Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Childhood Flashback 2. The Catch

The long, sleek, black pharyngoscope lay coiled in gray foam inside a steel shell case. "I'm going to numb your nose with a spray and put this tube into your nostril so I can see what's there," said Dr. Feldman to the boy. "It shouldn't hurt, but tell me if it does, and I'll spray some more. It will definitely feel strange." And it did.

Then, he saw the thing, the mass, the tumor. He saw its underside when he put the dental mirror in the boy's throat. It was an ugly, irregular, scabby, crusted thing that had no right to be in a child's face. Dr. Feldman's heart beat quickly with horror and pride.

Later, they sat in his office. "I see a mass in the nasopharynx. (Tom, that's the area behind your nose.) It's blocking the right inner ear and causing the earache. It's also blocking the right nostril." The boy smiled nervously, the parents, ashen.

That very afternoon, the boy lay down in on a stretcher that pulled him through the great ring of hardware spinning behind glass and plastic--the CAT scanner--a new and miraculous invention. His father informed him that the CAT scanner's development was partly funded by investment from Capital Records, the company that had produced the early Beatles in America. Later, his friends asked if there was a thank-you to the Beatles on it. There was not.

The tumor glowed in the pictures, a crab confined behind his face. The parents' dread weighed in their throats. Afterwards, inexplicably, they took him to a horror movie--An American Werewolf in London. Twenty-five years later, when the boy saw a poster for the sequel, he felt as if someone had walked on his grave.

What sort of mass was it? Was it the kind that bled uncontrollably when cut? That had to be known first.

So the boy learned what an angiogram was. A few days later, he lay very still as the tube was inserted into an artery in his right groin and threaded all the way to his face. Then he felt the burning of the contrast dye as the doctors took x-rays. He would remember it as the most painful, frightening procedure of his life--the cut in that terrible place, the pain of the dye, the imperative stillness. But they discovered that the mass was not a bleeder.

Then came the pediatric hospital of plate glass windows and carpets and walls of deep blue. As the resident closed the boy's surgical wound, Dr. Feldman stepped out. The parents and the father's mother stood up. "Tom, Carol, can you come with me to the Family Room?"

The grandmother's fury erupted when they returned and told her what he had told them. Before her jabbing finger, the tall, broad-shouldered surgeon folded on himself. "How DARE you leave me out of that room! How DARE you tell them first that MY GRANDSON HAS CANCER!"

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