The dictator wanted to survive the operation. The surgeon wants to see her children againby Michel Faber / August 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
Rumours that the dictator was ill were unfounded. He’d never been fitter. Nevertheless, the dictator considered it wise, from time to time, to confirm the robustness of his health by having X-rays made of his chest. On this occasion when the great man asked if the X-rays showed anything unusual, his personal physician hesitated to reply.
“You have a big heart,” said the physician at last.
“I know that,” smiled the dictator. “But how big?”
They stood in the dictator’s office. The physician hugged the folder of X-rays unhappily to his breast.
“Bigger than…” he stuttered. “Bigger than is perhaps totally consistent with… with the size of heart that one might expect in a person who was… ah… in a state of health consistent with… sustained…”
The dictator sighed, impatient with this mealy-mouthedness. Sometimes it fell to a leader to rescue people from their own timidity.
“Bigger than is good for me, you mean?”
“I’ve often thought so,” the dictator smiled. “But this big heart of mine: how much of a danger is it?”
“Danger?” The physician was perspiring in a manner that the dictator found, frankly, irritating.
“Friend, we have known each other a long time,” he cautioned. “Can we not speak freely?”
The physician gulped. He and the dictator had known each other for 23 months. Was this long? It was ten times longer than some people lasted before falling out of favour. On the other hand, knowing the dictator for a long time didn’t seem such a good idea, as his oldest friends and relatives were mostly dead.
“It appears from the X-rays that you… that your heart… that you have cardiac myxoma.”
There, it was said. The physician waited for consequences, blinking behind his foggy glasses.
“Is that a cancer?” said the dictator.
“Yes, it’s a cancer,” said the physician.
“Cancers can go away by themselves, can’t they?” The dictator sounded unconvinced; the notion went against everything he knew about politics.
“Not this one.”
“Deadly, is it?” said the dictator, as if confirming the strength of his enemy.
“Well, actually, the myxoma itself is benign. But what it does to the heart is… ah…”
The dictator turned and walked to the window. He peered out, hands clasped behind his back.
“A cancer can be cut out,” he said.
“There are cancers of all sorts,” squirmed the physician. “Some can simply be cut…