April 7, 2005
by Timmy Waldron“You didn’t fill the forms out completely.” The doctor said and tapped on the piece of paper inside the manila folder. He was an old man, one of the oldest I’d ever seen. His skin was waxy, colored by blue veins and brown liver spots. The flesh hung loose from his face, almost as if it were sliding off. The doctor still had his teeth, which I thought was pretty amazing, I had already lost two and I was decades younger than this man. You could tell they were his real teeth because of the brown and blue stains spreading from the spaces and at the gums, no orthodontia had been around long enough to look like that. Plus, my Father had false teeth so I know from watching his rot in his head then turn pearly white again. But my father never looked this old; neither did my uncle, or even my grandfather for that matter. The men in my family die young.
I took the folder from him and went back to work on the form. I had only first laid eyes on the thing fifteen minutes ago and I already didn’t care for it. First off, I felt stupid for not filling it out properly and secondly, just reading the thing made me fell terminal. It had all these symptoms on it, most vague enough to make me think twice about skipping over them. I hadn’t been in a doctor’s office in fifteen years, the endless possibilities of maladies and sicknesses started to overwhelm me. I felt a bit light headed.
When the doctor returned he continued to ignore me and went right to my file. He looked over the forms and finding them fully completed gave me a nod of approval. I returned a nod in kind.
“Lumps?” He said after consulting my form
“I have one on my back.”
“Let’s have a look.”
“It’s here.” I turned my back to him and put my hand on the spot that had been keeping me up for weeks.
“Hmmph.” The doctor bent down and looked at the area, his face was so close to my back I could feel his breath when he exhaled. He made a gurgling noise when he took air in through his mouth. I looked over my shoulder and watched him put on a rubber glove. He wasn’t too formal about it, the glove got all knotted and he didn’t bother putting all his fingers into it. He poked me in the back, pressed on the lump a few times, and then walked back to my file. “It’s a fatty deposit.”
“Its not cancer, it’s a fatty lump, come over here and touch mine.” He rolled up his sleeve and started push around a lump under the skin on his fore arm. After telling me it wasn’t cancer I would have kissed it if he’d asked.
“Feels just like my back.” I said rather dumbly. I’d never been this relieved about anything, I felt like I had just won something.
“You’re not out of the woods yet, hop on the table.”
I happily did what the doctor asked and went through a verity of tests that were not all together unpleasant. He checked my armpits and groin, then my neck. Doctor Stinzler told me these are the trouble spots for cancer and I was fine, more good news. We moved on to hearing and eyesight. I found out I was slightly color blind and losing some hearing in my right ear. This didn’t bother me in the least, I came through the door thinking I had cancer and found out I don’t hear as well as I used too.
“Lay down on your back.” The doctor put his hands on my stomach and pressed down. “Just making sure you have all your organs.” I laughed at everything he said, it didn’t matter if it was funny or not. He moved his hand from my left to right side and pressed down again. I winced in pain. “Well, what have we here?” He continued to poke around and every time he touched this one spot it hurt like hell.
“Is that supposed to hurt?” I asked.
“No, it should not.” The doctor turned to my file and started making notes.
“It seems your liver is inflamed, do you have any history of liver problems in your family?”
“I’m not sure, maybe, most of the men in my family died relatively young.”
“Mostly.” I started to tear up a bit, but kept talking. “My father died in a car wreck, but he hadn’t been well. We weren’t all together certain it was an accident.”
“Well your blood work will give us an idea what’s going on, we’ll see about your enzyme count before I schedule a biopsy.”
“A biopsy, so you think its cancer.”
“I can’t tell anything now, all I know is that your liver is inflamed.” The doctor stopped looking at me and kept his attention on my file. “I’ll call you when we have a better idea. You can put your clothes on now.”
This wasn’t what I had been prepared to hear. I thought bad news, or maybe good news, but not more waiting. That’s what got me to the doctor in the first place, I couldn’t stand not knowing. Not knowing kept me up nights, it made me nauseous, I obsessed over disease and death; I did not like this one bit.
