I didn’t much want to be a drag over Christmas, nor be one of those tiresome old men (and women) who bore your eyeballs out by talking tediously about the slow decay of their bodies, as if they were play-by-play announcers at a sporting event called “Increasing Decrepitude”.. So I kept my bad health to myself, which is pretty darn melodramatic. It’s a bit like that old Crosby, Stills and Nash song, “Almost Cut My Hair.”
I almost cut my hair
‘Twas just the other day
It was gettin’ kinda long
I could-a said, it was in my way
But I didn’t and I wonder why
I want to let my freak flag fly
And I feel like I owe it to someone
Must be because I had the flu for Christmas
And I’m not feelin’ up to par
It increases my paranoia
Like lookin’ at my mirror and seein’ a lit up police car
But I’m not givin’ in an inch to fear
I promised myself this year
I feel like I owe it to someone
When I finally get myself together
Get down in some sunny southern weather
Find a place inside to laugh
Separate the wheat from the chaff
‘Cause I feel like I owe it to someone.
And to be honest, I’ve always been pretty good at melodrama. For years I was sure every cold was lung cancer, (likely due to some internalized guilt I felt over the huge enjoyment I got from cigarettes). At age seventeen I was sure I was going to die at age seventeen like the poet John Chatterton. At age 26 I was going to die at 26 like Keats. Then I was going to die at 29 like Shelley, and then at 36 like Byron, and then at 39 like Dylan Thomas. However by then it was starting to get a bit old. One can only flop around like a dying fish for so long before people stop taking you seriously.
This is not to say I myself wasn’t still serious. Life is never quite so beautiful as it is when it is tenuous, and slipping away through your fingers. And anyone who knows anything about all the crud I’ve been through over the years has to admit it is a miracle I’m still alive. However, for the most part I’ve quit the melodrama of flopping about like a fish. For one thing, I’m too old to die young. Where’s the glamour of dying at 62?
Though I privately view each dawn as a bit of a surprise, (as I don’t expect to still be here), and though privately I may view each new liver-spot on the back of my hand as melanoma, publicly I now deem it best to avoid anything that looks like complaining. I have no business complaining, as I can still wield a maul and spit wood at age sixty-two, as my pals get their knees replaced. However I did complain to my doctor. (I think, in some ways, that may be what doctors are for.)
Over the past six months I felt like my get-up-and-go got up and went. I might have shrugged that off as aging, but also I seemed to lose a quarter pound every week, despite eating well. It triggered my old habit of assuming I had lung cancer, especially as I seemed to catch every cold the kids had at our Farm-childcare, whereas for years I’d seemed totally immune despite being slimed constantly by their runny noses. When the most recent cold led to congestion in my lungs I decided to pester my doctor. Imagination isn’t always a poet’s friend, and it is good sometimes to get the smack-down of, “You are perfectly healthy. Stop being such a fool and worrying so much!”
Unfortunately he didn’t say I was perfectly healthy this time. I had chest X-rays, and they showed a “shadow.” So he scheduled a Cat-scan, which gave me a week or so to worry, before the Cat Scan was analyzed and my lungs looked OK. Then I was on cloud nine, but later my doctor called me back, because way down at the bottom of the Cat Scan he’d noticed a bulge on my left kidney. There was a second Cat Scan, and then a biopsy of my kidney, and cancer was discovered. Part, or all, of the kidney has to come out. Merry Christmas.
Oh well. I figured it was a sort of Christmas miracle that the cancer was discovered, when I had absolutely no complaints about my kidneys, and wasn’t looking in that direction in the slightest. Still, it was hard to bite my tongue and muster the proper cheer for Christmas.
I didn’t even tell my wife, at first, but there’s no fooling her, as she tends to read me like a book and can see phony cheerfulness in me even when I have myself fooled. And also I am part of a bunch of old coots at my church, and we pray together and are honest about our heartaches. And one of those fellows turned around and prayed with his family, and his son happens to know one of my sons, so that son soon knew, and before you could shake a stick everyone knew. A small town is proof that the only secrets that stay secret are those that are known by one person alone.
It wasn’t so bad. Some people did get awkward, and some did behave as if cancer is contagious, but I’m old and expect no better from my fellow mortals. What I didn’t expect was people I hardly know, and didn’t think of as prayerful people, to come up to me and tell me they would be praying for me. I am not always the most courteous of people, and can be a bit brutal with the Truth, and if I expect any sort of prayers it might be the prayer that I get hit by a truck. It was really touching to receive unexpected expressions of caring.
For the most part I just went on dealing with details, which will be a bit harder as I am not suppose to do any heavy lifting for five weeks after the operation. This will involve some serious adjustments to the routine of the Farm-childcare, not only because a farm involves grunt-work, but small children like to be hoisted, and like to take flying leaps and land on your stomach without warning, when you are reading a story on the couch. I’ll likely have to hire people and take a hit to my profits, right when I need to come up with six-grand (as that is the “deductible” in my insurance.) An operation doesn’t mean you do less, it seems.
It would be nice if insurance companies would go out of there way to make things easier for the client, but apparently they need to make all sorts of extra work to justify their existence. When my father first started work as a surgeon in 1946 he had a single secretary, and many country doctors wrote out their own bills. Much of the increase in medical costs has nothing to do with medicine, and everything to do with parasitic lawyers, and countless layers of bureaucratic confetti. Rather than cathedrals, our cities tallest towers are built to the false god of insurance, which I tend to grumble only ensures we are more miserable than necessary.
Of course I had to go through my own gauntlet, which all too many are quite familiar with. Here is part of an email I sent to friends:
In the old days it was the men who wore the shining armor and were the heroes, saving the maidens in distress, but times change, and in a hopeless bureaucracy perhaps it is the women who are the heroes, and save distressed old geezers like me. My Oh my! How the fur did fly! It would take too long to go into all the funny details, but in the end H—–, and a woman named D—– at the surgeon’s office, took on all the Saturday-night-live-voices at the insurance company and basically left them in an exhausted heap. I was filled with gratitude, because we had run out of time, and everything had to be done in four hours to still have a chance to do the surgery on January 5, and there was no way I could make all the phone-calls myself. It was simply a case of a rescue coming right out of the blue, when I never expected it, and I thank God for working through H—– and D—–, (and have thanked both of them profusely).
(In case you are wondering, a “God-sighting” is when, in a loveless world where most people seem out to make life more difficult, you run across an unexpected example of love and kindness and generosity or (sometimes) sheer good luck that makes what you expect to be difficult far easier.)
In any case, this is just my long-winded way of explaining why I won’t be posting much for a while. If all goes well I may be going nuts in a couple weeks, suffering cabin fever and itching to do stuff like shovel snow (that I used to complain about) but all I will be able to do is go for walks, and post too many posts. So let’s hope all goes well.