Eleven years ago, a doctor told me I had, maybe, two years left. Friends cried, but not me. I didn’t cry because I didn’t believe him. I had a new baby and plans for more. I was 29 then: young, brave, stupid.
Now, no one makes proclamations about expiration dates because we’ve been through harder stuff than this. This tumor acted in the performance of our worst case scenario when it took up residence in my brain five years ago and I faced the radiosurgery with only a moment of tears as I lay, literally screwed, to the radiation table. There was none of this pre-procedure drama.
Now my friends are the ones who can’t imagine me gone, but I can. I can see it as clearly as I saw my future all those years ago. Right now, I am just three years younger now than my mom was when she died. I can no more see myself at my children’s graduation that I saw her at mine, except that this is different. I will be fine. There is no reason to think that the surgery will be anything but fine. Difficult perhaps, but fine.
But some part of me refuses to believe it. My brain will not turn off now. It is a tornado swirl of disaster and the most unlikely of scenarios. Each morning I sit on my front step and weep quietly. I call or text friends to virtually hold my hand through it, but it’s really only after a half an hour of tear-stained cheeks that I begin to feel like I can face the day.
At night I do crazy math. The surgeon I have sought out–who has successfully performed this surgery on me four times before– is also the one who signed my mother’s death certificate, not that I realized that until years later. Before I saw his name at the bottom of that form in some burst of short-lived curiosity about genealogy, the actor of that role in my head was just a shadow person. What he said was burned in me forever, but his face was lost to time and shock.
But now, that signature means he isn’t lost at all. It means my doctor was the one to lead me, my two-years-younger- brother, and my grandfather back to some hidden part of the hospital, the ICU maybe, to show us a wall of illuminated scans. That means it was his voice that narrated the story of her death to us: the exploded aneurysm, the brain full of blood, the hopelessness of it all. It also means that he has been the one to cut me open four times, remove the tumors, and put me back together again.
In bed, unable to sleep, I Google him and find that he graduated medical school in 1983, the year I would turn ten, seven years before my mom would die. Eric lies next to me in the dark, blissfully unaware of my mania until my voice cuts through the silence, “How long is medical school?” I ask my lawyer husband, as if this is something he might have studied. “I have no idea,” he answers, and if he is growing tired of these late night quizzes, his even voice doesn’t betray it.
I Google the length of medical school and do crazy math: graduation in 1983 means birth in 1956 or so, which means he walked my seventeen–year-old self past those scans at, what, 35? Thirty-five? My god, he was a baby then!
He would have been, maybe 42 at my first surgery? That means he is maybe 58, just a decade older than the poor man that lies next to me trying to sleep, while his crazy wife hunts for details that mean nothing. It seems like the people who do things like cut into your spinal cord or drain the blood from your mother’s shattered brain should be so much older or be super heroes, or something. They shouldn’t just be, you know, regular people.
The math doesn’t help because it changes nothing. There is nothing I can do. The date is set, the details figured out, and yet, because my brain needs a problem to be solved it is creating its own pointless worries with worthless answers. It will be alright, or it won’t.
And it will. I know that somewhere, deep down. If I didn’t I could never make myself get on that operating table. Unfortunately, that part is small and still and easily overtaken my fears.