When people are facing a severe illness or a major surgery, that may be one of the most significant opportunities for spiritual transformation that they will encounter.
– Allan Hamilton
What if it‘s minor surgery?
– T. Mabona
The idea of the writings is/has been that, in analyzing everyday life and matters of import [to me], though they might come close to my experience, sentiments, ideosyncratic obsessions, they would be steered as far away as possible from the lighthouse of my individual self and the ego‘s sharp cliffs below. This is not so easy as all that; without even trying, one steers automatically back into one‘s very own territory, be it in terms of themes, predelictions or even just, and this is maybe most acceptable, writing style. And just as easily, one falls into the trap of typing up something showy or slyly self-congratulatory or otherwise affirmative of one‘s ego: the waters of benediction. This, as well as the much maligned pronoun „I“, I do not consider mortal sins just undesirable collateral of the writing process, the repeated, futile attempts to pen a text which is worthy of one‘s time. Both the reading and the writing. However, being too intent on steering clear of the lighthouse of the self one must be equally wary of ending up on the high-seas of abstraction. [Yes, I am exploiting all the cooperative currents of this maritime metaphor I possibly can.]
Perhaps the latter was more a danger for the texts thrown together on this site: stormy abstraction, wild thematic cross-currents, only a phantom coast of personal experience glimpsed indifferently upon the horizon. But as of the day before yesterday, I, yes I, have been inspired to tack into the breeze differently. The humorous, effortlessly literary, wearily world-wary essay collection of P. Lopate Portrait Inside My Head [a born&bred Brooklynite from way before that borough was to be spotted on the Hipdar], shows us how totally ok it is to get bogged down neck-deep in one‘s own biography. Of course there are a few tricks and knots one ought to master before navigating all too deeply into the treacherous waters of Me! me! me!: self-deprecating humor should be in as good a supply as water laced with citrus juice [counter-scorbutic]; one should at least try to the best of one‘s abilities to be aware of one‘s privileges and idiosyncracies; finally, most difficult, find rather than conjure a posteriori one or two take-away universals. – If I stepped into a pile of dog turd then it surely was so none of posteriority will ever have to go through this harrowing experience again; always keep an eye on your loved ones but keep one and a half eyes on the bloody sidewalk!
In this spirit of pre-emptive, Stellvertreter-suffering, I can now broach the subject of my lipoma. My only likeness with Jean-Claude VanDamme. It‘s been sitting just slightly above dead center of my forehead like a tiny little second brain sticking out from my cranium. Not my imagery. What is a lipoma? A benign type of tumor that can sprout pretty much anywhere inside your body and then grow to a size of its own liking. If you‘re remotely familiar with life and disease you probably know that benign-status is established by being able to move the tumor parallaxly against the below layer of whatnot, connective tissue, must be. Lipomae are: movable, painless, benign but also depending on placement and size, an aesthetic blemish. At the crown of my forehead the thing stood out prominently, though it never outgrew the size of a peanut, a wasabi-crusted one.
As you can imagine, it was the ideal jumping-off point for uninspired barbs as well as a well-frequented half-way house for equally paint-by-numbers comebacks, e.g. „Please, I‘m not gonna let a unicorn…“. I didn‘t really mind as I‘m not the slowest of tongue and thus often thought of my lipoma as levelling the playing field for those desperately in need of a rejoinder but not exactly over-equipped in the cognitive department.
Old bile, bear with me.
Then of course also, there are the vast hordes of bluntly impolite people. They‘ll see the horn and, though it is, it was, rather obviouly not a bump, blurt out: Hey, what is that protuberance on your forehead? To which I then, despite my sometimes annoyance, in an attempt to restore social decorum, gamely would reply from a stock set of phrases which given their hamfisted lack of originality always seemed to arouse good cheer [the addresser had struck upon a weakness and the addressee was forced to concede it]: I‘m afraid to say I might just be the last unicorn, my friend / It‘s my secondary brain, I think I‘ll have to have it removed one of these days / What can I say? There‘s no perfect beauty without a spot of imperfection. It‘s my beauty lipoma. / This? Nothing. Just a stupid lipoma, benign tumor. I‘ll have it excised by next week if that works for you.
At the time unfortunately I did not yet know that brilliant unicorn line: Always be yourself. Unless you can be a unicorn. Then always be a unicorn.
At any rate, I‘m kind of happy these strangers‘ and familiars‘ remarks never made me regress to late adolescence as they do just here&now: I‘ll have it cut out tomorrow. But what‘s there to be done about your mug, toad-face? It‘s never too late for the esprit d‘escalier, is it?
The female coalition of my family was also rather often on the case about it with the fundamentally sound reproach that it was an utterly unnecessary flaw, not sightly. I agreed but I didn‘t think it was a big deal either and thus, not worthy of my attention. In particular, it was not the kind of flaw that seemed to in any way hinder inroads with the opposite sex, giving it the aura of a funny little idiosyncracy.
What other people see as a mistake in one, one must feel, it seems in my limited view, to be a major impediment to, an inner Berlin Wall barring one‘s chosen lifestyle before one becomes willing to do anything about it; it, the necessary remedial action, somehow fails to fall under the heading of altruism as long as it is within the boundaries of the self. [Does this only apply to the body?] Such was the case for me.
