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Mother Report

May 6, 2005

After being cleared, cardialogically, for surgery my mother was operated on by suburban surgeons on the hunt for cancers in her lung. Somehow, exploratory surgery makes me think of guys in pith helmets with machetes, chopping through flesh-colored vines and lung-purple fern stalks in a jungle of skin, where sticky tumors dangle from bone-yellow branches in nets of black hair.

Instead, of course, the search is precise and cold and small, like the scalpel. It’s done with squeaking, slippery rubber fingers and segmented metal serpents driven by mouthless, be-spectacled sorcerer-surgeons in a tiled, circular garden of chrome tree-stands and beeping birds. For some reason, I imagine the doctors are eerily silent, listening like hunters to the audio telemetry of their sensors and wired probes, the hounds in the marshy reeds. Mechanically, the doctor raises a finger, freezing the room, and cocks his head, turning his ear towards the body on the operating table. Like he can hear the hidden tumor shifting in the underbrush.

Flushed out by chemical dogs and hooked, almost dental, prongs of steel the suspect mass rushes out into the patch of light created by the surgical opening in the canopy of flesh above. One quick lunge with the hunter’s finger, though, and it’s stabbed and pinned across the neck by the scalpel, dead and all but decapitated. He pushes the limp mass into a pillow case.

“Sure enough,” he says through his blue fabric face, “that was cancer there. Probably nested in the lung, but we got it now. We’ll know more in a few days, though, I’ll bet.” In my head, he sounds like an Ivy League Australian. “Still, went well, I think.”

Now she sleeps in a white cotton cell decorated with chirping flat-screens while my father drives back and forth from home to hospital. They’re both dreaming of Michigan and waiting to find out what’s next.

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