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I underwent a small surgical procedure recently and got to choose between being put under, a technique favoured by the squeamish, or getting a spinal anesthesia, perfect for those who fancy the bright lights and buzz of the O.R.
It was a toss-up really, but having witnessed a prior operation of mine live on arthroscopic TV, I opted for the clinical power nap, just to see what it was like. Well, that whimsical little outing led this newly retired child of the fifties headlong into some deep, dark waters.
The anesthesiologist started my IV: “Now, you’re going to feel a slight burning sensation as the blah-blah-blah enters your bloodstream.” A soothing female voice chimed in, “Here you go,” and an oxygen mask was latched onto my face. Within a heartbeat my vision began to pixillate. Was this normal? I decided to err on the side of caution. “Ah – yeah. I’m ah, starting to feel, ah, little woozy…?”
Then, I heard my name and at the same instant a solid black curtain appeared and lifted. “Don … Don? You’re in recovery. The procedure went well. How are you feeling?”
Though more than an hour had passed since I had been put under, I’d experienced no sensation of the passage of time. In the same fleeting moment I was here, I was gone and I was returned; no foggy notions, no lingering images, no dreamy remnants, not even the scantest feeling accompanied me back to terra firma. I have absolutely no idea what went on in my brain or body during those 60 minutes. Obviously, my lungs did their job, as did my heart, but they did so purely by instinct. On the other hand, the id and ego I know and love so well were both out like a light. For all intents and purposes only my husk remained, lying there prostrate, for all to see and do with what they must. And that they did, expertly, without any help whatsoever from its totally blotto CEO.
While it took a few moments to regain my preop savvy, I just couldn’t let go of that black curtain that had suddenly appeared and arisen as if to sanction my revival. What would have happened to me had it not risen, ever? And how would I know if it hadn’t? A pretty grim prospect, I suppose, but not entirely beyond the realm of possibility. One could go to sleep and never wake up. It happens – the product of a grievous error perhaps, or one of the rare but possible side effects – nausea, weakness, headache, inability to awaken. But, just supposing the trip was destined to be one-way? And what if I had been presented with that choice? That’s when I began to muse … wouldn’t that be the way to go?
Before I expound on the revelation of my surgical siesta, I have to oust the age-old elephant from the room and make a frank and solemn declaration: I do not want to spend my last hours on Earth waiting, breath after searing breath, for the inevitable slam dunk. If the time comes that my life is no longer worth living and is beyond salvage and I, having clearly, succinctly and legally expressed this wish, then upon that juncture, that’s the way I want to go – willingly, knowingly, quietly and with dignity.
How can I ponder such dark thoughts? I’m a content man. I love and cherish life. I have never for a moment considered ending it. I do all I can to care for myself, to make my life meaningful and worthwhile. And I hope to keep doing so for a long, long time. Life is without doubt the most dear and precious thing of all, even if that distinction is attributable solely to its fragility and impermanence. Still, my life is mine – as long as it exists, I own it. It can belong to only one being and that is me.
So why then, with my epilogue written, must I still wait in excruciation for the curtain to fall? Why, when the means exist to simply turn my last page, would I be denied? The answer, while it may be contentious, can be found swaddled coyly within the vast chronicles of humankind. Customs and beliefs with their roots in the ignorance of the darkest ages still pervade and ostensibly reside in every tiny nook and cranny of our society. It is these ingrained ways – fears, taboos and misguided guilt – dragged blindly through the eons that cling so fiercely to the one and only thing that is indubitably mine.
I have been a free man all my life, yet I cannot freely and without stigma choose to end it the same way. I have no qualms about death – it’s nothing new. Its finality has been borne out by hapless billions before me. But, given the choice, life is too sweet to end it dangling on a hopeless note. I want to live my life until it’s time to go and then be done with it. I do not want to linger on the threshold, invitation in hand. When eternity beckons, I know the way I want to go.
Don Kardash lives in Saskatoon.