- Rivers and Mountains Without End
The parking lot guard outside the hospital's main gate blew his whistle, bringing the incoming traffic to a halt. There was no separate gate to the mortuary in the back, so the funeral procession was leaving the hospital through the front. After executing a hand salute toward the procession's rear end, the guard let the incoming traffic pass through. I parked my car on the third underground floor and went up to the lobby. The new hospital building had a raw, stinging smell. A few janitors were hunkered down, rubbing stains off the tiled floor.
The hospital was the conglomerate's first general unit, built as it entered the medical industry. The clinics were not divided into specialties such as internal medicine, surgery, or pediatrics but categorized according to diseases specific to a body part or an organ. A sign propped up in the center of the lobby informed which floor one should go to for a particular body part. The Uterus & Breast Examination Room was on the first floor, the Liver Center and Heart Center were on the second, and the Kidney, Lung, Bladder, and Spine Centers were on the third.
A banner outside the Uterus & Breast Examination Room advertised the operation of precision laser medical examination equipment brought in from Germany, and a group of women were sitting on a sofa awaiting their turn. The women, who appeared [End Page 89] to be around the same age, either health club buddies or former schoolmates, cackled as they chattered away. Some knitted. Others were reading a book. The children, having tagged along with their mothers, were blowing gum bubbles between their lips. A woman looking into a hand mirror, trying to fix her lips, scolded a child as he clung to the woman's arm, pushing the child away. I went past the hallway where the women sat in a row and went up to the Cancer Center on the second floor.
I could not remember when my symptoms of faint nausea began whirling inside my body. It was as if they had always been there, but it also felt as though they were not real symptoms but mere shadows or hallucinations of a symptom. I could not tell whether it was near the pit of my stomach or the far end of my intestines or the rim of my throat where the shadows of my nausea were spinning. Late at night after returning home from work, or drinking wine, watching a history drama on TV, on rainy Sunday evenings, they would squirm up from someplace deep inside my body like fog or smoke, but after a while would usually subside and vanish without a trace. When the foggy yet smoky things slithered up toward my throat as though they were about to leak out of my body, I slowly clenched my teeth and pushed them back in. Holding the nausea in, I would let out a yawn, and closing my mouth shut, I would notice that my eyes had watered. My nausea was like a yawn or a burp, for even when I tried to scrape it out my stomach through my gaping mouth, I would vomit nothing. During the executive meetings that continued all afternoon each Monday, holding in a fart made me burp, the end of the burp tinged with a foul smell. If you hold gas in your stomach, it is bound to seep out as a fart or a burp, and my nausea was no different. I thought it was a sort of fart, burp, or yawn. [End Page 90]
The nausea exploded when I visited the dentist to get an implant where a molar had been taken out. Having slit open my gums, the dentist demanded, Ah, Ah, Ah, that I open my mouth wider, as though he were a construction worker in the midst of an excavation project on the bone structure of my lower jaw. Each time I opened my mouth wider, the nausea wormed itself up my throat and through my vocal chords, the pain so excruciating that it felt as if my...