Four years ago, the doctor discovered a tiny “something” in my kidney. Tiny, but he was certain that it was malignant. Cancerous, but so tiny that no action was indicated, except waiting and hoping that it was going to stay put and do no harm.
Months went by, and the tumor grew slightly larger each time. But recently something pulled the switch and the malignancy had grown significantly in a particularly vulnerable spot.
So, my urologist dispatched me to his mentor at Emory in Atlanta. The surgeon studied the films and the reports and pronounced the iffy prognosis: The kidney must be entirely removed, the sooner the better. The growth is enmeshed in veins and nerves, very dangerous to play with. Thus, out comes the whole thing.
The surgery will require two relatively small incisions and one four-incher. No chemo nor radiation seem to be indicated. If it goes well, I will be in hospital for less than a week, then recover at my kids, Chanie and Joey, for at least another two weeks.
What is the downside? Well, I am not a healthy man. I am a walking pharmacopoeia with doctors’ appointments out the wazoo. This could bode of all kinds of bad stuff: kidney failure, dialysis, infection, and even a possible visit from the Angel of Death on the table or during recovery. Not to belabor the grim issue, but for a man of my age and infirmity, morbidity rate about 25 percent, according to Mayo.
The doctor tells me that it is my choice, and I have chosen the affirmative: a tenuous procedure versus nearly certain death as the tumor grows and metastasizes.
We’ve set the surgery for July 10, at Emory.
The inescapable question: Am I afraid of dying? I would like to say that I was entirely over that. But, truly, not at all sure. Ask me again as the surgery draws nearer.
Sometimes in my naïve and shallow theology, I rely on the promise that I will be reunited with my nurturing mother to comfort my tears from being bullied. And my dad forever peering in his microscope. And Aunt Minnie, namesake of our Labradoodle. Has she gotten over her loathing for dogs? And Auntie Levin: Still standing on her head, like she did at the 1893 World’s Fair, eating bananas underwater? And Uncle Harry, still reeking from his vocation of grinding horseradish?
Maybe one day I will even dine with Moses, Isaiah, St. Francis of Assisi, or Maimonides?
But, thoughts of my frailty and finitude now over-occupy my mind. I grieve over my wrongdoings, especially those that I cannot undo despite searing guilt, rivers of tears, years of therapy, and pleas of forgiveness. At least I am calling them from out of my past, hoping for their absolution.
Even more so, I grieve for beloved opportunities that I squandered, or abused, or simply “didn’t get around to,” or that I buffaloed myself into believing I always had tomorrow. What did I foolishly miss that will never be recovered? Now more than ever do Whittier’s words haunt me: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.”
Suffice to say that the Almighty has been abundantly gracious to me, Linda, and all the kids and grandkiddies. I am certainly unworthy of His kindness. But I have arrived at the conclusion that He is boundlessly benevolent, being my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? I see more clearly than ever that a time comes when even the gravest situations must be met philosophically and without reservation.
So yes, I admit that it is often through a veil of tears that I chant our concluding hymn:
“Into His hand I commit my spirit
When I sleep, and I awake
And with my spirit, my body, too,
The Lord is with me, I will never fear.”