2000 Notebook: Transition X
18 March 2000
Coral Surprise
My doctor discovered a repulsive problem this morning during what should have been an uneventful visit. I asked her to look at my right knee, which has been somewhat painful after long walks. She studied it thoughtfully, probed it with her fingers, then said, "Oh dear." (I can't believe my doctor wasn't admonished to never ever say "oh dear" in front of a patient.)

"I think I see what the problem is," she said, and pointed to a small black spot on the back of my knee.

I'd never noticed the blemish before, but then I rarely ever look at the back of my knee. The spot looked fairly innocent, even though it felt surprisingly hard, almost metallic.

My doctor asked my to lie face down on the examining table. I did, and could see that she was organizing a bottle of antiseptic, a pair of tweezers, and the smallest scalpel I'd ever seen on her tray.

My doctor told me, "you'll barely feel a thing," which I know is doctorspeak for "this may hurt." (At least she didn't say, "this may hurt," code for "this is going to hurt.")

I looked over my shoulder, and watched my doctor make two tiny incisions on either side of the spot. She took her tweezers, and started to pull on the spot.

I felt it before I saw it.

I experienced a strange feeling inside my knee; it was as if the bits between the bones were shifting and sliding. Then I saw what the doctor was doing. Using a series of gentle tugs, she slowly pulled out what appeared to be a piece of black rubber about ten centimeters long. The object started to writhe violently when my doctor dropped it into a beaker of denatured alcohol.

She passed me the beaker so that I could inspect what appeared to be a twisting piece of thin pasta, tapered at either end.

"It looks like a worm," I said.

"See that little row of tiny orange dots?" she inquired. "What you have there appears to be an Andaman Coral Worm. Have you been to Southeast Asia recently?"

"I was in Thailand in December and January," I replied. "The coral was quite lovely."

"Oh dear," she responded.

The alcohol killed the worm. (The worm's demise reminded me of a W. C. Fields story. A woman approached the drunken actor at a party and warned him that he would die from drinking too much. "Death, where is thy sting?" he replied.)

"I'm afraid I have some bad news," said my doctor after she examined the worm under a microscope. "It's a mature female, and the egg sac is empty."

"So what does that mean?" I asked, even though I didn't really want to know.

"It means you need to report to the hospital at 9:30 tomorrow morning for a tissue scan."

Amazing Thailand!

19 March 2000
Human Sausage
I had my first magnetic resonance imaging scan this morning. It was a delightful experience.

The MRI machine was huge; it looked like an industrial washing machine for cleaning circus tents, or maybe an oven for baking the paint on automobile fenders.

The nurse pushed a button, then a long tray came sliding out of a circular aperture in the MRI scanner. I climbed onto the platform and laid on my back. The nurse pushed the button again, and the tray slid most of the way back into the scanner. I felt like a big sausage that wouldn't quite fit into the oven. I told the nurse I regretted not bringing my camera with me; I would have liked a picture of myself literally up to my neck in technology.

The nurse explained that metal objects weren't permitted near the scanner, which utilizes behemoth magnets. She told me she'd watched a training video that showed a heavy steel oxygen tank the size of a small adult flying across the room and smashing into the machine. (Why do television programmers air boring, horrible programs when they could broadcast MRI training tapes?)

After retreating to an adjoining control room, the nurse told me to remain motionless for eight minutes. She turned on the scanner, and the machine started to buck and shake like a cheap washing machine.

Kawump, bechunk, kawump, bechunk, kawump, bechunk, kawump, bechunk, kawump, bechunk, kawump, bechunk ...

I enjoyed the loud, repetitious droning and clanking. It didn't take long for the noise to become music. Fortunately, the nurse needed to make five more scans of my knee, so the concert lasted almost an hour. I was sorry when the performance ended; that's always an indication of artistic success.

My doctor called me in the afternoon to report that I have Andaman Coral Worm eggs attached to the cartilage in my right knee. She said this had nothing to do with Wil-Ma, the worm I met in Cambodia last year. I wonder who I'll bring home from Laos or Viet Nam?

I have a minor "keyhole" operation on my knee tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it. First, there are the good hospital drugs, then afterward I can sit in bed all day and drink without anyone looking askance. After all, who would deny a poor sufferer a medicinal tot of whisky?

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20 March 2000
An Unmemorable Visit With the Anesthesiologist
I reported to the hospital this morning for knee surgery. I'd been looking forward to it. Knee surgery means using drugs that would otherwise be too dangerous, illegal, or expensive. It's been decades since I've been anaesthetized by anything stronger than 151-proof rum, and I was eagerly anticipating a safe transition to a chemically-altered state. I wasn't too disappointed.

A young man in a lab smock walked over to my bed and introduced himself. "Hi, I'm David, and I'll be your anesthesiologist today!"

He certainly was chirpy for a Monday morning! I read somewhere that eighty percent of anesthesiologists have a "substance abuse problem." Most people in the medical profession seem at a loss at what to do about the predicament. How can you give out so many keys to the chemical cookie jar and not expect that someone might snatch a snack every now and again?

I wondered, but did not ask, why David was so cheerful. It might be he simply was enjoying his work, which certainly appeared to be the case.

"I'm going to take good care of you today," he announced. "I'm going to give you [something-atol] as a general anesthetic, with a local painkiller for your knee. And, if you wouldn't mind, there's another one I'd recommend--it's great, no hangover--but I'm afraid it's only available in suppository form."

