The Dispassionate Dead
Today, the pain arrived on a beautiful Saturday morning when spring had finally peeped around the corner, and I was exulting in the joy of life. When the doctor has told you, “If you said ‘now,’ I’d have you in the OR tomorrow replacing both hips,” the pain can descend at any moment. Problem is, each time, the pain arrives anew, in a way I have never before experienced.
* It feels like someone is poking a needle in my hip—what is that?
* Pain is traveling up and down my leg like the tide, ebbing and flowing, ebbing and flowing—what is that?
* My left side is so contracted I cannot move—what is that?
The dearth of answers sets my imagination to flight. How can pain break through 1200 mg of ibuprofen . . . or is the ibuprofen causing the pain? It hurts right above my left kidney—does ibuprofen damage your kidneys? Am I crouched on the starting line of total renal failure?
When the pain first came into my life I talked to the Magic Monk, an orthopedic surgeon who’d had both knees, both hips, and both shoulders replaced. He stood about five and half feet tall. Each time his joints declined, he rode the pain as long as he could before he acquiesced to surgery.
“For what the pain could teach you?” I asked.
He smiled wide, blinking as he nodded his head, so pleased with my insight.
My pain has taught me I am afraid of dying. Afraid of the degenerative process that leads to the loss of your body. Afraid of what lies down that path, the unknown process I have never before experienced.
Last August, I took a break from my daddy’s deathbed and walked the tree-lined street outside his house. Mid-way down the block I saw, perched on a limb of one of the magnificent oaks, my dead cousin.
“Can’t you help him,” I pleaded, referring to my daddy’s death struggle.
“He has to do it on his own,” my cousin said.
“Seems like you could at least tell him that,” I objected.
“He already knows it,” he replied, and I wondered: why are the dead so dispassionate?
The answer, I think, is because the greatest mystery we carry with us—what is this life and when will it end?—has for them been answered. After that, what is there left to get excited about?
I might not be dying, but my hip joints are. One day soon, I’ll become a bionic being. This may put a halt to my communicating with the dead. Instead, I’ll probably hear it when radiators speak.