All in a day

by Wolf Pascoe on December 31, 2011

Easy is the descent to Avernus: night and day the door of gloomy Dis stands open; but to recall thy steps and pass out to the upper air, this is the task, this is the toil.

— Virgil, The Aeneid

Eight years ago, for no good reason, my gallbladder up and died.

We had walked around and around quarreling for three weeks and came to a sudden parting of the ways. The babysitter drove me to the hospital. Nora stayed home with Nick, who was a little over a year old.

I remember the car ride. Every bump was an agony.

“I’m sorry,” the babysitter said, each time.

She was in way over her head.

“I’ll be fine,” I said.

What she heard was, “I promise not to die in the car.”

What I said to myself was, “Please. Don’t do this to Nick.”



Someone gave me a shot of morphine. I had given a thousand shots of morphine, never appreciating the wonderful drug it was.

“God’s own medicine,” said Sir William Ostler in 1880.

I went for a scan, somewhere in the hospital I knew like the back of my hand, but now strange and shadowy.

“Will you look at the size of that spleen,” I heard a tech say.

Uh oh, I thought in my narcotic dream. Lymphoma.

They operated in the morning. There were two operations, actually.

After the first, a fiberoptic look inside my G.I tract, the surgeon said, “You’re white count is up. We’re going in.”

I knew I had picked the right guy to save my life. I had worked with him for years.

“Take no prisoners,” I thought.

I didn’t feel like talking.



In the hospital where I trained, psychiatric residents were required to take a dose of Thorazine, to understand what they were doing to patients. For the same reason, I always thought it a good idea for anesthesia residents to undergo an anesthetic, but we never did. 25 milligrams of Thorazine is one thing. General anesthesia is another.

When you wake, it’s as if you’ve never slept. A minute, an hour, a day, it’s all the same. No time. Nothing. A billion years? The wrinkle in your pocket.

Where did I go, you think. I thought. Maybe to Greece, to rendezvous with Aesculapius. Maybe to non-existence.

Post-op was stormish. The gallbladder had been gangrenous. There was pus in the  abdomen. The drain kept filling with blood.

“You need to take him back to stop the bleeding,” the gastroenterologist said.

“It’s mush,” the surgeon said. “There’s nothing to sew.”

Nora brought Nick the third day. He toddled into the room and looked at me, unsure. He wasn’t talking. I couldn’t pick him up. I would have cried but it would have scared him.

I was two months getting back to work.



After I got sick, I figured out it was Shakespeare’s gallbladder that probably did him in. He was 52. He’d been shaky for a few weeks, then the vicar of Stratford wrote this in his diary:

Shakespeare, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting, and it seems drank too hard; for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.

That’s what happened when bad gallbladders didn’t get taken out.




I never know how much to write about the hospital here.

The stories aren’t really about fatherhood, but I seem to need to tell them.

Today I lost my temper with a nurse. It had been a hard, long case and I was mad at the surgeon.

“Should I put his arms on the arm boards?” she said of the patient.

“Yes. That’s why they’re called arm boards,” I said. I didn’t say it nicely.

I went down to the cafeteria later and ate an ice cream bar. I passed by the radiology suite where I had had my scan. I went back to the operating room and apologized to the nurse.

On the way out, I looked in on the patient in recovery. He had been terrified beforehand–his prostate was cancerous and had to be removed. In his medical summary in the chart, under family history, it had said, “Patient adopted.”

He was sitting up, looking puzzled.

“Do you know where you are?” I said.


“Recovery room. All done.”

I wanted to take him in my arms and hold him the way I held him in the operating room, the way I hold Nick to keep him safe.

He nodded, trying to make sense of things.

“Thanks, doc,” he said.



Number my days




To Sleep, a sonnet by John Keats, read by Tom O’Bedlam.

IMAGE CREDIT: Death and Morpheus from The Sandman by Neil Gaiman (D.C. Comics)



Ever had a close call? Get if off your chest. Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)


If you like this post and have a Facebook, Twitter, or other social media account, please consider sharing it by clicking one of the buttons below:

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

jeff skorman December 31, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Mine went much easier/Happy New Year


Wolf Pascoe December 31, 2011 at 12:39 pm

I want to be in your club.