It was dark out when I left the office. I didn’t want to go home and stare at the ceiling for one more night so I walked around town for a bit. Eventually the cold forced me inside; I decided to stop in for a drink at a tavern that had caught my eye.
“What can I get you?” The bartender leaned towards me with a bright smile.
“Neat or on the rocks?”
“I’ll take it in a glass.”
“Yeah,” he chuckled. “But do you want ice or not?”
“Oh, I’ll take some ice.” The bartender sat the drink in front of me and I took a sip. It was awful; I could barely get past the smell. “On second thought, I’ll have a beer.”
“Whatever, what’s the most popular?”
“Here you go.” He planted the tall frosted glass in front of me; once again I sipped, this time I was able to force it down. After forty five minutes I had finished my beer and ordered another. It only took two sips after that for me to feel dizzy. I looked over to the bartender. He was tall, well above average, very athletic looking. He was young too, a picture of health. I found myself hating him. Why was he so special, what did he do to deserve a healthy body? I took a pen out of my pocket and started writing on a bar napkin.
“Would you like another?” The young bartender asked me.
“Yes.” I had gotten lost in my scribbling and didn’t notice him approach. I tried to cover the napkins but they were scattered all around me. His face turned from pleasant to stone as he looked over my scribbled notes. Much of the content had focused on him in one way or the other.
“This one’s on the house.” He said to me after opening the bottle. The bartender looked into my eyes and turned the bottle on its side. He let the contents pour out onto the floor. The beer spattered as it hit the ground, and made a sound I’ve heard late at night when trying to pee in the dark. I sat there, dumbly, until he had emptied the entire beer. “I don’t want to see you back here again. Do you understand?”
I called the doctor’s office everyday for seventeen days with no news. On the eighteenth day the nurse called me, I had a high enzyme count. An appointment was set up at the hospital for the following week; I was going to have a liver biopsy. The nurse said I had to abstain from taking aspirin for the week and couldn’t eat eight hours before my appointment. The food wasn’t a problem, as I hadn’t been able to eat very much for some time. The aspirin on the other hand, well, I had become rather dependent on its use.
In the last two weeks I’d taken to drinking regularly. I never enjoyed the taste of alcohol very much, and that hasn’t changed much; however, I’ve learned to appreciate the effects. Most of the bars in town have started refusing me service. I am not the kind of customer they want. They don’t like it when I write on napkins and mumble to myself, I bother the other patrons with my behavior, I insult the bartenders, and often get sick from drinking too much. Still, they had all been polite, no one had confronted me in the rude manner that the tall young bartender did weeks ago. When I drink, revenge fantasies consume me. The more intoxicated I get the more elaborate and detailed they become. The notes on the cocktail napkins helped me keep track.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.” The nurse said as she walked me into the operating room. “It’s been very quiet around here lately, but then today, wham, they just start coming out of the woodwork.” I looked at her but couldn’t think of anything to say. I felt sick, sicker than usual. “Well, just hop up on the table and the doctor will be in shortly.”
“Okay, were here for a liver biopsy, understand?” The doctor spoke to me.
“This is a relatively common procedure, understand?”
“But it’s not without its discomfort, understand?”
“I think so.”
“I’m going to ask you to put your arms behind your head, understand?”
“I’ll administer a local to help with the discomfort, and then I’ll use this needle to retract the sample from your liver.”
“Why is it so big?” The second needle was the largest I’d ever seen, it almost looked like a novelty.
“The needle must be this size so it can extract tissue. In this case fluid would tell us nothing. Understand? We are extracting a piece of your liver; I thought the nurse explained this.”
“No matter, put your hands behind your head.” The doctor instructed. Once my hands were in place he stabbed me with the smaller needle and I flinched. “You see, you can’t do that, it’s very important that you remain perfectly still, understand?”
“You took me off guard.”
“Listen, this is minor surgery, understand?”
“You have to remain very still and do exactly as I say, understand?”
