So I was listening to my ipod the other day, and bugger me a track comes on that I’ve not heard for a long time . It was the track that I was playing on ‘the long drive’ across Wyoming. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was probably on a day or so away from dying.
I’d arrived near Laramie in the summer of 2007 after driving some 2000 miles from upstate NY and I had an ‘upset stomach’. I figured it was food poisoning or something and drove up into the Snowies, west of Laramie. The evening and night was all alone in a car park, with a fever, and what I would call ‘low level hallucinations’, in that when I closed my eyes I would see vivid colors that would take the shape of familiar objects and do really surreal things.
The next day I really wasn’t feeling any better, and certainly not well enough to do anything, and so I limped Westwards. By this time I was getting worried. If it was food poisoning, it should be getting better by now, and if anything it was getting worse. I picked up the interstate I80 and headed West. It was late afternoon by the time I got to Rawlins, and I was weighing in the balance if I should head to a hospital. In the end I decided I would head onto Rock Springs and if I was not getting better by then I would go looking for medical help. That drive turned out to be particularly tormentful, with the pain getting progressively worse and in the failing light. To make things worse, it turned out the GPS was out of date, and inside my head there was a wail of despair that went off as the GPS announced ‘now arriving at destination (hospital) on right’, when it was clear there was no hospital here. Thankfully Rock Springs was a fairly small place and a little further up the road I found a Hospital sign. It was only on getting out of the car I realized something was really really wrong. All the time I had been in the car, all I had to do was essentially set the cruise control and keep the car on the road. On getting out of the car, I found the movement so painful that I could barely walk.
The fever made my stay in the waiting room a really quite surreal experience. While they were checking my insurance details I sat very still, and very quietly in an almost transidental calm, like I was only watching my life. The thing that really sticks with me from that waiting room were the parents opposite me, getting progressively more frantic as they went from credit card to credit card trying to get something that would pay for their childrens treatment. It was an unpleasantly disturbing sight seen through the eyes of one whose my mind wasnt quite right and who, by now was dealing with the unconformable realization that there was something very wrong with him.
When a doctor finally took a look at me, it took him minutes to come to the conclusions ‘appendicitis’. They took blood, and at some did some form of imaging that required a tube to be shoved up my ass and significant amounts of dye to be injected. I was assured this would be quite painful, although to be honest at this point I was in so much pain, and in such a dazed state that I just didn’t care. Not even a little!
All this confirmed what they had suspected all along, and that they would operate in the morning (less than 12 hrs after arriving).
Now I knew the risk of death in the operation was small, and the chances of death if they did not operate were all but certain, but nonetheless, when they came to put me out for the operation, that this might be the final curtain call. Complications as unpredictable as they are, it turned out, my appendix was actually fairly far gone and gangrenous and as a consequence my appendix scar is longer than most!
So these were the memories that came flooding back when I heard this track, and then I remembered something else.
-I had chose not to contact my parents, and the uncomfortable things I had weighted in coming to that decision.
I knew that the chances of death were small but real, and in that case, all my parents would ever know of this is that their son had died of complications in Wyoming.
-So how could I not tell them I hear you ask?
Well, I also knew the operation was something I had no control over, and nor would they. That is that if I told them I knew they would worry terribly, my mother especially as they could do nothing other than powerless wait on the other side of the world to hear if their son was going to live or die.
… and there, as I stood waiting for a bus, listening to my ipod, it suddenly dawned on me that this was the price of saying good-bye to your loved ones.
It also prompted me down the rather uncomfortable line of thought of what sort of risk of death would you need before the balance was tipped from ‘the probability is small, and the matter is out of everyones hands, so I will spare my parents the emotional grief’ to ‘the probability is high, and even though it’s out of everyones hands, I want to talk to my loved ones for maybe the last time. What would be the tipping point? 10 %? 30 %? 90%?
I’m curious as to your thoughts on this. What would you have done?
-You are on the other side of the world and with a risk of death, maybe big, maybe small. Would you spare your loved ones the anguish? Or does the necessity for the closure of talking to your loved ones, maybe for the last time win out?