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A SURGEON'S TALE

 

I'm like no no no put that back put that right the fuck back

I don't know where Belem's from he looks like he can be from anywhere that touches the Mediterranean it's that of his skin that can be a darker white or lighter black or a brown so middle of the road that it could just as well have been built in a lab and his facial features aren't much of a giveaway either no fat lips or thin nose or anything like that to hitch my stereotypes to

I should talk to Belem more often instead of just barking orders since in practically any other situation he'd outrank me in terms of profession bank account and not fucked up kids

But waiting in a burnt leftovers of a shitty diner in the middle of nowhere that itself is in the middle of a howling late October rainstorm has away of rearranging the rules and regulations of who gets to call the fucking shots

I pissed away most of my twenties and the pulling myself together moment was supposed to be finding out that the two chicks I was lying pipe in got pregnant within six months of each other

Supposed to be because it really meant I started working day labour like construction pretty hardcore to pay them to keep them off my back and cutting my drinking to lunch and after everyone headed home for the night swigging rum from a flask and nicking the odd Black and Decker left hanging in a half finished house by a moron trade

Despite my best efforts I still managed to never get fired and pick up some organization type skills and got to the point where I could pretty much tell younger versions of me what to do and where to pick up the crap piling up around the houses from the work of the bricklayers roofers electricians and whatever you call the guys that build the wooden frames

I drop in to say hi to my kids when I figure I should

Sometimes that works and sometimes that doesn't but I always pay the money on time and I know that's not much of a replacement of a Dad but it keeps them in clothes food and heated rooms so I don't need to hear from Rebecca and Grace that I don't do shit because I do

Belem's still staring ahead with dead eyes as he doesn't listen to me to put it right the fuck back and tries weakly to pick up the some sort of support beam off her legs

And it's weird 'cause he might be thinking as a doctor and trying to help someone while I'm trying to help both of us because if he pushes that hunk of metal around I'm thinking like a construction worker and trying to keep the rest of the place from falling the rest of the way down

And I don't need to have a medical degree to know that the waitress is already dead

So I have to get up and repeat myself and finally push his hands away and tell him it doesn't matter now you can't do anything just sit down and wait we just have to wait

I don't really know how to deal with this kind of trauma thing so I kind of brace for him to flip out or something but he just stands there for a second before shuffling back to a burnt chair with legs still strong enough to hold him

Then he starts to talk

What I find captivating...what I find captivating... is the speed at which certain pieces of clothing caught fire. I never would have imagined that the difference between life and death could come down to poor quality fabrics that go up like grease fires and the jammed zippers at the worst possible time that kept the flames on people's backs.

They - whoever they might be - say that everything moves in slow motion at moments like this. Of disaster and great personal peril. And it felt like that as we moved towards the door. Except for the flames. They seemed to defy the laws of physics. Leaping...no not leaping... transporting themselves across the restaurant as one person's breath was enough to call them into being. The way people reacted, kicking up their arms, opening their mouths to cry, it was all at half speed. It was like watching ordinary people chew the scenery. It could have been a grotesque mime act.

Despite the change of speed and the clarity that supposedly comes with it I'm already second guessing myself in some instances. I heard myself yelling something about getting out. And yelling hurry hurry hurry. And I'd like to believe I was telling this to the other diners and the staff, and not only to myself. I know I was closest to the door and I held it open for you. But after stepping out into the rain I'd like to believe that I didn't go back in to help because I knew it was too dangerous and not because I was afraid.

Seeing people die everyday. It comes with the job which makes it a unique. And you can only think of it as a failure on your part so many times before you build up a thicker skin about that sort of feeling. Or you quit.

But there's death and then there's your death. And the idea of my death took me out here in seconds and just watched the place burn down. And here's where time got back to normal. I felt my heart pump like a piston. I saw the fire stretch across the roof with impunity. There was nothing vile in its movements. It was doing what it was supposed to do.

I've treated burn victims. I've helped them live and watched them die. But I've never seen the situation that brought them to me until now. They've come to me in stretchers eyes wide in shock. That place where your body forces you to escape so it can manage without the self getting in the way.

