Better Off Dead

If you are new to this blog of the upcoming book Viking Funeral, celebrating the life of Dave Linane with booze, words, and fire, welcome.  The timeline above shows you where we are in the book. While each chapter can stand on its own if you wish to read from the beginning, click here.  More info is available, About Dave or the FAQ section explains who the book is about and the arc of the storyline. If you found me through a grief group, this page of my perspective of why we are all here in this place right now may be helpful. XO M

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We (my darling husband, my mom, and I) were on the road returning from lunch at my beloved nephew and his darling family’s house. We took my mom so she could see their new house and their cutie pie boys. We enjoyed a fab lunch of Greek food and a pinot noir that was as smooth as the day is long. We enjoyed their little boys as they showed us their rooms, toys, and how cold their pool was.

My husband asked my mom from the back seat if she was excited about a cataract surgery that she was scheduled to have the upcoming week. I thought that was a very weird question and laughed at him. He had dental surgery coming up too, so I posed the same question to him, “Are YOU looking forward to YOUR surgery? Who looks forward to surgery?” He theorized that people MIGHT look forward to surgery when the outcome will leave them in much better shape than their current circumstances. By the way, I was the designated driver, following our lovely lunch.

My mom said she didn’t have her surgery time yet, but that the department would call her the day before with the specific time to arrive at the surgery center. She then offhandedly remarked that this doctor was SO MUCH MORE doom and gloom than the last guy. He was the same doctor who performed her first last cataract surgery. I had taken her to her pre-surgery appointment, and I was IN the room with her. The doctor told her that the statistics for this particular procedure, result in less than a 1% rate of complications. I was very impressed with those stats. Less than 1% rate of complications is amazing!

I laughed, “DOOM AND GLOOM? What are you talking about? I was THERE! He gave you LESS than 1% rate of complications! I have never had any procedure in my life with odds like that!” My husband was chiming in from the back seat, “1% is fantastic!” My mom surprised me with her response that she “WOULD BE that 1% who would have complications.” I refused to allow her to go down that ridiculous path of worry for 1% odds and chose to focus on the 99% of surgeries that have NO complications and asked her to do so too.

I think the reason she felt doom and gloom was because the receptionist who had called to confirm her upcoming surgery asked her if she had an advanced directive in place prior to surgery. I reminded her that she wasn’t “even going to be under anesthesia, that she was going to be fine!” She was not impressed with any of my supporting analysis using, you know, data! My mom is a Kaiser patient, and my husband serves on more than one Kaiser Medical Group board. He explained, “Kaiser was working to open the dialogue about advanced directives among its members, especially those over 50 because most people across the nation do not have anything in place. It is a problem among family members who have conflicting ideas about the care of their loved ones in the event of a catastrophic health event. For these reasons, Kaiser customer service representatives were asking about advanced directives for all patients regardless of procedures facing them. Flu shot? Colorectal screening? Advanced directive? I am exaggerating, but not that much.

“I think you know what I want.” “I don’t know mom, what if I want them to give you everything they’ve got!?” “You know what I mean.” I teased her, “I may NOT know what you mean.” When, in fact, of course, I knew what she meant. If she were brain dead, I would not leave her to linger. Otherwise, she is stuck listening to my bad jokes as long as possible, just like Dave had to.

My darling husband went on to share the story of his only brother Jason, “Jay,” who, in his 30s, had an endoscopy that almost killed him. The surgeon nicked his esophagus during the procedure. His brother left what should have been a simple procedure and began to feel awful. He felt so terrible that he ended up in the emergency room, and by the next day, fell into a coma. Apparently, that nick allowed food and digestive enzymes to enter his abdominal cavity that created sepsis that…resulted in a coma.

He was so young and unmarried. Its not surprising had no advanced directive. Who would at that age? My husband described the doctor calling all the family together ten days into the coma to explain how precarious Jason’s health was and that the family should make a decision about what was to be done in the absence of the advanced directive.

My husband felt that Jay should not be left plugged into a wall, a sentiment shared by most of the family. However, one sister, Marlene pitched a fit at the suggestion that they ‘pull the plug’ on Jason. She was so persuasive in her insistence about keeping Jason alive that she spoke over the rest of the entire family who ultimately went along with her, and they kept Jason plugged in.

On day 30, Jason woke up! While in a coma, he managed to become a non-smoker due to simply not smoking for 30 days. He never returned to that habit, by the way, a quitting method he did not exactly recommend, “but it worked for him.” he would joke. He had no long term health issues other than the physical issues from not moving for the last 30 days, which he overcame with immediate physical therapy. Of course, that was an extreme example, but it was first hand.

My mom, not to be outdone, responded, “They said, Dave would be better off dead.” Taking us a completely unexpected direction, like scratch the recond, stop the music silence hung in the car for a moment. Every time I have asked my mom questions about this time period, she remembers very little, or she shares very little, but this was a loaded fucking bombshell.

