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To Be or Not to Be

Mar 23rd, 2012 | By | Category: Essays

To Be or Not to Be

Georgianna Anderson


“To be, or not to be, that is the question,” Hamlet was pondering when he spoke those words in ACT III, Scene 1; and those very words seem very relevant to me as I wrestle with the biggest decision of my life.  Do I want to go on living or would death be more desirable?  How do I make a decision that is going to affect my quality of life, or if I even have a life?  You think you know what you want to do.  You weigh all the pros and cons.  (Actually in this case there are mostly cons.) You try to take your mind off of this life and death decision, but it consumes you.  It is with you every waking moment and at night when you try to go to sleep.  And no one can make this decision for you.  Not the doctors, not your friends, not your family.  It is ultimately up to you.

Just have the surgery.  But wait, it’s not that simple.  Do you go for the surgery that is less invasive, where they just take a wedge out of the lung to remove the lesion and do the biopsy, or do you go for the upper lobectomy, where they remove the entire lobe?    Either way it’s risky.  If they just do the wedge, and find that it’s malignant will they then have to do another surgery to remove the entire lobe after all?  And if the lobe is removed, will you be able to breathe without oxygen?  Will you forever be chained to the tank for as long as you live?  And then will you have to endure chemotherapy?  And if you opt for that, will it really prolong your life?  What kind of quality of life will you have?  And if you have the surgery will the procedure aftermath be like it was the last time, with seven days in ICU because you went into A-fib?  And will you lose the hearing in your one good ear?  The last time before surgery you had two good ears.  When you woke up you could hear out of only one and found out that the nerve to the other one was totally dead due to lack of blood supply which happened when they lowered your blood pressure during the operation.

If you opt to do nothing, how long before the cancer (if it is cancer, and no one knows for sure) eats away at your entire body?  How long before you are in horrible pain to the point where you are drugged so you feel nothing and are in a vegetative state?

And if you decide not to have the surgery, do you write your “bucket list”?  Do all the things you want to do while you are still able, see all the friends and places you’ve been meaning to visit before you check out?  And how do you know how long you’ll have?

In the midst of all this pondering, there’s that old river that keeps creeping into your subconsciousness, the river called “Da Nile”.  This can’t be cancer, I feel too good.  I’m not losing weight, I’m not coughing, I look healthy, even the doctors say that.  So how can I have this insidious thing in my chest?

I choose to BE.  At this very moment and even before I get the latest CT scan report, I am thinking NO to surgery and YES to making reservations to go to the Caribbean.  I don’t care where – Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Bermuda, Puerto Rico anywhere there is crystal clear water, warm ocean breezes, lovely tropical drinks, and calypso music.  Now really, doesn’t that sound better than heart monitors, IV drips, and aides coming in at 5:00 a.m. to wheel you down to x-ray or lab or some other basement room in the hospital where technicians await you to draw blood or administer some other kind of tortuous treatment?

Who in their right mind wouldn’t choose the islands over the hospital?  I can think of little else less desirable than living life as an invalid.  Being totally dependent on others for my every need, machines to assist in breathing, not being able to go outside and sit on my porch, go out to lunch, doing anything, going anywhere I want to go…..So the choice comes down to this.   TO BE and not be sure of what condition that “being” will be, or NOT TO BE just live until death comes.   I can think of no other question more difficult to answer.


Since I wrote this piece, I made the decision to go ahead with the surgery.  That was about 5 weeks ago.  And since that time I have been waiting.  And waiting.  First, for the phone call from the surgeon telling me when he will do the surgery.  Then when I finally get that call (not from him, but from a nurse) she tells me before I am scheduled I have to get clearance from my cardiologist.  “You don’t want to have a heart attack on the table, do you?”  So I wait again.  Finally I call the surgeon’s office back.  “We still haven’t heard from your cardiologist.”  “Okay” I told her, “I will call them.”  I was told that my doctor was not in.  “I will see anyone in the practice.”  Five days later I had an appointment.  “I want to do a stress test and an echocardiogram.  You don’t want to die on the table do you?”  At the rate this process is going, I’ll die before I even get to the “table.”

Last week I had both tests.  I was told I was top priority.  Now one week later, the results of the tests still had not been faxed to the surgeon’s office.  After numerous phone calls, pleading, threatening and practically screaming at the poor soul who took my call at the cardiologist’s office,  I found out that “yes, we have the results, but they were not typed up yet and they have to be reviewed by another doctor.”

“And this will be done when?”  I asked in my most controlled tone.  “I will see to it that it is done right now and I will personally fax the report to your surgeon. “  She actually followed through!  She called me back about an hour later to tell me that all reports had been sent.

Now all that remains to be done is getting the surgeon’s nurse to schedule the surgery.  He is not in today.  She will not be in tomorrow, but she assured me that she will leave instructions for someone else to expedite this.  We will see.

I have put my life on hold for the last 6 weeks.  I don’t know whether to cancel some other appointments I have, I haven’t gone to the gym because I owe them money for the month and don’t want to pay if I’m not going to be able to use it.  I would love to see the current show at the Fulton, but can’t really call for tickets since I don’t know when I’ll be incapacitated.  “Yes, yes,” the nurse said, “I am sure this is very stressful.”  HAH.  Really?  Stressful?

To Be or Not To Be.  So I made the decision.  Now let’s get this show on the road.

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  1. Georgie-

    Your essay is very moving. As ghastly as your current situation is, ironically it has established you as a “published writer.” We’ll be thinking about you this week, sending bushels of healthy vibes your way and hoping for a swift, positive outcome. You deserve nothing less.

    Hang in there and keep on writing. Writing is known to be one of the most effective ways people have to cope with stress. And by all means, BE.


  2. Wow Georgianna this si some true confession/share



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