Inspection- Lessons Death Has Taught Me

You dont understand; sooner or later I will have to operate on you. But I wont do it until you come screaming to me that you cant take it anymore.

But Im 54. I wont heal any better when Im 68.

Yes, but when I do it, it will be a life threatening operation.

Words no one ever wants to hear. Terminal cancer would be worse, amongst many. Yet, I would imagine this would probably be at least second or third on my list of, Damn, I wish you didnt have to tell me that, when I visit any doctor.

The neurologist had been trying to soothe me: not scare the hell out of me, I suppose, when almost two years ago he told me the operation to solve this specific condition would be easy. Until recently I didn’t even know this, but I have a nasty condition that is congenital: an odd form of spinal stenosis. It’s at the bottom of the spine where most of the nerves have to pass through on their way to other parts of the human body.

Some days I wonder what the conversation must be like between them down there. Do they sip on some kind of body fluid-based coffee while they complain about their closest relatives? Why, he did what? He has some nerve!

Of course I could have taken a hard line and ejected this doc out of my medical life; claiming he lied to me when he said the operation would be “easy”, but truth does tend to be far more complicated whether its in relationships, religion, politics or anything else we do. The operation for that specific condition: just above the pelvic region, is somewhat simple; if that is all that has to be done. They just go in and widen the area. But midst the pull, the tug: and especially the vibration of the drill; things change. A spine is somewhat like what holds a marionette together: the neurologist I go to even has a painting on his wall with a doctor fumbling around; trying to reconstruct a very damaged pile of marionettes, while fat cats sitting behind him burn thousand dollar bills to light cigars and laugh at him. Since it is the base of the spine: or “anchor,” or “foundation,” for the spine… if you are looking for somewhat more enlightening metaphors… after that “simple” part of the operation is done: every other slight problem that you had can turn quite mean. Its all connected. Fix one and youd best do the rest. Which means to do it right hell need to peel me back and reconstruct the whole bloody thing, I suppose.

Now to pause for the little boy that’s still inside us all, except those with little girls, or little trans gendered. Even he isn’t saying, “Oh, joy, can we do it again, and again, and again?” Do they give two for one discounts on this type of operation? Double your pleasure, double your chances for death? Hmmm… guess Wrigley’s: or any other gum company, won’t be using that advertising variation in the foreseeable future.

Youre right on schedule. A person with your condition would start to really experience this in their 50s.

So at least I can find some comfort in a condition, when the muscles holding up my spine collapsed twice last summer, that I was at least on time? Oh, goodie. Can I go ahead and apply that to the rest of my present and past life, please? Then I could have hit folk music at its peak rather than when Music Row treated it as a curse word, for example. Or maybe Im better off instead of doing a Phil Ochs when folk music collapsed like my spine in the late 70s.

Is it possible that during our first adventures into correct-o-spine land he didnt want to scare me off by mentioning I might eventually become operative snuff-flick material? Still I wish he had just told me. I prefer my physicians like I prefer my politicians: honest to the point of being willing to tell the truth; even if it means they might never see me again, or get my vote. Of course, one can be too much of anything: hence, the doctor who pulled the stitches out of the foot that had slipped under a lawnmower when I was 14. I asked him how many, he smiled a wicked smile and said… with some excitement and a quick smirk to his lips, Lets count!!! There were over 100: each one painful beyond belief.

Rarely will you observe that I used this kind of language when I composed Inspection but there really are some people the handy word asshole is perfectly designed for. Im sure it wont surprise you that this same doctor: the way he seemed to enjoy the excruciating pain with each harsh tug at a stitch, reminds me of George W. Bush. Oh, did I mention he loved to put his arm around little boys in a way that made me feel very uncomfortable? Kind of reminds me of W when he thinks he’s being “funny.”

Now Hillary and Bill remind me of many southern politicians I’ve both known and met: some of whom I was paid to work for as a rather low level consultant many years ago. They say what the audience wants to hear, or what they think will be best for the moment. They also remind me of that neurologist. I understand why they do it and Im not sure any politician would ever stay a politician for long if they satisfied me with their honesty. The few that have come close; like Barry and Eugene, have been shot down.

My problem this political year is I dont find Barack different in that sense. He certainly parsed his words around Wright while his supporters seemed to say in unison: Hes just trying to be nice. But isnt that what supporters would say; especially when they are trying to punish anyone who even slightly criticizes their candidate? No, he was trying to spin his way out of a spider web made partially out of his own parsing, and it just ensnared him even more. There’s further evidence he’s not quite the honest broker others claim he is. He hired Daschle to help run his campaign while claiming to be the only one of the candidates who was always, and still is, against the war. Daschle voted “for,” by the way. And Barack also “voted for” by voting to fund… unless you wish to cut him some slack politically for doing so. I do. I tend to cut those who did vote and then decided the war was wrong some slack. Baracks use of that issue would only be fair and honest if he had had to make the same decision they did, did go around hiring those who did vote for the same bill as Hillary did to head his campaign, and had to vote “for” or “against” under the same conditions as all the other highly placed pols did. Voting against during those days could very well mean youd lose your rather highly placed position in any upcoming election. It was no accident that the vote was placed close to 04. Barack didnt have to make that decision, luckily.

