Thursday, July 12, 2012

The balance of life

Last year, in the poker game of life, I thought I had been dealt a losing hand.  I found I had colon cancer - the doctor was just checking on some diverticulitis when he found a tumour.  But after they had shortened my colon by 25 cms or so, it turned out that it was only Stage 2 cancer.  That is, it hadn’t penetrated the colon wall.  Subsequent tests showed the cancer had not spread anywhere else.  So I started to tell people that my losing hand was, in fact, a Royal Flush.  I was so lucky that I had found I had cancer.  Had this totally unrelated diagnostic procedure not found the tumour, I could still be walking around with it, not knowing that it was growing inside me.
Polyps in the colon
I also probably became a pain in the arse, so to speak, because I started harassing friends to go and get a colonoscopy.  Why?  I had had one only three years before and was found to be perfectly fine.  So the nasty tumour had grown in only three years.  My surgeon pronounced that it was so big he was surprised that I hadn’t suffered terminal constipation.
I have always tried to lead a balanced life – work hard, play hard.  And I have also always believed that Nature is by nature balanced, although the perturbations in the climate around the world may still prove me wrong.  So it didn’t surprise me when I found I was subsequently dealt a series of losing hands to make up for the big win.

When I returned to South Africa recently, a variety of minor mishaps reminded me of my debt:  my car battery was dead when I picked it up in the hangar where I leave it; my microwave worked for a day, then died.  I carefully took it out of the cabinet it lived in and went to see an appliance repairman.  When he tried it, of course it worked.  Also my golf buggy died – it goes backwards very enthusiastically for about 20 metres, but declines to go forward.  I foresee a set of new batteries in my future.  And when I made it to the golf course, I found that the shaft of my driver had turned to mush - so a finely timed drive was only going 180 metres or so instead of 210 or 220.
At the end of March I visited a friend in Denmark.  Then I headed to Minneapolis via Amsterdam.  I thought that it was likely that my two bags wouldn’t arrive with me because of a tight connection – 50 minutes.  To my surprise, my golf bag arrived, but my suitcase didn’t.  No worry, I said, it will arrive the next day.  However I did become a little concerned when the person at the baggage counter pronounced that neither of my baggage tag numbers was ‘in the system’.  Being an IT person of sorts, I knew that the tags had been printed by a computer, so all was well.
To this day, my suitcase has still not arrived.  I often wonder where it is.  Was it stolen?  After all it was a brand new light-weight, hard-sided Delsey.  Or is it going around and around on some carousel in Mumbai or Ulaanbaatar or Malé.  Or is it in one of those hangars one hears about that are filled with thousands of unclaimed suitcases and other baggage?  Yrsa thinks it is in Angola, where she imagines a proud Angolan gentleman wearing my tuxedo (which I was to wear at the Edgars) with my favorite African-patterned tie.  That is probably why we didn’t win the Edgar – I didn’t have my favorite tie.  I actually disagree with Yrsa, not with the Angola bit, but that the gentleman would be proudly wearing my tie.  No self-respecting Angolan gentleman would wear an African tie in Africa – no, he would want the most American tie possible.  Not that I know what that is.
What made this losing hand so interesting is that the light-weight, hard-sided Delsey suitcase was  new only because my previous brand new light-weight, hard-sided Delsey (that I had bought to replace a well worn heavy-weight, hard-sided Delsey) was smashed on its first trip, when I went back to South Africa last November.
Fortunately Delta treated me extremely well when my second new Delsey suitcase disappeared, even though it was probably KLM in Amsterdam that should shoulder the responsibility for the loss.  Delta paid me out in full for the cost of replacing everything I had lost – not that I could replace my favorite African tie in Minneapolis.  So when I went back to South Africa in June, I had yet another brand new light-weight hard-sided Delsey - my third in 9 months. 
However . . . .
When I arrived in London a few days ago to see our UK editor, one leg and attached wheel of Delsey #3 had been pushed back into the suitcase, fortunately not damaging a bottle of 2003 Nederburg Edelkeur – South Africa’s premier botrytis dessert wine - which I always carry in case of emergencies.  So now I have a voucher to buy another suitcase.  Should I buy yet another brand new light-weight, hard-sided Delsey?  Or should I get something else?
Unfortunately, these minor mishaps did not satisfy Nature.  I had more bad hands to play. 
Another losing hand, even worse than the missing-suitcase hand, was that a nimble-fingered pickpocket lifted my wallet on the London tube.  It had, of course, money (more than I normally carry because a friend had just given me 130 pounds he owed me), drivers license, credit cards, cards to get into airline lounges (perhaps the most important of all), and other bits and pieces.  I believe the pickpocket in question will win a gold at the upcoming Olympics, because my wallet was at the bottom of a deep side pocket in my slacks.  Perhaps this was a training session?
Fortunately, when I got back to Minneapolis, there was an email awaiting me from Kensington Police Station – ironically it had been sent to (that must have raised an eyebrow).  Someone had picked up the wallet lying on the pavement (sidewalk) and turned it in.  Only the money was gone.  Now I am engaged in a lengthy negotiation as to who can be authorized to pick it up for me.  (Does anyone reading this live near Kensington Police Station?)  I expect to have it before Bouchercon in October.

