His Father’s Son


He was in the summer of his life. Established at last. He was even feeling a little self assured for once. At least to him, it felt that way.

His father’s son. To him, it felt a little bit frightening. But, as he grew older, he could see it so clearly. He could see himself changing. He was even beginning to look like his father when he died.

He had learned long ago that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. He carried this confident demeanor always even when he was riddled with self doubt.

Sometimes it felt as everyone depended on him. If the sky was falling, or at the first sign of trouble, he was the person that was supposed to carry the day. Yes, he could always be relied upon, never knowing who would have his back when the time came.

He had been let down so many times before. Betrayed by people so close to him that he constantly said how amazing it was to discover that a person you would take a bullet for sometimes ends up being behind the trigger.

He dressed for yet another flight so early in the morning. This time his journey would take him far far away. He wondered how he would feel after 13 hours of flying. But, he knew the answer to that. He had never mastered jet lag and as he grew older these kinds of journeys felt like someone had taken a hammer to every part of his body leaving a lingering pain that would last for weeks at a time.

He always looked forward to that next adventure. That next challenge. He longed for it. He learned like so many other seasoned travelers before him that it is never about the destination, but the joy of the journey itself.

He had survived an engine fire, an in flight emergency, but flying didn’t scare him and it seemed for a while like nothing did.

Thirteen hours later his plane was landing. Flying into the wind at touch down gave the end of his flight that extra turbulence he never enjoyed. No one sat next to him on this leg of the journey and he quickly realized that in half a day all he had heard from another human being was whether he wanted breakfast. He didn’t.

His plane arrived at 3:00AM. Luckily for him, because his city of destination was so crowded otherwise. His journey from the airport to the hotel that could take several hours took only 30 minutes.

His room was ready when he arrived. He knew how to plan. He got his upgrade to a superior room. He had the card to make it so. The fruit basket awaited that he would not open. He never did. Always thinking what a waste of good fruit, but making no attempt to return it, or asking the hotel not to provide it.

He showered. A must after a long flight. He unpacked and laid down to sleep. He had slept throughout most of the flight, but he was still exhausted. For him, this was normal.

He awoke at first light never needing to set an alarm. He seemed to have a mental alarm as if to tell himself “wake up in three hours” and he would.

As he awoke, he got out of bed and felt somewhat dizzy. Strange he thought, he almost never gets dizzy. As he went into the bathroom to shave, the dizziness became intense. He barely made it back to bed before nearly fainting. He knew something was wrong, very wrong.

He called the front desk and an office colleague and they came immediately. His colleague reassured him that he was likely dehydrated. But, he knew it was more than that.

The hotel doctor came and took his pulse. It was 50 and deteriorating. He said he needed to be hospitalized, but this was a country where being hospitalized was equivalent to a death sentence.

They assured him there was a place where he could get adequate care, or at least a proper diagnosis. He was not reassured.

He asked his office to arrange for a return flight. The doctor advised against a return trip of such a long duration. He wouldn’t listen.

He fainted twice on the return flight in his seat pretending to all around him that all was well. With the energy he had left, he made it through customs and into an awaiting car.

A Doctor recommended to him was waiting for his arrival. He had never been ill, but now his body seemed not to be reacting to even his basic commands. As he exited the vehicle he was in, he almost fell to the pavement grasping the car door before he collapsed.

They took him straight into the Doctor’s office when he arrived. The Doctor listened to his heart and seemed concerned. He took his pulse and it was below 30. The Doctor told him something was very wrong and he needed to be hospitalized immediately. He had never been hospitalized before and while he was now concerned, he assumed that this would all amount to nothing in the end.

They insisted that he be wheeled into the ER on a stretcher. He said no. They then said at the very least a wheel chair was required. He insisted on walking. The Doctor told him he could faint at any minute. But, as stubborn as he is, walking was the only option he would accept.

In the ER, they strapped him to several machines. He saw his heart monitor and that’s when he knew something was extremely worrying. After several hours and several tests, a very young Doctor came and told him emergency surgery was necessary and he would perform it. Calmly, he asked the Doctor how old he was and confidently he replied he was 35. He looked much younger.

The Doctor though seemed cocky and very sure of himself. His attitude reminded him of himself in his younger years. There was no time for a second opinion the Doctor said in answer to his question, the surgery needed to be performed now.

The consent forms came quickly, and as he read them, the surgery, he realized, had a 10 percent chance of being fatal.

