Dad’s surgeon, a vascular professor, is also a singer-songwriter. Jaysus, don’t tell me that, Dad had said, he’ll be thinking more about his singing than me on the table. I pictured the singer-songwriter surgeon with a knife and fork aimed at Dad, a white napkin stuck in the collar of his blue scrubs, a large tissue diamond on his chest.
In the hours following Dad’s surgery, a surgery to address an about-to-burst abdominal aortic aneurism (a “bulge” to quote the no-nonesense man who gave me life), Dad suffered massive internal bleeding. His singer-songwriter surgeon stayed through the night working on him. My baby brother phoned from the Dublin ICU to the redwoods of Yosemite, told me get on a plane quick. Said he’d told the singer-songwriter surgeon our mother had died just two months earlier, to the day. Said he’d begged.
The first time I met Dad’s singer-songwriter surgeon, I wanted to like him, to thank him. He’d stayed through the night. Had operated on Dad four times in 18 hours. Was the reason Dad was now on life support and not in the hospital morgue. Doctor also bore acne scars, hollows in his face that reminded me of my awful hide-my-head years of pimples, creams, scrubs, antibiotics, yeast infections, and squeezing and bursting and scars and pores still with too much hole. Reminded me of the deeper, worser, widespread pink-red hollows on Dad’s arms and back, scarred from when he was so horribly scalded as a boy.
Wanted to like the singer-songwriter surgeon because when the male nurse took the last remaining seat in the ICU waiting room, leaving his female colleague standing, the surgeon asked that male nurse to get up and let the lady sit. But something stopped me from liking the singer-songwriter surgeon. He was playing a part. Talking through his scalpel. Strumming his ego. He said Dad was trapped in a minefield, said he missed some mines just to hit others. Said maybe more mines will explode. Or not. Said his heart, his lungs, his kidneys. Said we owed a lot to machines and the ICU nurses. To 46 units of blood. Said Dad had a long, long road ahead. Said disastrous with the emphasis on ass. Said he didn’t come to work every day to do disastrous.
Watched, cringing, the singer-songwriter surgeon on YouTube. Next time we met, I disliked him more. Believed he’d botched Dad’s surgery just like he’d botched his songs. Singer-songwriter surgeon said Dad had improved, his heart, his lungs, his kidneys. Said there was hope. Said maybe there was something with Dad’s brain function, maybe something with his legs not moving. Said every day Dad stayed in ICU was a day too long. Third time we met the singer-songwriter surgeon we learned Dad was paralyzed from the chest down, had suffered several small brain strokes, had a bowel that couldn’t be turned off. I said, says I, if we had known all the damage we wouldn’t have spent 21 days in the ICU telling Dad to fight, telling him he was coming home. Why, said I, the diagnosis so late. Thought, thought I, singer-songwriter surgeon sing me that.
The fourth and final meeting with the singer-songwriter surgeon, after he’d supported our family’s hard-won decision to turn off Dad’s life support and remove his feeding tube, he said he was surprised to see me still there: Didn’t I live in San Francisco? Wasn’t I married with children? Didn’t I have a life and work and income I needed to get back to? I said I had. Said, regardless, I’d stay the course. He said we could be talking weeks more. I said I said I’m staying. He looked at me for several beats. Inside the left lens of his glasses, reflected a tiny rainbow. Then my Dad’s sister sitting amongst us in the borrowed hospital wheelchair, his last surviving sibling of six, my senile aunt, her unwashed odor, the repeated phrase, “I’m 85. He’s 78. He was the baby. He can’t go yet.” The singer-songwriter surgeon held her hand, spoke kind, told her in his experience women are stronger than men. Said, “You know your brother is very, very low.”
I watched singer-songwriter surgeon walk away for the last time. Thought so he’s an actor. We’re all actors. Thought so he could play worse roles. Could chase worse dreams. Thought so aren’t we all just watching for mines. Thought singer-songwriter surgeon good luck out there.