I’m laying on an operating table thinking about death.
Now I’m just getting my gallbladder taken out. It’s a same day procedure and by nightfall I’ll be home sipping low fat soup and zoned out on Percocet. Or will I? My godfather went in for a routine hip replacement and never woke up. As l look at the large circular lamp above my head I realize that my life is now in the hands of total strangers. If there were a tip jar in this place I’d stuff a hundred bucks into it. But there isn’t. And as I wait to go under I start thinking the big thoughts.
Most people, well, everybody actually, wonders what will happen after they die. Billions of people believe in an afterlife; that they’ll go to Heaven, be reincarnated, enter into another plane of existence or become one with the Force. But others believe there’s nothing left after our brains flicker out – just utter oblivion. If you’ve ever been under general anesthesia you might have had a taste of what that oblivion could be like. One minute you’re there and then you’re not. You’ve ceased to be. There are no dreams, no thought and no sentience. Which is fine by me because I don’t want to remember some guy snaking a camera through my carbon dioxide inflated abdomen.
As the anesthesiologist put the mask over my face a line from Hamlet floats into my drug soaked brain. “The undiscovered country, from whose bourn No traveler returns, puzzles the will.” I don’t know what will happen if I shuffle off my mortal coil today. I just don’t. Now some people will tell you this is the perfect time to get right with God. But I’ve always thought last minute conversions were lame – like hitting the brakes when you see a cop. You do it because you’re scared of your insurance rates going up, not because you want to do the right thing. Do people honestly believe that an all-knowing Deity isn’t going to be hip to their bullshit? So if St. Peter is on the other side of this ride I’ll just have to face him with all that I’ve been and done. And let me tell you, it’s a mixed bag.
But there is a possibility that I’ll just cease to be. That there’ll be no seeing Grandma, my childhood pet, talking with Moses and Einstein, peering into the heart of supernovas and watching Hitler scrubbing toilets. And if there’s nothing afterwards I won’t be around to get upset about it. But you know what? The thought of not being around does upset me.
“Okay,” the anesthesiologist says. “We’re going to start.”
A while back I watched someone die. And ever since that day I’ve wondered whose face would be the last I’d see. Suddenly I realize I don’t want it to be a doctor or a nurse. So I close my eyes and think of a face. It’s a nice face. And whether oblivion or Elysium lies ahead of me, that’s the last thing I want to see before I go.
“See you later,” I say to no one in particular. Then the world goes black.
The next thing I know I feel like my stomach’s been worked over by Mike Tyson and there’s a terrible pain in my right shoulder.
“Arrgghhh” I say. “Arrgghhh.”
“Are you in any pain Mr. Dublanica?” a female voice says.
“We’ll give you something for it.” Whatever it is, it isn’t enough.
I try to open my eyes but can’t. Some gizmo’s squeezing my calves. Maybe it’s a blood pressure cuff. On both legs? Huh? Blood clots. It must be something to prevent blood clots. That’s what it is. Even with my brain scrambled like an egg I can still think things though. And then it hits me. I’m alive. No St. Peter. No oblivion. I’ll get to have that soup and Percocet. Yeah I know, the odds of my biting the big burrito were small but they were there. And despite the pain in my gut I realize I’m very happy.
After an hour I’m wheeled out of the surgery bay. And that face I thought of races up and plants a kiss on my cheek.
“How are you feeling?” she asks. I smile
I’m still here. I’m still here. I’m still here.