I have a confession to make. I am going to die soon. I’m sixty-seven and 13 days now and with my condition I may have as little as thirty two years before old Father Time beckons me. It’s a sobering thought. When you are faced with this kind of bleak reality life seems all the more precious.
My daughter is in her thirties now, and when I go, she will hardly have reached retirement age. My son, about to enter medical school (with my heart-felt encouragement— talk about foresight!) will hardly have settled into his plush office as Dean of Students at UBC when he will have the tragic responsibility of arranging my cremation. I am insisting on that. Better a few seconds of intense warmth than that they should make a mistake. After all, sometimes it’s the medical student who gets roused from his girlfriend and warm bed at three am to confirm the old geezer is truly gone. True. I should know. I was in the business.
OK, enough of the sentimental tear-jerking.
Oh, I forgot, my grandchildren. The lawyer, now five, will receive the news over his $20,000 videophone in his new BMW (MSRP $768K) and the doctor, now just two, starting out in his first Head of Department post, will be paralysed with grief too.
I may have to erase the next sentence.
My darling wife will likely be spared the pain of our separation, as I am sure she will go first. God knows how I will manage all the money that Rhea will have squirrelled away for me.
So why all of a sudden this morbid preoccupation with death?
Well, I had my first intimation of mortality about two weeks ago. Just a little swelling of the ankles, a little short of breath.
Congestive Heart Failure.
Sylvia, my darling wife, thought I should got to the ER, but that I didn’t need an ambulance with the sirens. Pity. That’s one experience I was kind of looking forward to. It’s likely to be the only time I will sail past BMWs, respectfully pulled over as I head into town in seven minutes, shaving twenty-eight minutes from our normal time.
So she drives me into town, slo-owly, with maddening respect for every traffic light, and callously leaves me at the ER entrance. (“I’ll just park the car, dear, you’ll surely manage to register by yourself?”)
About six hours later, I am starving and could do with a shave and some clean clothes, but I’ve almost reached the registration desk. Sylvia has gone off to have sex with one of the ER docs. She was debating going home (where she and the doc could be more comfortable, I guess).
“Oh, yes, thanks dear.” A plywood and 10W30 motor oil sandwich washed down with Fanta orange, delicious. But no matter, I’m getting to see the doctor, if they can find him, and he’s almost finished with that cute medical student. Sylvia swears up and down that she gave him no encouragement and anyway, he wasn’t her type. (More of a Ralph Fiennes, rather than Leonardo Di Caprio, whom she prefers)
So anyway, I’ve seen the nurse, so she has already confirmed the diagnosis of CHF (mild, she said. Very mild. Borderline normal. I hate nurses. So know-it-all.) I’ve had my EKG and my chest Xray, and the blood lady has taken a moment from her involved conversation with the other blood lady about somebody called Derek, and taken three vials of blood. I am surprised. “Only three?” I say. What about the—? And the—?”
(I won’t bother you with the confusing acronyms and medicalese.)
“Oh, the doctor doesn’t need all those. He’s ordered all the ones that are needed.”
I restrain my natural impulse to remark mildly that after all, I am a retired psychiatrist!
Have you ever noticed how the doctors are getting younger and younger? This one looks like an adolescent Hugh Grant.
He gets my story, efficiently, and examines me, ditto, being appropriately respectful when he realises I am a colleague. Then he says, “It’s obviously mild CHF, and I mean mild, from the symptoms, but your exam and all the tests are normal. Maybe it’s a side effect from one of your blood-pressure medications.”
He seems inappropriately cheerful and humorous as he gives me a prescription for the smallest dose possible of a well-known diuretic, half a pill, daily.
“Hey, relax doc, you’ll live for ever!”
I hate it when people don’t have the guts to level with me.
Bad enough that my family should have to face the awful possibility of a life without me, but I want them to know the truth too! No sugar-coated euphemisms!
Anyway, I’m much better now after a couple of days on the water pill, and going off one of my blood pressure pills, which has the tendency to cause fluid retention.
Naturally, my case has been assigned the highest possible priority, which explains why I got a letter in the mail yesterday, confirming my appointment for a cardiac ultrasound in June 2014.
Wow! An appointment for a cardiac echo in just nine months! I just knew it was something serious.
