Shattered Pride

Shannon sat in the back seat grumbling under his breath, indignant for this latest round of family-sponsored molly-coddling.  His leg, swollen and bruised rested uncomfortably on the backseat.  Each bump along the roadside — already mottled with winter-forced cracks and potholes — triggered another painful diatribe on why doctors suck and how his body is in fact invulnerable.  I smiled.  Mom simply tutted at each whispered curse, replenishing her rebuttals for the next explosion of rhetoric . . .

“I haven’t broken anything!  It’s just a sprain.  Throw a little ice on it and it’ll be fine in a day or two.  Drown out the pain with work and alcohol.  A doctor’s office and a sober mind . . . just like health insurance: ain’t worth a damn thing.” Continue reading

Dial a Doctor: The Finale

I have been asked if Nancy the doctor/nurse ever got in touch with Dad.  The answer remains shrouded in mystery as Dad eventually talked to someone at the hospital, but cannot remember whom.  Considering that she called twice at the house and Dad’s surgery has come and gone, I will assume that she has descended on other patients now.  Yet still, not satisfied with an incomplete story, I offer you the following suggestion of the events pertaining to the morning of April 26th:

“Mike, you have a telephone call on line one,” Dad’s secretary buzzed over the intercom. “A nurse or doctor from the hospital concerning Monday’s surgery. Hurry, she sounds impatient.”

Dad pealed his eyes from the conference table, where blueprints lay unfolded like a buccaneer’s treasure map. Terri sounded worried . . . no scared. Terri who dealt daily with men the size of Mack trucks. Terri who shrugged off the daily phone complaints and ravings of contractors, customers, and crazies. Bulldog Terri who office rumor speculated with rather inspired imagination had bitten an angry pit bull that dared to growl while crossing her path. Terri who . . . ah, but Dad had wasted enough time on analysis. The phone itself would solve this puzzle.

“Yes, how may I help you?” he spoke brusquely, a man of business whose time was counted not by dollars or cents but by percentages.

“Am I speaking to Mike, who on April 28, this Monday, will undergo surgery at the hospital?”

“Yes, I’m having a filter removed with Dr. Wein . . .”

“Sir, do you know that I called twice before now?” The voice sounded accusatory now, like a television cop or the school principal who finally catches Ferris Bueller skipping school.

“Uh, yes ma’am, I do,” Dad said, somewhat taken aback. “I talked to Karen at the hospital earlier and she told . . .”

“Sir, Karen is a cow. She should have directed you to me, to Nancy. But due to mass incompetence, we must have this conversation today. Merely hours before your operation.”

“Um, ma’am the operation is Monday. A day and half away . . .”

“Do not take any prescription drugs twelve hours before the operation . . .” Her voice drills into Dad’s ear with a list of instructions both dietary and practical. After some time, he tries – in vain – to halt her soliloquy.

“Yes, I heard all this from Karen, ma’am.”

“Karen does not have the proper information. Now do you know that as a diabetic, you should not . . .”

“Eat or drink anything twelve hours before the operation. Go to bed early and be ready to remain home from the rest of the day due to the local anesthesia. Yes, we’ve been over this before ma’am.”

“Also do not take aspirin either . . .”

“I do not take aspirin. My doctor has forbidden me to use it, something about the diabetes . . .”

“Good, but I had to mention it.” Again her words cut through Dad’s normally charming dialogue, like a goat crushing old tin cans. “Hospital policy and all. Heaven knows how many idiots breed in this world. My job ironically is to make them better, healthy, and whole so they can continue breeding. How asinine is that, I ask you?”

“Um . . . are we done here?”

“Yes,” she sighs, mumbling something which Dad cannot hear, but which sounded faintly like “stupid breeders.” He nonetheless decides on courtesy, issues a polite goodbye before returning to his prints. Nancy, true to form, desires no such chivalry.

“Well, hon, thank you for calling. Have a great . . .”


“ . . . day.”

Dial a Doctor: Part 2

Nancy’s voice sounded petulant and angry this time, like a small child who found another occupying her favorite seat. My Mom had answered the phone this time, while I spent my day off sitting at overly small desks during Grandparents and Special Friends at Kevin’s school (Essentially I followed my little brother through his normal morning routine, listening to lessons in class, evaluating his progress, and introducing myself to his cute single teachers — and unsuccessfully concealing my innate aura of desperation.).

Again the phone rang during lunch. “Hello,” Mom said.

“Yes, I am calling from the hospital. Is your husband available?” Mom answered no, that he was still at work but would be home at . . .