BigLittleWolf December 31, 2011 at 1:06 pm

This is very beautiful, Wolf. But then, I’ve come to expect nothing less when I visit here, and I’ve yet to be disappointed.

My own gall bladder went south during my second pregnancy. I had the uniquely “piercing” experience of a few trips to the ER, subsequent attacks I weathered at home for some time after, and nothing to be done until the Young Artiste arrived on the scene. Some months later, I found myself awash in the general anesthesia of which you speak, and apparently, a bit too long, as I was told upon waking that there was a bit of a scare over bringing me “back out.”

Go figure.

I would have given a great deal for a doctor (or someone) to have allayed my fears and the echo of “what ifs” with a toddler and a newborn in need of a parent present.


Wolf Pascoe December 31, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Job description: hours of boredom, moments of panic.


Privilege of Parenting December 31, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Sending love to you, to the space where your gall bladder once was and all that these sorts of spaces contain—and to the numinous spaces that hold all of us and all that we are within them. Here’s to a compassionate balancing of humors and a New Year bringing balm to the soul, young and old, singular and collective.



Wolf Pascoe December 31, 2011 at 9:24 pm

To space! The final frontier.


Jim Parkevich January 1, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Fast forward to where I am now. My son (only child) is 38 this last month. He is the father of my only grandchild, Emma…to be 3 in March…On 01/19, I have to see my family physician to check in on my diabetes and a prostate exam. The latter I feel pretty confident about…I am asking God for one more time to keep the former from getting worse. I have been on oral meds for 20 (+) years. I fear the onset of insulin injections. I have been working really hard all these years to abide by my dietary intake, never smoked and exercise a bit every day.

I wish this disease could be removed surgically. To recover to 95% of what I used to be would be all that I could ask for. I wouldn’t mind the empty space somewhere inside

I want desperately to watch my grand daughter graduate (at the top of her class) from high school and graduate from college as the next “Rachel Carson”
(author: Silent Spring)
I wish…………and this leaves it’s own hole in me


Wolf Pascoe January 1, 2012 at 9:17 pm

I’m rooting for you, Jim.


Barbara S. January 2, 2012 at 8:59 am

My close calls came when I was younger… asthma attacks. Young enough not to know they were close calls. I’ve gone through several with my husband, though, so I appreciate how scared Nora must have been thinking she might lose you. My gall bladder misbehaved once but that was a few years ago and since then it’s been behaving nicely, as far as I can tell. (I’m glad you went back and apologized to the nurse.)


Wolf Pascoe January 2, 2012 at 11:29 am

Nora treated me like royalty for months after. Occasionally I remind her of this.


Kate January 3, 2012 at 2:29 am

My gall bladder is gone too, though it just filled with stones. But my baby was mere months old when it came out. My irrational fear is what else will need removing? (I’ve been under general anesthesia three times. One for each pregnancy.) Only once did I wake up to the compassionate hand squeeze of my doctor. And it made all the difference. (and, no it wasn’t the gallbladder guy or the one who took a cyst and said she might have to take my ability to have babies.)
I’m also glad you apologized and checked in on you patient. Every anesthesiologist I’ve met was gone before I was awake.


Wolf Pascoe January 3, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Once I said to a patient, “I”ll be with you all the time. I’ll never leave.”
She said, “My first husband said that.”


Stacy @ Sweet Sky January 20, 2012 at 11:15 pm

I found you via Pamela at Walking on My Hands… and have been poking around here. I have you in my reader now.

My close call… it wasn’t really a close call, more like a muted hovering right on the edge. The image I have in my mind is me, lying down, as if I am in pieces, mushy pieces, all over the place and scattered. It was when my second child was a baby, and things fell apart. I fell apart — a series of recurring sinus infections, inflamed gums, epstein-barr + adrenal fatigue and low blood pressure, NO energy. I will never understand the medical sequence of things but I understand falling apart. And putting myself back together again.

Thank you for your writing.



Wolf Pascoe January 21, 2012 at 2:43 am


Thanks so much for dropping by. This falling apart, putting back together. What can we do? I keep looking for meaning in the lining of the thing.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: