Christopher Hitchens: ‘I Woke Up Feeling Like Death’

Author and Vanity Fair columnist talked to Anderson Cooper about recent cancer diagnosis

Why not me?

That’s what Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair contributing editor and author who was recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer, told Anderson Cooper on Thursday.

Anderson Cooper: When did you realize something was wrong?

Christopher Hitchens: It was in the middle of my tour for my memoir, my Hitch-22.  And I was feeling a bit ropey but I wrote it down to overwork and I rather enjoy the feeling of burning the candle at both ends and living 36-hour-days. But abruptly it dawned on me that it was an illusion, I couldn¹t get out of bed.  Something was obviously wrong with my heart and my lungs.  This was in New York.

Cooper: You felt it as soon as you woke up?

Hitchens: Oh yeah, I couldn’t move really and I thought this is not, you know there’s an expression, I woke up feeling like death. I¹ve had that, but this was not like that, this was like that.

Cooper:  You’ve had some rough mornings?

Hitchens: I thought maybe I’m dying.  So I managed to get to the phone and call emergency services and I had got an obstruction near my heart and my lungs filled up a bit with fluid but that was quite easily taken care of. But then after they looked at the scan they said you need to see an oncologist, it was the first time I really listened to the word, to the name oncologist. I thought it was a bit nicer than being told you¹ve got cancer but not much.

You can read more of Hitchens’ powerful Vanity Fair essay about his diagnosis here – including his account of throwing up in the “Daily Show” green room — though, be forewarned: It’s not for the faint of heart.

Later on "360," Cooper waded into what could’ve been a very awkward line of questioning. Via CNN’s transcript:

Cooper: What did you think of the court ruling yesterday in California?

Hitchens: Um, boring.

Cooper: Boring? [Laughs] Why boring?

Hitchens: Boring use of the word discrimination I thought.  I can't get excited about it, I just can't. I'm not against, I sort of dislike the people who are against it but it doesn't excite me. It seems in some ways it misses the point of being gay. To say that if we can't be treated exactly as if we weren't, we would be upset, I mean there is something about that that doesn't do right by me.