Having recently retired from working in a field not unconnected with psychiatry, I want to test-bed some of the writing I did when I was an apprentice at my trade, and strike out in new directions. The things I enjoy writing now are comic fiction and a spy novel. As a nouveau bloggeur, I am so looking forward to le bloggage!
I mean, THE MYSTERY!
When I was young, I would listen to the adults who occupied important positions in my enterprise, then I would try to decipher what they said. I was a very polite young lad and would never have dreamed of questioning their enthusiasm for Iwanderedlonelyasacloud, and I could just stomach themoonlikeaghostlygalleon. Later of course, as I was passing through the phase of a boy’s development usually called the early priapic, I had a brief period of infatuation with vaguely naughty stuff:
The boy stood on the burning deck,
His pockets full of barley,
A mouse ran up his trouser leg
and ate away his —-lie.
When I became more mature, I eschewed such childish frivolities. I was entering the late priapic and preferred things like:
Do you remember an inn, Miranda?
Do you remember an inn,
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for bedding
And the fleas that tease, etc.
(I was really getting into the problems of Miranda’s lover, and his totally understandable preoccupation with getting into Miranda. . . )
I was in short getting to understand the mystery of poetry.
But wait! There was more!
Secretly, I was convinced that my adults were all psychotic, engaged in a huge conspiracy to have me swallow the outlandish proposition that ahostofgoldendaffodils made some kind of attractive image that would make me misty-eyed. Then one day, not that long ago, (passing through the delayed priapic), I came across two lines of poetry written some two thousand years ago.
These were part of the epitaph written by Marcus Valerius Martialis (aka ‘Martial’ ) for a six year old girl:
O Earth, Lie light upon these bones,
That were so light on thee!
Suddenly I was misty eyed!
I jumped to my feet and punched the air. I yelled, “That was beautiful!”
Then, when I had settled down, I said more quietly, “You bastards! Why didn’t you tell me?”
I think I should report an ominous milestone. Today I received an email from one of my favourite people, myself. It was a simple message: “call rhea” and served to remind me to call the lady at the bank who takes all our money and converts it into money for us. You ask, why not just write a note (note to self. . . .)? Ah, yes, but when you not only forget to phone Rhea, but you forget where you put the pencil, then, having found the pencil, you can’t find the blasted piece torn off the Qualicum Beach News you were going to write your reminder on. And even, get this, if you miraculously find pencil and paper and remember what it was you wanted to remind yourself about, you like as not will not remember to read the reminder, or even remember where you put it. Actually, remembering that there was a reminder would be a victory of sorts.
Hence the new cunning plan: send myself an email!!!
I may forget my wife’s name, what I went to the kitchen for and the name of the guy who played the guy in that movie I liked but can’t remember the plot of, but I always read my emails every morning. Right now I am relaxing in the comforting glow of knowing there’s someone I have to phone at the. . . bank, right?
We seem to have settled in to our new house, and are enjoying the sunny microclimate which goes from Louise and Vic’s house to the mailbox. I am getting mysterious phone calls from guys called Wayne, who want to talk to Sylvia about an estimate. I mustn’t get them mixed up. There’s the Wayne for the sunroom, the other Wayne for the extra window we’re going to punch into the South wall, the one to demolish the old toolshed, and a fourth Wayne, who does excellent cedar fences. Oh, I forgot Wayne with the back-hoe who is going to dig us a hole for the new heron snack bar we’re building. Lots of projects. Hard to keep track of them all. (There was also Wayne for the new wood flooring, but he’s been and gone and installed the new floor, so we don’t need to call him any more.)
By the way, we are apparently on point for the massive bulge that we’ve been part of from birth– onwards. All these Waynes are complaining that this year is twice as busy as last year. Well, yes! there’s a flood of exhausted retirees flopping onto the sunny shores of Qualicum Beach like Coho salmon in the shallows of their birth creek. Next year, Wayne is definitely going to need an assistant.
I have just finished building myself a workbench in the garage. It looks quite nice and now I’ll have a place to store all my tools, and do all my little projects. Sylvia asked me yesterday (or was it Sylvia, or what’s her name?) what projects I had planned for my new DIY facilities, and I had to admit I couldn’t exactly recollect any, but that they would come back to me. I’ll send myself an email: “start project. buy spirit level” (I already have 3 spirit levels, but you can never have too many.)
And right now, before I forget, I’m going to call Wayne.
Oh. Yes, and Rhea!