Just like any doctor has to decide between when to treat, not to treat or what to say.

As I mentioned: this kind of politician I will vote for. I will also repeat what many of my critics have yet to hear no matter how I phrase it: I am neither a Hillary supporter or defender. I’m not a Barack supporter or defender. When I think what others are perceiving is correct I will say so. If I don’t, I will tell them I believe they are wrong. Neither are “my type of politician.” And I’m very much against all this speculation about Hillary’s, or Barack’s, true motivations that, to me, are little more than personal, political, “rub yourself raw,” masturbation. If you insist, I can’t stop you, but please point that weapon of sheer, smear, destruction elsewhere.

Another similarity I find here is how his supporters will do all they can to find the worst meaning possible in words used that do not make their candidate look good. So far I haven’t heard a damn thing said by either side that rises even close to the level of offense found in some statements. It seems to be almost a sickness: as if they are driven to do anything to find evil intent. Yet when other people point to what Barack, or his minister, or anyone connected to him, says and screams “foul,” they do the same thing. It was taken out of context, or “blown out of proportion,” or intentionally made into something it was not. Honestly? Most they’re usually right, just like Hillary supporters are when they marvel at how outlandish and politically driven some Barack supporters reinterpretations are.

Ah, if only irony were made by ACME and land as hard as it does in the cartoons. Maybe people would be a little more ginger when handling the words of others, and a little more critical when looking at how their own candidates speak and handle controversies.

But, of all the comparisons, the tendency to smear the “true motives” of others is far worse than anything I’ve mentioned in what some may consider a long medicine vs. politics screed. Imagine if, when the doctor tells us what he needs to, we all responded back with, Youre just saying that because No, instead we just go elsewhere for a second opinion like I will in the Fall. I have nothing against my neurologist: he seems quite talented and able to talk with his patients. But “life threatening” almost requires a second opinion, in my own, rather limited, perception of medicine.

But what if we treated our health, and our doctors, like we do each other politically? Would we ever be cured? Wouldnt we venture even further down this personal path to Hell we are walking? This is what insisting we know the true motivations does to us all: were referring to discussions about cancer, spine reconstruction, or politics.

I guess its probably a good thing Im not a neurologist. Or Im not the physician who had to tell my father that my mother had inoperable, terminal, cancer or the doctor who had to tell his sons that my father was going to most likely die: piece by piece as the combination of diabetes and third degree burns over 90% of his ravaged body took both his life and whatever pride he had left. Im really, really relieved to know that Im wasn’t the doctor that had to tell my uncle that he was going to bloat to the point that all he could do is lie down and hurt until he died. Im also glad I wasnt a politician who had to choose between giving George Bush an option that he could: and obviously did, misuse and abuse or losing the next election. Damn near everyone who said no did lose.

I view both Hillary and Barack as “doctors” in this sense. I value both of their opinions, hoping they will say what they need to when they can. Judging that is a lot harder than any of us think, and assessing evil motives far too easy.

There’s always a question of how much “truth,” and how much “spin.” When my father was dying we had two doctors: one who came in and kept talking in low; depressing, tones, about how it was inevitable that Dad would die… and another who said, “Well, Bill, it’s going to be really tough; the outlook isn’t good, but let try.” And we need to pick the one we each; individually, will be more positive overall for the nation, because I am sure, like me, the whole political system has to be reconstructed and maybe die on the table. Many say that’s Barack. Maybe. Maybe not. I’ll vote for either.

But for now, sooner rather than later? In regard to a very personal decision I must eventually make…. I think Ill opt for the knife. I can think of: I personally know of, far worse ways to die than under medication on an operating table. I sincerely hope whoever enters the White House in 09 that they will be able to be the best doctor: and the best surgeon, they can be. I hope the patients make the right choices and that Barack; if elected, really will bring us all together as his supporters claim.

So far? Even if I were the most avid of all the Barack supporters: or Hillary; or McCain I still think that my back will have a better chance. The past eight years may have done far more damage than the depressing attitude my father’s doctor ever could have done; or we can imagine politically and socially. But hey: no matter who runs… “it’s going to be really tough; the outlook isn’t good, but let’s try.”

-30-

Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over thirty years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.