Disclaimer: This post describes a grim yet arguably amusing medical procedure I underwent in August. The phrase ‘TMI’ may be applicable. Feel free to read something else instead.
I don’t talk politics with strangers. It’s a rule that seemed especially applicable to the physician who was about to apply sharp instruments to my nether regions. I needed a procedure to eliminate my ability to sire more children. He had a lot to get off his chest.
First the setting: A small room near Atlanta’s Piedmont hospital. I’m wearing only a t-shirt, seated at the edge of a cushioned table. Put your legs up here, he says, referring to what appear to be two man-stirrups situated at the edge of the table. Lay back.
I’ve heard women talk scornfully about doctor’s-office stirrups. This was my first encounter with these enforcers of vulnerability.
Scoot toward the edge of the table.
Dr. Snippy is an affable, distinguished looking white guy with a southern accent, probably in his late sixties. He disappears below my line of sight, spots his target and casually yet affirmatively grips me like a like a pitcher grips a slider. My eyes widen and my breath shortens.
So what do you do for a living? Barely breathing, I answer that I’m in the news business.
He says he knows a guy at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But then adds that he really doesn’t like the AJC. It’s a complaint I used to hear a lot from conservatives, back when the AJC’s editorial page was more liberal than not. The AJC now touts its “balanced views” and I don’t hear the gripe as much anymore.
I catch my breath: “You know, the AJC’s editorial page isn’t really leftist anymore.” He ignores my input, then abruptly adjusts his grip. I feel a twist, not good. He hears a faint gasp. I need to find the vas, he says, referring to the two veins that need to be severed. I’m thinking: He promised anaesthesia. Where is it?
I think this country is headed completely in the wrong direction, he says. He backs away by disclaiming that he’s not talking about Democrats or Republicans. He doesn’t want to offend. But he’s clearly not a happy camper. There are a few people in particular who seem bent on destroying this country.
This will pinch. He is sticking a needle into one of the most sensitive parts of my body, and it’s an act of mercy.
The anaesthesia kicks in, and Dr. Snippy ramps up his rant. He doesn’t like the media much, it turns out. But my wife watches Bill O’Reilly every night. And if she doesn’t watch it, she records it.
This firms up my hypothesis that the gentleman with the sharp instruments between my legs is unhappy with the liberal media. I vow to clam up, which isn’t difficult. Despite the anaesthesia, I’m still feeling a lot of tugging and twisting down there. The sensation is not conducive to conversation.
Oh, you felt that, eh? All right. Dr. Snippy preps another injection, then continues his work. The fifteen minutes he promised have come and gone. My hands are now in a full sweat.
He tells me he’s originally from Memphis. He was there when Dr. King was assassinated, and tells a story about hearing the APB in his car radio for King’s killer. Dr. Snippy, it turns out, was driving a car and wearing clothes that fit the description of James Earl Ray, forcing him to garage his car at his mother’s house and lay low.
He segues into his family’s acquaintance with George Nickopolous, the physician who went to trial for providing drugs to Elvis Presley. “Trailer trash,” he says, describing Elvis.
Do you know Memphis used to be called the cleanest city in America? he asks, mixing nostalgia and a whiff of anger over the evolution of his hometown.
I lay down the unkind bait: “When was that? In the 1950s?” I ask, thinking: Segregation, baby. Those were the days, huh?
That’s right! he answers.
Normally, that’s my cue to rant about the ’50s and why they really weren’t the good old days. Men are often accused of allowing other parts of their bodies to do the thinking for them. In this instance, the brain thankfully yields. I keep quiet.
There’s still more tugging, and he’s muttering to himself in frustration. He begins to tell me that my junk strays from the typical anatomical road map he expects to see; hence, our extended quality time together. He’s improvising, and he’s a little annoyed. Most of these are easy. But every now and then, we get one like this.
He works quietly for a moment, then brings up the racial violence in Ferguson, Missouri.
Of course, I’m not prejudiced. But it’s just human nature. People are always going to be that way. There’s nothing you can do about it, he laments, while apparently making a new incision.
I’m not feeling chatty. My gut, and points south, tells me to keep quiet.
I want to argue. I weigh my circumstances. I pipe up anyway.
“I have to disagree with that,” I finally say. I go on to opine that prejudice is mostly taught, both within family and cultural structures. “I don’t think it’s naturally occurring,” I say with shortened breath. “Children of different races get along just fine until somebody tells them they shouldn’t.”
Maybe so, says my physician, who is as anxious to end our encounter together as I am. Once again, I feel the sharp pain of my flesh being cut. “Gah!” I exclaim again. It appears he’s searching for a shortcut.
You felt that, eh? Well, I’m not gonna — his voice trails off in frustration. He has an exit strategy and is disinclined to administer a third dose of novocaine.
“Just do what you gotta do,” I say, bracing for more. I crave a bullet to bite. There’s another sharp pain, then another, then it stops. By this time, my legs and hands are locked in tension and my whole body is in a sweat.
Almost done, he finally says. He seems to be stitching. He applies some kind of burning liquid, then a couple of band-aids. There’s rapid-fire talk of ice-packs, inactivity, follow-up appointments, a prescription for a painkiller. His goodbye is very hurried. It’s Friday, and it’s lunchtime.
I walk slowly to the exit, “a little warm and quite astonished,” as Kipling wrote in The Elephant’s Child. I see the wife in the waiting room. “Are you OK?” she asks, smiling sweetly.
I start laughing, enjoying the rapid transition to hindsight.
The things we do for love.