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Archive for December 17th, 2014

Inagallery
People in a gallery

One must live with great seriousness like a cat — a play upon an utterance by Nazim Hekmat

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been meaning to tell of one last adventure Yvette and I had while in NYC: Friday morning until lunchtime we wandered all about the Metropolitan Museum of Art, exhausted ourselves there too, for me seeing paintings and art work I regard as old friends and with her looking at new art.

Well, we happened on an exhibition of photographs by Thomas Struth. The ones used to advertise his work are like the one above: people looking at vast art, people making things, not just beautiful art, but everything one might think of in an industrial building, wandering in and out of cities, esplanades, woods filled with twisted branches: ephemeral beings given some kind of larger meaning against the shape of seemingly permanent or continuing structures. I’m told that Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary where he filmed the worlds of people doing things, talking in the institution in the UK called the National Gallery is rapturous. By contrast, Struth shows a family of artists whose living is made by restoring pictures working in the basement of an old church thus:

Familyofartists

So (or but) if you go to one of Struth’s actual exhibits (not spread across the globe on the Net), you find there is another sort of photograph among them:

Hymenoplastysurgery

People submitting to technology: the above is a surgery for hymenoplasty. I melted into quiet crying upon seeing one of a woman on a table covered by surgical lines, with IVs all over her, bags of liquids, long sharp instruments all around, of course sheeted: she was having an operation for some dire cancer. I cried because I wished I had seen that image before I agreed to agree with Jim he would have that esophagectomy that made his last 8 weeks of life a living hell of nausea, starvation, pain. On the wall was a little plaque assuring you the woman as still living as of some date. Right. I can’t find a replica on the Net of that photo or a couple others in the Met that day. I knew that the photo was invasive and voyeuristic, but I wish everyone could see that or the other photos before they agree to a surgery. Since the advent of anesthesia people submit to operations with their eyes closed — metaphorically as well as through drugs. We ought to imagine these; maybe we will agree less often.

This is prompted by my having overheard a man at the Toyota Dealer this morning on the phone for over half an hour scheduling a series of appointments for what was clearly a major surgery, which was to be proceeded by a visit to the famed Mayo clinic (for cancer), and a number of other visits to this or that doctor. The man was all eager docility, cooperation itself. He looked about 70, white, had a briefcase thick with papers (perhaps a college professor). I was there waiting for my PriusC to be inspected so I could get my yearly sticker attesting to the safety of my car: it’s put on one’s window shield in Virginia. I wished I had the nerve to ask him what kind of cancer it was.

Don’t misunderstand me. I felt jealous. I sat there remembering how I could not persuade Jim to try to go to Boston, Massachusetts, where we were told we might be able to see a super-famous, (probably) super-expensive oncologist who never did esophagectomies (as he thought them horribly maiming) but poured intense chemotherapies into people to try to subdue, diminish, put the cancer into remission.

I realized that I never saw Jim being active on behalf of his health that way. In life for other things he was often a person who made many phone calls, set up all sorts of schedules for us to travel, engineered itineraries. But when it came to his health he often just submitted to doctors, didn’t question them. He did read about his cancer when we were told, and early on told me what the Kaiser people were doing was common protocol. Was what doctors did when the case was esophageal cancer.

At Kaiser there was no need beyond minimum appointment making. They found for him a man trained at the Mayo clinic (a surgeon outside Kaiser), a radiation doctor, another to do chemotherapy (in the event we never had them because the cancer metastasized into his liver before the series could start). Jim was I know not just thinking of the price, but thinking it would take time to go to Boston, precious time to try to reach this doctor, have his advice, and then maybe go for Kaiser anyway. He didn’t want to stop what was set up already.

I wasn’t sure of myself so I was afraid to say no, let’s not do this operation, let’s go to Boston, let’s insist on chemotherapy first, lest I was wrong — and he suffer from it, he die.

I worried about the worried looks in the eyes of the non-surgical doctors: did they think this guy a jock eager to cut Jim up and that he’d be better off doing chemotherapy first? Maybe he would have lived had he had chemotherapy first and the cancer would not have metastasized? It was a judgement whether to do the operation first because chemotherapy could burn the tissues and then the operation afterwards might result in dangerous complications as parts of the organs would not heal readily at all. So he said.

I found myself wishing I had persisted and made some kind of intense effort to for once listen to me — would he be alive today?

I was like am now a person walking down a stairway where the handrails have been taken away

I asked myself, Is this man I am watching and listening to, going to be alive 10 years from now because he’s doing this? I envied him. I should not have. Sitting there doing that so politely was an ordeal he was controlling. We do not see the terror inside other people. He will be like the people in Stuth’s photographs. I do not know; maybe he’s having his pancreas removed. He was determined the operation should not be put off and all his appointments fit in. I will remember his aging face, short hair, thin body and briefcase.

My car passed inspection and the honest people at Toyota (I’ve been there before and the people there have been all courtesy to me too) charged me $16. I drove home listening to Simon Vance reading aloud Trollope’s Dr Thorne and all day and until now (many hours later) had this man’s image in my mind and knew I would write this blog about Struth’s photograph of a woman having a cancer operation at last.

StruthMilan1998
Struth, Milan Cathedral, 1998

Sylvia

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