Imagine me in a hospital bed. The room is bright with morning sun. My roommate lies snoring behind a curtain. When he’s awake he doesn’t speak English. The TV is on. Some program director with personal problems is taking out his hostilities by running a nine-hour marathon of Mayberry RFD. I had regained my mind only to lose it again to the Tube.
Delirium eventually shrinks like a puddle in the sun, leaving only a parched plot of mantic crust, the cracks of which can be read like runes. The dry bed of my recent delirium exposed new evidence in my personal fossil record (we all have one) and I saw the thought of worms again, twice (although I was still uncertain as to their significance) and the puzzling girl with the Louise Brooks haircut. The teabags took on greater importance. And I had chicken McNuggets on my mind all the time. What it all meant was still up for debate but I meticulously catalogued it all. Each small detail carried an equation. I was certain.
So. I’d been diagnosed with testicular cancer (also chronic alcoholism but that wasn’t a big surprise). The doctor that brought me the bulletin was young, flabby and pale. He looked like a Christian ventriloquist. He asked me to call him Eddie. Sure, Doc. He was nervous and probably thought he was bringing me devastating news and I played it that way but I couldn’t help thinking that cancer was the lucky break I’d been waiting for. I experienced no existential crisis, no fear, anger or sadness. I was, well, sort of elated, actually. Comforted (relieved) that the sad little movie of my life might have a surprise happy ending. My circumstances had finally caught up to my self-pity. That night I slept like a baby on Valium. Finally, I thought, the release and liberation of death without leaving behind the ugly confusion of guilt and anger that suicide ignites. I saw myself comfortably wasting away in front of the TV, huffing medical marijuana, drinking wine, and watching George Weiss movies. And when death finally gathered me up, I’d leave behind only reflective, diminishing grief.
Whereas, if I were to blow my brain apart with a shotgun, leaving a fleshy mess and some vague, superficial “Goodbye cruel world” note...
Well, that’s just not nice.
A nurse came silently into the room with hushed white shoes. She checked my IV and then turned to me and said, “How you doing, Henry?” Her nurse-shirt had colorful bunnies all over it.
“Do you need anything? You want me to help you wash up?”
“No thanks. Maybe later.”
“It might make you feel better. And it’s no big deal. This is my job. You don’t have to be embarrassed. I do this every day.”
“Oh, no. It’s not that. I just. I’m watching this.” I pointed to Mayberry RFD.
The ultrasound I’d endured the day before had cured me of any modesty.
After cooling my DT heels in the bustling hospital hall, I was moved and kept kenneled in an examination room for what felt like an hour and thirty-seven minutes with nothing to look at or do except sit and think. Four white walls enclosed a small sterile area utilitarily decorated in a Spartan medical motif. Mysterious little gizmos and empty fluorescent space. There was a chair. A padded table covered in deli paper. The white no-smell of cotton. A room designed to be dull. Even the calendar (the sole civilian thing on the wall) offered nothing more than a month’s worth of vacant dates.
The doctor, Edwin, came into the room behind a quick, perfunctory knock.
“Hello, Henry. How you holding up, my man?”
My man? “Okay,” I said.
“Great. We’re trying to get you set up with a room. It’s been crazy today, more than usual. In the meantime, let me take a look at you. Can you lie back for me?”
I did. He pressed my abdomen with a gloved hand. “Does this hurt?”
“No.” Should I tell him?
He pressed left. “How about here?”
“No.” When I was a kid my mom got me Kojak bedsheets...
“What about now?”
“No.” I have to say something.
“Okay, we’re gonna take you back outside for awhile. Hopefully a bed will become available soon. We’ll get you some more Valium too. You seem a little agitated.” He pulled off his glove with a snap.
“Wait. There’s something else,” I said.
“Oh?” he said. He dropped his gloves into a black canister, raising the lid with a foot pedal. Then he turned toward me, waiting with raised eyebrows.
“Um,” I said. “One of my testicles is hard. Swollen. And I come without ejaculating. It feels the same but nothing comes out.” America’s sweetheart is a dead manatee on a dead-end street in a dead town.
“Okay. Let me take a look,” he said, putting on fresh gloves.
I pulled aside the hospital gown. “The left one.”
For the first time in my life someone else’s hand was feeling my gonads.
I stared up at the gray ceiling of dead galaxies and thought about reincarnation. Instead of tumors and biopsies, I thought about a nervous, irritably-bowelled Virgin Mary yelling at Joseph. That putz. I remembered the episode of Ironside when the hippie housewife smokes a joint laced with something and in her narcotized confusion puts her baby in the oven and the Thanksgiving turkey in the crib. Or was that from a Dragnet?
Doctor Eddie asked me questions about my balls, still probing, looking. I thought about something else.
Finally, he stepped back and peeled off his gloves again.
“Okay, Henry. I’m going to send you down for a CAT scan and an ultrasound. We need to get this looked at as soon as possible.”
“What do you suspect?’ I asked, fastening my metaphorical seatbelt.
“Nothing to be afraid of,” he lied.
|Arlene Martel in The Twilight Zone|
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