in the depth of winter

after that day, life is never the same. “that day” is the day doctor tells you “you have cancer.” everyone of us knows someone who’s had to face the news – this is what leroy sievers, who was a respectful journalist and passed away last summer, put on his daily “cancer blog” as a lead-in. while i was taking my own cancer treatment in the summer of 2007, jason, my american friend, told me about his blog. but before i read these lines, exactly the same ones had already come into my mind. certainly, all the cancer survivors should share this feeling, including my big brother.

my brother had a major operation on friday as he told me so last month. on friday morning, i got up at 6 am and his wife picked me up at 10 to 7:00. we reached his award at 7: 30, which was early enough to have chats with him. while we were exchanging some light jokes, his mobile beeped every time it received a message from his friends. then, a nurse turned up and made sure the operation was scheduled to start at 9 am and likely to be completed at 5 pm at the earliest. it was going to be a long day for all of us. when my brother had to move on to a stretcher, he handed me his ipod and said: “you’d better bring this with you, otherwise you’d get bored. you love madonna’s oldies, huh?”

my brother on the stretcher flanked by nurses, his wife and daughter and i went down to the 2nd floor. other patients with their entourages were waiting in front of the automatic glass doors, heading to operating rooms. it was a rush hour for surgery sort of time. after several minutes the traffic started to move and my brother on the stretcher was taken behind the doors. then, there was another traffic jam. all the stretchers were queuing up as if they were on a conveyor belt. after a minute or two, it moved again and we waved each other goodbye. he vanished into the unknown place at last. it was never meant a goodbye for good, but my tears kept falling down. no wonder, other people had their heart-wrenching moment, too.

meanwhile, in a cramped waiting room, we took a seat, doing really nothing but waiting. although we’ve been getting along pretty well since i settled in osaka, my brother’s wife, let alone my 20-year-old niece, and i had little in common in terms of hobbies or tastes. so our banter tended to fade away sooner than i wished. i fished in my tote for the ipod; grabbed it and played the music – “holiday! celebrate!” -- actually, my brother took me to madonna’s concert in the summer of 2006 (his wife is not keen on pop music like madonna’s). inevitably, the music made me think how he was supporting everyone in the family with no stint.

i could not hold my tears back. i thought this was just not fair -- why my brother? why does he have to have cancer and why does it have to be at the stage 3? in my case, it was also at the stage 3 and had no possible surgical option. a miracle kind of happened, however. radio-chemotherapy worked extremely well to me. i'm alive and kicking now. so why didn't that happen to him? why does he have to go through a horrible bout like this? -- while i was wondering why, why, why, my brother was undergoing surgery on his body to remove all malignant parts of his gullet, cardia and lymph nodes. poor thing. but maybe, i should put it this way: his diagnosed case was operable, which is good. isn’t it?

i tried so hard not to think about my brother anymore. otherwise, my heart would ache unbearably. i found the best way that i let myself hear the babble of people’s voices in the room rather than listening to the music. when the telephone in the room rang to announce that some patient’s operation was over, his family walked out. they were to visit a private room where a doctor would provide them an explanation of how it went. a group disappeared from the room one after another. by 4 pm, there were only two groups left including us in the room. at 4:30 pm the telephone rang and it was for us. we learned that it was even a half hour earlier than expected, which was obviously a good sign.

a woman-doctor in surgery-suit was awaiting us in a tiny room with a desk and chairs. as we sat, she explained, drew a picture of my brother’s body and showed us the parts she removed. my brother’s wife just nodded or replied to her. i asked her a couple of questions, which i don’t remember at all now. although we were told to wait back in the waiting room for another half an hour or so, we felt relieved no end. eventually, we were allowed to see him in the icu. as soon as i saw him, lying on the bed with the bronchial tubes surrounded by many medical machines, tears welled up in my eyes. a visible scar with horrible staples of his throat was too poignant for me to look at. i talked to him...there was no reply. one of the surgeons said that my brother was still half-unconscious, but he moved a little and looked like he was struggling to wake up.

i held his right hand gently. he held my hand back and tightened even more, though his eyes were shut. before we left him there, i told my niece to hold her father’s hand. to my surprise, she refused it, saying “too creepy.” he in fact looked quite ghastly, but how come did she see her father creepy? i told the same to his wife next, she touched her husband’s hand very tentatively. the way they reacted to my suggestion simply shocked me, which would not escape me, actually. but on my second thought, they were quite normal. because we japanese have no such "body contact" between parents and children once they grow up. what’s more, we don’t say “i love you” between family members, maybe because it’s too obvious to tell?

every japanese family holds an unbreakable family bond. even if my niece doesn’t say “i love you” to her daddy, she does love him heart and soul. maybe, i’ve been westernised too much? maybe i was also wrong in expecting them to wear their heart on their sleeve. the japanese are shy. apart from that, i am always grateful to them for their kindness. above all, i greatly appreciate the fact that my brother has his own family especially when he is ill. i thank his wife for her optimistic attitude towards his illness from the bottom of my heart. but (oh, no), then again, i was upset that my 18-year-old nephew did not come and see his father either before or after the operation.
why not? it beats me. as my brother confinded to me he was sad that his son seemed not worried about him while taking chemotherapy, i called my nephew to visit his father the next day. he sounded a little bit annoyed. for all that, i know it is not fair if i criticise his family for not crying for my brother. i know they are having a hard time, too. we, as an extended family, must share the feelings for him, right? i knew i should not go on any further. and i did not. even so, when i was having my breakfast alone yesterday, unexpected tears rolled down my cheeks. i couldn't help recalling that they looked uncannily unflappable standing beside my brother.

i still could not understand how they learned to control their emotions even when they saw their beloved one suffering. how ever did they manage that? i can tell, none of my family couldn’t do that. in fact, my mother is too fragile to face her son in pain. as she is a terrible worrier, her blood pressure would easily go up beyond the safety level. anyway, there was no point in complaining and blaming. so i had a walk in the park to change my feeling. i was ashamed of having had such a narrow mind. i appreciated the park-scape of winter, which freed me from the silly pettiness.

later on, the news my brother's wife kindly brought me was that my brother already got out of the icu, making a quick and good recovery when she visited him. good news! what else should i want from his family? i'll be seeing him tomorrow with no anxiety.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My heart is with you. ik xx