“No flinching, understand?”
“If you move during the procedure you could end up with a piece taken out of your lung, or possibly your gallbladder. Understand?”
“That is very serious, understand?”
“If something goes wrong it could be very bad for your health, Understand?”
“Let’s try this again.” The doctor began feeling around my gut with his hand, he drew a dotted line around what he thought was my liver. “This is a big one, it’s going to be tight in there, you’ll have to be very still.”
“Don’t talk.” The doctor sliced a small slit in my side, my skin pealed back. He traced over the cut several times until the blade of the scalpel disappeared. “Okay, so far so good. What I’m going to need you to do sir is breath in for me and get that diaphragm out of the way. I’ll insert the needle and we will be all done? Understand?”
“Try and brace yourself, this will be a bit uncomfortable.” The needle disappeared into my side and I started to feel it. There was just some tugging at first as the doctor worked the needle around my vitals; the dull pain appeared almost immediately after. I imagined this it was it felt like to eaten alive by vultures, your organs don’t have nerve endings, but they’re attached to things that do. A shooting pain radiated up my right side and settled in my right shoulder. This was not minor surgery, it was a vivisection. I brought my arm to my side and grabbed the doctor’s hand.
“Please.” I tried to speak, but hadn’t enough air to say anything.
“Knock this guy out. Understand?” I was out just after hearing that.
When I came to I found myself in a dark hospital room, I was having a lot of trouble breathing. I tried to get up but fell back to the bed. At first I thought I had been restrained, it was actually my sutured gut that stopped me from getting up. I tried again, this time slower. I could move and without a great deal of pain, whatever they used to knock me out with must have still been circulating in my blood, numbing the pain. I went to the closet and found my clothes, dressed, and walked out of the hospital. There was a cab waiting for a fare in the visitor’s entrance, I slid in the back seat and had him take me to town.
On the ride in I started to shiver, my side became more tender as well. I touched the incision and felt an electrical shock of pain; it seemed necessary for me to have a drink at once. There weren’t many taverns left, but I felt confidant that I could mix in with the crowd, if I could keep to myself I’d be alright. Of coarse I was wrong; two places denied me entrance and another asked me to leave before I could get my order out. It seems I had reached an unwelcome level of notoriety in town.
My sweat started to freeze to my face, I began to see spots, and my stomach was very upset. In a desperate move I ducked into the bar with the tall athletic boy, luckily he was not there. I ordered some food and had a drink. The food was somewhat unwelcome in my system and the beer hit me hard, mixing drugs and beer probably wasn’t the smartest thing.
I thought I caught sight of my uncle out of the corner of my eye. The dimmed flicker of candled light made anyone with a similar build interchangeable. However my Uncle had been dead for what, fifteen, maybe twenty years now.
“Dad?” I said, before I could stop myself. It wasn’t him, I knew that, but for a second I could have sworn it was. The gentleman who I had directed my call to quickly looked away from me.
“You okay buddy?” The bartender, a portly balding fellow, asked me.
“I thought I saw someone I knew.”
“You don’t look so good.”
“What do you care you fat fucking cunt.”
“What was that?” The fat man went all red, even atop his bald head.
“You heard me titty man, do those things give milk?”
“You’re done here.” The fat bartender reached across the bar and pulled me off the stool by my shirt. That was all it took. Something exploded inside of me, I saw a bit of my drool hit his arm before he let go. I tried to say something like you are stronger than you look but the black started creeping over me. It only hurt for a split second, but the hurt was so bad that a memory of it would be painful. I floated softly to the floor, someone leaned over me, and I’d swear that it was my father again. Yes, this time I was sure it was him.
Timmy's work has appeared or will appear in nice places like Thieves Jargon, Hack Writers, Eyeshot, Snow Monkey, Monkey Bicycle, Word Riot Press, Soma Literary Review, The Journal of Modern Post, Mcsweeneys.net, Fiction Warehouse, Parenthetical Note, and Facsimilation. He says, do what you like, but don't do it here.