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the operation

I have to be at St. Mike’s hospital at 8.45 tomorrow morning, for surgery at 10.45. There is a benign growth – repeat, benign – on one of my parathyroid glands that needs to be removed. It’s day surgery. But it’s still surgery. I have never had surgery. My mother had had practically every gland in her body removed or modified in some way by the time she died – including, her sister told me recently, her parathyroid. But I pride myself on my independence and health. So being helpless tomorrow will be hard.

Tonight and tomorrow morning, I have to shower with a special antibacterial soap; usually, I shower once every two weeks whether I need it or not. After midnight, I have to stop eating and drinking; usually, I eat and drink every two hours whether I need it or not. So tomorrow morning, without vital coffee or breakfast, ohmygod without coffee, my very clean self will go in and become a slab of meat to be carved.

I’m profoundly grateful that they caught this problem, which is affecting the processing of calcium in my body. I would like my bones to be stronger than they are, and this may help. At times like this, I always think of pioneer women isolated in the bush a hundred years ago or more, with not a single resource except their own courage. My own journey to health is a snap, in comparison: a bit of exercise, a few vegetables, no smoking, meditation, gazing at my roses, regular check ups. But still, things go wrong, and this tiny thing in my throat has. Thank you, whoever you are, that it’s just a benign growth on an obscure gland. Think what it might have been. My poor father, diagnosed with stomach cancer at 64, which I will be next year. Dead at 65.

I was thinking of him today, of the tragedy of his too-early death, after reading an obit in the NYT of one of the founders of Second City, born a few months before my father, who just died. Imagine, he had 25 more years of life. 25 whole years. Thinking these thoughts in my usual Wednesday class at the Y, I was joined by a neighbour whom I’ve known for decades but don’t really know, who had decided to try this class. And then she said, “You know I’m a biochemist. And I’ve been wanting to tell you that when I was studying at the University of Ottawa, your father taught me a very difficult class, physical chemistry. He was the best teacher I ever had. He was so charismatic and handsome, and he made it all accessible and interesting and fun.”

What a joy to hear that, to listen to someone else who remembers him. And to reflect that one of the ironies of our story, his and mine, is that to a non-science artsy-fartsy like myself, he could make nothing of his work accessible and interesting and fun. I didn’t understand a single thing he did, and I still don’t.

I just came in from teaching and perhaps you can tell that I have drunk a few glasses of wine – white, because it was there in the fridge, and there’s only one bottle of red which I hope to crack open when I get home from the hospital tomorrow. I have no idea how I will feel, if I’ll be a mess after anaesthesia, or if I’ll bounce back. My daughter is leaving work to help me get home, and my son has asked for the early shift so he can be here in the evening and spend the night. I am grateful for everything, everything. And yet, right now, I am swamped with grief. A minuscule speck in the vast solar system, thinking about the cut in her throat.

Okay, snap out of it. In half an hour I’ll watch John Oliver, who is doing a superlative job replacing the irreplaceable Jon Stewart, and then I’ll have a last snack and the shower to kill my germs, and set the alarm. I want to remind my children where my will is, but that’s silly. It’s routine day surgery. And yet.

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6 Responses to “the operation”

  1. May it go well for you today!

  2. Anonymous says:

    There's no such thing as minor surgery, when it's happening to you.

    I don't think you'll want the red on immediate return to your own bed, but drink in the sight of your daughter and son, and the smell of your roses.

    wishing you well, in all ways

    p

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thinking of you today, Beth.. I hope everything went well!!

    Bron

  4. beth says:

    Thank you, Carrie. And may you soon be playing soccer at full speed again too.

  5. beth says:

    Good to hear your voice, dear friend. Definitely a first, a day without the desire for red wine. Though a bit of white would not go amiss… But no.

  6. beth says:

    Many thanks, Bron – award-winner, I think, for the student who goes back the furthest!

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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