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When the world doesn’t stop for you, it’s hard to stop for it

By John Burbridge

About a month and a half before the world turned upside down, my own little one was upended.

After being taken to the emergency room due to a gnawing abdominal pain that progressed to excruciating which I thought may have been caused by appendicitis or kidney stones, I learned I had cancer.

The pain-killing medication I had been given earlier was wearing off, and I was about to request a reboot. No need. The revelation chased the pain away.

It’s a wonder how the mind can alter the human experience when given something else to think about.

My advanced age and diminished but functional mathematical skills had already suggested to me that there are more years behind me than ahead. Still, moving forward I felt my life should now be divided into two parts: Before Cancer; After Cancer.

In the weeks leading up to the operation to remove and (hopefully) contain the problem, it seemed like the transition from one epoch to the next was something that was transcending my person.

I know the mind can do much more than diminish physical pain in favor of mortality fears. If not careful, it can compose fictional memories while using subsequent events and information to doctor the scripts. So when I say that when I covered the last Charles City home varsity boys basketball game of the regular season and attended the “last call” party at City Tap before it closed its doors, my “remembered” feeling or sensing of these representing a collective end of an era could well be an illusion rather than wistful premonition.

Or I could have been just projecting my own fraughtful plight onto the rest of the world.

I was told that after the surgery I would be out of work for at least two weeks to a month. (Surely, you can’t be serious!) I actually thought I could be ready to return a day after being released.

Clueless … and my name isn’t Shirley.

While I was laid low, sports went on without me. Thankfully, my colleagues were able to cover for me in my absence which encompassed the State Wrestling Tournament and much of the boys and girls basketball postseasons.

Now that I’m back sans an organ, sports are still going on … or rather sports-related news is. You can’t deny the cancellation of March Madness as well as other major sporting events, professional athletes testing positive for the coronavirus, and Tom Brady leaving New England for Tampa Bay are major ongoing news stories.

Upon my release, I was told not to lift anything more than 10 pounds for at least a month, not to drive for three weeks, avoid crowds to prevent inadvertent physical contact that might cause internal hemorrhaging … basically, I was advised to seal myself at home like a hermit and hope some elves would swing by periodically to do my grocery shopping and laundry.

Can you imagine being embedded in such a situation?

It was dread of lonely isolation with the spectre of doom looming over it that made me more than open to spend much of my unscheduled “vacation” in Northwest Indiana where I stayed with and visited family and friends.

Driving me roundtrip was my father.

He was willing to make the combined 1,450-mile trek — here and back then here and back again — in his 1998 Dodge Pleasure Way RV. It’s a frumpish vehicle, much like Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon, a running punchline in the Star Wars saga.

“You came here in that? … You’re braver than I thought.”

Incidentally, my dad bears a resemblance to Harrison Ford.

The trips to and from are five to six hours long depending on how many stops you make. En route both ways, my father — who had lost his wife (my step-mother) and the sister (my aunt) he was most close to during a short span last spring — and I had a lot to talk about. And on more than several occasions, we got into spirited political discussions.

I consider my dad “The Original Trumpster” … a bigger fan than Sean Hannity.

After he drove me back to Charles City, he stayed with me for a couple of days to make sure I had recovered enough bearings to fend for myself. In the interim, we talked and sometimes debated some more. By that time I was feeling a little better. More confident to be out in public again, I offered to treat my dad to the movies where 1917 was playing at the Charles Theatre. It was the least I could do. He was willing to pick up the bill during our dual-road trip restaurant stops, so paying his admission was no big deal.

I don’t think I mentioned to him that here you can pay for two movie tickets with a five-dollar bill and have change coming back.

My father said he liked Charles City though I didn’t get a chance to introduce him to other “Trumpsters” I know in residence. He said he might want to come back out here when the weather gets better, but somehow I knew — and I distinctly remember this — that was unlikely.

After bidding farewell and watching my father pull away in his Millennium Falcon-on-wheels, I broke down and cried, sobbing like I never had before in my adult life.

Then I went back to work.