Shock Treatment

I am currently absorbed in a most captivating project.  Its successful  implementation entails two requirements: first, there can be no chance of the failure to achieve its objective; and second, it must be relatively quick and painless.

But, allow me to take a step back. The listener may ask about the motivations underlying my decision.    Here, again, the answer is twofold: I noticed the first problem a few years ago, when, after a lifetime of being an extension of myself, my body rebelled against me.   After months of consultations with doctors (don’t get me started on the subject of doctors, but if I’d performed in my job the way they routinely did in theirs, I’d have been fired a long time ago, and, as a result, I needed to become proficient in performing my own diagnoses), I deduced that the proximate cause was an incurable illness. It seems I have inherited a condition known as “anti-phospholipid syndrome” (or APS). The net effect was series of small stokes I had been experiencing for many years and which displayed Alzheimer-like symptoms (i.e., I could remember things from my childhood but couldn’t remember what happened yesterday). The “big one” happened in 2007and so, even though I was physically alive then, the “oughts” (i.e., the post millennial period) has been largely lost to me. A disorder of the blood supply created blood clots on my heart, which later lodged in my brain, so I now take a prescribed daily blood thinner to prevent further strokes. I also experience certain side effects, chief among them being uncontrolled itching in all parts of the body, which naturally induces scratching, which itself results in bleeding. Beyond the embarrassment of constantly needing to worry about getting blood on my clothes and sheets, there is the concern for the possibility of unstoppable bleeding. Since there is no cure for APS, my situation will never improve. As if this condition wasn’t bad enough, it leaves me vulnerable to sudden seizures, whereby I lose control of my faculties and become immersed in a “fog”, causing further brain damage. The doctors’ solution: proscribing yet another medication.

Even though the cause of the problem is the APS itself, doctors have prescribed topical applications, which seem effective for a short time, but which suddenly, without warning, stop working, displaying a phenomenon I have dubbed “the moving target”, whereby the continued success of any particular cure turns out to be unpredictably temporary. In fact, the itching itself is a moving target, since the location of any particular outbreak changes randomly, so that my resolution to ensure the permanence of any particular equilibrium through the concentrated effort of “mind over matter” is continuously undermined by episodes of “falling off the wagon.” Other manifestations of APS include debilitating headaches, lengthy periods of fatigue, and a clogging of the throat by copious amounts of thick phlegm, requiring extended episodes of expectoration.

The second reason for taking these steps is my hunch that that the society at large views me as insignificant, which, try as I might, I am unable to accept.   To others, I might be just another human being, one in a cast of billions, but to myself, I’m special.  You see, I’m me.

But I digress.   I began the evaluation process to consider the pros and cons of all the possible methods to determine which one best fulfilled the two necessary criteria. Before I began in earnest, though, I reflected on how much simpler it would be if I could just go to bed one evening and not wake up the next morning. In fact, initially, I used to do just that, hoping that a heart attack in the middle of the night would take care of the problem, but it never happened. It eventually dawned on me that I was in too good physical condition for such a wish to ever be granted.   My response to this insight was to abruptly discontinue all forms of exercise in order to facilitate the weakening of my body.

As I proceeded with my analysis, though, I was able to rule out some methods fairly easily. For instance, if I were to ingest an overdose of some substance that was readily available, like aspirin, my body would probably simply reject it, so that   I would be afflicted with a bout of severe vomiting, but I would survive. This logic led me to the strategy of “upping the ante” and simply employing a stronger medication, like some sort of narcotic for this purpose. The flaw in this modification was that its implementation required a doctor’s prescription, and my asking for one might well raise a few eyebrows.

Of course, the ”elephant in the room” was the method which would unambiguously satisfy both requirements and instantly get the job done by firing a gun of sufficient caliber upward into the roof of my mouth. Unfortunately, despite its advantages, I had to rule this approach out for at least two reasons: First, it was not such an easy matter for a law-abiding person, like myself, to acquire a permit for a gun, and even if I could, there would be a lengthy waiting period before I could get my hands on it.   But beyond that, I could inadvertently wind up injuring my innocent upstairs neighbor on the seventeenth floor of my building.

It was then that it hit me: the solution was staring me right in the face, “hiding in plain sight”, but I had failed to see it. Its origin derived from the coincidence that my apartment is located on the sixteenth floor of my building.   All I would need to do, I reasoned, was to open my living room window, remove the inside screen and jump out, head first. But couldn’t my actions injure an innocent pedestrian? The answer to this dilemma was to execute the plan at a time when the street below my apartment would be empty, say at 4AM. This strategy would definitely meet the certainty requirement, but, although it might be quick, it would assuredly not be painless. On the other hand, while the impact might really smart, it would be of brief duration — certainly no more than a fraction of a second. Still, it would require me to consciously pass through the “point of no return”, and I wasn’t sure that I possessed a sufficient degree of gumption to pull it off.

I appeared to be stymied, but, then, a few weeks later, a fresh idea came to me: One morning, I was endeavoring to free a piece of toast from the toaster oven by applying a metal knife to the interior of the recalcitrant appliance, and I received a mild electric shock for my troubles. As I reflected on this annoying experience, I realized that if I could just pull together the right ingredients, I might be able to implement my old plan, this time by “giving myself the chair”, or electrocuting myself. This modification to its predecessor plan would satisfactorily fulfill both requirements, possibly even more effectively, since the jolt from the current might well render me unconscious.

Accordingly, on the day I anticipated would be my final one on earth, I first filled the bathtub to the brim with lukewarm water. I knew that, ideally, I needed to enlist the services of some electrical appliance that was well grounded, in the sense that it plugged into an outlet in the wall. In fact, I had read somewhere that in such circumstances, the interaction of the “live” appliance with water would blow out the circuit breakers and leave the whole apartment in total darkness (as well as frying the life out of anyone who got in the way).

Unfortunately, there was no such outlet in close proximity to the tub, so I needed to make a slight modification to the plan. I thought that if I could just substitute a switched on portable appliance, like my electric razor, this combination would have the same effect (even though it was not “plugged in”), permitting me to finally declare “mission accomplished” (if only I could speak).

I retrieved my razor, submerged myself in the tub, switched it on, said a quick good-bye to the world, and dropped the buzzing appliance into the water.   As it turned out, though, the only shock I received that day, as I listened to the slightly altered buzzing sound, was the realization, which slowly settled in, that my carefully thought-out plan had failed. I later realized, upon reflection, that maybe that slight modification I had made at the end had not really been so slight after all.

I remember that my first conscious feeling afterward had not been that of disappointment, but rather of relief.   My second sentiment was of gratitude and warmth, not especially toward those who had treated me well, but toward those who hadn’t.  And in the days that followed, my perspective on the incident was not that those who felt positively toward me would have been upset, but rather those who had disliked me, especially without cause, would have been secretly pleased.

I guess in retrospect I’ve come around to the view committing that this act is in poor taste and not to be undertaken lightly. The philosophers say that the meaning of life is to be tested, so I am glad to be doing my part. At the end of the day, though, I realize that even life itself is one big, elaborate moving target: just when you think you’ve landed in a set of circumstances that you feel you can live with, everything changes again, and before you know it, you’re right back to square one.