The many manners of misery


In July, 2005, I spent a few days in a coma.  Blood poured out my right ear, and for the longest time the faint smudge of brownish coloring stained Q-tips whenever I cleaned out that ear.   I had a 6″ laceration which spanned the entire crown of my scalp. It became infected.  Pink pus oozed from the wound.  I remember laughing at the irony that I overcame the most improbable odds to survive a terrible car accident. Yet, I could very well succumb to a septic infection.


One of Richard Ramirez’ (the “Night Stalker” ) victims was a 66-year-old man by the name of William Doi.  He was killed when Ramirez broke into his home in Monterey Park, California, on the night of April 15, 1985.  Ramirez raped his wife, Lillian, after shooting the man in the face.  William Doi managed to call police after struggling to reach the phone, but died en route to the hospital. I wondered if Doi was the father or grandfather of a boy I went to school with by that last name.  The victim’s house was within walking distance of the intermediate school we attended together and a mutual friend later told me he thought they were, in fact, related.


Before we met, my ex-wife worked with a pretty and young Asian girl.  I saw photos later of the well-dressed girl at a Karaoke night they spent after work one night.  The girl was struck down by ovarian cancer.  So young, so pretty, so terminally ill.  I thought my wife said the girl had complained of digestive problems in the months preceding her diagnosis.  Once, in the hospital, apparently unable to tolerate the illness’s physical toll, she attempted to kill herself by starvation by ripping out all her IV’s.   Alas, she failed to do what the cancer was able to eventually.


I saw a movie recently which I’d seen once before.  It was a great French movie, “The Vanishing” and it depicted a chilling scene of a man who is buried alive by a serial killer.  He awakens to find himself cocooned in a narrow and claustrophobic coffin-like box.  “Luckily” he has a cigarette lighter which he keeps flicking on so he can get a good idea of just how dire his predicament is.  He yells, pounds and finally, in the face of utter helplessness, degenerates into sheer lunacy.  What an incomprehensibly horrible way to die.  No way to even kill yourself in order to end the suffering.  Especially once the lighter runs out of fluid.


I read an article in New Yorker magazine once about USAirflight 427 which crashed just before landing in Pittsburgh.  What struck me is just how suddenly a routine flight, and what appeared to be a routine landing, turned into a disaster in the span of seconds.  I’m not sure the cause was ever determined but suspicions were strong that the rudder controls failed, sending the plane into a near vertical dive from about 5000-6000 feet in the air.  The article describes as the pilot announces that the plane will be touching down shortly and the sounds of passengers preparing to land are audible.  Overhead compartments closing.  The flight crew light-heartedly looking forward to another finished flight.  Suddenly, the pilot and co-pilot lose control of the plane.  It resists their panicked controls and the pilot’s terrified scream lasts the duration of the tape before the plane slams into the ground at hundreds of miles per hour.   So close…and then dead.


It’s a fact of life that misery obeys no stricture of self-restraint.