He thought statistically 10% wasn’t a bad number. The young Doctor reassured him that this number was inflated and that he hadn’t lost a patient yet. He was too scared to ask the Doctor how many times he had done this procedure before given how young he was.

He signed the form allowing his organs to be farmed if the 10% applied to him. Having someone see the world with his eyes was something he approved of. Helping a patient avoid dialysis with his kidneys, and the pain he would alleviate, was the right thing to do. But, his heart seemed broken. No one would ever feel his heart beat again.

The Doctor told him that at the end of this surgery he’d be like new again with a reassuring stare. He trusted the Doctor’s confidence and went with his gut.

Again, he insisted on walking into surgery. He would not be wheeled in and insisted his two legs carry him. In the operating room, the anesthesiologist asked him to sit on the operating table. The room was full of machinery he had never seen before. As he laid down, he noticed a huge black machine above him. With a button, it slowly dropped over his chest. With all these machines attached to him, and everything beeping in such a strange rhythm, he still wasn’t scared.

He thought about his 10% chance of fatality. He did not fear seeing his maker. He knew he had done more good than bad, helped more than he had hurt, gave more than he took, and in the grand scheme of things he had grown into a better man.

He didn’t have a family of his own, but he feared for the people closest to him and what they would do without him. He thought of nothing he’d accomplished, but everything he hadn’t, especially in his personal life. He knew what he would do differently if he had a second chance. In this semester of his life he knew that chance had lapsed long ago. He thought of his parents, at least he would be with them.

He thought of the futility of it all. In perfect health one day, a 10% chance of dying the next. He laughed at the irony of it all with a nurse looking on curiously.

In the emergency room, the anesthesiologist, also a very young lady, said to him she was about to put something in his IV. This would put him to sleep she said almost instantaneously. He realized then he may never wake up.

He looked around him for a minute at all these machines, and all these medics that were now wearing gloves and masks. The anesthesiologist still had her face exposed. He decided that if this was the end, the last thing he wanted to remember, or to be implanted as a vision in his brain, was not that of a machine. He looked at the anesthesiologist and asked for her name. She asked him why he was asking. He said “curiosity that’s all”. She said her name was Linda and upon hearing her name he stared squarely at her face. He told her he was ready for the anesthesia now not knowing if he would open his eyes ever again. At least now if he didn’t awake, the last thing he would see was the face of another human being.

He awoke as the surgery was being completed. The Doctor implored him not to move. He didn’t. He felt nothing. The Doctor asked him how he was feeling and if he was coherent. He said he thought so. The Doctor told him to say something. He said “Doctor what do you call a pony with a sore throat?” Amused, the Doctor said “what?” He replied “a little horse”. The Doctor laughed and said to his colleagues “well, that’s a first”.

The Doctor quickly said to all in the room “we’re done”. Linda, the anesthesiologist, took off her surgical mask and he saw her face again. He smiled at her and said “it’s great to see you again Linda”. He was very pleased, bordering on ecstatic. His eyes had opened again. She smiled back at him too, somewhat confused.

As he was wheeled out of surgery, this time he couldn’t stand, he started thinking he had been given a second chance at life. He felt blessed. The Doctor told him all went well. He would be able to resume a normal life and his heart was fine. It was an electrical problem the Doctor said. The engine was fine was the Doctor’s analogy, it was one spark plug that was problematic. He asked the Doctor about medication moving forward and the Doctor’s response was stunning. “No medication what so ever”, he said. “Your long term remedy is to never have another bad day for the rest of your life”. This was what he intended to do he thought to himself, never have a bad day for the rest of my life.

The Doctor then told him that after a day of monitoring he could go home. He could resume his life as normal. He knew that nothing would be normal after this. Every day from now on would have to be different, it would have to be special.

As they took him into recovery they told him he would have to share a room with someone else. There was a much older lady on the bed in front of him. She told him she preferred the screen be open if he didn’t mind. He didn’t. She told him she too had just had surgery and it went well. She wanted more longevity she said repeating the phrase “After all, at any age one must find a way to live”. Age has nothing to do with your lust for life she said.

She asked him if he knew how old she was. He said he didn’t and felt uncomfortable taking a guess. She said “I’m not old. No, I’m not old. I’ve just lived for a very long time”. He knew the same was true for him as well.

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© Khaled F. Sherif, 2020

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