"You're the chef," I replied. "Gimme the works."

My anesthesiologist seemed a little surprised at having such a coöperative patient.

"We don't get many enthusiastic customers around here," my anesthesiologist confided.

"I'm not worried," I explained. "I've had nothing but good experiences with doctors, lawyers, and police."

The anesthesiologist smiled, shook his head, and said, "Sounds like you've got it coming."

He stuck a needle in the back of my left hand; it was attached to a small container of clear liquid.

"This is mostly saline solution to start with, but you may feel a little dizzy," he warned. "Oh, and by the way, would you please sign this release form?"

I recall signing some illegible document, but that's the very last thing I remember. What a disappointment to have traveled so far and not brought back a single thought!

Less than an hour later, I found myself in a different room with a clean, tan bandage around my right knee. I was in no pain whatsoever--great job, David! The only other evidence of my recent operation was a large arrow painted on my shin; it pointed to the recently de-egged knee.

The best part about the day, though, was my evening shower. I was told that I must keep my knee dry, so I wrapped it in thin, plastic wrap. I used the kind of stretchy film in which grocers wrap meat. As a result, my leg looked like a rotten ham. The hairs were still on the hide; and the black and blue and orange bruises from the operation looked disgustingly gangrenous.

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21 March 2000
Two Co-Codamols and One Diclofenac Sodium
It's the day after my knee operation, and I feel great. My knee is bruised, with two small cuts on either side of the kneecap, but that's all. I can walk just fine, albeit with a slight limp.

There's just one problem: what should I do with the painkillers I received as a going-away present when I left the hospital? I certainly don't need them, but it would be most ungrateful to throw away a well-intentioned gift from a kind nurse.

And so I swallowed two Co-Codamols and one Diclofenac Sodium, then waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Nothing happened.

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that I failed to feel the effects of the painkillers when there was no pain to kill. I almost wished I was in a little pain so I could have seen whether or not they worked.

I wonder if the nurse slipped me a placebo? I don't know anything about chemistry in general or pharmaceuticals in particular, but isn't the "sodium" part of Diclofenac Sodium just salt?

Oh well, when it comes to reliable drugs, there's nothing more dependable than whisky. I may not be in any pain, but why take any chances?

22 March 2000
To God
I recently read a book with a title that's too embarrassing to mention, so I won't. I will, however, repeat the dedication. Rebecca Frances Rohan dedicated her book, "To God." She didn't say which one; that was a clever move on her part.

Although it was the best dedication I've seen in quite some time, it's still a notch or two below Charles Wehrenberg's brilliant dedication: "for everyone who has ever written me a check."

23 March 2000
The Second Doughnut Opening
On 18 July 1997, I attended an opening at a now-defunct gallery. I remember that opening as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I remember some openings because of seeing extraordinary work or meeting lovely people, but the reason I remember the 18 July 1997 opening was the food. The gallery staff served the obligatory wine ... with doughnuts!

As of tonight, however, my once-in-a-lifetime experience is now a twice-in-a-lifetime experience. I went to an opening that featured doughnuts and wine. Again!

This evening's doughnuts weren't pure food; they were tinged with aesthetic concerns. The doughnuts weren't just there only to provide fat and sugar; they were there in the context of a quote by David Lynch: "In contemporary art as in life, there is the doughnut with its hole. We should keep our eye on the doughnut and not on the hole."

I kept my eye on neither the doughnut nor the hole; I was there for the wine. (As an irrelevant aside, the art was fine.)

24 March 2000
Jacques posed an interesting semantic question during recent conversation.

"Zees wehrd 'zheneetails,' eez zehr ahlso zee seengulahr?" he asked.

Good question. I looked up "genital" in my dictionary, and discovered it comes from the word genitus, the past participle of gignere, to beget. The dictionary first defined genital as an adjective, adding that it could also be a noun, "often used in the plural."

I think the singular noun genital is unnecessary, perhaps even counterproductive. The beautiful thing about the word "genitals" is that it can be used to describe the reproductive apparatus of all mammals, even if one has no clue as to what the various bits are. (I have no idea how duck-billed platypuses begat more duck-billed platypuses, but I can say with certainty that genitals were involved.)

"Jacques, the noun 'genital' doesn't exist; it's only an adjective," I lied. "And, by the way, it's pronounced 'genitalls,' not 'genitails'."

Jacques will thank me later when and if he discovers I've saved him from learning a useless word.

25 March 2000
Driving to the Vanishing Point
I talked to an English train driver at a party tonight. Jimmy said he might prefer to work in the states, where he'd be called an engineer. He said American railroads were falling apart even faster than the English ones, though, so he's relatively happy to be doing the same job he's been doing for the last twenty-four years.

Except for one thing.

Jimmy said he's become increasingly bothered that he's never reached the point on the distant horizon where the tracks join at the vanishing point. The damn tracks have remained obstinately parallel for twenty-four years, with no figurative or literal end in sight.

I'd like to change that.

I'd buy two twenty-meter long rails, and arrange them in the form of a long, narrow "v" on the requisite number of sleepers (England) or ties (United States). The open end of the "v" would be equal to the standard width of the railway, the other end would be welded together in a perfect point.

I bet Jimmy would like that: the end.

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©2000 David Glenn Rinehart