I’m in Love with My Plastic Surgeon

I’m in love with my plastic surgeon. Well, maybe not in love, but something verging on wanting to eat dinner with him every night, and if that’s not love, what is?

Sure he’s older than me … by a lot. How old? If we must get technical, he’s old enough to be my father. That is, if he knocked my mom up in college. (Not pre-med college. Pre-med would have gotten me out of the, “weird, he’s too old zone.” But if I were a medical school knock-up baby.)

I picture dating him. We’re in his car, and it’s no doubt fancy and made in Europe. This is when the age difference becomes a problem. (Even in my fantasies I allow reality to sneak in.) I point out he’s driving too slow, or that he can cut in front of that car ahead. I ask him for medical advice. He tells me to make an appointment to see a doctor. I remind him he is a doctor.

Why do I love him? Could it be his Spanish accent? Perhaps the way he oozes class? Is it how he examines my body so intensely that I can practically see the artistic wheels of his brain turning? His eyebrows dart up, and an expression that he just witnessed something extraordinary flashes across his face.

It’s none of those things that make me love him, though they do help make the visits more bearable. You see, he is giving me back something that was taken away. Four days after my 40th birthday I was told I had invasive cancer in my right breast. The angry tumor had infiltrated blood vessels, all the while encouraging other cells to start multiplying in different areas.

Mastectomies are amputations of sorts, and how very fortunate we are that (if a candidate) our breasts can be reconstructed right away.  Before we even wake from the anesthesia initially given to use for the breast removal, plastic surgeons slip into the operating room and take over.

This does not make the process any less traumatic, though. The day before my mastectomy, I said farewell to my right breast. I apologized for wanting it larger in junior high and high school. I thanked it for nursing my two children when they were infants. It did its job and served me well. It was a fine little breast, and now it was sick and needed to be removed before it made the rest of me sicker.

The first time I met with my plastic surgeon, I wept gulping messy sobs. All of the biopsies, tests, and other doctor visits I could detach from, but not this. As he showed me where my breast would be removed and what he would do, panic set in.

“But I like my breast,” I said weakly (as if that would change the course of events, as if that would make him say, “Never mind then! Let’s call this whole cancer thing off!”).

“I understand,” he said. “But it has cancer.”

We sat in silence as I digested this, until I was ready to gather myself and listen.

Then he started measuring my shoulders, chest, and my other breast. His eyes lit up. He got that look he gets. He told me how he would take skin from one part of my body and use it. He was confident, and his confidence made me feel confident. I went from despair to hope.

It has been three weeks since my mastectomy. Seeing my body for the first time after was unsettling. I looked lopsided and unfamiliar. I felt less feminine. I still feel less feminine. But my plastic surgeon understands this, and he quickly fills the uncomfortable contraption inserted under my muscle and skin with saline. I watch in fascination as a new breast is formed right before my eyes. I look at him and we smile.

Cancer tries to steal dreams. It tries to infest our healthy body parts with its angry, jealous cells. But we can fight back just as viciously. And we can fight back beautifully and artistically, something cancer cannot do.

My plastic surgeon’s work is pristine and I am overwhelmed. I tell him he is a magician and he agrees (he does not lack pride in his artisanship). It was then I realized I loved him. Not that kind of love, but a love of gratefulness and appreciation.

But I’d still have dinner with him every night, too.

 

 

 

Express … Or Just Less?

Many businesses now seem to have the word express in their title. While the definition of “express” can mean precise and exact, the word is more commonly used to imply speed. (Take the “express lane” for example.) As schedules grow busier and people have less time, the idea of getting things – even difficult things – done quickly is appealing. The result of this is “express” being inserted into the names of certain businesses. But let’s stop and really ponder this idea of having services done expediently.

