Thursday, June 16, 2011
DOCTOR (Regular internist): You’re braver than I would be.
ME: What do you mean?
DR: Well, you don’t seem to be upset.
ME: Come over to my apartment for a house call at three in the morning and see how brave I am. Cold terror. (Doctor has been taking notes, writes something down.)
ME: I mean, what am I supposed to do? Come over here for a routine thyroid and A1C test and weep and wail in your office?
DR: That’s what I would do.
ME: I don’t believe it. Anyway, what would be the point?
ME: I mean, do some of your patients in this situation come here and say, “Doctuh, Doctuh–oy, vut am I goink to do? They diagnosed me, and it ain’t lookink particularly gut . Oh me, oh my, Doctuh.”
DR: More or less–yes.
ME: I find that hard to believe. So they’re sick and they’re facing some unpleasant treatment but they’re not going anywhere soon, and they’re feeling good and have lives to live and yet they cower in the corner in your office. Where will that get them?
ME: And you would do that?
DR: Somethink–I mean, something like that.
ME: Do you think maybe I’m in denial? Because I’m not. Come on over at 3 AM.
DR: So anyway, when you’re on steroids, your blood sugar is probably going to go up, so just in case, you might want to take some insulin with you for the next couple of weeks. Vera will show you how to use this. (Takes out freebie insulin “pen” and needles.)
ME: OK. What larks!
DR: I’ll see you back here in a month or so.
ME: Did you write “cold terror” down before?
ME: Don’t write that down! Please. I don’t want that on my record. It’s subjective, anyway.
DR: I need to take notes about my patients’ frame of mind, too.
ME: Come on–I don’t want “cold terror” on my official patient record or whatever it is.
DR: (laughing): _______
ME: Hey, wait a minute–is that a paper towel you’re using for notes?
DR: Um …
ME: Jesus– a paper towel!
DR: Well, this is what happens when you’re in a temporary office and your regular one is being renovated. I’ll put the notes in my permanent records later
ME: Leave out “cold terror.” Especially if you think I’m so brave. Which I’m not.
DR: OK–come back in a month or so–all right?
ME: Yeah, right– I know: capitation beckons.
ME: OK, OK. Thank you…..
ME: This is when you say, “Good luck, Dan.”
DR: Good luck, Dan. Really!
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
ME: So, after chemotherapy, surgery is still possible?
SURGEON: Yeah. Definitely. Pneumonectomy [taking the rest of the left lung out, the upper lobe having been removed three years ago].
ME: Not sure I like the idea of life as a one-lung Charlie.
SURGEON (drawing something that looks like half an open wet paper bag): Well, let’s see. These nodules are tiny, but they have a weird distribution. I could do this. A resection. (Draws a line through part of the wet paper bag, as if diagramming where to cut.) No. Well, I could do this. (Draws another line.) Or this. (Another line.) It would be a much simpler operation than a pneumonectomy.
ME: But not as potentially curative?
SURGEON: Nah. (Yawns.) Let’s see. (Draws more lines.)
ME: What do you think?
SURGEON: To tell you the truth, we’d probably have to wait until we got in there to see what’s going on, and then proceed from there.
ME: You mean I might wake up with this, that, or the other thing?
SURGEON: Yeah. (Puts down pencil, runs hand through hair.) To be honest with you, we don’t what the hell we’re doing here. We have to wait until we get in there.
ME: Like one of those abandoned storage lockers they bid for on TV. Open it up and you don’t know what you’re going to find.
SURGEON: (Yawns) Yeah. But technically you’re Stage IIB. Curable. Don’t forget that.
ME: Better than not IIB.
SURGEON I was really hoping you weren’t going to say that.
Thursday, June 02, 2011
(Resected parts of conversations I’ve had since a recent diagnosis of a recurrence of tiny-nodules lung cancer, for which I had “curative” (yeah, right!) surgery three years ago.)
MRI NURSE (heavy, jolly, almost slatternly): OK, Robert–you can change into the gown in the bathroom. [My legal first name is Robert–Robert Daniel Menaker.]
ME: In the bathroom?
NURSE: Yes, the bathroom–right there.
ME: The bathroom…. OK.
NURSE (when I emerge): Oh, Papi, you look good in that.
NURSE: I see that ring.
ME: Is it going to be a problem in the MRI machine?
NURSE: No–no problem, Papi. You have a wife, but do you have a girl friend?
ME: Only if you want to be my girl friend.
NURSE (to another nurse): Roberto wants to run away with me. Did you hear?
ME: I’ll run away with both of you.
NURSE: You’re too much, Robert. Make a fist…. Good veins.
NURSE (snaps on a single sterile glove, flicks the hypodermic she’s holding in the other hand): This is the contrast.
ME: Right. If you see something in my brain, don’t tell me.
NURSE: I know what men are thinking about about all the time. (Laughs uproariously)
ME: Not me–not under these particular circumstances, anyway.
NURSE: OK, vamanos!
ME: Vamos a ver que pasa en mi cabeza. Espero que nada.
NURSE: Oh, you speak Spanish.
ME: Solamente un poco.
NURSE: Tienes que practicar, Papi.
NURSE: Now I know we will run away.
Wednesday, June 01, 2011
In terms of performed dialogue–a kind of artificial conversation–I’m wondering if others share my automatic embarrassment while watching live theater. I’ve found the nerve to make this confession after a terrific young literary agent in New York, Gillian MacKenzie–she has her own agency–admitted to me that she was often similarly embarrassed at plays, especially musicals. Three times and only three times have I lost myself entirely in a theatrical performance–once two hundred years ago when I saw Richard Burton in “Hamlet,” once only a hundred years ago, when I saw the original production of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” (Meta-Hamlet, come to think of it.) And quite recently–most of “Fela!” Otherwise, I can’t seem to shake the knowledge that the actors are living, breathing people who are, in front of my eyes, pretending to be someone they’re not. They are acting. They almost surely have thoughts in their heads–That babe in the third row will not stop whispering!; My shoes are too tight–different from those thoughts that the characters they are playing would probably be having if they were real. “I really want that slouch of a husband of mine to be King!” (Lady Macbeth.) “Now that he’s Henry V, Hal doesn’t write, he doesn’t call, he doesn’t stop by….” (Falstaff.) Live theater, without its ritualistic and religious (Classical Greek) origins, always strikes me as a little bit like children’s play acting, and there’s always a cringe factor in it for me, even when the actors are good and can make their real personalities part of their roles. I admire them but still half-want to look away.