“I asked him to call me yesterday before four. I made that clear. Yet he did not call me. Now I have to call again today.”

Mom of course has no response for this obvious fact. She informs Nancy that we had called Dad concerning the message and gave him her phone number. To Mom’s knowledge, Dad had indeed talked to someone at the hospital. Who, she could not be sure, but he was aware of his medical restrictions before the surgery.

“Hmph . . . well, he did not talk to me. Be sure that he calls me before four this afternoon.”

“Oh, well, alright. Good . . .”


” . . . bye.”

Dial a Doctor

The phone rang sometime during lunch, immediately after I had taken my first bite of a delicious egg and mustard sandwich. My mouth now full of egg, ham, and bread, I answer with garbled “Hewoo?”

The voice on the other end sounded stern, impatient, and quick like a German headmistress or someone who used words like “fiddle faddle.”  She was calling from the hospital.  “Is your father available?”

I choked down the bolus of chewed bread and protein, coughing out a semi-audible “No, no he isn’t.  May I . . .” before she interrupts.

“Can I leave a number?”

“Sure,” I say grabbing at a floret of pencils which in my haste spill out onto the floor (I may have cursed.).  An audible impatience sighs across the line.  I grab at an old notebook.  “Whenever you’re ready . . .”

Nancy — that I learn is her name — hurriedly fires off ten numbers and informs me that she will be “here” (I assume an office at the hospital) until four.

“Oh,” I stammer, “May I ask what this call is regarding.”  Now I think this a prudent question; although I know that Dad is scheduled for some minor surgery this Monday.  In fact, he asked me to drive him to and from the hospital.  However, I also realize that the time of his appointed surgery may been moved in the past, so knowing that this message concerned Monday’s visit — as oppose to the surgery several weeks ago — would be important.

“I am calling from the hospital,” she answers, stressing the word hospital as if it was sufficient explanation for anyone.

“Oh, ok . . .” I burble, wondering if I had inadvertently attempted to violate some patient/doctor confidentiality  and got caught in the process.  “Thank . . .”


“. . . you.”


This weekend found Katie, Mom, and I spending most of our days at the hospital, while Dad underwent some basic (stressful, agonizing, fearful) surgery on his stomach. Thankfully all went well; although the surgery had its share of hiccups. Nevertheless, Dad should be arriving home shortly, well and anatomically whole. Yet his suffering paled in comparison with mine own. My adventures with the girls over the weekend nearly drove me crazy:

“Architecture: modern. Building: hospital,” Katie noted officially to me as I scribbled away in my notebook. “Population: sickly. Do you want me to do any more research for you, Murph?”

“Yeah, what do you think about that wall over there?” I pointed to a white space adjacent to the hospital entrance, totally devoid of all decoration but a wooden bench and the motionless form of an old nun dressed in faded civilian clothing.

“Hmmm . . . too plain. It needs some décor. A mural maybe, with bright colors, happy families, and smiling faces . . . and a moose.”

“Wait, a moose?”

“All murals need moose-i.” (moose-i: being the often unacknowledged plural form of meese, the rarely recalled collective noun form of moose; i.e. I saw a National Geographic special the other day featuring several thousand moose-i crossing the river from Canadia.)

“What’s he writing this time?” my mother asked, alternating her attention between Katie’s descriptions and the well-dressed gentleman sitting across from us, shouting meaningless words like “values oriented approach” and “the paradigms considering the structural integrity graphs would be nice” into his Bluetooth earpiece. “I think he was a metrosexual,” she would comment later, taking in the gentleman’s matching plaid socks, beige loafers, and finely pressed suit the color of martini-soaked olives.

“I don’t know, Mom. I can’t read his handwriting,” Katie giggled, her good-spirits immersing the hospital waiting room with mirth, the same way the odor of wildflowers drown out the ghosts of winter on a warm March morning. My sister possesses that rare laugh, a gentle honest humor devoid of deception or anxiety but strong and wonderful. The sound of pure joy. She also happens to be incredibly nosy and may haphazardly read aloud my unpolished notes concerning the aforementioned Mr. Bluetooth, unaware of my ready ear and eye. Thus, if my critique of my sister’s curiosity sounds a bit hypocritical, it probably is.

“Are you taking notes or signing off on a prescription?”