Nevertheless, I‘m not totally immune to insight. In good time, within a few years, I addressed the issue with my personal MD. He checked to see if the thing would finish me off via metastasis – it wouldn‘t. Then he asked me if it was still growing – No, it had topped out at tiny almond. Followed by the 64k q: did I mind? For a very long time, replaying that stern question in my mind, the response was an easy no. In that case, he held, it was mainly an aesthetic consideration with the fallout of a horizontal scar across the forehead to be thrown on one half of the rational mind‘s scale. Thus I remained a jolly unicorn, now and again, as I met new, rude and contumelious folks trotting out the hoary cliches see above.
This summer I went to Montpellier to upgrade my French. It‘s a town very pleasing to the eye, the hosts were friendly, the weather was South Californian and my French‘s progression was enjoyable. Apart from that phase when the punaises [bedbugs] almost had me in tears, everything was lovely. Daytime I was at school or the library, hammering home vocabulary plus grammar, evening I was out at the bars having at good drinks, beers and fabulous lit. The folks at school were 75% Swiss but I didn‘t mind much, especially as they were good about sticking to French in conversation. The Spanish ladies were very friendly but they massacred French pronounciation, making conversation a forbidding uphill struggle; the foot of the hill being their vocal apparatus, the muddy hilltop being my brain‘s [in]comprehension. Anyway, I‘m not going off the rails here. The third week, a fresh batch of kids from Switzerland arrived. One of them was a nice young boy from Thurgau, a waterskier and ardent tee-totaller. The very first day he made a wisecrack about my goddamn lipoma, not a very wise one either. At that point I realized I had simply had it, the cumulative exhaustion of having to explain my forehead‘s shape to yet another whippersnapper was too much.
Yesterday, having established last week that the procedure wouldn‘t deepen my financial ruin all too gravely, I was supine upon Dr. Fuchs‘ surgery armchair. The first meeting a couple of weeks earlier had left me insecure as it lasted all of 5 minutes, being so very standard and with holidays looming radiantly on the doctor‘s own temporal horizon. I suppose I expected the Dr. Merlo treatment: friendly, in-depth, personal, almost philosophically considerate – a tight package of medical professionalism. Instead it was a McConsultation. We failed to touch upon a raw point that was at the center of my worries: life-wrecking, post-operative bouts of cranio-facial pain. Cranio-facial pain is supposed to the be the worst, so my anxious mind immediately leaped towards that possibility when, at some point or other, it came up on wikipedia. I vividly imagined all the nerves running through my forehead and along that precious, receding hairline, waiting to be irreperably damaged by the slightest imprecision of the scalpel.
For unknown reasons, by yesterday those fears had completely evaporated and I was reclining calmly. In fact as I waited for the local anesthetic to take effect, progressively chilling sections of my forehead, I felt myself almost driftig off towards sleep.
Surgery was not quite as matrix-style revelatory as I was probably expecting it to be. I was slightly unnerved when the nurse suggested one type of thread and the doctor dismissed it opting for an other: shouldn‘t there have been perfect agreement on everything? Isn‘t that the nature of mind-numbing routine?
At the very beginning when he injected the syringe, the doctor said stoically: „This will hurt.“ And immediately I remembered what Nomhle had told me only a month earlier: that a medical study had been done in which it had been established that patients felt less pain if the doctor said „This is pretty much painfree“ and vice versa. Thus this here doctor operating me had clearly not read the study. Ergo he was, however infinitesimally, negligent of his professional duty to stay abreast of….well….everything. This, unfortunately, is how my mind works.
I then re-remembered that I had been the one who had suggested that the incision be made at the highest possible point on my forehead where, under my ridiculous forward-facing hair, the subsequent scar might lead an inauspicious life of sweat, shampoo and dandruff. The doctor had praised this as sheer brilliance, which was disquieting. Yesterday he equally praised the little patch of hair I had shaved at the very front of my hairline, clearly intended as a little boost of optimisim and all-around goodwill but was flipped in my incorrigible head to form the question: You would have not thought of this? Are there any further suggestions I might make for this surgery?
My face was eventually covered by a surgical drape hole-cloth, akin to the beginning of Rushdie‘s Midnight‘s Children but minus all the erotic implications. The first incision was the most… unpleasant. To say pain would be a bit rich, it was more like the disagreeable sensations at the dentist‘s, which in that context are usually real nociceptive breathers. In the course of the operation there was numerous times I felt a cool sensation all across my head which it took me a while to figure out must be my own blood. In an amused and slightly peeved tone the doctor referred to my forehead as being „very well supplied with blood“. At one point he said „No, let me go in there again and clear that out“, this was very good to hear, the thoroughness.
Eventually he must have grabbed another instrument as he kept saying, at intervals: „Power!“ at which point I would hear a little electrical fizzing sound. It sounds but it was absolutely not sickening. Instead, now and then, we exchanged light banter, I almost felt part of the surgical team and regretted not recording the whole thing with my smartphone, which would have accorded me the valiant role of the documentarian. The only slightly discomfitting part was when he started tugging, hard and I felt myself counter-tugging so my head wouldn‘t be lifted off of the armchair‘s headrest. My neck became a bit stiff from pulling downwards, I thought: If you can help it, please don‘t rip off any major patch of forehead. They didn‘t.
In good time the surgery was coming to a close, I figured out that the tiny pricks must mean he was stitching me back up. Anatomic curiosity an all I asked to please have the lipoma. He handed it to me, referring to it as the corpus delicti. It was not my place to tell him that other people‘s rudeness had been „the facts and circumstances constituting a breach of a law“, well, not law, just patience, mine.