“Is the surgery dangerous?” Matthew asked. Mark had gone for a run/walk around the block, and I had pulled Matthew and Michael off their respective devices for a talk in the living room about Mark’s upcoming surgery. Ben was at work.
“Well,” I said slowly, “you will commonly hear people say that all surgery is to be taken seriously.” I was rapidly trying to decide where the line was between honest and too scary when talking to a 15 year old and an almost-20 year old about their dad’s latest health twist.
“Dad says it’s a minor surgery,” Michael added, although I knew that he did not necessarily believe this. As Mark is excellent at denial, the question about whether or not Mark believes it goes unanswered. The other day he told my parents, “the first surgery didn’t take too long to recover from, so this one should be okay.” My mom, who excels at shooting me knowing looks, shot me a good one.
“Because of the part of his body they are working on, it could be more complicated,” I settled on. “The doctors said that your dad should be back to himself more quickly this time.” I didn’t add what my friend Kim had said when I told her that. “So, like, seven months instead of seven and a half?” she said, laughing. Kim knows how to make me laugh, which I greatly appreciate. A couple days ago, Mark told a doctor that he started to lose his hearing after the surgery, in December. After the doctor left the examination room, I said, “When do you think your surgery was?” “December,” Mark replied. “Actually,” I said, “it was in August.” “Huh,” he said. “I guess I’m confused because I don’t really remember September, October or December.” “How about November,” I said. “Do you remember November?” “Oh,” Mark laughed, “not that one, either.”
The surgery is set for August 3rd. I’ve talked to everyone I need to talk to now to trust that this a) has to happen; b) has to happen now. The oncologist, Dr. Z, and I spoke by phone on Thursday. I was alone in my office, pacing back and forth with a wild nervous energy as he confirmed that he agreed with the decision to do the surgery, and said that he was “hopeful” that Mark would get back to baseline more quickly than after the last surgery. Dr. Z added that a benefit of the surgery is that the surgeons can “interrogate the tissue” while they are in there. I imagined this as a surgical courtroom drama. Surgeon to sinus tissue: “Do you or do you not have a history of dividing uncontrollably?” “Had you or had you not been given express permission to occupy space in said person’s head?”
The least of my worries has been Covid as I have kept our little pup-tent of a life propped up by aluminum pegs and string. We’ve done all we reasonably can do to stay home, stay masked, stay socially distant. We’ve reordered our lives to make room for the pandemic, in the way that you reorder your life if you have to live with a grizzly bear in the woods. The bear is in charge, and you navigate accordingly. But as school approaches and I am inundated with social media and news stories about the free-for-all of schools planning, layered on with the fears of teachers and parents, it’s all I can do to keep our little shelter standing. I am fully functional but my personal “tell” for my level of stress is that I’ve stopped riding my bike and I’m instead walking. It’s an instinct. I need to go slower. I need to have my feet firmly on the ground. And I need to keep moving.
One of my teacher friends, as I was text-fretting over what kind of PPE to wear at school, seemed strangely calm to me. “WHY AREN’T YOU CONCERNED ABOUT THIS?” I texted. “Aka, should I chill out?” He replied, “This is arranging chairs on the Titanic.”
Really, what is one to do. My cousin, a therapist, did a Zoom exercise with me in which she repeated the mantra, “You can be in reasonable control of what it is reasonable to be in control of.” Despite the fact that I got a little distracted by the thought that I could be in control of that dangling preposition, the exercise was quite relaxing. It made sense. Of course. Calm down.
This morning, I needed to get the driveway gussied up for a socially distant, masked family breakfast gathering. My brother and sister-in-law were in from Texas, and my parents, niece and wife and baby were coming over. I sat inside with Mark and had coffee, and then I started to get up to, as I had said, “execute this mission with military-style precision.” Sometimes I just say random crap to entertain myself, as Mark often cannot hear me and I’m often left too much in my own head. “What?” he said. “I’m going to fuss and putz,” I replied. “Fry the pets?” he tried.
And then I sighed.
And then I laughed.
No, no, I’m not going to fry the pets today. Today, I’m going to keep moving forward.