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The Optimist at the End of the Tunnel [Stay at Home Nerd]

I sat in a brown, pleather medical chair staring at a poster for chronic sinusitis when the doctor came in. He was nearing seventy with white hair and a build and complexion that suggested regular exercise on the golf course. He tipped my head back, had a peek up my nose and before I knew it blasted me with Afrin, a steroid. For the first time in months, maybe years, I inhaled through both nostrils for as long as I possibly could until I slowly let that sweet air go. I thought I was cured. I thought I was in heaven.

“Surgery,” said the Doctor. He said other things, but that’s what stuck. He ordered a CT scan. I took it. I came back to see him, but he wasn’t there. Golfing I guess. His son, the surgeon, saw me. From the son’s looks and demeanor I’m sure he could’ve been anything, an astronaut, a Senator, a successful businessman. It comforted me that he followed in his father’s footsteps. My sinuses were almost entirely blocked and my septum was deviated he told me. He showed me the pictures and presented me with my options. Surgery.

Have you ever wondered if the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train? I have. That’s how I originally started this piece. I thought it was clever. It’s something I use to say to myself before I met my wife, before I had a kid. It had a lot to do with my father constantly pulling the rug out from under me. The last time he did it to me I was in college at the University of Minnesota. He told me he was paying my tuition, room, and board. With a couple weeks left in the quarter, I found out he didn’t. That was the end of my stay in the Twin Cities and that was the last time I talked to my father.

I’ve had this breathing problem for so long now that I can’t remember what it’s like to not cough, to sleep through the night, to live without the obstruction of both nostrils, recurring sinus infections, drainage down the back of my throat, tenderness around my cheeks, aching in my jaw, chronic fatigue, and nausea. In preparation for surgery I’ve taken two shots of Afrin, two courses of steroids, used nasal sprays, performed nasal washes, swallowed daily allergy pills, and taken Mucinex twice daily for months now. The side effects of all the treatments are eerily like the symptoms of the problem. I can’t wait to have surgery. Finally, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

And there’s the rub. As much as I want to believe the doctors and family and friends that have had the procedure and reported on how it changed their lives I remain unconvinced and scared. I’m a little scared to be put to sleep from this good life I have going, but more than that I’m fearful that nothing will change. I’ll have the surgery and after the recovery period I’ll still be coughing, having trouble breathing, and be tired all the time. The polyps will be gone, but I’ll be exactly the same. What then?

The oncoming train is a bit of melodrama I invented as a kid to prevent my hopes from ever getting so high that my father would crush them. Lowered expectations do not bring the wrath of the petty, but despite my attempts to shed his shadow he manages to linger. Whatever happens my life will be broken into halves – before surgery and after surgery. Since surgery is imminent I can think of only one thing to do and that is to change the dynamic of the question. What if the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train? The implication is that my hopes or dreams will be crushed. This assumes that I am small, that I am weak, that I cannot stand up to a train.

Sterling Sharpe is the greatest wide receiver ever. He could catch like Chris Carter, run routes like Jerry Rice, get deep like Randy Moss, and run over people like a freight train. In 1992 he led the Green Bay Packers and the NFL in receptions (108), yards (1461), and touchdowns (13) – a feat only Rice and Steve Smith have also managed in the modern era. In his most famous Nike commercial Sterling catches a pass and runs over a defender. Dennis Hopper, playing Stanley, a crazed NFL ref, goes over to the fallen guy and shouts, “Choo choo, baby.”

When I go under that’s what I’ll be thinking about. I’ll be thinking that the light at the end of the tunnel may very well be a train. But, I can be a train too. And as that light gets closer I’ll say, “You’re not a fucking train. I’m a fucking train.” Choo choo, baby.

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featured image credit: jugbo