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~ Crossing ~

        Things were beginning to look up early 2018, by which time I had a better understanding of the capabilities of the cooks we had hired in New York. I had simplified and shortened the menu with the back of the house in a better flow and even though business was always up and down, the restaurant appeared to be running relatively smoothly.       

        Being an engineer in the oil field and a firm believer in modern medicine, Abel began to inquire about surgical interventions as a way to minimize the devastation chemotherapy was wrecking on his body. The doctors predicted another long year of chemical treatment but the possibility of a surgery known as the Hipec began to circulate among his doctors. Only used for advanced colorectal cancer, Hipec involved making a small incision in the chest, circulating warm chemicals into the body via tubes and physically cutting or scraping away all visible cancer cells. It seemed simple enough but two surgeons refused to perform the surgery citing overwhelming risks and this should have been our indication to leave it well alone. Cancer patients with ‘chemo brains’ should never be allowed to make big decisions but given that medicine is big business with little conscience, a surgeon quickly emerged who not only agreed to perform the surgery, he touted it a quick final fix to remission for someone he viewed as a strong candidate. I did not have the wherewithal to ask the right questions and desperate for a return to normalcy and determined to beat the cancer with dreams of being back to work with me by that summer in New York, Abel eagerly anticipated the surgery. 

         We scheduled the Hipec for late February and sensing that we could be in un-charted territory, I made plans to stay put in Houston. Ajna also made infrequent short trips to Houston to spend time with Abel, an impromptu father who she had grown to adore and had helped raise her through tough teenage years. Leaving the restaurant in the hands of what she viewed as reliable management to only find out that things were not always good. Staffing in New York, where many restaurant workers often operate as a ‘me first’ society remained a tough challenge. My relationship with Ajna was still fraught with tension as every trip I made to New York I discovered staff refusing to be open to new menu changes, cutting corners with food prep and her desperately just trying to hold everything together. She continually dealt with emerging issues from the building - the dumb waiter through which we hauled food and dishes from the kitchen to the cellar stopped working one busy night, the same night the walk in coolers failed. The emergency repair folks worked through until four am and the next night three cooks called in sick. That weekend Ajna spent almost thirty-six hours straight in that restaurant trying to get it back up and running.             

        The surgery that late February afternoon took over ten hours and the look on the surgeon’s face after he emerged was one I will not easily forget. Defeated and refusing to look me in the eye, he kept apologizing, saying that he tried everything he could but not only was the cancer so deeply rooted in Abel’s body there were also many more large malignant lumps previously undetected. After a few listless days in the recovery room yet determined to not show fear or panic, we brought him home convinced we would find other ways to beat the cancer. What we then discovered was that the surgery had also resulted in a total bowel obstruction, one of the side risks the surgeon had failed to caution us about. My head was still spinning with shock. This surgery that we did not actually need had caused irreversible fatal damage and the surgeon could walk away with ‘I’m sorry’? That’s it? Even in the restaurant business, we had to be more accountable. Is that a hair on your plate, sir? So sorry, dinner is on us! And that too with a smile! Chai not piping hot, ma’am, we’ll make you another cup. Would you like a cookie with that? The list goes on…I angrily stomped into doctor’s offices demanding they find ways to reverse the surgery, remove the obstruction but they just threw their hands up in despair. The next few months we spent more time in the hospital room than home while the doctors tried various treatments but nothing worked. 

            By this time, I was helplessly watching the man I had planned to grow old with wither away in front of my eyes with tubes coming out of his body and all I saw in his eyes was sadness and fear. I was heartbroken, feeling like I had failed him when he was at his most vulnerable. Distracted and distraught, I was making short infrequent trips to New York leaving Abel in the hands of other family while worrying about how many extra meds the nurses were going to pump into him without my watchful eye. Refusing to accept the inevitable reality, I collected an arsenal of books on radical, spontaneous remissions and spiritual interventions and spent every evening on the hospital couch reading him stories well into the night hoping one may create a spark. The stories in Unconditional Life by Deepak Chopra and the Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama were some of his favorites. 

            But this was not my fight, this was Abel’s and he was beginning to lose hope and hated being the burden he now viewed himself as. One dark day early July when the oncologist came in and quietly whispered hospice care in his ears, any light of hope that was left in his eyes vanished. I was shocked at the insensitivity of the doctors, why couldn’t they have brought this up with me first?  Has the medical system in our country not just lost their way, their conscience but even their soul? Was he just another another statistic that they could close the case on and move on? Abel demanded to be taken home and thus began the final journey to cross over. 

            Being a huge believer in alternate forms of energy healing and at the urging of a good friend, I took Abel to meet a renowned reiki (rei ~ soul and ki ~ vital energy) master. Modern day reiki, also very popular in India is adapted from centuries old Japanese traditions and this old healer was known to have magical hands that restored the body’s chakras and channels. She spent several sessions studying Abel’s energy, gently urging him to break all karmic ties with his estranged and deceased father and I realize now that this may have been my final gift to him. By this time, all feeding tubes had been removed and our kids, family and friends had gathered around to say their last good byes. I managed to feed him a small bowl of his favorite saffron rice pudding the August evening before Abel peacefully and almost joyously crossed over just short of his forty third birthday, free from pain, suffering and disease and on to begin a new journey. 

Until next time,