The Year of Living Surgically
We are amazing creatures in our capacity to persevere, endure and heal. We also live in times that are unprecedented in history for their ability to aid us in these endeavors and make us more bionic and enlivened than any of us would have thought a generation ago.
Through a strange set of circumstances I ended up having to have both my hips replaced in 1997 at the age of 44.
Think about that statement for just a moment.
“my hips replaced………”
How very odd.
Like the worn out struts on my ’64 Impala I could go the “parts place” and get my old used up joints swapped out for new and improved technology.
While scared at first, well, terrified if you must know, the pain and lack of mobility drove me headlong towards this first event with a wicked determination. I could win this.
And six months later as I was lying abed waiting for the other side to be similarly re-tooled, I realized I had. Won this.
The surgical powers that be wanted me to wait a year before undergoing the second op but I was, as usual, of a different mind and proceeded to push and prod and wheedle until my surgeon, watching me strut up and down the surgical suite hallway like a giant, gamboled crane on the mend from a bent and broken wing, determined to show him that I was indeed ready……ready to take on this second procedure with gusto and aplomb…….ready to be healed, again, completely this time. I desperately wanted, at the end of my Year of Living Surgically, to be whole once again, ready to ride my motorcycle, till my garden, travel to foreign lands, absorb and consume what the world had yet to offer up to me.
I was, in the parlance of the medically experienced, a motivated patient.
And so I won. We proceeded, six months ahead of the medical advice of the times. And, as I had with almost every other medical gauntlet that had been tossed for me to take up, I leapt forward with a newly minted zeal, sure in the knowledge that I would be successful in this undertaking as I had in the last, but with less fear and trepidation this time. Just a dogged resolve to endure and persevere and conquer.
And so this Year of Living Surgically came to a close only to give way to the ensuing decades which would bring more and more of these operative challenges and medical maladies though these were as yet unseen and unimagined.
But let’s step back in time.
In the late 1970’s I was living in San Francisco, a newly minted, adult, gay man living in and on arguably the biggest gay buffet the world had yet known, if we discount ancient Greece and Rome.
As Auntie Mame so famously quipped; “ Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”
Far from starving, those of us who were present and accounted for in The City during these heady years were partaking with a particular gluttony of entitlement granted only a few. We were special, we felt it; we knew it; we were entitled to it. The inner demons all gay people had heretofore kept bottled up out of the necessity of maintaining our families, friends, and far too frequently, our lives, were living a largesse that we assumed was our due.
Carpe Diem. Or, more to the point, Carpe Homo.
Sex, no longer a procreative prerogative granted to heterosexual married folk, became an endless board (and, were we to admit it then but see it more clearly now, bored) game. The virile chess totems of this game were quite interchangeable, game board to game board, man to man, friend to foe, all alike and equally liked.
I bring this period in history up not to brag shamelessly, or confess shamefully, but to state a simple fact that this was where and when AIDS had its genesis, taking root in my intimate community of peers and catching the wind with wildfire-like fury and abandon equaled only in frenzy to the amount of sex we were all having in those heady times.
As the bits and blurbs of “fact” trickled out into the mainstream, fear, also, took hold, and with the fear came an even greater backlash towards the gay community than at almost any time in recent history. Palpable, tangible, fetid; this fear, tasting like the blood-metal acidy that washes through your system after a particularly severely bitten lip, tainted not only the bodies of those thousands coming down with symptoms every day but more sinister yet, the minds and the psyches of the greater public at large.
Suddenly we were once again pariah; not fit to teach in schools (the Brigg’s Initiative), or worthy to work as nurses, or waiters, and most assuredly not wanted by family and friends as the partner of someone’s beloved son/brother/father/mother/sister.
And so, as we watched with growing horror and sadness and sometimes even shame, our dearest friends all died and along with them our hopes and dreams, not simply for a more perfect union of equals and peers, but more trauma-inducing still, fears for our very lives. None of us were safe, none of us exempt, and if we were brutally honest in our darkest quiet of night moments, we were all, each of us in our lonely hours, already dead.
I go back to this time not to delve into the maudlin or elicit unwarranted or unearned sympathy but to illustrate that the “me” that faced my own Year of Living Surgically in 1997 had already weathered and won out over the Perfect Storm of a decade before to a large degree.
I was alive.
I had survived my diagnosis, conquered most of my irrational fears, and was managing to even look like I might thrive.
I had found a life-mate, despite the odds against such a thing back in 1984, who said to me upon having “the talk” when we were first dating; “I’d rather have a year with you than a lifetime without you”.
So surgery? Bring it on.
Now, thirty-odd years after those perilously tentative days, and surgeries too numerous to mention, he has seen me through them all. If my truly better-half can manage to regard me as still a worthwhile work-in-progress regardless of the sheer volume of replacement parts, than who am I to shy away from the work I must go through to keep on functioning as best I can with the aid of the best the medical community brings to the operating table.
There have been more than just those two surgeries back in 1997, many more. But I faced down each one with a degree of resignation and a larger degree of humor and awaited the bounce that inevitably comes after I am through the work.
And now, the tables have actually turned.
Dave has had his first major operation in over 40 years. The buggy needs some chassis repair.
And so now, I get to give back a little of what I have received, caring for him the way he has cared for me through all these years. It’s a strange feeling, at times, to be on this end of the bedpan, so to speak, but one I am supremely qualified and prepared to do.
So now, The Year of Living Surgically, The Sequel; coming to operating theatres near you soon. Watch your local listings for show times in your own life and definitely catch the matinee; they’re cheaper and leave your evenings free for the really important things.