January 2023

Cordelia and My Ears

Michael Bettencourt | Scene4 Magazine

Michael Bettencourt

On the same day – November 8, 2022 – I learned two things.

The Marvelous María Beatriz and I found out from the vet that our dear Cordelia, 13 years of cat age, may have lymphoma in her liver and intestines. The possibility arose from an ultrasound we had done because of an elevated white blood cell count in her blood work (of lymphocytes). The ultrasound showed an enlarged liver and some kind of degradation of the intestines, so they used a needle to pull out some of the liver cells for analysis.

So, we don't know yet if she does have lymphoma – he also said it could be a hepatitis, and there are some other possibilities if it isn't that.

The vet, Anthony Sprague, explained that this is not an uncommon cancer in older cats, yet he couldn't really explain how it would come about – it's not something Cordelia would have caught from something or somewhere. It just seems to happen, perhaps from cells buried away from her birth and only now finding the conditions ripe to bloom.

María Beatriz was next door with Alane speaking about Alane's court case against her grandson for assault. (Another story for another time.) So, I was by myself in speaking to Dr. Sprague on the phone. There was a moment, after getting off the phone with him, when such a sadness welled up inside me that I could do nothing but weep. Not a mild sadness but one that, for a moment, hollowed me out and made me feel that not only was I crying for Cordelia but for things that I should have cried about but didn't and for the suffering of everything everywhere. For a moment, I was not sure I could stop, and for that same moment, I was not sure that I wanted to stop.

Grief – the thing that rips away all armor and turns the body into nothing more than a bare nerve ending. Why would evolution ever select for such a thing?

And while I was hearing the echoes of my own mortality through Cordelia, I was also hearing my own ears through my audiology appointment to discuss techno ways to alleviate my "severe hearing loss," as my doctor described it. Had a lovely chat with the lovely Isabella (who goes by Bella) about the $6,000 I can spend to pop two computer-chipped lozenges in my ears to make the world aurally brighter.

I do have to say that the demo was exciting – the world did become sonically brighter, as if a muffle had been lifted off, and I think my brain was genuinely shocked by what it had not been hearing. The audiology exam I had taken a week earlier was also revelatory in the way it limned experiences I was not having – tones that existed in theory but that my apparatus could not catch anymore (if, indeed, it ever caught them – during the exam, I realized I have no baseline memory of what my hearing was like 50 years ago, and so, I might have always been this way, which led me to think that I have no baseline memories of many things done and said 50 years ago – they have dissolved in the same way I am dissolving). Whole worlds just out of reach – how thin a thing is life, mostly a cloud of half-perceived brain firings sloppily assigned meanings that help us stumble along in self-delusion that we understand what is going on.

Does Cordelia worry about any of this, is worried by any of this? I hope not. Even with my bad hearing, I hear the wing'd chariot loud and clear – it may bring wisdom, but it brings much more suffering, high and low, and it seems a mean thing that during our short ground times, we have to manage so much that ends up meaning so little. Even if she does have the cancer, she is not burdened by a disgust of her coming absence, which leaves her free to enjoy fully what we can do to ease her pain and passing.

(Happy update: Cordelia is cancer free. All things said above remain the same.)


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Michael Bettencourt is an essayist and a playwright.
He writes a monthly column and is
a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
Continued thanks to his "prime mate"
and wife, María-Beatriz.
For more of his columns, articles, and media,
check the Archives.

©2023 Michael Bettencourt
©2023 Publication Scene4 Magazine




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