I’m having a hard time writing about my depression, maybe because I’m depressed. But before we get to this, here’s what you have to know about an incisional hernia. No, until fairly recently, I’d never heard of an incisional hernia either. At the start of this year, which is ten months ago now, I had a terrific stomach ache, the mother of all stomach aches, was rushed to the ER, then to the OR, and when I woke up was told that my gall bladder had turned black and died and had to be removed. Then I had to stay in the hospital four days. Other than an airplane, there’s no place I’d rather not be in than a hospital. When I was finally released and got home my recovery was not easy. I’ll just tell you that one of the after-effects of a gall bladder surgery is diarrhea - enough said.
I eventually did recover and my body adjusted to not having a gall bladder and all was well, if that could be said about an old geezer pushing ninety, when, a couple of months ago, I noticed a bulge around the gall bladder surgery scar. I saw my doctor and that’s when I found out I had an incisional hernia. I also found out that this was not uncommon, especially with us older guys. Of course, nobody had told me that before. My doctor referred me to a surgeon, who explained the process for repairing the hernia by inserting a mesh. I was resigned to having this done but when I informed my regular doctor he said he wouldn’t advise it. The chance of something bad happening if I did nothing was only one percent. The chance of something bad happening if I had the surgery, which evidently was not a simple one, was five to ten percent, depending on how it was done. And there’d be another stay in the hospital. I decided that one surgery and one hospital stay in the year was enough and I’d follow my doctor’s advice and do nothing.
So that’s where it stands now; back to my depression. As I’ve said, I’m an old guy pushing ninety, reason enough in itself to be depressed. When writer Norman Mailer got old and anyone asked him how he was feeling he’d replay, I’m eighty years old. How do you think I’m doing? Besides my hernia, I can still get about but, as my wife Sally tells me, I walk like an old man. (She herself is a young chick of 83.) I have arthritis in all of my joints, especially in my knees, which is probably why I walk like an old man; my nose runs every morning and sometimes for the rest of the day; I have periodic coughing fits; I don’t have much energy and have an afternoon nap every day. In other words, I’m not in the best of shape.
But I wasn’t depressed. Or at least I don’t think so, not beyond being unhappy about being so old. Then I noticed that I was showing the signs of depression. I stayed in bed in the morning as long as I could. I didn’t look forward to starting the day. I didn’t have much of an appetite. I didn’t want to do much. I didn’t want to see other people. Life looked just like the weather outside in November, like there’s a dark cloud hanging over everything. All of this started after I had the incisional hernia, or, as I thought of it, my bulge.
While all of this was going on another event occurred that didn’t help. As I’ve written elsewhere, my closest friend in our Northern California retirement community was Abe Silverman. Abe was a fellow New Yorker who’d also come out to California as a young guy. He and I played tennis together, then, after we got too old for that, we had a weekly pool game with some other old tennis players. Over time, the other old guys either went to nursing homes or passed away and only Abe and I and another friend, Sid, were left. Then Sid passed away and a little later Abe informed me that he had to stop playing; it was killing his back.
The creative writing teachers tell you to show things when writing a story, not tell. I’ve had a lot of exposition so far, but I don’t really care. I don’t think there should be any rules for writing a story and in any case when you’re as old as I am who cares about rules. But time to get on with some action.
Abe and I are at his house playing chess. When I’d told my wife Sally that we weren’t playing pool any more she’d said I should find something else, that I couldn’t just stop doing anything. When I got up from my afternoon nap later on I called Abe and suggested we try chess. I didn’t know at that time that Abe was a pretty good chess player.
So here we are at the chessboard and as usual I’m losing. Abe’s wife Sophie is in the living room doing something. It’s early, about eleven in the morning. Abe says he’s hungry and asks me if I want anything, coffee and some cake. I say Sure. Abe goes into the kitchen. I study the chessboard. A few minutes later I hear a crash from the kitchen. Sophie and I come running; well, we kind of hobble as fast as we can, into the kitchen. Abe is lying on the floor. “Are you okay?” I say. Abe looks around and says, What happened? You fell, says Sophie. Between us, Sophie and I manage to get Abe into a living room chair. He keeps looking around and asking what happened. Sophie keeps telling him we don’t know, we didn’t see what happened. After 15 or 20 minutes of this I say, “You know, I think we should call an ambulance. He may have a concussion".
I dial 911 and almost instantly an ambulance and a fire engine arrive, maybe they’re on standby for our retirement community, and a number of big burly guys are stomping around the house. Abe is put on a stretcher, still asking what happened, and he’s off to the hospital. Sophie rides with him in the ambulance. I follow in my car. At the ER Abe is seen right away. No, are you kidding. We wait for two hours while other people are whisked away, then finally it’s Abe’s turn. They do a CT scan and decided that, as I’d thought, he’d had a concussion, but it’s a mild one, and already he seems to be coming out of it. He wants to go home, which shows he’s sensible. After another hour they say we can go; just watch him and he should be all right. I drive Abe and Sophie back. He’s tired and so he goes to bed. I drive home. I’ve called Sally from the ER and now she wants to know about Abe. I give her a blow-by-blow description of what happened.
“You must be tired,” she says. “Do you want to lie down for a while?”
“No, I’m not tired. I’m hungry. What do we have to eat?”
Sally makes me a sandwich and I think: I’m not tired. I look out the window and it’s not all gray any more. That dark cloud has lifted. I’m not depressed.
I’d like to end the story here, but the reader knows better. That feeling, after all the activity, didn’t last. I do feel a little better now. In my rare optimistic moods I tell myself that the bulge will stay the same and I won’t have to do anything about it. But by nature I’m a pessimist and most of the time I think something is bound to happen. Meanwhile, my aches and pains are still there to remind me that I’m old and at the end of the year I’ll have a birthday and be that much closer to 90.
One bright note, the last time Abe and I played chess I managed a draw.