The prolific British-American writer Christopher Hitchens was recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which is a very bad cancer. In a new Vanity Fair essay, Hitchens writes about his disease, including his miserable day leading up to a Daily Show taping.
Hitchens was on tour promoting his memoir, Hitch-22, when the full weight of his undiagnosed disease came to bear one morning.
I have more than once in my time woken up feeling like death. But nothing prepared me for the early morning last June when I came to consciousness feeling as if I were actually shackled to my own corpse. The whole cave of my chest and thorax seemed to have been hollowed out and then refilled with slow-drying cement. I could faintly hear myself breathe but could not manage to inflate my lungs. My heart was beating either much too much or much too little. Any movement, however slight, required forethought and planning. It took strenuous effort for me to cross the room of my New York hotel and summon the emergency services. They arrived with great dispatch and behaved with immense courtesy and professionalism.
He was taken to the hospital and an oncologist — on the same day he had a Daily Show taping and, later, an event at the 92nd Street Y. All he needed to pull off the night, however, were two very proper English vomitings.
The night of the terrible morning, I was supposed to go on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and then appear at a sold-out event at the 92nd Street Y, on the Upper East Side, in conversation with Salman Rushdie. My very short-lived campaign of denial took this form: 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.
It's a great essay, and not too long, either. He's able to keep his dry sense of humor, and that's great. But for someone who's always been criticized for stubbornness or condescension, there's a real sense of personal vulnerability creeping into his writing. It's well worth the read.