Any Way You Slice It

     It was like a horrifying Woody Allen movie.
     Four women at the next table spent their entire lunch describing gruesome medical operations wrought upon relatives.
     It was impossible not to listen. Which made it rather difficult to eat.
     Every time Jane or I hoisted a forkful of salad it was to the tune of, “They took a goiter out of my cousin the size of a cantaloupe.”
     These were women of a certain age: all bearing very large jewelry, all attired far beyond the standards permitted by law in Vermont.
     After a recitation beginning, “When they cut out my brother-in-law’s pancreas it was so full of cancer it was green …” we moved along to, “One lobe of my uncle’s liver was so rotted they didn’t even do a biopsy; they just threw it in the trash …”
     And so on. They must have enjoyed this relentless stream of horrors, for they spoke of nothing else. Occasionally silence descended for a few seconds. Perhaps at last …
     “They had to cut through layers of fat to get to my sister-in-law’s pyloric valve, and when they did, the surgeon said …”
     Jane and I just sort of picked at our salads.
     “My ex-husband’s gangrene ate away at the bone so they had to amputate. The operation took …”
     “My aunt’s abdominal cyst weighed 3 pounds. Three and a half. The doctor said he’d never …”
     What is it that people find so fascinating about removing body parts, or parts of parts? Why do they think other people want to hear it? Why do other people want to hear?
     That I couldn’t tell you. But let me tell you about my operation …
     As you read this, I shall be under the ether, or whatever they use these days, undergoing a partial fasciotomy for Dupuytren’s contracture.
     Cool, huh? Want to hear more? Of course you do.
     I write this – really – as a public service. Years ago after I wrote about my first such operation I received emails from worried strangers. They Googled the disease and I was the only one writing about it that week.
     Dupuytren’s contracture, for those few of you who are still with me, is a thickening and hardening of a membrane beneath the skin and above the nerves, blood and bone. A healthy membrane helps the tissues slide and your fingers bend.
     When the membrane hardens it makes the finger contract. You can’t straighten it out by force. You could whack my ring finger with a ball peen hammer and it wouldn’t unbend.
     At this very moment, perhaps, Dr. Liz has sliced open my hand and is scraping away at the fascia. She’ll sew me up and after a few weeks of rehab, which will be worse than the surgery, I’ll be as good as can be expected.
     It’s nothing to worry about – worried email pals. Not with Dr. Liz.
     Dr. Liz, to whom there should be a monument somewhere, is the Most Competent Person In The World. Not only is she a crackerjack surgeon, she’s a high-scoring wingman on her league hockey team. “Great hands,” one of her frustrated opponents told me.
     Dr. Liz is so competent I believe we should put her in charge of everything. Domestic policy, foreign policy, the lot.
     Dr. Liz could have cut that Iranian nuclear weapons deal in about four minutes. She’d have told everyone what to do, and that would be that.
     I’m not saying the Iranians would have listened to her, mind you. But if they didn’t, they’d have no one to blame but themselves.

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