I have been preoccupied with health issues over the last month. Not mine, my father’s. He has shrunk greatly from the hulk of a man he used to be, and behaviorally, as my sister put it, the lion has become a rabbit. My mother, having suffered him lifelong, is happy about it, but I am not. I miss the lion, frightened as I was of him more than any other man alive for decades, and often resentful: who could have imagined I was also secretly so proud? For having dealt with so many thousand fathers over so long a time, I know how few deserve the slightest attention, leave alone regard and respect and awe.
So anyway, he had a cataract removed and artificial lens implanted in one eye recently, but little did we know that it was the beginning of his troubles (he had had a severe breakdown three years ago, and though he had recovered somewhat, he had become uncharacteristically slow and quiet and hesitant). A dizzy spell induced by a sudden drop in blood pressure caused him to slip and fall while ambling about his room, breaking a femur near the hip. A few days passed in pain until the doctors were sure that he needed to be hospitalized for surgery. Same hospital and same surgeon that treated me last year. Having well-placed connections always helps in this country, as does having money, so the procedure – replacement of the hip joint ball with a prosthetic – went smoothly enough. He is convalescing well by all indications, but I am keeping my fingers crossed until he is certified fit to be discharged and can walk normally again. Heaven knows what is next in store for him… the father of a friend of mine, now 86, is in the ICU as I write, having suffered a massive brain haemorrhage, and it is near-certain that if he should survive, it would be only to drag on in a purely vegetative state for a few weeks or months more.
Is this what the techno-commercial society has done for us, in the end: prolonging life without being able to prevent the gradual decline and decay into helplessness, paying through the nose if one or one’s loved ones can afford it, and ending with a whimper, leaving only sad memories of glory days behind? Is this what is waiting for me, too, and for my daughter to witness and suffer? And is there really no way out of this suffering of the mind except to anesthetize it for as long as possible with shopping and partying and gaming on the cellphone? Is that all that six thousand years of civilization has given us?