October 9, 2015
You know you’re in trouble when two doctors, a nurse and an intern clad in catcher’s paraphernalia stand behind your prone body and cluck their tongues as they look at a live x-ray of your back and talk needle insertion points.
“Do you think a three inch will do?” “No, better make it five.” I’m okay with three! “Did the patient say something?”
“Okay, look at all that damage. If we insert there, it might work. I don’t like to go too high up—the spinal chord, you know.” What? What about my spinal chord? “Okay, his back is numb. See, if I prick here—” Ahhhhh!
You know you’re in trouble when the doctors state what you already know: you have an unlimited capacity for anesthetic and no amount will work.
“Okay, Gene, we fish that needle into your spine and inject fluid. And then we tilt your procedure table down, which is why we bound your feet and anchored them because you’ll dangle upside down, the bound feet will keep you from falling, and don’t forget to keep that chin up!” I thought the needle was in. “Well, it was, but it didn’t fit because your spine is quite rigid. So we’re going in in a higher spot.” Nooooo!
“The dye might cause an allergic reaction.” Nooooo!” So keep that chin tilted up to prevent a violent headache.” Nooooo! Why are you people wearing catcher’s gear? “This is the latest in x-ray protection—you’re getting nuked, Gene.” “Fried.” “Slow cooked.”
You know you’re in trouble when the intern who looks to be in the fifth grade and who adjusts her head scarf, reveals what you thought were innocent eyes but now look crazed and the Chinese doctor jokes about air pollution in Beijing and the other doctor’s shoes—you never see his face—cost more than your house.
“Okay, second insertion.” Ahhhhh! “Where did you feel that?” In my back, where you knifed me. “He’s not supposed to feel anything.” Ahhhhh! “Five inch needle in—” “Careful, careful, not too deep . . . okay, now twist the needle around that lower edge of bone and thrust upward.” “Got him!”
You people need to have all this of this steel contraption padded, my arms are going to sleep. “You’re an engineer, right Gene?” I’m a writer.
You know you’re in trouble when the doctors, nurse and intern back away and whisper, “He’s a writer.” “Lay down. Gene, lay down, you’re flopping like a catfish.” “I wish I was fishing today!” It’s lie down, doc, you lie down.
“What do you write, sir?” Fiction, essays, journalism. “Well, you certainly have a story today!” “Dye in, doctor?” “Dye in, doctor.” “Okay, Gene, you might feel head—” I have a terrible headache! My right eye is popping out! My Donald Trump empathy switch is kicking in—helllllp!
“Uh-huh. Oh, beautiful, we see you in living color, Gene. Keep that chin up—don’t get dye in your skull. Flex your stomach muscles, can you do that?” I’m going to fart!
You know you’re in trouble when the intern covers her nose, the doctors talk about you as if they were at your funeral and the nurse tries to distract you with tales of his misspent youth, when the door to the room opens and you see multiple pairs of tennis-shoed feet, the youthy would-be docs all shinyfaced: “Whisper, whisper, whisper . . . oh, he is a writer!”
“Okay, nurse, pull out that needle! Ready, Gene—” Noooo! “Onetwothree. See? You didn’t feel a thing!” Ahhhhh. “Where do you feel that?”
You know you’re in trouble when you start to mutter to yourself and sing Cindy Lauper’s “True Colors” and when asked for your date of birth you say, Ga-ga goo-ga, and the Chinese doctor taps your tailbone and you say she has to marry you if she goes any further . . . and she marries you, and the other doctor is the best man and the male nurse the flower girl, and the scarfed intern is the imam: “Who put the “im” in the imam-im-am-mam!”
Farmer Orville, along for the ride, says, “You look like shit.”
“Oh no, the Chinese doc says, “he is so beautiful.”
Everything is beautiful.
Many thanks to the sober men and women of Barnes Jewish Hospital except to the CAT scan third doc who refused to massage my aching shoulder. Thanks to nurse Carol who listened outside the restroom door while I peed dye and piss and sweat and apple juice, and said “Beautiful!” And to that grizzled farmer friend who told my docs that in payment for the ride, he will have me deal with the skunk he trapped in the barn last night.
Everything is beautiful. In its own way.