My older brother and his wife are both doctors. (I know, I know. Less about them, more about me.) This means that they receive a lot of text messages from me and M containing photos of our body parts. At 2 in the morning M will be craning around in the bathroom mirror, trying to get a good angle on his back. “Would you please send your brother a picture of this mole? I think it might be cancerous.” If one of us sprains an ankle or might need stitches, we immediately get out our iPhones and start shooting. If we didn’t do this, we might jump to conclusions that reflect our art school, not our medical school, degrees. For instance last night before bed I was concerned about a little scab on my clavicle. “Do you think I was bitten by a bat?” “Don’t be silly,” said M. “That is the mark of a king cobra.” This morning the wound looks even smaller so I guess my superior immune system fought the venom and I won’t have to text my brother.
Regrettably, filial telemedicine has its limits. Two months ago when I came down with acute pyelonephritis, I couldn’t exactly call it in. I had to go to a Brooklyn emergency room and receive intravenous fluids, painkillers, antibiotics, anti-nausea meds, a CT scan, a roommate who wouldn’t stop farting, etc. Then I had to lie there shaking uncontrollably for five hours, getting my blood pressure checked every 30 minutes, bemoaning the fact that we couldn’t just take care of this over the phone. But because I was an ER virgin, everything felt new and exciting, and though I was sick to the point where I felt sure I was going to die and be buried in Potter’s Field on Hart Island because my family physician lives so far away, I kept counting my blessings because depression is worse. (The physical and mental illness combo is the cruelest, however. With this double whammy the patient feels deathly ill while also convincing herself that all her caretakers would secretly prefer she be dead, and might in fact be trying to kill her, and that would probably be for the best.)
I originally started this post because I wanted to write about introducing scorpions before surgery, but then I went somewhere else with it, so I’m sorry. I think I really just needed to open up about my traumatic experience in the hospital.
One day I would like to reciprocate my brother and sister-in-law’s cell phone ministrations, but I’m not sure what form that would take. If they ever go on safari in Africa they could text me pictures of animals and I could help identify them. “That is a giraffe,” I could say. Or, “That is probably an elephant.” If they are ever reading The New England Journal of Medicine and don’t know what part of speech a word is, I could probably say with some certainty, “That is a noun” or “No, that seems more like a verb.” My assistance might be less dramatic than responding to a selfie with, “Yup, that’s cancer. You have two months to live.” But it’s something. I work with what I have. And right now I have a headache that mimics a hangover but is caused not by a bottle of Albarino, but by the bite of a stealthy nocturnal tarantula.
You should read Want Not by Jonathan Miles. It was good and I liked it.*
*I’ll stop doing this soon because it’s so misleading, but man do I love driving a joke into the ground.