I am becoming Bionic Man. This has been an ongoing process for the past ten years. First, I had my gall bladder removed. Then, two years apart, I had cataract surgery on both eyes. Most recently, I had a hernia operation. I am now being held together by steel thread, sealing wax and dirt.
If these are the golden years, then please bring back the “lump of coal” years. Most of the young are naïve on the subject of physical discomfort.
This is a function of growing older. The hernia operation took place a month ago at the Shouldice Clinic in Toronto, which is world famous. It is housed in a mansion that used to be home to a long-ago Globe and Mail newspaper publisher and the surrounding grounds are incredibly lovely. About 30 operations are performed there every working day.
Apprehension got the best of me right from the start. Upon admission, I was sent downstairs for a blood sample and an electrocardiogram. The nurse in charge asked if I was still working, but that was not the way I heard it. I thought she had spotted an anomaly in my heart and it had stopped pumping. After a moment or two of startled looks and desperate questions, we got that sorted out and she had a great story to tell her friends.
I realized I might be in for more than I was expecting when my roommate on the first day, a veteran near the end of his stay, told me about the “walk of the zombies.” Sure enough, 24 hours later, I was one of those near-dead perambulators, at least in my own mind. By that time, I had a new someone sharing my room and I was able to terrify him with my tales of unimaginable horrors lurking in his immediate future.
The procedure itself is done with local anesthetic backed by a cocktail of disorienting and supposedly numbing pills. Still, I was awake during the operation and kept talking to the doctors all the way through. I’m sure they got bored with my comments, especially when I kept repeating that I would be happy to hold the scalpel if they needed me to.
Afterwards, I wasn’t going anywhere the first night and dinner was brought to my bedside. On the second day, my “class” was called to breakfast over the intercom and off we lumbered. This happened at lunch, dinner and evening snack-time as well. Now I understood about the zombie reference. We all shuffled down the hallway in our dressing gowns and slippers, staring fixedly ahead and trying not to run into anything.
The pleasant side effect was that everyone got along well. As I later said to Donna, my wife, the machismo that can sometimes complicate male relationships was in short supply. Everyone was concentrating on keeping upright and limiting the pain. There were women patients as well, but they were only a small fraction of the total population.
When released, I was told a full recovery would take about a month, but I could go back to work in a few days if I felt like it. That’s what I did and it helped to get my mind off my physical woes. But that wasn’t the end of my problems.
Two weeks after my operation, I started to experience eye trouble. At first, I thought it was an infection and not serious. I had a commitment to speak in Winnipeg, so I hopped on a plane and went and did my thing. Once home, however, I had my eye checked out and discovered a stitch from my second cataract operation was sticking out of my cornea. When the specialist pulled it out with a pair of tweezers, the relief was sweet and immediate.
Let me end by telling you about my flight home from Winnipeg. Because of my various infirmities and degrees of discomfort, I was not shy about requesting pre-boarding assistance on the Air Canada flight back to Toronto. A fair amount of turbulence was expected and it was announced early on that the meal cart would only come around on a short-term basis. Therefore, the flight attendants worked as quickly as they could to serve everyone. The choice for the luncheon entrée was either a chicken wrap or beef wrap.
Most passengers were staring at their laptops, listening to their headsets or watching the video screens embedded in the seatbacks in front of them. I may have been the only one to see the exchange that followed. When the woman operating the meal cart was nearly opposite where I was sitting, another young lady further up the aisle, who appeared to be East Indian, requested that a particular type of “wrap” be forwarded to her. When the first flight attendant could not understand what the second was saying, the latter stuck her thumbs under her armpits and flapped her elbows. I thought it was hilarious.
When the cart lady turned back to the passengers and eventually came to me, I did the same. I flapped my extremities like I was doing the funky chicken and got the meal I wanted. But there is more. I was the last to exit the plane. As I have told Donna many times, I do not make a practice of flirting with stewardesses. However, I could not help telling the attractive young lady how much I enjoyed seeing her chicken impression.
She asked if I would like to see her beef move. Of course I said yes. She held the back of her fists against her forehead and raised both index fingers. Then she started bobbing and weaving her head forward in an attacking gesture. I did not think she could get any cuter until she stamped her left foot a couple of times and started snorting with nostrils flared.
Not wanting to play the matador and afraid that my guts would burst with mirth, I hightailed it out of there. But I walked through the airport with a lot lighter spring in my step. It just goes to show you can have fun under the most unlikely of circumstances.
You would think some of these anecdotes would provide good fodder for public speaking. Standing in front of an audience is a whole other matter, though, as outlined in So You Think You Know Flop Sweat.