Gilberto Rides Again: Chapter 3
by Stephen Halpert
Gilberto hated hospitals. He remembered the small shack smelling of disinfectant that served as a makeshift hospital near where he had lived in Puerto Rico. It was said people went there to die. Fortunately, his parents moved to Florida then he was six and could avoid such circumstances. They would drive to Miami for medical consultations, but the fear of hospitals had dominated his youth.
The austere and hushed environment of giant medical centers did little to boost his confidence in modern healthcare. The starched nurses reminded him of the nuns from his boyhood. Deep down he believed that many physicians were swindlers, out to get as much money as they could. He railed about this as he and Maria drove to the hospital and parked.
Once they were in the waiting room, she said, “Please be optimistic, and don’t let your childhood prejudices get in your way.” She kissed him. “I know you’ll come through this unscathed. He kissed her back and followed a dour-looking nurse to his examining room. He removed his trousers. Dr. Fletcher greeted him briskly and went to work. Gilberto didn’t care for the doctor, who was short with a ruddy complexion, and eyes that looked to Gilberto as though they had seen too much and now no longer cared.
The smell of antiseptic cloyed at his nose. He had never experienced anything like the instrument that invaded his urethra. There must be another way, he thought. This is barbaric. Didn’t the Nazis do torture like this?
Invasive and cold, the cystoscope probed deep inside his groin, sending images in real time to a computer. The doctor worked silently, his eyes focused on the screen. It seemed to Gilberto he took no interest in him as a person, only in that part of his body. Gilberto almost said something, but he was far too uncomfortable to speak.
After what seemed an eternity, the doctor finished the procedure and withdrew the scope.
Finally, Gilberto found his tongue. “What did you find?”
The urologist’s expressionless face was upsetting. “You have a tumor growing on your bladder. Probably cancerous by the looks of it. But even if it’s benign, we have to remove it. We’ll know more from the biopsy.”
Gilberto gulped. Fear froze his mind. “Cancer! Will I die?”
“Not from this,” Dr. Fletcher sounded indifferent. “It can be removed during a day surgery. Then, if needed, six sessions of immunotherapy will be administered to make sure it doesn’t come back.”
“Just like that?” Gilberto wanted a longer, more comprehensive, explanation. He felt confused and fearful. “How could I get cancer? I take good care of myself.”
Doctor Fletcher shrugged. “Environmental. Happens a lot. More common these days than you might think.”
“That’s all you can tell me?” The doctor seemed so unfeeling.
“We’ll do plenty of follow-up screenings afterward. You could be lucky. It could stay in remission.”
Lucky was not how Gilberto was feeling. “Not fair,” he said. He hoped for a shred of empathy from this man, who seemed impatient to send Gilberto on his way. Maybe he had a golf date later that morning.
“No. It isn’t fair,” the doctor said. “But it’s a very good thing you didn’t wait any longer to come in.
The thought that something was eating at the wall of his bladder horrified Gilberto.
The doctor turned to leave the examining room. “Set up your surgery sooner than later.”
“Just like that? That’s it?”
He nodded and left. Gilberto dressed. He took some deep breaths; he wanted to be brave when he told Maria.
He went to the desk and made an appointment. He was fortunate he could be operated on within two weeks. He and Maria left the waiting room, and as they waited for the elevator, he filled her in. She listened. When he said that ominous word, cancer, she gulped and nodded. “Aren’t you glad you let me bring you this morning?”
“Yes. The doctor said it was a good thing; just about the only positive thing he said to me. Personally, I’d feel safer with a tribal witchdoctor, someone who uses herbs as medicine.”
Maria rolled her eyes. “Sweetheart, be thankful modern medicine is here to save you.”
He shook his head. “That doctor was so indifferent, like this was nothing more than a loose filling or an ingrown toenail.”
“To him that’s probably what it was. You’ll be fine, I’m sure.”
He continued to rail. She didn’t respond. She knew to give him his space, regardless of how irrational he seemed. Why quibble? Over the years he had complained of her quibbling. And even though she knew he’d ultimately agree with her, she also knew her exacting nature could annoy him.
They got out of the elevator on the ground floor and exited to the parking lot. “If it turns out to be cancerous, I’ll have to go back for six treatments,” Gilberto went on. “I hate that instrument. Six treatments!”
“That’s a lot better than chemo or radiation. Personally, I think you’re getting off easy.”
He ignored his wife’s positively. “It’s invasive, barbaric, torture!”
She nodded. “It’s only a momentary discomfort; nothing like labor and delivery, believe me. Besides we don’t remember pain, regardless how invasive.” She smiled at him. “You must be hungry. Let me take you to lunch.”
He disliked this talk. The whole experience was like losing a big game, a championship. Obviously, his ego took a big hit, confirming he was human, not a living god, immortal. He felt oddly vulnerable. “I’m starved, but don’t feel hungry. He called it ‘environmental,’ whatever that’s supposed to mean.”
“You need to eat,” Maria said, trying to change the subject. “Let’s get a burger and I’ll drop you off at Atlas.”
“Maria, I don’t want to eat dead cow, not now, not anymore. I couldn’t hold it down.”
“You might eventually change your mind.” She gave him a sly smile. “How about a gooey ice cream sundae, loaded with hot chocolate, marshmallow, strawberries and nuts?”
That made him smile. “Yes, the perfect comfort food after being told I probably have cancer.”
“Please stop being so dramatic. You’re lucky! You’ll survive this regardless of how you feel about that doctor. He’s just doing his job. Be charitable for goodness sake. It could be so much worse.”
To be continued…
About the author…
A graduate of Emerson College, Stephen Halpert has been a published author since the 1970s. Most recently, his weekly column “American Scene,” which ran in The Grafton News from 1989 to 2022, featured humorous vignettes of his life with his wife, Tasha, and serial fiction. Since 2020, Halpert has authored a trilogy, The Loves of Gilberto, which he describes as, “a love story with a hint of murder.” In 2018, Halpert published his first collection of fictional tales, Abracadabra Moonshine and Other Stories, available on Amazon. His next writing venture is titled “Mona Lisa’s Eyebrows and other stories.” Contact Stephen to learn more.