Sometimes you don't know where the clothes and skin end and the flesh begins. Some doctors have a hard time with the smell. I have a hard time with the face. It's drugged up and sometimes catatonic and sometimes gasping.

I want to ease the pain. In some instances where death is inevitable that is the best a doctor can do, to bring it that much quicker to spare the person agony with reason. I never wonder what Hippocrates would say.

I did that with my father. He had multiple sclerosis and as more and more of his daily life was taken from him and he needed a nurse for everything from going to the bathroom to holding his hand so he could sign his name. So one day at a time when I knew the nurse wouldn't be there I went to the apartment we recently had him move into - which was probably more an indignity than anything else when compared to the house he owned but could no longer maintain - I crouched beside him in his chair and told him I loved him. Which was probably the first time I said it since I was eight or so. And then I gave him a fatal combined dose of natalizumab and amitriptyline, the latter being his pain medication. It was determined to be an accident with the machine that is supposed to regulate the flow of the drugs into his system. Or maybe the investigator turned a blind eye because it was an eighty one year old man living a shadow of his life in blinding pain. Regardless, I spoke at his funeral and wasn't placed in handcuffs afterwards.

He never laid a finger on me. He did it all through mind games that I'm not sure he even knew he was playing. Never figured that pushing me to always be perfect and better than anyone else was still some form of pushing. I sometimes imagine how worse off I'd be if it didn't work.

And I didn't complain because even as teenager I knew that my sister got it worse. She had fingers laid on her. And everywhere.

If my true feelings about my father was seen in awkward silences, then my sister's was hidden under the desire for pretending like anything wrong was happening. That everything was normal. That normal was something that could be forced or stretched over any sort of situation.

What seems impossible is that she and I have different memories of how I found out. I swear I somehow put two and two together. That footsteps from my parents room to my sisters in the middle of the night once a week around the same time aroused suspicion. And that hearing the footsteps go in reverse five or ten minutes later. And then my sister's lighter footsteps tiptoeing to the bathroom that she and I not long after that. It was long enough ago that I don't remember feeling any sort of obligation. Concern, yes, but she was a year older than me. And at my age that seemed like a world of difference. That she could handle it all herself. That it wasn't any of my business.

She swears she told me. And told me not to tell anyone. That she could handle it all herself. That it wasn't any of my business. She said I said okay.

We had this conversation about these two differing memories the day before the funeral.  When she broached the subject I didn't shy away from it. I expected her to cry but she didn't. And it wasn't like she was emotionally distant. That the scars showed on surface. She was successful and married with two children of her own. Whatever had to be overcome to live a life where that doesn't affect everything, she did it.

I asked how she felt about him, how this had to have changed her opinion, view, relationship, everything with him. I didn't even want to mention if she mentioned this with  our mother in any way.

She said she put in such a far away place. She talked about what happened when she was roughly seventeen as if it happened to someone else. As if we were talking about a distant cousin we both knew years ago.

I wasn't sure if it was a sign of strength or desperation. If that was a thing to be lauded for or a symptom of some neurosis that could explode at any moment in some sort of terrible way.

She built a barrier. It was her way of dealing with such a horrifying, unthinkable shock. And I wasn't sure how to help her with the pain. If even trying to talk to her about it again would be doing more harm than good. And I felt weak, impotent. Unfit.

So that was also going through my head as I was there last Saturday, standing at the podium and talking about how my father always joked about throwing our trash in the neighbour's pool.

I suppose some people might say that I've found it hard to let things go unless they're going on my own terms. Not that some 'people might say 'is any sort of impetus for how to act or react. In fact, that kind of thinking is just a way to excuse yourself from having that thought on your own. It just says what you're worried what people might say.

I wonder how many problems died in this fire. I wonder how many people who know these people will change for the better because of this and how long down the road it would take for them to realize that.

And amen to that.

Then he shut his trap and didn't say anything 'til the ambulance showed up

 

END

 

Zen is one quarter stupidity