There is the Holiday Inn Express*. What makes this Holiday Inn different from the other Holiday Inns? Are their patrons awakened at 5 am by a Holiday Inn employee banging on their hotel room door shouting,

“Wake up! This is a Holiday Inn Express! If you wanted to sleep in you should’ve stayed in a regular Holiday Inn. Up and at ’em! Let’s move it along!”

Express Scripts is another well known business with express in its title. For the costumer, this name should evoke the idea of receiving your medicine quickly. No waiting. However, I can’t help but imagine a room full of pharmacists frantically filling little prescription bottles.

“Uh-oh.”

“What?”

“Did you just drop Omeprilstatin?”

“No. I just dropped Methatrypophane. Why? Did you drop Omeprilstatin?”

“Sure did.”

“Crap. They look exactly the same. They’re both white and round. I can’t tell which is which. Now what?”

“I dunno. But the buzzer is about to go off any second and we need to have these boxed up. This is Express Scripts you know. ”

“Eh … what does it matter. It’s Express Scripts. NOT “You’re Getting The Right Medicine Scripts”. Let’s just pick them up off the floor, ship them out and hope for the best.”

Massage Express or Express Massage businesses have been popping up in various cities (typically in malls), which are basically poor quality massages given by individuals who have zero massage theapy training. What better way to relax, heal and unwind than to have a speedy massage given by a person who has no idea what they’re doing. But hey, it’s express!

On a local level, there is a business around here called Express Pools. I assume this is geared for people who – in the middle of August when they can not stand one more second of New York humidity – decide they want a pool and they want one now. Based on its name, I’m guessing a pool is quickly installed in your yard. However, haste makes waste, and I can’t help but picture people frolicking in their pool before pausing and saying,

“Wait. Wait just one second. Is it me, or does there seem to be less water in here?”

Express may mean fast, but it doesn’t necessarily mean quality. McDonalds or Burger King can promise you food quickly, but you’re not about to have them cater an important event. Five million tourists stare in wonder at the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling every year. Had Michelangelo been slapdash with his paintbrush,  it wouldn’t be considered the magnificent work of art it is.

Certain businesses know not to use the word express in their title, despite how much business it may potentially garner. Thankfully, I have yet to see Express Cardiothoracic Surgeons. I certainly wouldn’t want to drive over a bridge constructed by Express Bridge Builders, or fly on an airplane made by Express Made Airplanes. Lastly, call me picky, but my children would never attend Express Elementary School.

 

*So what exactly is the difference between a Holiday Inn Express and a regular Holiday Inn? The Holiday Inn Express is geared toward business travelers and has fewer amenities, such as an in-hotel restaurant or spa. They really don’t wake guests up at 5 am because it’s an express hotel (unless, of course, you want to be woken up at 5 am with a complimentary wake-up call).

 

 

Hand Wash? Hogwash!

Picture this: you are invited to someone’s home for dinner. After greeting you warmly at the door, the hostess excuses herself to use the bathroom. You hear the toilet flush and within seconds the bathroom door immediately opens and she exits. Your hostess proceeds to prepare food for dinner – without washing her hands. Would you want to eat her food? Call me picky or unreasonable, but I would suddenly develop food allergies to everything she had touched as an excuse not to put that food in my mouth.

Hand washing seems pretty intuitive. It’s hardly a complicated matter. Our hands get dirty. We wash them. The end. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) bombards us with facts on why we need to wash our hands, and how we should wash our hands. We all know hand washing stops the spread of viruses and nasty infections. We see commercials on TV, advertisements in magazines, and there are even signs in public restrooms reminding employees to soap up before returning to work.

Surprisingly, the basic concept of hand washing is a relatively new tidbit of disease prevention knowledge. While this controversial subject (yes – it was very controversial) took root in 1847, I tend to believe there were people in previous centuries who discovered that washing one’s hands was a good thing. There had to have an English lass in the Middle Ages who found that when she washed her hands after cleaning the family outhouse, that mysterious stomach virus stopped plaguing her household. But since we don’t know the name of that wise maiden, we give credit to the person who first publicly proclaimed the benefits of using soap and water on our hands.

