It wasn't the two sets of strangers' fingers digging into my groin that brought tears to my eyes. It was a heart attack what did it. A heart attack that does not belong to me, but in some guise feels as if it had.
I was standing in the exam room, after the obligatory Q & A with the surgeon and the medical student who accompanied her. I had been asked more than once if it was okay for the student to be there, and if she could also participate in the exam. As I long ago shed most of my squeamishness when it comes to medical exams, I told them I had no problem with it. The way I see it, we all have to start somewhere, and how else is anyone going to learn this stuff?
So there I was, two people I had met for the first time only minutes ago, poking and prodding my groin to identify that what we were looking at was indeed a hernia. (It was. Yay, me.) They pushed somewhat hard, and it was moderately uncomfortable, but endurable in the name of medical education. I winced.
What was really working on my mind was not inguinal distress (fancy talk for "groin pain"), it was history. The student had asked a series of pre-exam questions relating to my medical history and that of my family, and she asked what proved to be the sharp question. Sharp, pointy, like a syringe needle.
"Do you have any siblings?"
There was a moment of silence, broken only by murmurs from the hall. Always, there is this dislocation when I have to decide between "have" and "had".
"Yes, one brother. Deceased."
"What did he die of, what did it?"
"He died suddenly, of a massive heart attack."
"I'm so sorry."
"It took us all by surprise. Thank you."
We then segued into a general discussion, away from non-physical aches. Procedures and concerns and recovery times allowed me to step back from the edge of the canyon that had opened up in my head. Shortly after this exchange I was asked to stand so they could conduct the physical exam I mentioned earlier. The pain on the nerve endings acted as cover for the pain I felt in my heart and head, a peculiar ache caused by the loss of something that cannot be replaced. Subconsciously I think I was grateful for the physical hurt as a distraction. Exam concluded, I tugged up my undies, tucked in the shirt, and sat down to conclude the visit. Surgery and soon is for the best, we agreed, and I would let them know as soon as I figured out what to do. I left the office, got into my car and began the drive home.
The canyon opened up again, right there in the middle of a busy street. Memories of my brother flooded my head, and I nearly swooned. I sobbed, briefly. What to do with the shards of the past that deafen and sting when I least expect them? Sitting confused and helpless there at the stoplight, I wondered. I had the sensation that someone was in the passenger seat; and maybe, just maybe, my brother's ghost smiled and said "Duck and cover yer ears, bro, duck and cover yer ears."
It was just like him to say it. I ducked, I covered, I held him close as the echoes and ricochets faded away.