Chicago, Illinois, United States
|Artwork by Annie Trincot.
She arrives at the office early, looking as if she stepped from a portrait. Her blue eyes glimmer with tears. “My gynecologist has been treating me for hemorrhoids, but the bleeding has been getting worse. It started when I had my boys.”
This is not usually a serious problem at the age of thirty-one.
There is a mass along the rectal wall, moderate in size, fixed.
Don’t overwhelm, this is a gradual process.
“I do feel something there, but I am not sure what it is. Let’s do a scope to take a look. Here are the instructions, we’ll see you on Friday.”
It is easy to find, smashed against the rectal wall. A gray planet with angry red patches of fire, serpentine canals, and deep pits where its blood supply has been cut off. It is already six centimeters in diameter and needing more nutrients so it can continue to grow and spread.
The patient usually knows when they have cancer. The weekend is coming, don’t overwhelm.
“There is a growth there. Let’s wait for the biopsies. We will talk next week when I get the results.”
She returns with her husband. They have three children. He is nervous, talkative, casually dropping F-bombs because that is how he speaks.
“Will I need a bag?”
The surgery is successful, the cancer completely resected.
The rest of the family is told to come in to get checked. Twin brothers, an uncle, and her mother all have polyps. They are removed before they can become cancers.
I go to her son’s christening at the church, even though I am a Jew.
And as a vegetarian, I carefully avoid eye contact with the whole suckling pigs being surgically dismantled at both ends of the smorgasbord table when I get my food.
The husband gives a speech, dropping more F-bombs. He thanks me, on behalf of himself, his wife, and his family. The three boys sit quietly in their suits and ties with their mother.
It is great to be alive.
ELI D. EHRENPREIS was born in New York City and started life as a cellist and composer, but later changed careers to become a physician, researcher, educator, writer, and inventor. He has published close to 200 scientific journal articles, as well as six medical books, and a few poems. He stopped seeing patients in his 50s due to orthopedic related disabilities. He has three adult children, and lives with his wife Ana, and two small dogs in Skokie, Illinois. As a medical student working at Cook County Hospital, he used to run blood samples across the street to the Hektoen Institute in the middle of the night.