Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Blind Date

One of my favorite scenes in "The Great American Fourth of July," a terrific movie (how could it not be, when it features a chain letter involving washrags?) along the same lines as "Christmas Story," is when the narrator (same guy in both), recalling his teenage years, recounts being forced by his parents to go on a blind date. At some point in the date, having expressed self-pitying reluctance beforehand, and then observing his gorgeous date (the junior corn blossom queen), spilling his Good and Plentys like a premature ejaculation, later trying to put his arm around her at the movie, rebuffed, he comes to a startling moment of clarity: "I am the blind date!"

Recently, in the operating room, I had a similar moment.

Disappearing ink barely dry on my license, starch still emboardening my white coat, I arrived in town many years ago, young, eager, and not without belief in a certain amount of talent. First time I did a colon resection, in forty minutes or so, a cholecystectomy in fifteen, nurses said to themselves (they told me later), wow, we're in a new era.

Those nurses were young and eager, too. Energetic, sassy, skilled and aware of it. Even a little flirtatious, which I can't say I disenjoyed. And there were some that had been around for decades: wise, calm, mentors. Same with the older surgeons. They (many of them, anyway) had the elegance of experience and grace among the whippersnappers. It was heady, and I was ready.

I've always been glad to have had elders to turn to; in training, differing from many of my peers, I relished the time I had with my professors, absorbing as much as I could through the end. Others wanted as much independence from them in the OR that they could get, especially in our senior years. I've benefited throughout my career by working with older surgeons, observing and incorporating techniques I hadn't been taught. And, over the years, I came up with some of my own. With the passage of time, I became a much better surgeon than I'd been when I left the halls of academe.

Of late, and after a few years of lassitude, I've been assisting a young guy, a cancer surgeon who seems to want me there for his most complex and demanding operations. Once in a while, I can show him a little something, and he'll express appreciation, tinged, maybe, with surprise. Always, I can provide decent or better help. But until the other day, I'd never really looked at myself the way he must see me. It happened as I gazed, from my side -- the assistant's side -- of the OR table, at one of the nurses that I'd known since the beginning.

Gray were the hairs poking from under her cap, her face full and not a little saggy, her waist time-sturdied. A student nurse had been earnestly listening as she explained what was going on. I looked around. There are other nurses there from the time I arrived: then young, frisky, and very good at what they did, youthful and brimming. Over the years we'd become friends and teammates, mutual respecters. Age showing, deference given, there they are now, wearing the length of their years as the years have worn them. And I'm among them in kind. The old guy, the guy who used to work here. A little respect extended, subtly mixed with the slightest whisper of condescension, like when I'm in a store and get sir'd and asked if I need help.

It happened so incrementally that I might not have noticed, had I not been absent from that place for several years. I doesn't bother me much; it's how things have always been. In some ways it's like putting on a warm coat, making the inevitable seem to fit. But it's noteworthy. Transition is happening, has happened, and on some level it nearly escaped my notice. It's okay that I'm just an assistant who can sometimes show a trick, impress a young kid. I'm tolerated.

What to do? Nothing. Accept it. Value the time that was, enjoy the remnants. My good and stalwart friend recently quoted someone to me, saying old friends are the best friends; nurture the relationship. They were there, stayed, and in important sense they're the best of what's left of it. (Check the "update" here, you'll know it's true. Which is not the point.) I just spent some very good time with a best friend from college, talked with a fellow surgeon from my original practice days in Oregon, traded emails with the nicest guy and best friend from my (many) years in training.

And I'll keep doing this assisting gig. It's fun. I still bring something useful to the table, even if I have to stand back from it a little more than when I started. (The gut. Because of the gut.) Even if the piss and vinegar of which I used to be full dribbles a little, I haven't spilled the last of my Good and Plenty. Yet.


  1. "A" "Christmas Story" is much better...who doesn't enjoy watching an 8 year old shoot his eye out with a BB Gun???
    You've got a bit of a senior sitizen spread???
    Why am I not surprised??...
    and every 2.2lbs of lard puts another 3.5cc of extra CO2 in the troposphere PER MINUTE!!!!!!!!
    Do the math, it adds up...
    and I love the "Driving into Chappaquidick, I mean "the Ditch" allegory the President(Peace be upon Him) keeps using...
    It was nice of Ted Kennedy to die when he did...
    Oh BTW, Sara Palin, Lori Bush, Ben Stein, and a "Mystery Speaker" (Christy Oconnell??? "W"?? Dick Chaney??)all appearing at Phillips Arena in the A-T-L today...

    Frank "Still the same weight as when I got beat up by 8th grade girls" Drackman

  2. Geez, Frank, I thought before you started huffing the gas and went off the rails as usual you'd mention something about the Deutch. I did it for you.

  3. Du hast "Deutch" falsch buchstabiert...
    es heisst, D-E-U-T-S-C-H.
    Vielleicht rauchst du auch den kommischen Tabak?
    nun, versuchst du noch einmal, "Arschloch"
    Tut mir leid, Sara Palin redet gleich..


    Der Hervoraggenden Narkosarzt der Welt, Herr Doktor Drackman

  4. Danke. Sie haben mich wie der Herr, dass Sie ausgebildete. Und wenn das schlechte Deutsch ist, die Schuld von Google ├╝bersetzen.

  5. Though Sam Spade is dashing and debonair, he is a bit thin on top. One day I got a haircut and when the pretty young woman was finished, I looked into the mirror and was befuddled to see that she had cut my hair really short over my ears.

    My journey to enlightenment on this day ended when I realized she had given me the old bald motherfucker haircut. Too bad, so sad.

  6. Greetings, Frank!

    I have an honest question for you. If you, say, needed knee replacement surgery, would you trust this to Dr. Sarah Palin? As a politician she doesn't read the news, so as a doctor I presume she wouldn't trouble to wash her hands or extract the odd sponge out of her patient.

    I'm hoping you'll tell me something interesting here, because the only explanation I can come up with is that you value her loathing of democrats and various other groups over effective governance.

  7. SeaSpray: I appreciate your comments even tho I didn't publish them. Your theory would be valid, were it not for certain facts into which I don't choose to go.


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