The instructions were confusing at best, mostly because they violated my sense of reality. Before I switched over to electronics I was a car mechanic. A lofty profession in its own right, but not much respected by the world at large which saw us as rip-off artists. I can understand that a little, when you have no understanding of something one tends to be suspicious of those who do. The same thing was true of my customers in the world of computers, people didn’t understand how the machines worked and the description of ones and zeroes and bits and bytes didn’t help clear anything up. All they could know was that their device had stopped doing something they relied on it to do for reasons they couldn’t fathom, and like people with broken cars, had to rely on me to put things right. But I had a leg up as I read the cryptic instructions for preparing my new generator for its first use. What was the most confusing to me about the bizarrely written instructions was that they were written by Americans for an American made generator. Everyone is used to the broken and pidgin English of Asian crafted instructions which, if followed to the letter would result in an opening of the divider between time and space and result in the world being thrust into a bad science fiction story. But these instructions were American and completely backwards, telling me to turn off the motor’s choke to start the machine and then turn the choke on to run the generator. It also told me to use the recoil starter instead of the electric self-start, one of the generator’s best selling features. But since I, as a mechanic in my previous career, knew what had to be done and I did it, resulting in success I would not have achieved by following the steps in the manual.
When it comes to medicine, I have a lot of experience, but the actual medical craft is beyond my scope of understanding, and so I tend to view the physicians and nurses who help me with a healthy dose of suspicion. Of course, it didn’t help their side that so many mistakes had been made by those in charge of treating me for the various ailments I presented, and went to them for help for. I spent thousands of dollars on doctors who failed to figure out why I had severe pain in my back, felt extreme fatigue a lot of the time, and kept getting minor bloody noses. I also experienced pains in my chest which frightened me into emergency rooms a few times, worried I was having a heart attack or something. I finally went to the Veterans Administration after realizing I could, and reported to their doctors my longtme problems. After many, many tests the tenacious physicians there told me I had cancer and that it likely resulted from an Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam, some thirty years prior. I wasn’t so sure I believed that something so long ago could manifest itself so far down the road, but it gave me an answer to my long time question and better yet, offered me the possibility of reprieve.
“You have Multiple Myeloma.” said my assigned oncologist. “Without treatment your prognosis isn’t very good.”
“What do you mean by isn’t good?”
“This is a terminal illness.”
I nodded my head. “I knew it.”
“You knew it?” the doctor parroted. “How?”
“Because if there’s one thing I’ve never had much of, it’s luck.” I said. “I figured that whatever was causing me so much pain had to suck immensely.”
Now the doctor nodded. “Do you have any questions?”
“Yeah, lots of them. But the biggest is how long do I have to live?”
“Without treatment? Maybe six months. No more than a year.”
“It’s hard to say. People go into remission and survive a long time.”
“So this can be stopped? I mean, you can put me in remission?” I felt a sense of relief. It was short lived.
“No. Most people succumb to this kind of cancer. It’s different from person to person how successful the therapy is. Some people, with treatment, can live a long time; die of old age. Some people don’t.”
“What are the chances for success?”
“I can’t answer that. No one can. We just have to try the treatments and hope for the best result.”
I snapped out of my reverie and looked at the clock. It was three years later and almost 2012. It seemed like so long ago that it was February 5, 2008 and I was listening to my doctor giving me the diagnosis that changed my reality so permanently. Three different treatment regimens had been tried and all of them only succeeded in speeding the progression of the cancer destroying my bones. Peripheral neuropathy, a common side effect of chemotherapy for multiple myeloma had disabled me so profoundly it cost me the use of my hands and feet and confined me to a wheelchair for mobility and forced me to use speech recognition software to write with. It took eighteen long months after abandoning treatment as more lethal than the cancer for its debilitating effects to wane. But by then the progression of the cancer had stolen my ability to stand my own weight. My skeleton was too weak to bear it. Pain had become my constant companion, and while I got my hands back, I never recovered my ability to stand on my own two feet for any length of time.
I looked at the clock again. Two more minutes until 2012. This is supposed to be the year of the End of Days; this the prediction of the now extinct Mayan civilization and Nostradamus, also quite extinct. I had nothing in comon with either, save that my extinction had been predicted in the most dire of terms, yet I was here still. The result being that I was unfazed by the doomsayers. My existence was clear proof that predictions of doom were often fallacious. Of course, there was that guy Harold Camping, the false prophet who predicted doom in 1994, and then again in May of 2011. While this has been a year of astounding natural disasters, like me, the human race and its polluted world go on. For all of the predictions of doom and apocalypse, the universe has had other plans.
In spite of all of this, some small thing inside me still withers and fears my own demise. But like so many people for so many of their own reasons, this new year is like a new beginning. It’s another opportunity to outlive the predictions of catastrophe. It is fed by my declining health and abilities, but the other part of me is stronger. I have every intention of writing a new chapter in January of 2013, looking back with unabashed amusement at the predictions of extinction. I may well be gone by then, but then the same is true for all of us. No matter whether it’s instructions for a generator or instructions to prepare for the end of time, not all information is correct.
So I greet the new year with a sense of hopeful excitement and a list of things to try to make better this year. It’s not a personal thing, everyone is invited. So let’s get to work.