That person was a Hungarian obstetrician named Ignaz Semmelweis. Iggie was working in a Vienna hospital when he noticed something rather peculiar. Women who had their babies delivered by medical students often developed fatal infections after giving birth. Prior to Iggie entering the scene, these deaths were blamed on “an imbalance of humours in the body”. Humours were considered the four chief fluids of the body: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. Basically, humours were regarded as the present day ying and yang of human bodily fluids.

While the rest of the obstetrical staff wrote the deaths off to those pesky humours (remember – this was before the existence of personal injury lawyers), Iggie was less convinced.

“Humours schmumours!” Iggie announced. (Actually, he didn’t. Or maybe he did.)

Iggie knew something more was going on than just the four chief body fluids getting out of whack. He decided to investigate.

Lo and behold, Iggie discovered that prior to delivering babies, the medical students were dissecting cadavers. Now, when I gave birth, my doctor practically put on a hazmat suit. But in 1847, medical students performed autopsies on dead bodies before moseying their way upstairs to the birthing room where they proceeded to deliver babies without washing their hands. Let’s simplify this: medical students had their hands deep inside the open cavities of a dead person before putting their unwashed, (and of course ungloved – they weren’t invented yet) hands deep inside “ladies’ cavities”.

Feeling a bit squirmy, ladies? Me too.

Iggie denounced this practice and mandated that all medical students wash their hands in a chloride lime solution after autopsies and prior to delivering babies. The maternal death rate plummeted.

Problem solved, right? Nope. Because nothing is ever simple (and people have a tendency to be stubborn jerks), the medical staff at the Vienna hospital derided Iggie.

“Have you heard what that Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis is proposing?” a Dr. Dorfmeister said while dining over Weiner Schnitzel.

“It’s outrageous!” Dr. Herrmann said, “Pass me a piece of that Gugelhupf, will you? Washing hands after performing autopsies! What’s next? Washing our hands after using the bathroom and coughing?”

“Hahaha. Oh, Dr. Herrmann. You’re such a card!”

The medical staff ridiculed and mocked poor Iggie. Soon he was dismissed from the Vienna hospital. Upon leaving (and the subsequent cessation of hand washing practices) maternal death rates skyrocketed again. But the medical staff continued to blame those darn humours for the women’s deaths, and not the remnants of dead body particles on the hands of medical students.

Iggie was unable to find work in the Vienna community. No one wanted to hire a handwasher. He moved to Budapest, where he continued to tout his hand washing practices. Similar to Vienna, Budapest doctors were not keen on the idea of washing hands in between delivering babies either. They thought it took too much time, and frankly, they would have to admit that all of those deaths were their fault.

Sadly, the continuous rejection of Iggie’s revolutionary discovery took its toll, and eventually he was admitted to a mental hospital where he died shortly thereafter. The benefits of hand washing weren’t accepted until decades after Iggie’s death.

Today, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis is heralded as the pioneer of infection control. Let’s all think of him when we wash our hands later.

Your Memoir

If you were to write a memoir, what would it contain? First, let me define “memoir.” The Oxford Dictionary states that a memoir is, “a biography written from personal knowledge.” O“an essay on a learned subject.”

When I think of a memoir, I envision a thick book just filled with pages upon pages of life events written by someone notable. (Think Bill Clinton’s My Life or Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes.) Since I haven’t turned forty yet, it seems premature to write a biographical memoir.

But an essay on a learned subject? Well! Now that is doable.

Yet, there are a multitude of learned subjects I would love to discuss in my memoir. I can’t help but feel limiting it to only one subject would be withholding crucial life lessons that could aid my readers. What if the below tidbits dramatically change your life? So, at risk of breaking all literary convention, I present you with The Underground Writer’s Memoir.

