Practicing Medicine

March 19, 2008

My mother met my father in western Massachusettes in the 80s. My mother was working in a private practice as a hand therapist and my father was just completing his residency at Boston Medical Center in the South End. They married in 1984 and moved to Oregon, where my father was offered a position. Although my mother quit her practice when they moved west, I was conceived into a world where medical care was generally free and was practiced in my parents bathroom or on the living room couch.
My father was a surgeon and would sometimes work long hours to fit multiple surgeries into one day. He was the only spine surgeon in the area, and patients would travel hours to seek treatment. My mother had taken on the role of housewife and made sure dinner was ready when he got home. Like clockwork, he would appear at the dinner hour and help with the final touches on the meal.
He was generally in charge of carving the meat. Lamb. Pork. Steak. Poultry. Regardless of the size of my father’s mammoth hands, the knife would become the scalpel, and perfectly portion protein was prepared.
I stopped eating steak by the time I was 14. At dinner, my father would explain the procedure of the day (if any) in detail.
“We had to deflate his lungs.” He said through bites of beef. “They were like marshmallows. After we fused his spine back together, we reinflated them. Like marshmallows in a microwave.”
He would make another cut into his steak, and red juice would flood the plate. The rice would absorb it, and the plate would be soaked in symbolic blood. It was surgery at the dinner table.

When I was fifteen, there was an outbreak of whooping cough at my high school. My parents were quickly informed by the administration that I had been sitting next to one of the infected students in French class, and I should be tested. When I started displaying cough-like symptoms, there was a Sunday morning trip to the hospital for a test.
“Isn’t the lab closed?” I asked.
“I’m going to take care of it.” My dad replied.
All sorts of lab tests had been conducted in my parents’ bathroom, so it wasn’t clear why a trip to the hospital was necessary for this one. As a child, these tests taught me not to fake sick.
“Maybe she has strep throat…” my parents would whisper in front of me. I knew what that meant. It meant a peel of a sterile plastic cover, a crack of chemicals in the handle, and the longest q-tip ever being scraped against the back of my throat. By later that afternoon my parents would know if we were infected. However, on “I’m (cough cough) sick…” the threat of a strep throat test was enough to get my siblings or me to the bus stop on time.
“Do you have to take my blood or something?” I asked.
“Nope.” My father was surprisingly tight lipped about the procedure I was about to experience. He unlocked the lab and led me inside. Sterile and dark, it was like a psychopath’s killing room. He turned on the lights, revealing special tools and examination equipment. He pulled some sort of testing stick out of a drawer I hadn’t noticed and peeled off the sterile cover. It was like the strep throat test, but on a curved metal wire; like an aluminum q-tip.
“So this is like the strep throat thing?”
“Nope. Sit here.” My father pointed to a counter top. I hopped up and it made me about eye to eye with my 6’2″ father. “Tip your head back.” He put his hand on my forehead and tilted my head away from him. “Take a deep breath.”
Inhale. Exhale. Now there is a giant q-tip in my nose.
I screamed and my father removed it from my nose.
“What?!”
“What the hell are you doing?”
“This is the test!”
“Are you testing my patience? What the fuck are you doing with that thing?!” I didn’t usually curse at my father, or any employee of the hospital for that matter, but sticking a 5″ q-tip all the way into my nose was not an awesome Sunday morning.
“I have to stick this all the way into your nasal cavity.”
“You’re joking.”
“Nope. Sorry, Nate.” My father had a look on his face as if he was being forced to torture puppies. “Lets just get this over with and then we can go home.”
“You stick that thing in my nose again and I will kick you in the balls.” I was a terrified cat. Ears back. Hissing. I guarantee that if my parents had just sent me to the hospital to get the test done by myself, I wouldn’t have threatened any other doctor with ball kicking. Something inside gave me permission to throw a fit because it was my dad.
“Come on, Nate.”
“Dad, I don’t have whooping cough.”
“We have to test you. Your mom…”
“Fuck what Mom said.” Ears back. Hissing again. I started to cry. I really didn’t want that q-tip in my nose.
“Lets just get it over with. I’ll do it fast.” He promised.
“Nooooo…” I whined. I was fifteen going on four.
My father tipped my head back as I gripped the edge of the counter. The little q-tip bumped the inside of my nostrils as it explored my nasal cavity. It finally hit the back of my throat, that spot where you can feel snot dripping right before it slides down the back of your throat. It’s a part of your throat that things don’t usually touch, nor are you aware that it actually exists. It made my head feel hollow, empty inside. I think that was scarier than the test itself.
He took the q-tip out and patted me on the shoulder. I wiped tears from my eyes.
“See? That wasn’t so bad.” He knew it had been. Tears stained my cheeks. “Let’s go get a frappachino.”

She was a movie star. Not just one of those movie stars that pre-pubescent girls stand in line to get a glimpse of, but a movie star in a sense that She lived, breathed, talked, and walked “movie star.”

You could call Her a Diva. But these days, that’s not too nice to say, now is it?

Chanel this. Prada that. Nothing was too expensive for our lover of the limelight. She would parade down the red carpet in her new Dolce and Gabana lace minidress, with Her startlingly bright Cosabella underwear exposed to the world. (It’s as if She wanted the attention…) She’d throw around her Louis Vuitton purse as if it were last season’s Fendi Baguette. It was a sport, entertainment, an art, a career – all of the worlds that She loved rolled into one.

