The Business of Life and Death

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It started several years ago, unobtrusively, just annoying little changes.

He’d say, “God, I hate getting older.”

I’d say, “Why?”

He’d say, “Because I can’t see anymore.”

He could still see. But something mysterious was happening, an obstinate and diligent takeover. An internal invasion occurring in slow motion. As his peripheral vision started to fade, an opaque fog crowding the larger part of the world away, he finally relented to having to see a doctor.

At the ophthalmologist’s the diagnosis leap-frogged over the hoped-for “needs stronger glasses” and even “the beginning of glaucoma” to “if it looks like a tumor and acts like a tumor sitting on your pituitary gland and slowly crushing the life out of your optic nerve, then that’s what it probably is.”

Not only was that what it was, but it had probably been growing there for a long time, for God knows how long, twining itself like a weed within the grass, mute, and tip-toeing with glacial speed. 99.9% probability of being benign.

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Regardless, eventually, though, it was heard. It was heard through blighted energy and disassembled sleep. It was heard through piercing migraines. It was heard through encroaching blindness.

A train barreled past us in the dark. We found ourselves racing after it, leaping on. We stumbled, crowded into a corner by minatory appointments and tests, louring specialists and suppositions looming ominously above us. Elizabeth Bathory would have paid good money to coordinate the blood draws; there were so many, her tubs would have been filled until the end of time. The only drawback being that he wasn’t a virgin.

Despite all this it seemed, still, like there was time. Time to wait, time to decide. But the doctor’s sudden “ASAP” propelled us into action. Dates were set, plucked from the air like evasive creatures difficult to capture, netted and locked down.

Meet with surgeon.

Back again to primary doctor the week before.

Electrocardiogram.

More blood taken.

MRI the night before.

Surgery the next day.

It seemed surreal how quickly events had happened, and I experienced a familiar, deep empathy for those who had endured the same whirlwind out of nowhere but for much higher stakes. After all, a 99.9% probability of being benign were pretty good odds; odds many never received.

Waiting was the worst part, trying to while away the time, unable to really focus on anything, just waiting, staring around at others: A family bunched together in the corner, very talkative and cheerful. A young woman whose mother had been taken in earlier. An elderly woman with a walker who talked loudly into a cell phone in a foreign language.

Amazingly, the gigantic plate glass window, similar to those at airports, revealed a perfect day outside. Blue skies, no clouds, bright, piercing light. It had just been raining a few days ago, blustering and cold. I opted to see this as a good sign and sipped at my tepid coffee.

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And it was. In recovery, hours and hours later, he lay in the bed slowly surfacing upwards from unconsciousness. Everything had gone well. The revival sequence played in a repeating loop until they wheeled him down the hall into a room a half hour later.

He’d wake up and say, “Oh, my head,” and nod off.

He wake up and say, “I can see that!” and nod off.

He’d wake up and say, “Can I have some water?” and nod off.

He’d wake up and say, “Oh, my head…” and begin again. The only anomaly being that he once mentioned South Pacific and a song that he couldn’t stop thinking of.

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The doctor had told me, earlier, that the pituitary had been squeezed thin by the fat ass of the tumor. He thought that, over time, it would probably regain some, if not most, of its shape back. And he didn’t say “fat ass,” of course. But I did.

The tumor may have been slow-growing with a 99.9% probability of being benign, but eventually it had swollen, like a tick, greedily overflowing into all the available real estate. Crushing the pituitary. Impinging on the optic nerve. It existed only for itself, giving nothing back. The havoc it wreaked on the surrounding environment sufficed only to generate anxiety, depression. A sense of helplessness. If I were to label it under those terms, the best name would be the Trump Tumor.

Thank God it was now somewhere in the depths of Cedars Sinai, due to be dissected and examined ad infinitum.

As he nodded off once more, I looked around the room and saw that no members of the large family were back here. The young woman had visited her mom already and left, promising to return tomorrow. The only people remaining were he and I, the nurses, and the elderly lady with the walker who had been talking loudly into her cell phone earlier.

She sat in a chair at the foot of a bed where an elderly man lay quietly. She was crying. Everyone continued about their hospital business, busy, or perhaps professionally giving the woman her space.

The fact that his failing eyesight had already improved within hours of removing the fatuous, self-involved, leaching Trump Tumor was nothing short of amazing. The stuff miracles were made of. I thought it was possible the lady across the room was crying from relief, from repressed stress finally released, but I doubted it. I doubted she was getting a sip of that same miracle concoction tonight, and it didn’t seem fair.

I listened as he disjointedly sang the lyrics from “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame” while the woman cried, the electronics beeped, the air hissed, the phones rang and knew that, without a doubt, no, it wasn’t necessarily fair. It just was what it was.

Amidst all this, the tears, the singing, the giant pane of glass revealing the beautiful day, the nurses and volunteers and aides and doctors and orderlies rushed around the hospital, from room to room, floor to floor, scenario to scenario, person to person, immersed, fully and completely, in the business of life and death.

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