Who Put The Bong In The Bong, Shabong, Shabong?
But the world has a way of intruding on philosophical quandry, political pontification, and deadpan stand up comedy. Mrs. Claus has a gallstone stuck in her bile duct. It was giving her the classic colicy pains yesterday morning, a searing agony right below the breastbone, garnished with nausea, and radiating around to the small of the back.
The stone showed up on the ultrasound, so this morning she will be having her gallbladder removed. The good news is, as the surgeon remarked to us, gallbladders don't grow back, so the surgeons can only soak your health insurance company for it once.
If you haven't met many surgeons, they are something special. A British one was once asked by a medical student whether or not he should go into surgery.
His reply: Do you like the feeling of a knife cutting into living flesh?
They are not cocky, but I've never met one that was not absolutely self-assured, not puzzled in the least by symptoms, and completely without a trace of the abstract, fascinated curiosity, which almost always informs a really good plain doctor, about the facts of human variety as they show themselves in the consulting room. As a surgeon said to my father long ago, "Anything wrong in you that's mechanical, I'll fix."
In other careers there are very few equivalents. The one that springs immediately to my mind is that of a Naval Aviator [they are not just "airplane pilots" and they don't mind telling you so], routinely slamming jet fighters down on a tiny, rocking target, with the engines at full throttle, and having only three chances to catch a tripwire, with a hook he cannot see, sticking out of the back of the airplane, in order to stay on the deck of the aircraft carrier.
I've been told by those in the know that you can immediately tell an ex-Naval Aviator flying commercial. They are the ones who always put the plane down only once, with no bounces, on absolutely the first few feet of the incoming runway.
So Mrs. Claus is going into surgery. This is worrisome. We always have to make sure that there are no atropine derivatives [such as scopalomine] given to her. She is allergic to them and would probably die from them quite suddenly. Nor any aspirin, or any other salycilates, to which she is also allergic, with the same symptoms of anaphalactic shock to the pulmonary system. Nor the antibiotic arithromyacin. We also have to make clear the dangers of her triad asthma under anesthetic while on the table. As we sometimes tell our doctors, we take great pride in being medical professionals--professional patients.
As we talk to him, the surgeon acknowledges these clearly, and without any illusions, but also without the slightest wavering of his self-confidence. Anything mechanical, he'll fix. Any problems that occur, he'll handle.
Ordinary chores kept me from being with Mrs. Claus all day in her room. They never end and cannot be neglected, particularly when you are poor and living on the edge, as we do. Miss one and your heat can be abruptly shut off in midwinter, or some other equivalent catastrophe. Both the drive into and the drive out of the hospital was murder: freezing rain on top of slushy snow, in a car I was driving for the first time, which was quite the spiffy new thing back in the first four years of the Reagan Administration.
One of the chores was to see my psychiatrist this evening to keep current on my medication management, and to pick up the regular package of drug samples, on which I depend in order to keep medicating my bipolar condition at all. This also can be worrisome. You really don't want to know how the abrupt, involuntary termination of one of these would make me feel, or what risk it would put me under.
My psychiatrist is a right guy. He very seriously and meaningfully hoped that Mrs. Claus was keeping her spirits up. So I said to him, "Hey, if they shot me up with as much Dilaudid as they're pumping through her, I'd keep my spirits up, too."