She’s been married 5 times. Well, technically 6, but it was a “spiritual marriage.” The others had pre-nups.
Once to her manager, but that was broken off after he wanted more than 15% after the pre-nup. She quickly broke it off; It was as if he was put salt on a slug.

She immediately moved on to Paulo. Paulo didn’t have a last name. All anyone knew was that he was beautiful, Italian, and swept Her off her feet. She met him on a promotional tour of Europe, and they eloped to the Alps. She was gone for three weeks. She wouldn’t answer her cell phone or have contact with anyone else. But then She suddenly reappeared in Aspen, Utah the next winter, sporting a new tattoo on Her left bicep that read: “Paulo 4 Ever.”

But Paulo was not in Aspen.

He was still in Italy with his wife and five children.

But nobody seemed to notice.

Then there was Her trainer, Troy. (That didn’t last long.) Six out of every seven mornings, $35,000 a month, and twenty-something repetitions of whatever would tone her obliques, equaled a twenty-something hunk in bed every night for 7 months.

But of course, Troy got old, literally. Once he hit 25, he wasn’t allowed in Her bed anymore.

She really liked her trainer; She was crushed for weeks. She wore big sunglasses and sweatpants everywhere, She refused invitations to premiers, and She avoided the press. Some suspected abuse, others thought depression – when in reality, She was just upset that her 30th birthday was quickly advancing towards her.

Ulysses “Marty” St.Dory van Weibenhaussen lived in a Hampton’s mansion. At 89 years old, Marty was confined to his wheelchair, but was regularly attended by Gloria, his Asian personal nurse. Marty was the last living member of the St.Dory van Weibenhaussen family, which had made him the only heir to the family fortune, which was made through “spork” production and Swiss diamond mining in the late 60s.
After two months of courtship, they married at his private mansion and prepared to go on a honeymoon… to the backyard pool. Sadly, 24 hours before they were to be married, but 3 hours after he signed the revised version of his will (leaving everything to her,) Marty tragically died after falling off his alligator raft in the backyard pool. When asked why She didn’t jump in to save him, She claimed She had never learned to swim. And that Her nails were still wet with “Cherry Dream” polish.

After living the single life for a year or two, She found love with Julia. Julia was a beautiful blonde actress with dreams of making it big on Broadway. They quickly fell in love, and She did everything in her power to help Julia reach her dreams of stardom. They were in love, and were spiritually married three months after they met. They were officially together… until Julia dumped Her, stating that She was “bringing down her career.”

Her last husband didn’t want to live in the public eye. Known in the industry as a “hermit,” Patrick felt that She was under a lot of stress at that point in her career, and took her to Montana. She disappeared for a few years, living in a small town on a cattle ranch they bought together. Everything was going well until he got a job working for the CIA. She constantly asked where he was going late at night, and he would reply with “I work for the CIA. If I told you where I was going, I’d have to kill you.”

She assumed he was having an affair, and smeared his name all over the tabloids.

It lasted three months.

She returned asking for mercy from the masses, and released a new movie about how love lasts forever.

She didn’t get married again after that.

She had people. Not just regular people, but She had “Her people.” If you wanted to talk to Her, you had to go through

“Her people.” If you wanted a meeting, “Her people” would meet with “your people” and do lunch.

When She said “jump,” they jumped.

When She said “talk,” they spoke.

When She said “I want every inch of my pink baby grand piano polished with albino angora rabbit fur,” they polished every inch of her pink baby grand piano with albino angora rabbit fur.

No questions asked.

No request was too big, no task too small. Everything for Her was just right.

You’re probably assuming there’s a catch to Her fairy tale world. Well there’s not. Really. She lived the American Dream: small town girl grows up to be big movie star. She gets to play dress up in Her own closet every morning. Her hair can be a different color every week. She has servants, butlers, and maids living on Her every move. We all want parts of what She has.

But does She want what we have?

Does She want the normal life? The 3 kids, the white picket fence, and the golden retriever named “Loretta” after your great aunt? Does She want to go grocery shopping and not be recognized? Does She want to wake up every morning, make waffles with thick maple syurp, make sure that Her children drink all of their orange juice, and that they eat all of their Kellogg Corn Flakes AND drink the milk out of the bowl (therefore making it part of your balanced breakfast?) Does She want to kiss “boo-boos” to make them better? Does She want to kiss Her husband goodbye in the morning and goodnight before bed? Does She want to wake up with her hair messy and be able to walk down the stairs in her bathrobe?

Does She yearn for that 8-5 job with the bad benefits, but enough of a dental plan to make it worth it? Does She want to be the domestic goddess of today? Where is the June Cleaver in her life? Where is the Betty Crocker? Julia Child? Florence Nightengale? Carol Brady?

All She sees is the Marilyn Monroes, the Liza Minelli, the Judy Garlands, the ZsaZsa Gabors, the Elisabeth Taylors, and the Katherine Hepburns in Her life. “Domestic” is listed in Her thesaurus under “weak.” In Her world, “Domestic” is only used when referring to a pet.

Does she have everything, or does she have nothing? The idea stretches both ways like a piece of new taffy.

But she doesn’t eat taffy. Its bad for her porcelain venires.