The Greek word for Sadness
The doctor had called about some news he needed to discuss with her, it was better if she came in he said, better that the news be delivered face to face. A cold shiver went down her spine, she didn’t have the courage to ask for a straight answer and the doctor didn’t have the words, over the phone, to provide one.
She was young, not yet thirty and the headaches she had been experiencing now took on the sort of sinister overtone that stopped her thinking about anything else. The sort that even a late night bell ring, phone call, or knock on the door could not compete with. Suddenly she assumed she looked dishevelled, as if she hadn’t washed for a month, it seemed pointless looking into the mirror, although she did, she was still beautiful but she no longer thought so. The milky smooth skin was still there, the elegant almond shaped eyes stood out, as did the smile that dispatched anger or mistrust within a second of confronting it.
The appointment with her G.P was made, he’d told her to make it as soon as she could, suggested the same day, he’d make room, just nominate a time and he’d be available. She rang her Mother, who railed against the good doctor, wondering what on earth he might be playing at, the daughter tried to calm the mother, as if the roles were reversed, neither of them knowing anything until they sat in the doctor’s rooms. The mother would come too, to find out what was going on.
He ushered them in within a minute of their arrival. “Thank you for coming in at such short notice,” they both nodded, as if to hurry him up, to provide the news so that we can get on with dealing with whatever it is that we will soon have to deal with. “I haven’t seen this before, we’ve picked up a brain tumour.” Time stopped, remarkable, as it seems to be on it’s inexorable march, but stop time did. The doctor continued, “it’s quite a rare tumour but we’ll be guided by the Neurosurgeon.” The daughter slumped back as the mother leaned forward. “When?”
“Does this explain the headaches?” asked the young woman. “Yes, it most likely does,” said the good doctor, moving into his work. “It’s important to gather some people around you. You’ll be in good hands.” The doctor’s remark, as well intentioned as it was, came across as some sort of witty aphorism rather than, as it were, a call to arms, it didn’t soothe her, rather it made her go into herself as well as rise up inside, as if she were about to go over the top in some sort of brave charge into enemy lines.
“As to when, that will be up to the surgeon but I suspect they won’t want to muck around.” “What do we need to know?” asked the mother, as she took on the role of Chief Advocate. “I think, tell your family and friends firstly.” “Is it cancer?” asked the young lady. “We don’t know yet but I should let you know that even if it is benign, we’re not out of the woods.” The mother didn’t know whether to praise him for his honesty or tip his desk on top of him. “Neurosurgery and treatment for brain tumours has advanced a lot in the last few years, we have reason to be confident.” At this point, the experienced doctor yet unfamiliar with this scenario as it was being currently painted by this unwanted event, paused and wondered how much more he should say. He picked up his phone and dialled the Neurosurgeon’s number. “She will talk through your options with you,” he said, holding his hand over the mouthpiece. “She?” “Yes, she is one of the best.”
The daughter sat motionless, tensile arms and frown lines unable to hide her beauty. “I think I’m going to have brain surgery Mama. It’s going to be all right.” She was now comforting her mother, who was sobbing. The appointment was made, the next day, he would fit her in, as he nearly always did, even when the planned break to ski in Japan had been organised, he’d postpone it yet again, so that he could take care of this young lady whose world had been tipped on its axis.
She went back home to her flat, the one she had recently purchased, and attempted to think of words that matched the churning within. At least, she thought, she knew what the headaches were all about, that there was finally an explanation, as some form of wicked ironic relief. Some things we’re better off knowing she thought, although at some point we have to know don’t we, we always have to reach that point, denial is not a successful lifelong meme.
She had studied Greek at school and was searching for a word for this feeling, word search itself was proving difficult, she had suddenly realised that it had been one of her symptoms, without it shouting at her, rather whispering in her ear, listen to me. She remembered studying Aristotle and the art of Rhetoric, that over burdened term thrown around, confetti like and turned into a hackneyed cliche of its intended meaning. She also remembered mentioning, on a previous visit to discuss another matter, this small problem she was having with her speech. He didn’t think too much of it and so she decided to back her hunch and video herself, by way of a sort of therapeutic selfie, so that she might pick up this changed speech pattern herself. It was subtle but it now all made sense, which made her current cerebral state truly ironic because she was now able to think more clearly, with some degree of clarity, to focus her mind. Aristotle, she thought, a stinker of a human being so the legend goes but what a thinker.
That evening was spent scouring the internet for information about the beast and to calling her two closest friends to let them know. She didn’t have a partner and wondered whether it was a blessing or a curse because sometimes they stick around and sometimes they run away. She knew a bit about human behaviour, as did the mother, who would certainly stick around, these folk were made of stern stuff, even the father would contribute in his own peculiar way, staying, for the most part silent, until called upon to make a call, or take a call, or do some reading, or find a second opinion. He would be strong, as the Maori say Kia Kaha. But as for decisions such as asking for a second opinion, that would be left to the mother, if ever it became necessary. She was the one staring ahead looking out for trouble, the Lioness. For now, she would trust and stay alert.
The daughter retreated into her own muse, resolved that being hopeful was more productive than letting fear reign, as convenient as it was to dwell there. She would go ahead, if this is what the Neurosurgeon suggested, and have the surgery and deal with the aftermath. But still she searched for a word to describe this new world, her mother asked her how she felt, the one word that sprang gently forth was relief, that she finally had a semblance of an explanation, if not an answer.
There was some music playing on the radio that didn’t appeal to her, it was too shrill, so she switched to Classic FM and came upon Spiegal Im Spiegal (Mirror in the mirror) by Arvo Part, it was perfect, a direct juxtaposition of the pastiche that had, moments before, jangled her senses. It was then she hit upon the word she was looking for, the Greek word for suffering, an awakening of the required emotion, it was part of the study of Rhetoric but it had slipped her mind. She heard it in her new music, it summarised the emotion of what she had just been through and it soothed her, knowing now she had friends on her side, a family in her corner and good doctors who would do the very best they could. The word she was looking for was Pathos. She had a long journey before her, she didn’t know if she’d be okay but she did know that she was in good hands.