If you are New York City over the next few days, for Thrillerfest or some other reason, if you see a large white male walking around with a heavy chain protruding from his side slacks pocket, attached to his heavy leather belt with a uncuttable padlock, please come up and introduce yourself.  I'll have the money to treat you to a cup of coffee.
I figure that things are now back in balance, but I won’t be upset if you don’t want to drive or fly with me. 
In retrospect, the Royal Flush I had last year was such a winner that I could have an unending series of these losing hands, and still be ahead of the game.  I guess that is the way luck works.
So what have I learnt from this whole episode other than the fact that what Nature gives, Nature takes away?
It is that one should have a colonoscopy every few years!  Don’t wait the ten years I was told to wait.

Stan- Thursday


  1. It does put things in perspective when you have a health scare and then you say, Thank-you, thank-you for modern medicine. But all those suitcases disappearing? Hmmm. . .perhaps you should go to a thrift store and buy a beat up suitcase to use, no more expensive fancy ones? But congratulations to your good outcome on the colonoscopy. And you wove a story around around the first loss, just like real writers do.

  2. I am really sorry about all your mishaps, and very glad about your royal flush. Stay well. Maybe you really do need an old beat up suitcase :)

  3. Wow! Whew! Although it's certainly not good to have cancer, the gods must have looked kindly upon you in that it was stage 2. Hopefully, it will never return.

    You are right to harass everyone you know, including readers and bloggers to have this test, although unpleasant. Cancer is a lot more unpleasant.

    A close relative of mine recovered from small intestinal cancer after aggressive surgery and treatment. It is tough.

    The moral of the story is to get tested.

    And hopefully, your health will remain status quote and you'll get your wallet back, and hassles will diminish.

    On to good health!

  4. A very healthy view of life Stan, and glad to hear the health is good even if your luck has been lousy. I can only echo the colonoscopy call. My dad was diagnosed last year and an earlier scan might have saved a lot of treatment and heartache. I've had one - it's not too bad. Well, I was off my face on a cocktail of drugs, so I can't remember, which is probably a good thing...

    By the way, I'm not far from Kensington cop shop if you want me to get that wallet for you.

  5. I'm sure there's a message in this to all us hard-sided types: Keep a hand on your wallet and an eye up your...

    I couldn't agree more.

  6. Never mind driving and flying, I write books with this guy!

    And I was one of the naggees referred to. Had the colonoscopy and they found and removed several of those ugly looking polyps. I'll be back for another one later this year...

  7. Thanks, Dan. A friend of a friend arranged for a friend to pick up and dispatch said wallet.

    I am getting used to my innards being explored, but I always ask to be out cold.

  8. The only thing is over in the States, with cutbacks in insurance coverage, and HMO "austerity" coverage, anesthesia isn't always covered for these difficult procedures.

    This just happened to a friend. After she'd been convinced to have anesthesia for this test, the insurance company billed her a small ransom for it as they wouldn't cover it.

  9. N&C,
    Your essay length response to the Anonymous "Point" made on Greece was spoken like a true follower of Milton Friedman—I'm sure he would be proud. Victims of disaster capitalism, however, are not likely to be impressed; or convinced.
    You claim to have watched capitalism elevate a large segment of Greek society from squeezing grapes and tomatoes to squeezing tourists. I hope this comment was made in jest. What's wrong with squeezing grapes or tomatoes? Especially if by doing so they maintain their dignity. Capitalism may bring prosperity, of the material sort, but with it always comes the "political problems....endemic greed, graft, corruption and sense of entitlement" that you mention. Do you honestly not see how these "problems," as you call them, are the results of a world that worships money?
    There is no such thing as excess in relation to the capitalist mantra of: profit is king; grow by any means necessary; cut corners when you can get away with it; bribe, con, or destroy whoever gets in the way.
    As for the Lehman Brothers incident, that was the direct result of the behavior that capitalism purports, not types of "excesses." You call it a failure. But capitalism thrives from the chaos of the boom-bust cycle. Failure had nothing to do with it. The housing crisis and financial meltdown was inevitable—like rolling a seven at craps.
    I won't bother responding to your comment about anything "generous" coming out of the IMF. It gives money or "aid" only to those nations who are willing to sign over their freedoms, their communities, and the rights of their natural resources to private enterprise.
    If populaces were informed most would probably choose smashing grapes and tomatoes to rowtowing to their corporate overlords.