Baking powder and baking soda are two entirely different things. Ask my family. They learned this brutal truth several Sundays ago when I tried to make pancakes from scratch. The recipe called for baking powder. In my hasty, caffeine infused rush, I accidentally used baking soda. Twice. (Since I tossed the first batch after my husband and daughter said the pancakes tasted acidic … and resembled amoebas.)

Don’t be fooled by the song, “Send In The Clowns” by Judy Collins. You may think this is a peppy tune since the word “clown” is in the title. Trust me, it’s not peppy. There is no circus music, as one might expect. In fact, it just might be the most depressing song in the history of music. Whatever you do, DON’T put this song in the music queue for your child’s birthday. Unless you want to curl up into a ball and sob your eyes out, I recommend staying away from the song altogether.

Not everyone finds the surgery you had as fascinating as you do. When I was fourteen, my parents invited friends over for dinner. The man brought the video of his recent cataract surgery. He really thought we wanted to watch it. Out of kindness we did, but it was such an awkward moment: sitting in the living room, the taste of dessert still fresh on our tongues, as we watched this guy’s eyeball get stitched back together.

No one can prepare you for how insanely difficult it is to be a parent. I’m not referring to such incidents as your teenager having an attitude, or your eight your old who still refuses to eat anything green. I am talking about that deep, penetrating ache you feel when your child comes home from school and says they spent recess alone, again. Or that suffocating panic when the pediatrician calls with test results they find concerning. As Erma Bombeck so eloquently stated, “Having children is forever deciding to have your heart go walking outside your body.”

While these life lessons aren’t exactly groundbreaking or revelational, if they help a part of your day be a bit easier, then my memoir of lessons learned was an (unpublished) success .

The Typhoid Marys Among Us

Typhoid Mary is still among us. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this disturbing woman, allow me to give you a brief overview: Mary Mallon worked as a cook for wealthy families in the early 1900s. As she went about her cooking business, she was reeking havoc in the form of high fever, slow heartbeat, rash, painful diarrhea, and delirium. Mind you, this was all unintentional. She was an asymptomatic carrier of the bacteria Salmonella typhi. Meaning: she had no symptoms of the contagious disease she was carrying and spreading. There she was, frying up bacon and eggs, but also adding a little dollop of virulent bacteria on the side.

Either denial, obstinance or extreme stupidity kept Typhoid Mary from giving up her career as a cook. She was quarantined several times, only to return to the kitchen upon release. At one point she changed her name to an unoriginal “Mary Brown”, hoping to fool the health department. Subsequently sickening the very people she was feeding gave her away and authorities found her yet again. Eventually she was quarantined against her will until her death. Fifty-one people became infected with typhoid from the food she prepared. Three died.

Typhoid Mary never understood what the problem was. She didn’t feel sick so how on earth could she be making others sick? It completely baffled her. (Remember, this was before webmd or the ability to google “I feel fine but apparently I’m killing others.”)

Mary Mallon could be likened to someone who goes through life creating chaos but walks away untouched. These people are the Typhoid Marys among us.

My first experience with a modern day Typhoid Mary was in college. There was a girl who left campus the same time I did every Tuesday and Thursday. She stood out not only because she was attractive, but because she drove like Mr. Magoo. She drifted into other lanes, causing drivers to slam on their brakes while laying on the horn. She blew through red lights and changed lanes without ever checking her review mirror or glancing over her shoulder. If she hadn’t been such a menace, she was fascinating to watch. I kept telling myself it was only a matter of time before she caused a five car pile-up. But it never happened. While the rest of us were practically plowing into each other to avoid her, she sped off in her own little world.

Another modern day Typhoid Mary was recently at the grocery store. While picking out romaine lettuce, an octogenarian pushing a grocery cart at full speed almost ran me over. Had I not jumped out of the way there would have been a collision. The elderly man blew past me – a flash of high-waisted khaki and plaid- without even so much as a glance. He then careened around the corner and went barreling down the aisle. While he made remarkable speed for someone so hunched over, his gusto for shopping was potentially hazardous for everyone else. Yet he was completely unaware of the havoc he was creating.

