot across. It has a red sticker on the front that says, DANGER! And then proceeds to say it in eight different languages. And under that, a black needle with white writing in it that says, USED NEEDLES!

(**This is boring, right? But I’m finding it deeply pleasurable to tell you this. Deeply pleasurable to bore you, to bore you as much as I am beginning to be bored myself being here. I’m just this far on the side of “recovery” and here I am, playing with you, my faithful reader. Boring you on purpose. Boring you w ith such details of my life as it is. Boring you. Boring you because it gives me deep pleasure. (Although certainly this is perverse because what writer wants to bore his reader to high heaven?) Boredom is worth being captured.**)

There’s a lock on it for a key, which each nurse must have  I imagine, as they empty it from time to time. The receptacle then can be taken from the box, which is attached to the wall with I can only assume are long screws buried deep into the plaster (Oh, the boredom!) and taken to wherever-the-fuck. The opening to the receptacle in the beige box is open right now because the receptacle, which is red, isn’t full. When it becomes full the receptacle’s mouth closes and in huge red letters says, FULL (it’s a very noisy box and receptacle, everything big, everything overpowering. I guess this is the 1984-Orwell in it. The receptacle and box reminds me of the Ministry of Truth or some dark foreboding, low-slung building out in an office park in the endless suburbs of anywhere, a place with the illusion of serenity, with the illusion of pedestrianism, with the illusion of comfort). Anyway, right now, because it’s not “FULL,” the opening has a picture of a needle that says in it, black lettering, PLACE SHARP HORIZONTALLY! The pointy end of the “pump” is facing the box’s right side and the actual pump of the “pump” is to the left. On each side, arrows pointing up into the mouth of it. A mouth like a yawning catfish. Under that, it says, LIFT TO ASSURE DISPOSAL.

(The Caps Locked Helvetica font vaguely German in its force and terror).

These are the things I’m learning. Have almost memorized. Transcribed to my heart. More like tattooed.

Oh, the Boredom.

Thing Four: The clock. Oh wretched clock, oh how I hate you clock! I shake my fist at you clock, wretched, wretched clock! You, with your open face, you that gazes at me. Like one eye open, an eternally open eye. What’s more there’s the tick-tick-tick of you! Oh, you! Oh, you, open eye, wretched tick-tick-tick of you! Oh, you of boredom and time passing and the gaze. Like all at once the things I fear! Right now you are saying, “4:05,” like it is nothing; but you know full well you easily could be saying, “1:42.” This is the thing with you, wretched clock, you have no remorse, no sense of pity. You just tick-tick-tick and stare and say this one thing and you say it for a minute and then you say another thing for a minute and how do I know it is a minute? At the same time you are saying, “4:05,” there’s this other thing in you, this, tick-tick-tick, you do that for sixty ticks (“Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick”).

Oh, you are wretched. You with your black hour signifiers and red army-time hour signifiers. You with your black dots, the four ticks between every fifth tick, which is an arrow, like it was pointing me north. Oh, how I hate you the most of all. When I was hallucinating the other day from the treatments, you pulsed and vibrated, hummed, happy almost, jubilant, joyous, oh, damn you, you were ebullient! You and your purple rhythms and waves in hallucination and nothing but an open eye when not. In those hallucinations you jogged to and fro. I told the doctor about you. I said you had a sheen about you. I didn’t know yet what to say. I told the doctor to look at you, but he didn’t. I said, “Look, doctor, there’s a sheen, a blue, sort of, oh I don’t know, aura. But it’s no good. Blue auras you’d think were good.” How crazy I must have sounded. How wicked and insane, especially curled up in blankets to my neck, sweating, 104 F (39.8 C), just coming off an attack of rigors. I must have been. Like I was crying blood. “Look, blue,” I told him. Like you were good. But good you are not. I can feel you smiling at me devilishly, even now, not in hallucination, but rather in the midst of boredom, the rude cousin of disease.

Boredom. This is the test of human being. I’m learning it has nothing to do with the treatments. You have to do the treatments. Any man or women would do the treatments because what the heck else would you do? Not do it? Die? Everybody would do what I just did. That’s not the mark of strong. No. It’s this. This ridiculous nothing time, between them checking my vitals, bringing me my meds, room service, changing my linens, showering, maybe walking around in a circle my unit; it’s the nothing time, withstanding it, being sane in the grip of nothing, a weird silence shaped by the chirps, groans and ticks of machines; shaped by the first eldritch seconds of the coming of the narcotics pushed through the IV or a good Benadryl stoning. It’s resisting the urge to throw a chair through the window of the room and then jumping up on the large windowsill and screaming out into the courtyard below and the other hospital rooms across the way, gripping the frame of the window and shaking my fist, possessed, “I am a man and this is not the stuff of men!” And then plunging two floors. (probably just obscenely and absurdly breaking my legs and my back in seventeen places, and calling days upon more days of more Boredom rather than calling on the forever of death — vision of me in a full body cast, this time staring at ceiling, counting ceiling tiles).

Yes. Boredom. Standing tall to this, this is what makes me strong. These things. Boredom’s agents. I’ve figured them out. They’ve no alibi any longer, no cover story. The jig is up, Boredom. I’ve figured you out, Boredom’s agents.

Things Five and Six: There’s the dumb light switch to a nightlight that shines both near the ground right outside the bathroom door and right on the opposite wall on the inside of the bathroom door. Dumb. Looks at me dumb as dumbly as I look at it. It, with silver face and stupid yellow nose for switch. A cyclops of a face with one screw above nose and a surprised look, what with the screw below as mouth. (I see you there, Boredom).

Lastly, the bathroom door. Oh my God, the bathroom door. Just a huge, solid-core door at the depths, a hollow inside. And then you wear a veneer of wood. You’re like the Las Vegas of doors! You are nothing to me, but, boy, you take up almost the whole epic sweep of my everyday vision. Your face must change with every patient, as the papers that hang on your door do. But there you have it, your eyes, the left eye horizontal and rectangular, a whole matrix of my days urinations and liquid intake; and the right eye a vertical sheet of paper that is a research blood tracking sheet. Your eyes make you funny, but absurd. Like the stupid doodling’s of teenagers in class, their margins filled with them.

Your asinine nose is my name (“Torch, R.) and my doctor’s name (“Dr. Hong). It’s one long horizontal rectangular sticker. An absolutely boring sticker the unit secretary, Tenaya, must have printed out Day One, which seems like ages ago. Like whole Crusades have been fought and won and lost and won and lost in the time in between.


Your mouth. The handle. At the radical left. It gives you this whole sort of pained confused look. Your look is the look of Number Eight on the Pain Chart they give me. Like, “What’s your pain at, Mr. Torch,” and I look a chart and there are faces, each a round face from serene (0) to existential suffering (10). I’ve remembered it in the years of recurrence. You’ve the whole look of Number Eight, dumb fucking door. See, I’ve figured you out, Door, in all my boredom.

They can give me pills and IV drips for any kind of symptom you can imagine. They’ve told me this. The flu. Diarrhea. Fever. Nausea. Constipation. Urination. Mouth sores. Headaches. Bone pain. They can can treat cancer: breast, sarcoma, renal, prostate, melanoma, lung, brain, pancreatic, liver. They can do almost anything. But they’ve got nothing for madness and it’s strange step-brother, Boredom. This is what I’m standing up to now. Staring them down. Tick for tick.


Reposted from Everywhere. Going Everywhere.

Rafael Torch is the author of “Paging Stevie Cavallero.”