Hair/2 (Letting Go/2)
by Mark Chmiel
The following is from The Book of Mev….
The next day we met with Dr. Friedberg, who recommended we see a couple of neurosurgeons to see what could be done about the brain tumor Mev evidently did have. The second one we saw, Dr. Robert Fink, shared the various options, and we decided that Mev should undergo a de-bulking surgery as soon as possible. We came to this decision on a Tuesday and the surgery was scheduled for three days later. Family began to arrive day after day to offer their support and love. Friends from the Jesuit School of Theology held an all-night prayer vigil for Mev the evening before her surgery, while at our apartment, Steve Kelly presided at a liturgy with much appreciated grace and calm. One of our friends, who wasn’t religious at all, came, and said to us afterward, “If all Masses or services were like this one, I could see why people would wanna go, even I was moved.”
That April Friday morning, Mev and I, her parents, her sisters, our friends in Berkeley and a few from St. Louis all arose at the early hour of 5 a.m. to make our way to the Alta Bates Hospital at the corner of Ashby and Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. After checking in at the hospital, we prepared ourselves for a long, uncertain morning. One of the necessary preludes to the surgery was the shaving of Mev’s hair. Soon after that, she would be taken away for the surgery. I wanted to be with her as long as possible, so I stayed in an adjoining room as the nurse kindly and soothingly prepared Mev for a haircut unlike any other she had had. One of the hospital staff told me the previous day that nurses were quite sensitive and skilled in this part of their job, since many women about to have Mev’s kind of surgery would go to pieces at the thought of losing their hair. Mev appeared quite steady as I gave her a kiss before leaving her with the nurse for the few minutes it would take to cut off her hair.
A few minutes later, I entered the room where the damage had been done. Even as I expected Mev to be full of dread — in a short time, her skull would be opened, and Dr. Fink would literally have her brain in his hands — I was wondering how I would respond to her shorn of her loveliness. And when I came into the room and saw her, I gushed:
“Mevvie, you look so beautiful.”
“Really, Marko?” she asked with hesitation and doubt.
“Oh yes! Let me feel.” I ran my hands over her smooth, buzzed scalp, and stepped back again to consider.
“Let me see what I look like.”
I thought: She looked gorgeous. Nothing had changed in an hour. She still radiated (oh, poor word choice given the weeks ahead) beauty. “Look, there’s a mirror.”
It was a small square of a mirror, and Mev went up to it.
I braced myself as I asked her, “Well?”
With her back turned to me, I could hear a giggle. No tears, no outbursts, no screams. She enjoyed a hearty chuckle at the sight of her new hair-style.
In a few minutes, she was taken away. Hearing earlier in the week that there was a 3% chance she might not make it back from the operating table, she suggested that we had to be ready to say our farewells when she left for surgery. We did.
The next time I saw Mev, about eight hours later, her head was wrapped in bandages.
We all beat the 3%. And I say “we” because there were many people at the hospital and, as I later found out, people in remote places in El Salvador, Brazil, and Haiti, as well as people in cities in Europe, and people coast to coast praying for Mev’s well-being.