Ted Duggart used to scoff at his Taiwanese mother-in-law when she told him to always drink hot water, carry an umbrella, and stay away from graveyards. But he has a hard time scoffing now, due to a vicious throat cancer that has wreaked havoc on his vocal chords.
“She was right all along,” the 36 year-old English teacher conceded in a barely audible whisper on Monday.
“You don’t see him arrogantly ordering ice water anymore,” smirks Mrs. Lin, his 65-year old mother-in-law and Chinese medicine expert. Duggart, a former garden variety atheist and skeptic, now receives his nutrients and hydration entirely via IV, thanks to a myriad of rare and incurable stomach and intestinal cancers that have completely disabled his digestive system.
To make matters worse for the prematurely dying young man, a chorus of angry ghosts call for his death to be gruesome and painful during late night hours, depriving him of much-needed rest. Mrs. Lin, a lifelong qigong practitioner and spiritual adviser, is unsympathetic. “I told him again and again that his weekly hike through mountain graveyards was an astrological disaster. Where’s his science, now?” she asks with considerable relish.
Duggart, who had nearly lost all of his hair from repeated acid rain exposure long before he began chemotherapy treatments, blames himself entirely for his situation. “I stopped carrying umbrellas because I lost them all the time and figured, what the hell, save a little money, get a little wet. No big deal, right?”
“Wrong,” says Dr. Wang, Duggart’s physician, eliciting a barely concealed snicker from Mrs. Lin. Dr. Wang, a foremost expert on brain tumors, explains that he’s never seen so many growing at once, and so quickly. “It won’t be long for Mr. Duggart, unless the ghosts prevent his soul from passing into the afterlife, binding him to an excruciatingly painful husk of his former self.”
Lin Yu-Tzu, Duggart’s soon-to-be widow, is not impressed by her mother’s admonishments to visit the temple and burn incense to help quicken and ease his passing. “He doesn’t believe in that stuff anyway,” she explains.
“And besides, I need to beat the 112th level of Candy Crush.”