Word to the wise

Susanne and I visited our friend in the hospital last week, thinking that she wouldn’t yet be able to talk, as her cancer surgery was in the neighborhood of her neck. I can imagine few people more garrulous than me, which she is, so it must have been difficult for her, relying only on a small white board, looking something like Tim Russert on Election Day in 2000. Only in this case, it’s to ask “When can I get out of here,” and not to suddenly realize the future of the country is “Too close to call.”

My plan was to walk in her room and announce that she could speak up if she didn’t want a visit, give her .2 seconds to chirp, and then say, “Okay, great, so I had a few stories to share with you…”

As it was, she was already sitting up and speaking, to her surgeon. I looked at the older, chubby man with a halo of white hair on his head and the smart Kenneth Cole pinstriped shirt, and realized I knew him from somewhere. But where? Quickly, my brain flicked through Walla Walla experiences like a coke addict with a Fischer-Price Viewmaster. Not the pharmacy. Not my outpatient knee surgery. Not the coffee shop. Not a winery. Not the Bi-Mart. Who was this guy?

They were finishing up their conversation about her prognosis. I stood out in the hall, too focused on placing him than eavesdropping, although the tone they shared indicated that things were better than expected. It occurred to me that I had shared something vaguely intimate with him—which was weird, of course, given the whole married to Susanne thing. I asked her if she remembered him from anywhere, and she shook her head in that way she has when she realizes, again, that I am something of a loon. I would just have to put my sudden fascination aside and think about it later.

He acknowledged us on his way out the door and I gave him one last stare, begging my synapses to at least pretend to give a crap that they were in my brain for my benefit, not theirs. My synapses, absences of material that they are, scoffed at me. Screw those uppity dendrites, they synapted at me. My dendrites, meanwhile, just shrugged as if none of this brain communication was their responsibility.

We sat down and she smiled at us, firecracker that she is. A long red scar ran the width of her neck and I had a memory I’d forgotten previously of when I’d had a very swollen underchin after falling off my bike when I was 7. So apparently something was going on upstairs in my head after all.

She looked at me and said, gravelly voiced, “I’ve been telling everyone about what you said to me 6 weeks ago. You told me I could handle anything.”

Okay, that’s how I remember it. What I had actually said, which our friend recalled as well, was that I’d said, “Mary, you could be a conjoined twin and you would handle it just fine. You could handle anything.”

“I do believe in serendipity,” she said, looking at me intensely. “You said the right words to me at the perfect moment, so thank you.”

Jeez, I was just blathering on, but I was glad she found such meaning in them. I blinked back tears.

Ever the talker, she started launching into various thoughts and opinions, and Susanne and I tried to fill in the space between her words with our own, so she wouldn’t tire herself out. But a couple of days in the CICU, and the old professor wanted to make up for lost time. She wanted to know, it seemed, everything that had happened on the face of the planet in the last 48 hours. To me, things seemed pretty stuck—health care still being bandied about in Washington, Tiger groping for some relief from his PR nightmare—

“Oh, I know! What was he thinking? Can you even believe it?”

“Well,” I said, adding my only “news” about the event to the conversation, “I read that his wife has adjusted the prenup agreement.”

“She’s a smart one,” Mary said, “good for her!”

We devolved into a conversation about reality television and the stars who populate its universe, and Mary mentioned the White House party crashers. Oh good, I thought, I can tell her my stories about their vineyard so she won’t have to talk. I told her my stories, speaking more quickly than I usually do because I was afraid she’d jump in and start chattering. Even Susanne cut me off a couple of times, lest a nanosecond of silence inspire her to start talking.

“I wonder if there isn’t a hierarchy of reality tv personalities,” I mused.

“How do you mean,” asked Mary.

I explained. At the top are the celebrities who have deigned to be the host of some reality show, probably a competition of some kind. You’ve got your reality tv stars, people who at any given moment, are the rage of some show or other. Then you have the reality tv stars of lesser-watched shows, or spin-off shows. Then there are the has beens whose moment has passed recently, and on their heels, the ones who were like, on The Real World eight years ago. Then there are the reality tv figures who weren’t ever really popular, or who were on awful, short-lived shows like The Mole. And now we see there are even the rejects from the reality television world, like the balloon boy parents or the White House party crashers. So it goes something like:

Heidi Klum (Project Runway), Padma (Top Chef)

Jeff Lewis (Flipping Out) Stacy London (What Not to Wear)

Lauri Waring (Real Housewives of Orange County)

Danielle Staub (Real Housewives of New Jersey)

John Gosselin (Jon and Kate Plus Eight)

Diane Ogden (Survivor, season 3)

Valerie Penso (Temptation Island)

Balloon Boy parents

And all of these are still above someone like Brian Bonsall, former child actor who got arrested yet again last week, although I’m not sure I can articulate why.

“I think there’s a study in there somewhere,” Mary said, and we laughed.

All throughout our discussion she kept touching the lower half of her face, presumably to see if it was still attached. It does give one the illusion that one’s head is much, much larger than it is when you can only feel it from the outside and not from within itself. I knew we’d tired her out, so we made our departure, leaving her with a copy of my memoir, since we’d heard she had exhausted her reading material. She nearly yanked it out of my hands, so I’m looking forward to her comments.

I drifted off to sleep that night and realized I’d gone to see that doctor when my hearing was getting bad, about 8 weeks ago. He’d found some ear wax stuck against my eardrum, and had sucked it out with the smallest vacuum tube I’d ever seen.

I’d call that vaguely intimate.

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Categories: ponderings


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3 Comments on “Word to the wise”

  1. Gail
    December 15, 2009 at 11:12 pm #

    Everett, Are you saying that a cancer surgeon removed the ear wax from your ears?! Thanks for sharing — your story is lovely. Happy holidays to you and Susanne, and please give my best to Mary. Gail

  2. evmaroon
    December 15, 2009 at 11:17 pm #

    I’m saying an ear, nose, and throat doctor did the surgery and the ear wax extraction, yes. He’s a nice Welshman, apparently, having one of those fascinating vowel-less names.
    Thanks for the wishes! We’ll be DC-side in January — I’ll email you dates if you’re around.


  1. Word to the wise « Trans/plant/portation | Reality Topics Blog - December 17, 2009

    […] Thea wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptValerie Penso (Temptation Island). Balloon Boy parents. And all of these are still above someone like Brian Bonsall, former child actor who got arrested yet again last week, although I’m not sure I can articulate why. … […]

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