Today’s guest post comes from Steve Grooms.
When I was a grad student I developed a hernia low on my tummy. A hernia is like when a body part meant to be an “innie” decides to poke its head outside and live as an “outie,” creating a tender bulge. Hernias need to be repaired, so for the first time in my life I would need surgery.
When I asked for help at the University of Minnesota Hospital, nurses ushered me into the office of the most famous man at the University, heart transplant surgeon John Najarian. Dr. Najarian promised to fix my hernia. That turned out to be the first in a series of lies told me by my doctors. The University Hospital was a “teaching hospital,” I later learned, meaning Dr. Najarian was probably a dozen feet from me during the actual operation, supervising the cutting and stitching done by a team of wannabe surgeons.
My response to the anxiety of surgery was typical for me. I decided to become the perfect patient. I would respect every directive from my doctors, winning the affection of my doctors with my cheerful compliance.
Exactly the opposite response was chosen by my hospital roommate, a man I’ll call Frank Higby. Frank was a stocky, pug-nosed character from northern Minnesota who had a potentially fatal stomach ailment. Frank talked nonstop, stabbing the air with the cigars he chain-smoked. Cigars were perfectly legal in hospitals of the time.
Frank despised doctors. When told he had to fast before taking an enema, Frank sneaked out of the room in the night, roaming dark hallways until he found the kitchen. He returned with several slices of banana pie and a bag sandwiches. When I asked Frank why he had so much contempt for doctors, he replied that he had been a caddy in Rochester, Minnesota, when he was a kid. “I got to know those sonsabitches when they didn’t know someone was watching them. What a scummy bunch of phonies!”
Nurses told Frank and me that we each had to take three exams: a lung x-ray, a heart exam and a proctoscopic exam. Hospitals in those days were compensated based on how many procedures they performed, so they routinely called for as many tests as they could. When the nurses left the room, Frank rolled his eyes in terror. He said he’d suffered a proctoscopy once before. He called it “the worst experience of my life” and vowed he would rather die than have another. This did nothing to ease my own concerns about the next day.
On the day of our exams, nurses led barefoot Frank away in a skimpy blue hospital gown
that didn’t cover his butt. Although he didn’t look quick, Frank shocked them by breaking free and scooting out of sight in that large building. I learned this from a breathless nurse who came to our room looking for him. After she left, Frank dashed in looking like a cartoon mouse running from a cat. Wheezing heavily, Frank grabbed a phone and called the Pinkerton Detective Agency. He begged them to protect his anus by “sending your eight biggest goons down here.”
Minute by minute, it was growing harder for me to act the perfect patient. About then I had a conference with the man who said he’d be my anesthesiologist. My life would literally be in this man’s hands, so I hoped he would like me.
My anesthesiologist turned out to be a cross-eyed Korean with a thick accent. I tried to bond with him by making good eye contact, but that was difficult because his eyes were cattywampus like the headlights of a car after a front end collision. One eye pointed left and one pointed right. I couldn’t tell which eye I should make contact with.
My anesthesiologist wanted to know what kind of drug trip I wanted to take during the operation. That was unsettling. I thought he was the one who should be telling me how I’d travel through lala land. Instead, he described three different drug trips, giving me more detail about each than I knew how to handle.
Desperate now, I said, “Gee, it is amazing that you know so much about all of these forms of anesthesia! I suppose you have experienced them yourself?”
The cross-eyed Korean drew himself up with offended dignity. “I should say not!” he barked. “I am a Man of Science. I would never expose myself to unnecessary risk!”
When has someone said the wrong thing to you?