I smile at the semi-legible scrawl spiraling from my pen tip: long cursive l’s resembling undotted i’s or uncrossed t’s. Doctor’s scribble, quick and illegible. The sole blight on my elementary school record for poor penmanship made essay-writing drudgery and almost stymied my accession into third grade. Apparently my skills at math and reading could not convince Miss Drumm to ignore the similarity between my cursive lowercase y’s, p’s, q’s, g’s and j’s. Reading “Mary jumped her rope” or “Ben gimped his way home” from my copybook could become a lesson in absurdity or obscenity depending on the interpretation.

Nevertheless, my handwriting did prevent a great deal of in-class cheating as Katie discovered gazing at my notes. Almost anyone who tried failed from spelling errors alone (both real and misinterpreted). I breathed easier and continued to note the other patients and families sitting in the waiting room. To my left a family read from a large leather Bible – the father was a preacher I suspect – until a woman arrived from one of the many pasty-white corridors. The Good Book closed and they promptly left together. Katie, Mom, and I were left more or less alone in the waiting room except for an older woman and her husband, his face motionless and white like a plaster mask. A thin nun grumbled through the rows of chairs, occasionally calling out names and shaking her head with dismay when no response came.

“No one listens. No one hears,” she mumbled as she passed us, and the image of a small droopy cartoon dog flashed across my mind. Katie immediately took an interest in her, commenting that she liked the old girl very much.

“Awww, I like her. She reminds me of the nuns back in high school.”

Now the nuns I remember from grade school sent shivers of fear up my spine. Through my eyes, the nurse churned memories of multiplication tables, factors, and the awful Twack! of thick rulers against open palms. Corporal punishment of course did not survive through the late 20th century, yet the nuns still wielded wooden rulers at all times and exercised that strict icy stare, their eyes windows into damnation’s playground. The fact that the hospital nuns traded in their rulers for syringes did not ease my anxiety one bit.

Soon the time allotted for Dad’s surgery began to ebb, and so with notebook safely stowed in my pack Katie and I kept an eye on the flow of doctors draining from the operating room. Unlike Dad’s surgeon, most doctors (that is, those we recognized adorned in white lab coats) seemed young, early thirty-somethings fit and athletic, ready for the weekend and Saturday morning golf games. Mom and Katie used this time to consider dating ala carte.

“Ooo . . . did you see him, Kate? Oh, now he was quite cute. We should come to the hospital every Friday night.” Katie, of course, had seen him, her eyes shone with delight at each passing white coat. Nevertheless, she denied the shallowness of the exercise, citing that she would not choose her soul mate on the basis of occupation.

“Besides,” she said, “I’m going to be a doctor one day. Dr. Kathleen. Maybe, Dr. Katie to the lil’ kids, but I’m going to make you, Murph, and Pat call me doctor.”

Somehow this seemed just as shallow, but considering that many doctors seek out medicine for money and many scientists I had met seek out research for fame, I decided that her mindset actually improved her chances of amassing several degrees.

Academia . . .

All joking aside, I promised to call her doctor at our every meeting if she managed to gain her degree. Few people I know would have deserved that distinction as much as Katie, far fewer would I feel as honored to call doctor than my sister.

After three hours, the surgeon came out and informed us that the surgery had ended and that Dad was now resting in the recovery ward. We could see him in about two hours while they prepare his room. This prompted a collective sigh among the three of us, and I offered to visit the cafeteria for some much needed refreshments. I asked the girls what they wanted:

“I’ll have a hot green tea,” Mom begins. “No decaf or any of that fruity stuff; although if they don’t have Lipton, then I’ll have just plain tea. Unless of course they have white tea. That has the most anti-oxidants, right? Just get whatever’s the most healthy. With some cream. Or 2% milk if they have it. See if they have any honey, too. I think it was near the jellies. If they’re out, get me some plain sugar, no fake stuff. But they should have honey, I saw it there earlier.”

“Okay, and Kate . . .”

“Oh and be sure to get me a spoon too. For stirring.”

“Sorry, they probably will not have that. You’ll have to use your finger.” I receive the Look for that snide comment, and thus quickly hurry on to my sister’s order. “Katie?”

“Hmmm, just get me something delicious. But not unhealthy.”

Between this intense specificity and paradoxical ambiguity, I manage somehow to pick enough ingredients to satisfy Mom and gather enough general snacks to please Katie. I settle for a water and some salt packets. Then sitting back, I begin to dream as the old nun passes by again, mumbling like an old locomotive. Her mutterings mix with my dreams, dragging me back to the years of nap time, arithmetic, and brown and yellow uniforms.

“No one listens. No one cares. Yes, they’ll listen when I get my ruler again. Oh yes, then they’ll care. Then they’ll hear me . . .”

Twack twack twack