I asked, “WHO is this THEY you speak of?” “His neuro-surgeon.” “Who?” “Dr. X, (she said his actual name, X is not his real name) his neuro-surgeon,” I remembered his name because I was at the hospital enough times to know who Dave’s doctor of record was when he was in the hospital for an entire year. I was not fond of him back then. I was not used to being invisible, but everyone was invisible to that guy. I perceived that as a child. This new information permanently cemented my seven-year-old impression of him.

I shouted, “That MOTH-ER (I became irate and horrified as I was internally processing this information loudly in my head; first of all, what kind of mother fucker says this to an actual mother in an emergency room? And what kind of mother fucker has so little regard for human life? A Doctor? A do NO HARM OATH TAKER? No fucking HARM? WOW have we gone down a hellhole here… is what I was thinking in the mere seconds between breaths when the second word slowly and deliberately left my mouth through my teeth) FU-CKER!”

I was committed to keeping us safe as I drove, so I was keeping my eyes on the road. This is one of those kind of conversations that you really NEED to look at people to feel their temperature. I did not have this luxury, and this conversation was not going to be tabled for another time. I had to settle for my peripheral vision and keep driving. I could see my mom nod in agreement as the words “mother fucker!!!” loudly left my being, scratching my palate, I FELT them as they left my mouth, hit the windshield and ricocheted tightly around the car. I could see her in the corner of my eye half-listening, unaffected by my potty mouth. She nodded, but she was not present in the car, on the road, or even in this year. She wasn’t really hearing me, she was looking out at the freeway ahead, but she was seeing a horror show that she had shielded from me. It was out there now somewhere on the California 22 freeway growing in my visibility. A part of her knew instinctively to just nod at whatever left my mouth. She knew I would be on her side, agreeing with what I knew she felt at the core of her soul and had carried around for more than four decades…but the words were mine, not hers. I have no idea where I get my course language. She would never use them or reach that level of anger toward anyone as far as I knew. Maybe she did??

These were my simultaneous thoughts as I watched her relive that moment. I had to know, “WHAT ON EARTH DID YOU SAY???” I was expecting her to have gone off on that asshole doctor. How dare he speak like that, not just to her, not just to MY mom, not because it was also about my brother. He was speaking about a human who WAS alive, very much alive, totally paralyzed, yes, but a fully cognizant human being with a SOUL!!!! She could not remember her exact words, and maybe they will come to her in time, but she said: “I just told him he just needed to get in there and do his job.” GOD, that was so not the way I would have handled that… I had no words.

We drove along in silence after that. I still could see her in the corner of my vision…reviewing that horrible moment in time. I stewed with the words repeating over and over in my thoughts…That MOTHER FUCKER.

My husband had fallen asleep in the back. We drove along for another 20 minutes as I continued to stew, thinking about all the people whose lives my darling brother had touched so profoundly in his years WAY past those days in San Bernardino Community Hospital. How many lives he helped improve. I wondered how many other families’ lives had been shattered exponentially by that mother fucker and his opinions about whom would be better off dead. OH-MY-GOD!

That man had NO FUCKING IDEA who he was talking about. Reminded me of who my father became, overcoming huge odds growing up in a horribly volatile environment to become a world-class athlete, gentleman, loving husband and father, pillar of the community. Plenty of people overcome great obstacles to surprise the hell out of the world with their talents, accomplishments, and contributions in music, literature, art, technology, medicine. Steven Hawking comes to mind. You NEVER FUCKING KNOW what any one of us may create or become.

As I was trying to calm down from wrapping my head around the shock and horror of a professional person, a human being saying such a thing…I wanted to make sure I got the words correct (because this book, right now, I want to get it right) and asked for further clarification, “When did he say that? Was it the day Dave was hurt, like when you were in the E.R.? Was it the day after? Was it part of a discussion of a plan for how to proceed, like surgery is an option? What was the context of him saying that to you??” My mom thought just a moment and said, I think it may have been the day after he was hurt, I don’t remember when he had the surgery, but it was before the surgery, so probably the day after he was hurt.”

Retrospectively and with some time and space, I am glad she told me because she needed to unload those awful, hurtful words that she carried around for so long. I am certain that she felt some validation in my reaction to them. Hopefully, some of the conversations we have had about that time have helped her heal if even a little.

Back to that moment in the car, though, my reaction was to get mad all over again. Not that I had cooled down all that much between the 22 to the 55 to the 91 freeway. I couldn’t help it and said, “That just makes me want to kick that mother fucker in the nards!” “Oh, he’s dead, honey.” She flatly conveyed without skipping a beat.”Well, then (pause to think) I wanna dig that dead mother fucker up, and kick him in his dried-ass de-com-POSING nards!” To that, my mom laughed.

This was not the first time I have wanted to kick a doctor in the nards, but this guy made it to a whole other level, this was some ninth-circle of hell level shit, and I was considering exhuming him to do so. I whispered as I let out a long breath to further calm myself down (say it with me one more time), “That Mother fucker.”

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