Messy children can also be classified as modern day Typhoid Marys. Legos, Barbie parts, Hot Wheels, game pieces, beads. These are all things children “forget” to pick up and we parents have the pleasure of stepping on in the middle of the night. Sometimes the result is nothing more than a hurting foot. Other times our feet go flying in the air and we fall on the floor. Meanwhile, our little children are sound asleep in bed, blissfully unaware that their parents almost killed themselves by stepping on their Thomas the Tank Engine train.

Several historians have labeled Typhoid Mary as the most dangerous woman in American history. Maybe we should consider removing that stigma from her. After all, there is now a vaccine for typhoid. But unfortunately, we can’t vaccinate against bad drivers, aggressive old men who go grocery shopping, or children who don’t pick up their toys.

The Waiting Room Zoo

At a recent doctor’s appointment, I was struck by the similarities between a doctor’s waiting room and a zoo. I’m not using the word “zoo” to describe craziness or disorder.  (“Whoa. It’s a zoo in there!”)  I’m using it literally: as in the zoo you visit with your kids and end up spending way too much money just to watch some strange animals sleep.

When you enter a doctor’s waiting room, the receptionist is sitting behind a glass shield. This is similar to a cage – only more civilized.  You stand at the glass, hoping she notices you (she usually doesn’t).  If you tap on the glass, she simply ignores you as though you are the hundredth person that day who has tapped on her cage.  When at last you are acknowledged, you hand over your co-pay. This is your “admission ticket” into the zoo.

As you survey the waiting room in your attempt to find a chair that is the farthest away from anyone else, you can’t help but notice the chattering monkey.  This is the person who talks non-stop on their cellphone. They are often very loud and seem to have no qualms about the world knowing their personal business.  The chattering monkey certainly doesn’t seem sick, and you wonder why they are even there in the first place.  Once the phone call has ended, the chattering monkey calls someone else or turns to the nearest person and initiates a conversation.

Sloths are another common inhabitant of the physician waiting room. Without fail, this person falls into such a deep sleep you wonder if he has mistaken the waiting room chair for his couch at home.  The sloth awakens every now and then, only to glance around the waiting room with heavy eyelids before nodding back off to sleep.

In the middle of the waiting room is the owl.  This person looks around the room with large, wide eyes.  She will watch as you check in with the receptionist, as you select a magazine, and when you look at your cellphone.  God forbid you cough or sneeze, her eyes grow even bigger.  She also has the unique ability to turn her head almost 360 degrees to look at the people sitting behind her.

At last your name is called!  It is your turn to see the doctor, who is the Siberian white tiger of this zoo-like experience.  The Siberian white tiger is the reason why we are here. Comparable to a Siberian white tiger, the doctor is also endangered: There are so few of them and so many of us.  And just like the Siberian white tiger exhibit at the zoo: we can only see the doctor for a limited time.

When the Siberian white tiger enters the examining room, he seems disinterested and bored.  You are simply one of many who have waited to see him. Your sore throat and nagging cough that you felt was so important?  Not to the Siberian white tiger. There is a true sense of disappointment, and you can’t help but feel a bit gypped.  You paid $25 for this?  That 30 minute wait was for nothing more than a 4 minute viewing of the Siberian white tiger.  As you leave the Siberian white tiger exhibit, you find you feel a little sulky.

You are eager to return home, and as you leave you notice the waiting room has filled with more animals.  You silently thank God your turn is over, not knowing that you’ll be returning in a few days because you are now harboring all of the germs that were festering on the waiting room magazine you pretended to read.  But when you return, you won’t be able to see the Siberian white tiger. Heck, no! That exhibit is sold out.  Instead, you’ll have to settle for the red panda – otherwise known as the nurse practitioner.